Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Will Rogers

Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans
Pick: New Orleans

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the season with eight straight losses, and then salvaged some respectability by winning four of their next five. They come into their final game of the season off back-to-back losses, playing on the road at the dreaded Superdome versus a Saints team that needs to win.

Here are my keys to the game:

1: Previous History - The Saints are 7-0 at home, but they haven't just won at home, they have completely dominated the opposition.

2: Situational/Motivational - The Saints need to win here, but the Bucs are just going through the motions. Coach Greg Schiano says he intends to play his starters: "You're 4-11, well, you know what, that last game sticks with you," Schiano said. "You have to live with that taste the entire offseason. Our guys need to play. If you're healthy enough to play, you should play. That's what we do." His players though might not feel all that strongly about this game.

3: X-Factor - Mike Glennon was sacked seven times in last week's loss to the Rams. He'll face a ton of pressure again this week in New Orleans.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Teddy Covers

Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
Pick: Pittsburgh

The Browns are 1-9 SU, 3-7 ATS since QB Brian Hoyer got hurt, a bottom tier team at the tail end of yet another miserable season.  They haven’t won on the road since beating Minnesota all the way back in Week 3. 

Cleveland’s defense spent the first half of the season as a quality unit, but they’ve tailed off dramatically, allowing more than 31 points per game during their six game skid.  And on a cold, rainy and potentially snowy day in Pittsburgh, the Browns 27th ranked rushing attack isn’t going to make things any easier for struggling QB Jason Campbell, who has thrown four interceptions with only one TD pass over the past two weeks.

The Steelers running game has improved by leaps and bounds over the back half of the season thanks to the emergence of rookie RB Le’Veon Bell.  Big Ben Roethlisberger is a proven bad weather QB in excellent current form: seven TD’s without an INT over the past three weeks.   Pittsburgh’s defense certainly hasn’t been elite this year, but they held the Browns to 11 points in a blowout win the first time these two teams met, quite capable of similar success on Sunday.

And when we talk about one-sided domination in a divisional ‘rivalry’, the Steelers – Browns series certainly stands out.  Pittsburgh is 16-1 SU in their last 17 meetings with the Browns; the lone loss coming with third string QB Charlie Batch behind center when Big Ben was hurt.  The Steelers have won seven of their last nine against Cleveland with Big Ben behind center by double digit margins.  Expect more of the same here.  Take the Steelers.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Chris Jordan

My free play for Sunday is on the Indianapolis Colts minus the points against the Jacksonville Jaguars. So much riding on this game, and quite frankly, with how each could fare, it seems only logical to play this game this way.

The Colts are jockeying for playoff position and can move up in the seedings if Cincinnati or New England loses. If both were to fall today, Indy could jump from fourth to second, get a first-round bye and host a playoff game. On the other side of it, while Jacksonville is out of the running for the No. 1 draft pick, it is also one of seven teams in the hunt for the No. 2 overall pick.

We've heard Indy coach Chuck Pagano repeatedly say he would not rest healthy players, and this week he's challenged his team to build momentum for a playoff run we've seen other lower seeds make in recent years, en route to a Super Bowl title.

With a win today, the Colts roll into the postseason on their first three-game winning streak since early October, the perfect timing for a playoff run.

I like the Colts to light things up tonight.

2♦ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Jeff Benton

Your Sunday freebie is the Pittsburgh Steelers as the home favorite against division-rival Cleveland.

The Steelers still have a remote shot at claiming a playoff spot, and they do come into this game having won their last pair and 4 of their last 6 straight up, while going 6-1 against the spread in their last 7 games. Included is a 27-11 win and cover at Cleveland as the +2 1/2 point underdog.

The Browns have not won since early November, as they bring a 6 game losing streak into Heinz Field, and they are just 1-5 against the spread the in those 6 losses - Steelers game included.

Pittsburgh's November win at Cleveland puts the Steelers at 18-2 straight up the past 20 series meetings. The Steelers have also covered 2 of the last 3 meetings in the Steel City, so might as well stick with the trends and back Pittsburgh as the home chalk in their season finale against Cleveland.

3♦ PITTSBURGH

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Craig Davis

Today's free play is on the Dallas Cowboys to cover the number at home over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Just humor me for a minute before discounting this pick. I can give you a million reasons why the Eagles will win and cover this game... No Tony Romo, Dallas defense sucks, no Sean Lee, Eagles on revenge, Eagles scored 54 points last week, etc.

But how often have you bet a game that seemed too good to be true, only to find that it actually was? There's always some factor we didn't think of that ends up screwing you over, and a backdoor cover is imminent.

