Super Bowl 50 Predictions

Carolina at Denver (+5.5): Super Bowl Picks

Posted by Clinton on February, 5th 2016

Can Peyton lead his team to the championship and go out on top?

Can Peyton lead his team to the championship and go out on top?

The biggest sporting event in America has arrived and all eyes will be on Santa Clara, CA, the city where the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will face off for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday (6:30pm EST). The Panthers have seemingly been unstoppable for the entire season with both their offense and defense clicking on all cylinders and Cam Newton playing like the league MVP. The Broncos have had their struggles offensively with an aging Peyton Manning, but their defense is arguably the toughest in the league with a star-studded cast of linebackers leading the charge.

The two big names in this matchup are clearly the quarterbacks, but the biggest factor will likely be the defenses and whether or not they’re able to contain and possibly takeover the game. There is no storied rivalry here, but instead there are two players trying to put their imprint on the league. Cam Newton will try and become the ultimate champion having won a junior college national title (2009), national championship (FBS) in college, Heisman Trophy and now potentially the Super Bowl. It also wouldn’t be a big leap to say he could be the regular season MVP and Super Bowl MVP if they were to win. Manning on the other hand would become the oldest Super Bowl-winning QB in league history. In fact, Devin Funchess was just 4 months old when Peyton played his first game at the Universtiy of Tennessee. The point is, Manning’s career could be over after this game and that career is nothing but a Hall of Fame story. Winning the Super Bowl would be the perfect way for him to walk away from the game he dominated for so long.

