Good news: We’re a week into the new year, and I still haven’t broken a single resolution. See what happens when you refuse to make any resolutions? Hey, I figure I disappoint enough people over the course of 365 days; I don’t need to add myself to the list. Now, if I were to have set a couple of personal goals for 2015, they undoubtedly would’ve been to 1) continue my Cal Ripken-esque streak of being kale-free (that’s a lock!); and 2) be something other than mediocre with my handicapping.
Seriously, 122 picks into this football season, I’m three games under .500 in the NFL and two games over .500 in college. My bowl performance was the definition of average, as I nailed my first three college bowl selections, then went 6-8 the rest of the way. That’s right: I’m bringing a 9-8 bowl record into the College Football Playoff championship game, which means you’ll see Harry Reid doing treadmill endorsements before you’ll see me correctly predict the outcome of the Ohio State-Oregon showdown January 12. (Cut to all the Buckeyes and Ducks fans sweating as profusely as Andy Reid when he brushes his teeth.)
Without further delay, let’s find out which team gets the kiss of death, while also breaking down the four NFL Divisional playoff games.
Oregon (-6½, 75) vs. Ohio State (in Dallas): Oregon had the more dominating semifinal victory, dusting defending champ Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. But the Buckeyes had the more impressive victory, knocking off top-ranked Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl, rallying from a 21-6 second-quarter deficit—behind a third-string sophomore quarterback. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Ducks clearly have the superior signal caller in Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. But on the flip side, Ohio State has the better coach in Urban Meyer, who is chasing his third national championship in as many tries.
Both teams are 13-1, with the Buckeyes riding a 12-game winning streak and Oregon on a nine-game roll. Stunningly, the Ducks have covered in each of those nine victories (all as a favorite), while Ohio State is “just” 8-4 against the spread during its hot streak. So, advantage Oregon, right? Not so fast. The Buckeyes are 3-for-3 as an underdog this year, winning outright each time. Then there’s this: According to The Gold Sheet, Meyer is an astonishing 13-2 ATS as underdog going back more than a decade to his time at Utah. He’s also 34-9 ATS when he’s had more than a week to prepare his troops (4-0 this season).
The verdict: As much as I respect Meyer—as a coach, that is; not as a person— I can’t get past the fact he’s going to the well one more time with a raw, third-string quarterback against a underrated defense that just made Jameis Winston look like … a third-stringer. So, with all due apologies to Phil Knight and the Ducks faithful … Oregon 48, Ohio State 33
Patriots (-7, 47½) vs. Ravens: Facts are facts: New England struggles against Baltimore. The teams have split their last six meetings, with the Ravens going 2-1 (3-0 ATS) in three playoff matchups. Tom Brady’s QB rating in those three postseason clashes: 56.3. Meanwhile, in his last five playoff games, Joe Flacco is 5-0 SU and ATS with 13 TDs and zero interceptions. Ravens 24, Patriots 23
Seahawks (-11, 40) vs. Panthers: Although the Seahawks are 3-0 against Carolina over the past three regular seasons, they were hardly dominant, prevailing 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9. But here’s the catch: All three of those contests were in Carolina. This one is in Seattle … in January … against a team that’s won six in a row by the combined tally of 134-39! Seahawks 19, Panthers 3
Packers (-6, 53) vs. Cowboys: Dallas is 8-0 on the road. Green Bay is 8-0 at home. Dallas has just two playoff wins since 1996. Green Bay is 1-3 in the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl in 2010 (and that victory came against a Vikings team quarterbacked by Joe Webb). The tipping point? I think Aaron Rodgers’ bum leg is hurt worse than anyone is letting on. Cowboys 27, Packers 24
Broncos (-7, 54) vs. Colts: Peyton Manning’s career playoff record: 11-12. Manning’s playoff record minus the 2006 championship season: 7-12, including 2-4 in the last six. Manning’s throwing arm right now: noodle-like. And I’m getting a full touchdown? I love these annual January gifts from the oddsmakers. Broncos 31, Colts 28
Bowl Record: 9-8 (1-1 Best Bets).
Season Record: 60-61-1 (29-32-1 NFL; 31-29 college; 6-10-1 Best Bets).
Matt Jacob appears at 10 a.m. Thursdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview on ESPN Radio 1100-AM and 100.9-FM.