Dallas honestly has no business even being in this game considering their 2-11 Week 17 record... and I'm saying that as if Tony Romo was still the QB. But, as you know, he's not.

And that's another reason I like the Cowboys to cover this number today. The Eagles aren't coming to Dallas with the expectation of losing or winning a tight game... they're convinded that even though they didn't game plan,  Kyle Orton simply can't beat them.

Wrong. I think he can beat them if they load up the box to stop DeMarco Murray. Remeber, Kyle Orton is a pro and only being asked to do everything in his power not to turn the ball over or anything else to lose the game.

Dallas had enought talent to beat Philly the the first time in Philly, 17-10, and made McCoy and Foles look very average.

I don't expect them to win, but I do expect them to surprise everyone and keep this game within seven points... even if the rest of the nation disagrees!!

Take Dallas as your free play of the day.

3♦ DALLAS

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Scott Delaney

Win, and they're in.

Meaning, the Panthers can clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with a victory in this game. And who woulda thunk it?! But the fact is, against last year's NFC No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Carolina can win its first division title since 2008.

You have to respect the body of work from quarterback Cam Newton, the first NFL player to have more than 50 touchdowns passing to go along with more than 25 touchdowns rushing in his first three seasons. Newton, collectively, has 62 touchdown passes and 28 touchdowns rushing.

And though Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is 5-0 at the Georgia Dome against the Panthers, the Falcons' defense ranks 28th in the league and just isn't good enough to stop Carolina. I know Panthers' receiver Steve Smith is expected to miss this game with a left knee sprain, but Carolina has the 11th-best rushing game in the league, and that's how it's going to get this one done.

Methodically moving the ball downfield, using a heavy dose of the running game with some swift aerial attack sprinkled in.

The Panthers roll in on ATS win streaks of 7-1 in conference play, 6-1 in divisional play and 9-2 overall. The Falcons, on the other hand, are mired in a 2-5 ATS slide in divisional play.

Lay the road chalk.

5♦ CAROLINA

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Brad Wilton

If you haven't figured it out by now, let me break it down for you...play Over the total in Minnesota games this season, plain and simple.

The Vikings are 12-3 Over the total this season, including Overs in each of their last 3. Also included is a Week One Over at Ford Field, as Minnesota and Detroit have combined to play Overs in their last pair, and 4 of their last 5 series meetings overall.

Detroit comes into this game with absolutely nothing to play for, as 3 straight losses have doomed their chances at winning the division title in a division that they had a stranglehold on a few weeks back. Still, the Lions have at least been able to put points on the board, especially on the road where they have gone Over the total in 3 of their last 4 roadies.

The chants of "DEE-FENSE" in Minnesota have been few and far between this year, so stick with the tried and true and play the Vikings to end the season they way they began it against the Lions...with another Over.

5♦ DETROIT-MINNESOTA OVER

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Brett Atkins

What a difference a year makes. Last season heading into the final game of the season, the Ravens and Bengals met in Cincinnati, at Paul Brown Stadium, secure in their playoff spots, with the Ravens already locked in as AFC North champions, and the wild-card Bengals in as the No. 6 seed.

This year, both teams have something to play for, but the Bengals are jockeying for playoff position, and the Ravens are simply trying to get to the dance. The Bengals have already won the AFC North and have No. 3 seed. But they're looking to move up to No. 2 with a win, while hoping the Patriots lose to the Bills.

The Ravens can get into the playoffs for if they win today, and either San Diego or Miami loses. But if the Ravens lose, they can still get into the postseason, they just need Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh to all lose.

But here's the deal, Cincinnati is a lock at home, it seems. The Bengals are looking to go 8-0 at home for just the second time in franchise history. They're a rock solid team at home, where they've scored more than 40 points in each of their last four games.

And Baltimore doesn't have the offense to keep up with the Bengals. The Ravens rank 29th overall with the 28th-ranked rushing game and 19th-ranked passing attack.

Take Cincy here, as it rolls to the big win and cover.