Carolina (-5.5)
Denver (+5.5)
Pick %
53% 47%
“This game figures to be low scoring, as the game features two of the best defenses in the NFL. The Broncos have made it to this point, thanks to a defense that has held its two AFC opponents to an average of 17 points per game. That will be hard in this game though, the Panthers boast the top-scoring offense and likely league MVP, Cam Newton. I look for the Panthers to be the first team in the postseason to score more than 20 points on the Broncos D and to win the game 24-17.”
Derek Lofland FFManiax
“I certainly wish the line was lower, as I think the value is on the Denver side. However, I can’t see the Broncos winning this game with their limitations on offense, and Carolina is strong enough on both sides of the ball to turn the game into a blowout if the Broncos D isn’t at its absolute best. Therefore, I’m going to begrudgingly take the Panthers to win, though there’s likely to be more value in the line closer to kickoff.”
R.J. White CBS Sports
“It’s hard for me to see the Panthers scoring less than 20 points. It’s also hard for me to see the Broncos reaching 20 points. So the Panthers win, and I can’t pick the Broncos to cover if I don’t think they’ll win. 20-10, 27-10 … something like that.”
John Halpin Fox Sports
“I don’t trust Manning at all. The Denver pass rush will struggle with Newton’s mobility. “
Scott Pianowski Yahoo
“If Carolina can get ahead in the first half of the game as they have been doing in the other match ups then they can close the game in a similar fashion. I expect the Panthers to win it all. “
James Hatfield Hatty Waiver Wire Guru
“This game is all about match ups, and Carolina just simply has the advantage with most of them. The Denver defense has been exceptional, but they have struggled against mobile QB’s this year i.e.: Alex Smith. While Miller and Ware are two dynamic pass rushers, Cam Newton will be able exploit them up the field, and attack the weak Denver line backers. Also, Carolina has probably the best front seven in the league, and they will be able to shut down the run, and make Manning throw to win. Not every story ends happily, and this Panthers defense will be too much for a limited Manning. “
Dan Yanotchko EDSFootball
“Week after week, Carolina is getting up big on opponents, and either blowing them away or holding off a frenzied comeback. They’ve been the most dominant team in the NFL most every week all season, there’s no sense in fighting the trend now. Cam Newton vs. the stellar Denver defense is tough, but Peyton Manning vs. the Carolina defense could be a nightmare. I’m rolling with the team that has been the most dominant in 2015-16. “
R.C. Fischer Fantasy Football Metrics
“There is absolutely a chance Peyton Manning grinds out one more title and rides off into the sunset, but he’s way worse than he was the last time he got here and Carolina has been the best team all year. The Panthers might blow the Broncos out.”
Kevin Roberts Breaking Football
“Has a team ever had to go through three top-five regular season defenses in route to a Super Bowl victory. That’s what Carolina faces this weekend, but I think they are up to the task. After dropping 31 points on Seattle’s second-ranked defense and 49 against Arizona’s fifth-ranked squad, the Panthers won’t be intimidated by Denver’s top-rated D in Super Bowl 50. I think the Year of Cam rolls on, with a Lombardi Trophy for Carolina and a Super Bowl MVP for Newton. “
Jason Willan Gridiron Experts
“The smart money says you should take the points. Denver’s elite defense will at least keep it within one score and that’s more or less where we’re at. So if you feel this game is a coin flip or close to it, you take the points. However, Cam and the Panthers are going to grind this game out, control the clock and try to lull Denver to sleep on a play-action pass when the Broncos try to stack the box. Panthers by 14.”
Staff Rankings ScoutFantasy
“Although Peyton has been here before, the Super Bowl nerves for both quarterbacks even out in this 50th edition. Both defenses are strong and which team settles into the game quicker will be a major factor into who has that all important lead going into the long half-time show. I think Carolina will outlast the Broncos defense much sooner than Peyton will wear down Luke Kuechly and company – if they can. I’ll predict Cam Newton for MVP in a game that will be a comfortable win, but not as dominating for the Panthers as their playoff run was.”
Richard Savill Fantasy Six Pack
“Peyton Manning has the odds against him as he is 1-2 straight up and against the spread in 3 Super Bowls. Carolina will dominate on offense with Cam Newton and on defense with Josh Norman. Impress your friends at your Super Bowl party with this stat: Back in 2011, Green Bay was the last team to last favorite to win a super bowl, let alone cover the betting line. “
Jeff Boggis Fantasy Football Empire
“Denver won’t win the game, but their defense is strong enough to hold Carolina to 24 points. I predict a 24-20 Panthers victory.”
Austin Lee Footballguys
“With all the hype surrounding Cam Newton it’s hard to believe that the Denver pass rush will be his kryptonite. But several weeks ago the Atlanta Falcons showed us just how ineffective Newton is under presser, something Denver should have zero problems producing. This game is going to be all about the defenses so Denver gets the edge with this spread.”
Staff Rankings Fantasy Knuckleheads
“While it is likely that Carolina will win, it is going to be a close game. Peyton Manning is going to play his heart out in what may end up being his last season in the NFL. The Denver defense is very good and they will keep him in the game. As long as the offense steps up, it will be close. Carolina, with their relaxed attitude, has looked great, but they may have done too much a game too early… “
Sarah Lewis SoCalledFanEx
“I’m from Denver! Can’t pick against the Broncos. This matchup features two of the best defenses in the NFL this season and will likely come down to turnovers. Peyton’s experience will shine through as he rides off into the sunset with his final Super Bowl victory in hand”
KJ Fantasy Team Advice
“Despite a seemingly massive QB advantage for Carolina, I can’t give up this many points when the Denver defense is playing so well. I may even put a small money-line bet on the Broncos at +190.”
Pat Fitzmaurice The Football Girl
“While I expect the Panthers to win, both teams have great defenses and I think this will be a relatively low-scoring Super Bowl.”
Kevin Hanson EDSFootball
“While I believe the Panthers will win the game I see Denver staying within the spread. The Broncos defense will make life difficult for Cam Newton with relentless pressure and the ability to stuff the run. Newton’s ability to run and extend plays will be a key to victory. In the end I just can’t see Peyton Manning having enough time in the pocket to do enough damage to win the game.”
Walton Spurlin Fantasy Sharks
“The fact that I have a life-long allegiance to the Broncos does play a part in this decision, although I do think they are more than capable of beating the spread on Sunday. The key for the Broncos will be to mount time-consuming, methodical drives and hold onto the ball, and for the Denver defense to play the way it did against the Patriots. Stopping the Panthers offense and scoring against the Panthers defense will be no easy task, but the Broncos been up to the task leading up to the Super Bowl. “
Zach Greubel Gridiron Experts
“Cam Newton is great and the Carolina Panthers defense is good, but I will take the points, the speedy Broncos defense and Peyton Manning in his farewell game.”
Eric Mack FanDuel
“it’s tough picking against a player I like as much as Cam Newton, but this Denver defense is outright nasty. Peyton Manning is clearly washed up, but I think Denver will game plan around what Peytom can do now and not what he did in the past. I expect this game to come down to a last minute FG. I’ll take the points here. “
Sean Beazley EDSFootball
“The last game of year…so sad. Make sure to check me out at sleeperlist.com for NFL Draft coverage, including scouting reports as well as offseason coverage. As for SB50, I’m going against my own logic here and I’m sticking with my gut feeling — something tells me that the Broncos will send Peyton off a winner. On two weeks rest, he does just enough to compliment the defense. I’ll miss you football.”
Mike Hentz Sleeper List
“I think the Denver D keeps this game closer than people think. I’ll gladly take the 5.5, and I’m tempted to take the outright.”
Adam Inman FFLockerRoom
“Defensively The Broncos have the personnel to slow down Cam and the Panthers and make this a closer game than when the Seahawks spanked them 2 years ago. Not saying it ends in victory but not losing by more than a TD this time around could be a moral victory.”
Terrance Bridgett ProjectRoto

SUPER BOWL 50: LATEST ODDS, PROBABILITIES AND VALUES

PROBABILITIES AND VALUES

LARRY HARTSTEIN
@LarryHartstein
JANUARY 18, 2016 / 10:00 PM Eastern

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Peyton Manning played well in the 23-16 win over Pittsburgh. Or so says Gary Kubiak.

SUPER BOWL ODDS & VALUE
Odds SportsLine % Value
Panthers 2/1  (33.3%) 31.3% -2.0%
Patriots 2/1  (33.3%) 27.4% -5.9%
Cardinals 3/1  (25.0%) 19.2% -5.8%
Broncos 4/1  (20.0%) 22.1% 2.1%

Broncos receivers dropped seven passes, Kubiak noted, and the team “left at least 100 yards on the field” in the first half.

The fact remains that Manning has thrown one touchdown in six home games this season (against eight interceptions). With Tom Brady coming to Denver for the AFC Championship Game — he’s 11-5 lifetime against Manning — the Patriots are 3-point favorites.

While the SportsLine Projection Model gives Carolina the best chance to win Super Bowl 50 at 31.3 percent, the computer considers Denver the best value because of its 4/1 odds. Denver’s 22.1 percent chance to win it all translates to 2.1 percent value.

HEAD-TO-HEAD PROBABILITIES
vs. CAR vs. NE vs. DEN vs. ARI
Panthers 47% 55% 62%
Patriots 53% 51% 55%
Broncos 45% 49% 45%
Cardinals 39% 45% 55%

“Denver is our lowest-rated team on a neutral field among the four remaining teams but the only value play because of its homefield advantage in the AFC Championship game,” says Stephen Oh, SportsLine’s principal engineer.

SportsLine assigns New England a 27.4 percent chance to go all the way, Arizona just a 19.2 percent chance.

The Pats and the Cardinals represent the worst values at -5.9 percent and -5.8 percent respectively. Arizona is a 3-point underdog at Carolina.

Click here for SportsLine’s projection and picks on the conference championship games.

NBA

POWER RATINGS: HAWKS AND OTHERS READY TO MAKE A PUSH

ZACH HARPER
@talkhoops
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 2:15 PM Eastern

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We’re about at the halfway point of the season for every team, and that’s usually a good marker for trying to figure out what’s going to happen the rest of the season.

THE METHOD BEHIND THE POWER RATINGS
SportsLine’s Power Ratings are based on a team’s Neutral Win%. To calculate a team’s Neutral Win% we simulate them playing every other team in the league thousands of times on a neutral court. Teams are rated in descending order of Average Neutral Win% vs. the other 29 teams.

SportsLine’s Power Ratings are objective and numbers based, vastly different from subjective power rankings. Our method gives all teams the same schedule and we remove any bias from the analysis.

Our Power Ratings are based on healthy rosters. Any player not out for the season is assumed to be 100 percent. This method allows us to compare their actual Win% to their Neutral Win% and determine which teams have over or under performed relative to their talent.

Neutral Win% is not consistent between rankings. For example, the difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 team could be wider than the difference between No. 15 and No. 20. While our sequential ranking is how we display, we provide the Neutral Win% so you can really identify how much of a gap there is between teams and whether the gap between two teams is really significant or not.

What we’ve seen happen and what we think will happen from here on out could be two very different things.

While the Eastern Conference has been better than the Western Conference so far, the West looks to have multiple title contenders as everybody in the East outside of Cleveland is looking far up at the Cavaliers.

We’ve had teams like the Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets look apathetic too many times in the first half of the season, but they may be primed to make a run in the second half.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers looked really awful in the first half of the season but in the second half of the season … OK, maybe some of the first half stuff carries over to the second half of the season.

As we head into the second half of the 2015-16 NBA season, let’s take a look at what we’ve definitely learned about each team and what we project for their second half of the season based on SportsLine’s Power Ratings.