2♦ CINCINNATI

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

OC Dooley

Carolina Panthers –6

As predicted back on Monday night in what was the final regular season game inside Candlestick Park, the lowly Falcons were competitive enough to cover the spread of a contest they actually led outright in the third quarter.  Monday was a “homecoming” for Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as both he and is father used to coach for San Francisco.  Monday was also a “homecoming” for star tight end Tony Gonzalez who played collegiately in the Bay Area and was making his final National-TV appearance.  Gonzalez came back for one more season in an effort to finally make the Super Bowl which Atlanta was literally one-play away from a year ago.  Now the Falcons are one-loss away from suffering one of the biggest single-season drop offs in NFL history which is why they check in today as an underdog even though they are 5-0 at HOME versus Carolina since quarterback Matt Ryan entered the league.  One of the many problems for the Falcons this season has been on the defensive side of the field where they are allowing the second-most rush yards per game (135.9) in the entire league.  That is good news for visiting Carolina who will be without star wide receiver Steve Smith who a week ago suffered a sprained shoulder.  The Panthers have come a long way since early in the campaign when they started 1-3 out of the gate and with a victory this afternoon have a shot at a #2 playoff seed in the NFC.  Carolina certainly has earned that opportunity especially since they rallied versus New Orleans last Sunday garnering a game-winning touchdown reception with just TWENTY-THREE SECONDS left on the clock.  My research indicates that Atlanta is a horrible “4-17” ATS long term when cast as a home underdog of between 3’-and-7 points.  On the flipside Carolina has COVERED the spread at a recent 9-2 clip when up against an opponent with a losing overall record.  Here is an incredible 83-PERCENT SYSTEM (29-6 past thirty years with a line between 3’-and-10 points and at least eight-games into the campaign) which plays ON road favorites like Carolina with an “average” offense (4.9 to 5.4 average yards per play gained) going up against a terrible defensive opponent who allowed on average at least 5.8 yards per play

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

The Real Animal

Washington Redskins +3.5

I used Washington each of the past two weeks catching points at Atlanta on the 15th and then +3 versus Dallas last Sunday as our 2013 5* NFL Dog of the Year. The problem is the Skins are off consecutive 1-point defeats and that will keep them off the premium side this week. But I still can’t find a 3 ½-point disparity between them and the NY Giants. The G-men are running out of options on offense.  Victor Cruz is done for the year and emerging target Reuben Randle is iffy this week with a knee injury. Randle has really come on in recent weeks with 41 receptions and six touchdowns.  Peyton Hillis and Andre Brown should play but both are not 100 percent.  The Giants at one point in December were without their top five running backs.  I mentioned a few weeks ago the Redskins will play hard for Kirk Cousins and they have.  In the one-point Atlanta loss two weeks ago the Skins had a 476-233 edge in total yards at the Georgia Dome.  The same Falcons who were nine yards away from beating SF on Monday night at Candlestick.  The last three meetings in this series have all been decided by four points or less with Washington winning two of them.  Does Eli even care anymore about this year? He owns a 17-26 touchdown to interception ratio with a QB rating of 69.8.  How bad is that? Geno Smith is at 65.3.  You never want to see a total of 50 or more between sacks and picks.  Eli has been sacked 38 times and has thrown 26 picks for a total of 64.  OUCH!   The Big Blue is -16 in turnover ratio.  I don’t think Washington will play necessarily hard for Shanahan’s swan song, but for the well-liked Cousins, the Skins can hang close and easily could pull the upset.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Joe Williams

Rams at Seahawks
Play: Seahawks

The Seahawks struggled last week in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals at home, the first home loss for Russell Wilson in two seasons as a starter. Don't expect that to happen again. The Seahawks have yet to lock up a first-round bye, and could tumble as far as the fifth spot in the playoffs if they lose to the Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers win out. Don't look for Seattle to fool around with St. Louis Sunday. In fact, expect the Seahawks to fire out of the chute and show no mercy in a potential 34-to-3 type blowout.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Wunderdog

Georgia State at East Carolina
Pick: Georgia State +1

Georgia State may have a .500 overall record, but not lately, winning four of the last five. Georgia State scored a record-setting win over UTSA, 99-68, dishing out 25 assists against the Roadrunners, just one shy of a school-record. As a team, the Panthers made 19 3-pointers, the second-most in program history. The Panthers have plenty of offensive punch, averaging 77.8 points per game, third in the Sun Belt, and are also among the top-five in scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, 3-pointers made, steals, assists, and rebounding defense. East Carolina comes off a loss to N.C. State, allowing 58 percent shooting, and the Pirates are 22-52-4 ATS in their last 78 home games vs. a team with a losing road record. Play Georgia State.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Sunday, December 29

Wunderdog

New York Rangers at Tampa Bay
Pick: New York Rangers +120

The New York Rangers have won two of the last three games with fine defense, 14th in the league in goals allowed with one of the best penalty killing units. The Rangers opened this five-game road trip with Friday's 3-2 loss at Washington, scoring just two goals, but they had a 32-20 advantage in shots. The Rangers are 8-3 in their last 11 road games, 9-4 against the NHL Atlantic division. The Rangers have a winning record on the road, and match up well with a Tampa team minus star Steven Stamkos. New York is rested one day while Tampa Bay had to play last night, a 2-1 home loss to Montreal. Play the New York Rangers.

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