SPORTSLINE’S NBA POWER RATINGS
RANK TEAM NEUTRAL WIN% WIN PROJ. ATS% PLAYOFF%
1
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors were the biggest story of the first half of the season because they seem capable of challenging the best record of all time. And considering our neutral percentage has them above 80 percent and projected for 70 wins, they’re special. They’ve tailed off a bit but made quite a statement Monday in Cleveland. It won’t be worth going for 73 wins if you aren’t ready to take on the Spurs in May.
80.6% 70.9 60.0% 100%
2
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs seem just as dominant as the Warriors and you can see it in their historic point differential, their perfect road record, and them covering spreads 68.3 percent of the time, which is tops in the league. They’re the only other 60-plus win team projected and it doesn’t matter if they rest guys. Everybody has a ridiculous net rating on this roster.
74.5% 64.9 69.1% 100%
3
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC is confusing. The record is great. The net rating is third best in the NBA. They have a lot of the makings of a team that can move their way up to being a real title contender, despite the presence of the Spurs and Dubs. But only Chicago is worse against the spread of SportsLine’s top 15 teams. Do books overestimate them or are they underperforming while still being great?
69.2% 55.9 42.9% 100%
4
Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs being so bad against the spread is easy to explain considering their first half injuries. And still the Cavs are far and away the class of the Eastern Conference with LeBron James looking mad and rejuvenated. But shouldn’t they start putting up more dominant numbers? Monday’s home humiliation raises a few questions.
68.2% 59.3 46.0% 100%
5
Atlanta Hawks
Maybe they’re not on pace to win 60 games like last year, but 50 games is still pretty impressive considering they can’t shoot 3s this season. They are 19th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy, Paul Millsap is under 30 percent, and Kyle Korver is a pedestrian 36 percent. So what happens when they start hitting? They’re not just a jump shooting team, but they’re dangerous when they are. A second-half surge is coming.
63.2% 50.7 48.7% 99.8%
6
Toronto Raptors
This looks exactly like the same team as last season and with DeMarre Carroll out until sometime in March, we may not see much difference at all this season. The good news for them is they seem better prepared to withstand any dips in production for now. Will they still hunt out free throws in the playoffs? We don’t know yet. But they’re not a naïve team like last season, just the same style of play.
58.8% 50.9 53.9% 99.8%
7
Boston Celtics
Halfway through the season and I have no clue what I’m supposed to have learned about the Boston Celtics. They’re good but are they seventh best in the NBA good? I’ve struggled in buying into them the same way SportsLine has most of the season. For the rest of the season, I expect to remain confused while I just politely nod and smile as they play.
57.9% 46.1  55.0% 92.6%
8
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers and their resiliency are quite impressive. Either Blake Griffin or Chris Paul has missed significant time in each of last three seasons and the Clippers haven’t missed a beat. This team looks like it can catch the Thunder by season’s end, but the Clippers still probably won’t be resilient against tougher foes in the postseason. There is only so much they end up overcoming.
57.0% 49.5 48.7% 99.7%
9
Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is getting going right now and looks to be a much tougher foe than at the start of the season. They still turn you over a lot while taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line. But they can’t make shots and they’re not great at stopping shots from going in. The very real ceiling is still present for them, but do you want them beating you up during a seven-game series?
54.3% 45.8 48.8% 99.0%
10
Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are currently hanging on but they’re mostly reliant on playing at home and hitting 3-pointers if they want to win games. Nothing else seems to work for them. I doubt we see the team that went 11-2 in November again this season but with Myles Turner coming back, the frontcourt has some much-needed depth back in the lineup.
53.8% 44.8 53.7% 88.3%
11
Chicago Bulls
Bulls fall three spots as we hit the halfway point and it has something to do with Joakim Noah being out for the next 4-6 months, I’m sure. He was struggling but he helps provide the ball movement Fred Hoiberg wants to see. Unless someone unlocks their offensive potential magically (looking at you, Bobby Portis), they’ll continue to get shredded against the spread the rest of the season.
55.0% 47.4 38.5% 95.8%
12
Detroit Pistons
As Stan Van Gundy teaches this Pistons team, they’re getting by on defense and 3-point shooting. Mostly the 3-point shooting. In wins, they’re above 37 percent from deep. In losses, they’re below 29 percent from downtown. The return of Brandon Jennings makes them dangerous the rest of the way. I’d say they have a better chance of finishing in the top 4 than Boston, Indiana, and maybe even Chicago, who inexplicably win tight games.
52.5% 44.5 57.9% 84.1%
13
Houston Rockets
SportsLine has remained pretty confident in the Rockets turning this around throughout the Malaise Festival the first half of the season has been, and it may have been right all along. Houston looks much more competent in late December and the month of January. I’m not going to buy in but at least Houston looks absolutely playoff bound (92.5 percent). Baby steps to competency.
51.9% 42.3 40.5% 92.5%
14
Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz got Rudy Gobert back and all of a sudden they look like a really dangerous defensive team again. They still need to get Derrick Favors and Alec Burks to return from injury, but being where they are after all of these first half injuries is encouraging. What do they do in the second half of the season? Get healthy and make a run at the No. 6 seed is ideal. Making the playoffs is more realistic.
49.5% 39.8 53.9% 68.6%
15
Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs’ ATS percentage (sixth in the NBA) probably sums up their first half pretty perfectly. They’ve been one of the best teams at surprising us against expectations all year. It’s tough to trust their health or depth because of recent history, but if they remain healthy the rest of the season, this is an offense nobody wants to play. Mavs being a spot lower than Utah is an interesting projection.
48.9% 42.8 57.1% 93.9%
16
Miami Heat
SportsLine has been slow to buy into this Heat team all season, and the easy schedule early on was probably a good reason to be hesitant. They’ve had some good highs this season and now we’re experiencing some lows in the tough schedule of January. The depth of the East has playoffs in question for Miami, which is not something anybody expected to say.
48.1% 43.0 50.0% 65.2%
17
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are perfectly rated by SportsLine. They’re projected as a top 17 team in this league but the early-season struggles through all of those injuries leave us with 33 wins on the table and a 6.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Pels can be dangerous the rest of the season but they should see if Anthony Davis would represent them at the lottery.
48.2% 33.6 38.5% 6.4%
18
Washington Wizards
The Wizards have done a decent job of hanging on the last month and a half despite their injuries. This team also lives and dies by the 3-point shot (42.5 percent in wins, 31.4 percent in losses). We’re still wondering if and when this team can make a run at not just the playoffs, but also as a seed that avoids the Cavs and gives them a chance to have that first-round upset magic.
47.4% 40.6 53.9% 38.3%
19
Phoenix Suns
How are they 19th? How? How are they not 29th or 30th? Tell me, SportsLine! I do not understand. This team quit in the first half of the season and they’re not going to have much life in the second half of the season. They lost to the Wolves by 30. The Wolves! The 0.2 percent playoff odds should move them way down here. I’m not buying neutral site here because they don’t care in any environment.
41.3% 28.6 38.1% 0.2%
20
Orlando Magic
The Magic are another team SportsLine has been slow to buy into, and with their upcoming schedule it makes sense. It’s not that things have been easy for them so far. They’re scrappy. They’re competitive (see that ATS percentage). You don’t really want to deal with them. But it’s about to become a tough road and this may knock them out of the playoff picture.
47.5% 39.0 60.5% 15.8%
21
Portland Trail Blazers
We expected them to have these splits but this is another team with a cavern between 3-point percentages in wins and losses. 40.1 percent when they win. 32.4 percent when they lose. Important for them is they’ve found a running mate for Damian Lillard in the backcourt with C.J. McCollum. I don’t expect much of a playoff push from them and neither does SportsLine, but they’re dangerous with that shooting ability.
45.3% 36.0 51.2% 21.8%
22
Sacramento Kings
SportsLine isn’t buying the Kings just yet, but they should start creeping up here. The Kings are trying to find consistency and the West standings are allowing them to do that while still remaining in the playoff race. The defense is so bad though. Probably need to climb from 25th to top 20 to make the postseason.
44.5% 35.7 47.5% 17.2%
23
Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets were a great story in November and then they were hanging on in December and now they’re falling quickly in January. They’re the best in the league at taking care of the ball, but they’re missing some defensive consistency. If they can get Al Jefferson healthy, maybe they’ll have enough to overcome it and make the playoffs. But the East is crowded.
44.1% 37.5 46.2% 9.2%
24
New York Knicks
Why won’t SportsLine buy the Knicks? It teased us over the last two weeks when it looked like New York was finally climbing up the Power Ratings. They’re still stuck in the bottom 7, though, and it’s a bit frustrating. The defense is still a bit shaky and they need to correct that the rest of the season, but the Knicks have a real shot at the playoffs.
43.6% 38.0 59.5% 10.6%
25
Milwaukee Bucks
How do you have all of this length and wingspan and size, and yet still remain the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA? Third worst defense. Don’t take care of the ball. Can you count on the Bucks to get it together in the second half of the season? There is no deer to fear anymore. It’s been hunting season this entire time.
40.7% 33.4 53.5% 0.6%
26
Denver Nuggets
The win over the Warriors helped them climb two spots in the Power Ratings and it shows they might be a team a lot of squads don’t want to play the rest of the season. When healthy, they have a lot of depth. Will Barton and Danilo Gallinari are a great combination right now. Emmanuel Mudiay is back. They get to build something the rest of the season.
37.2% 31.0 48.7% 0.7%
27
Minnesota Timberwolves
If you just focus on Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, you feel really good about the Wolves so far this season. If you start getting into the other stuff, then you’re left with a lot of questions. It’s a really bad team with promise in the coming years. Ideally, they’d become Utah of the second half of last season, but they’re probably a year or two from that.
38.1% 25.1 41.5% 0.0%
28
Brooklyn Nets
I’ll say this about the Nets. There isn’t much hope now or in the near future. They’re a really bad team. They have key injuries, which doesn’t help make anything better. But they’re still above 50 percent against the spread, and that does mean there’s some competitiveness there. Maybe it’s also not giving them credit when the lines are made, but that’s still something you can hang your hat on.
37.0% 24.7 51.2% 0.0%
29
Los Angeles Lakers
I’ve been able to see this Lakers team in person twice this season and only the recent Suns have looked more checked out than what Byron Scott’s squad offered up in terms of effort. The rest of this season is just living with an ex while you wait for the lease on an apartment to run out because neither of you can go anywhere else.
23.8% 16.4 41.9% 0.0%
30
Philadelphia 76ers
I’m not sure I buy this team as the worst in the league anymore. It’s the Lakers, the Suns, or the Wolves for me. The Sixers are doing what they always do under Brett Brown: they’re building toward being scrappy in the second half of the season. They’ll surprise a few unsuspecting foes. The Sixers aren’t the worst in my mind. Sorry, Sam Hinkie.
18.1% 12.0 43.9% 0.0%
CBB

NAGEL: LOOK FOR OSU TO FORCE HALF-COURT GAME AGAINST KANSAS

JOSH NAGEL
@JoshNagel1
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 1:48 PM Eastern
The Kansas Jayhawks (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) rebounded from their loss to West Virginia with a unspectacular 70-63 win Saturday over a TCU club that has a habit of hanging around with them.

Kansas fell well short of the 23-point spread, and has now failed to cover in three of its last four following a five-game winning streak ATS.

Even so, the Jayhawks are getting plenty of respect Tuesday night, as they will have to get a double-digit win at improving Oklahoma State (9-8, 1-4) in order to reward their backers.

The Cowboys are coming off a pair of games in which they turned potential blowouts into tight contests and covered big numbers.

On Saturday, they came form 23 down in the second half against Texas to make it a one-score game in the final minute before falling 74-69. They also rallied from a double-digit deficit against Oklahoma to lose 74-72 last Wednesday.

In each comeback, the Cowboys found an unlikely source to boost their struggling offense, helping out what has long been a solid defense (65.5 ppg, No. 46 nationally).

This is an improving team and another tempting position on the underdog, but there’s concern about fatigue and firepower against a Kansas team averaging 85.8 points per game (No. 5 nationally).

In order to stand a chance, Oklahoma State must again rely on its rigid half-court defense. Kansas also is respectable, with a 67.5-point scoring defense.

Because of the shared strength on defense, I like the game go to Under the posted total more than a position on either side.

The SportsLine Projection Model has a slight lean the other way, and prefers the Over between Kansas and Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.

Nagel’s pick: Under 143; SportsLine’s lean: Over

Nagel is 8-5 in his college basketball picks when disagreeing with the SportsLine Projection Model and 17-9 overall.

Editor’s note: Lines are subject to change. At the time of filing, the writer used the SportsLine numbers, which come from a Covers Consensus of major sportsbooks. 

Josh Nagel is a Reno-based handicapper and radio host who has worked in the Nevada sports gaming industry for 15 years. His work has been featured in USA Today, Poker News and on Covers.com. He looks for psychological edges, motivational spots and situational advantages.

CBB

CBB PICKS: CAN VIRGINIA REESTABLISH ITSELF TONIGHT?

NICK KOSTOS
@TheKostos
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 1:45 PM Eastern

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SIMULATION PICK
EXCLUSIVE TO SPORTSLINE PRO MEMBERS
TUE 8:00 PM (EST)PROJECTION
CLEMSON  O/U 124
@ VIRGINIA  -10

Many thanks to Iowa State for covering Monday night, but man, it would really have been nice if Duke had covered.

Instead, we got Coach K complaining about the officiating, which is almost as good as winning a wager. And by almost as good, I mean not even close.

But I’m back — carrying a 7-7 record on the year — with two more picks for Tuesday night’s action — and I feel good about both of them.

Clemson at No. 13 Virginia  (SportsLine’s pick)

Tipoff:  Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET
TV:  ESPN3
Spread:  Virginia -10, O/U 123.5

I know that Clemson has been ultra impressive as of late. The Tigers are riding a five-game win streak, with victories coming over top 25 teams Duke, Louisville and Miami.

But that streak ends tonight when they visit No. 13 Virginia — and I’m not expecting the game to be close.

The Tigers are good, but not this good, and they’re not at Virginia’s level. And with the Cavaliers coming off a loss against Florida State, I’m looking for both teams to revert to form tonight.

London Perrantes will dominate for the Cavs and they’ll dispose of the Tigers with ease.

Give me Virginia to win and win big.

The Pick: Virginia (-10)

Alabama at Auburn  (SportsLine’s pick)

Tipoff:  Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
TV:  SEC Network
Spread:  Alabama -2, O/U 139

While their basketball “rivalry” doesn’t have nearly as much juice as the “Iron Bowl” iteration, it’s still fun whenever Alabama and Auburn get together — and don’t look now, but both teams have been decent this year.

While the Tide have won four straight games in the series, Auburn — coached by Bruce Pearl — is drastically different this year, and is coming off a win over Kentucky.

But Alabama — which is now led by former NBA coach Avery Johnson — has been impressive as well, bringing a 10-6 record into this game.

Ultimately, Alabama is the better team, and I think they’re undervalued in this spot. Auburn is the team of the moment, but the Tide will win and cover.

The Pick: Alabama (-2)

—————

Season to date:  7-7

CBB

CIMINI: ONE-LOSS SOUTH CAROLINA FACES TRICKY SEC ROAD TEST

ZACK CIMINI
@Cimini
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 1:11 PM Eastern

Vegas handicapper Zack Cimini believes one-loss South Carolina continues to be overvalued by oddsmakers and the public. Will he fade the Gamecocks in Oxford, Miss.?

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SOUTH CAROLINA  O/U 148.5
@ MISSISSIPPI  +1
CBB

CIMINI: WILL HOYAS RAISE PLAY AGAIN IN SHOWCASE GAME?

ZACK CIMINI
@Cimini
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 12:56 PM Eastern

Vegas handicapper Zack Cimini is zeroing in on Tuesday’s Georgetown-Xavier matchup. Will the disappointing Hoyas be able to hang with the heavily favored Musketeers?

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GEORGETOWN  O/U 146.5
@ XAVIER  -10
CBB

FUHRMAN: LINE SKEWED FOR LSU-TEXAS A&M MATCHUP

TODD FUHRMAN
@ToddFuhrman
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 12:42 PM Eastern

Vegas insider Todd Fuhrman has a strong recommendation on the LSU-Texas A&M matchup Tuesday night. Will the Tigers fall to 1-6 ATS in their last seven road games?

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LOUISIANA STATE  O/U 152.5
@ TEXAS A&M  -7
NBA

KALLAND: EXPECT T-WOLVES-PELICANS TO BE SLOPPY AND LOW-SCORING

ROBBY KALLAND
@RKalland
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 12:25 PM Eastern
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OVER/UNDER PICK
OVER 203
TUE 8:00 PM (EST)PROJECTION
MINNESOTA  O/U 203100
@ NEW ORLEANS  -5110

The Pelicans return home on Tuesday to face the Timberwolves after losing a hard fought game in Memphis to the Grizzlies on Monday afternoon.

Few teams in the league wear an opponent down physically as much as the Grizzlies, so I expect some tired legs from the home team in New Orleans. Both teams rank right around league average in pace (13th for NO, 17th for MIN), but on the second game of a back-to-back after a tough loss, I expect the Pelicans to play a little slower.

The Timberwolves eviscerated the Suns on Sunday — my apologies for whiffing on that pick — as they put up 117 points on the league’s worst defense in a 30-point win to snap a 9-game losing streak.

That offensive performance from the Timberwolves is certainly the outlier compared to other recent games. The Pelicans defense is ranked among the league’s worst for the season, but they have shown a great deal of improvement on that end recently, ranking 11th in defensive rating in the last 10 games.

With the Pelicans’ defense improving recently and both offenses playing inefficiently of late (25th and 26th respectively in offensive rating the last 10 games), this game should be a low-scoring contest that falls under the number.

The SportsLine Projection Model has a slight lean on the over in this game.

Kalland’s pick: Under (203); SportsLine’s lean: Over (203)

Robby is 0-0 on NBA picks when disagreeing with the SportsLine Projection Model and 1-3 overall.

Editor’s note: Lines are subject to change. At the time of filing, the writer used the SportsLine numbers, which come from a Covers Consensus of major sportsbooks.

CBB

CBB PICKS: SOME TOTALS TO CONSIDER FOR TUESDAY NIGHT

JOSH NAGEL
@JoshNagel1
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 10:45 AM Eastern

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OVER/UNDER PICK
OVER 142.5
TUE 7:00 PM (EST)PROJECTION
KANSAS  O/U 142.577
@ OKLAHOMA ST.  +9.569

Defense is the theme for Tuesday night’s card, as we’ll look at a pair of games that each feature clubs known for slowing their opponents down.

Kansas visits Oklahoma State in Big 12 action, while struggling Virginia hosts sizzling Clemson in ACC play.

Kansas at Oklahoma State  (SportsLine’s pick)

Tipoff:  Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET
TV:  ESPN2
Spread:  Kansas -9.5, O/U 143

The Jayhawks (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) rebounded from their loss to West Virginia with a unspectacular 70-63 win Saturday over a TCU club that has a habit of hanging around with them.

Kansas fell well short of the 23-point spread, and has now failed to cover in three of its last four following a five-game winning streak ATS.

Even so, the Jayhawks are getting plenty of respect Tuesday night, as they will have to get a double-digit win at improving Oklahoma State (9-8, 1-4) in order to reward their backers.

The Cowboys are coming off pair of games in which they turned potential blowouts into tight contests and covered big numbers.

On Saturday, they came form 23 down in the second half against Texas to make it a one-score game in the final minute before falling, 74-69. They also rallied from a double-digit deficit against Oklahoma to lose 74-72 last Wednesday.

In each comeback, the Cowboys found an unlikely source to boost their struggling offense, helping out what has long been a solid defense (65.5 ppg, No. 46 nationally).

This is an improving team and another tempting position on the underdog, but there’s concern about fatigue and firepower against a Kansas team averaging 85.8 points per game (No. 5 nationally).

In order to stand a chance, Oklahoma State must again rely on its rigid half-court defense. Kansas also is respectable, with a 67.5-point scoring defense.

Because of this, I like the game go to Under the posted total, which feels a safer play than either side.

Pick:  Under 143

Predicted final score:  Kansas 72, Oklahoma State 64

Clemson at Virginia  (SportsLine’s pick)

Tipoff:  Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET
TV:  ESPN3
Spread:  Virginia -10, O/U 122.5

Two of the top defensive clubs in the country collide Tuesday night when surging Clemson (12-6, 5-1 ACC) takes on struggling Virginia (13-4, 2-3).

Both teams are in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense, as the Hokies allow just 61.2 points per game (No. 10 nationally), while Clemson’s 62.4 average (No. 17) isn’t far behind.

After losing its conference opener to North Carolina, the Tigers have won five straight, including three over ranked opponents.

Meanwhile, Virginia has lost three of its last four after an outstanding start, and is reeling from a road loss to Florida State on Saturday.

The Cavaliers have dominated this series of late, with three straight wins, and they are in a tempting bounce-back position Tuesday.

Even so, this is too many points to spot a Clemson team that is emerging as one of the better clubs in the ACC.

Although defense gets most of the attention for both clubs, they are much better offensively than perceptions suggest.

Virginia averages 73.2 points per game and has scored at least 64 in each of its last six outings, while Clemson (69.8 ppg) has scored 66 in each of its five games during its winning streak.

I think the ultra-low total provides some value on the Over and, although defense might decide the outcome, these teams should clear the number with room to spare.

Pick:  Over 122.5

Predicted final score:  Virginia 74, Clemson 66

Editor’s note:  Lines are subject to change. At the time of filing, the writer used the SportsLine numbers, which come from a Covers Consensus of major sportsbooks. 

————-

Season to date:  17-9

Josh Nagel is a Reno-based handicapper and radio host who has worked in the Nevada sports gaming industry for 15 years. His work has been featured in USA Today, Poker News and on Covers.com. He looks for psychological edges, motivational spots and situational advantages.

CBB

FUHRMAN: BUTLER A MORE COMPLETE TEAM THAN PROVIDENCE

TODD FUHRMAN
@ToddFuhrman
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 10:31 AM Eastern
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OVER/UNDER PICK
UNDER 148.5
TUE 6:30 PM (EST)PROJECTION
BUTLER  O/U 148.575
@ PROVIDENCE  -172

Providence went into Hinkle Fieldhouse on Dec. 31 and blitzed Butler 56-37 in the second half to come out victorious, 81-73.

We know the names to watch: the Friars’ Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil matching up against the Bulldogs’ Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham.

Neither team enters this clash in top form. The Friars have lost two of three after starting the season 14-1. The Bulldogs have gone 2-3 since their surprising 11-1 start.

Butler is one of the nation’s best when it comes to protecting the basketball, turning the rock over on just 14 percent of its possession. That ranks 14th nationally.

Since league play started, that number has climbed a bit. But the Bulldogs are still among the Big East’s best.

Providence isn’t great at forcing turnovers, but the Friars defend as tenaciously as any team in the country. Ed Cooley’s bunch has held opponents below 20 percent from beyond the arc and limited Butler to 3 for 17 from deep in the first meeting.

The Friars’ defensive efficiency of 92.2 points per 100 possessions puts them atop the league.

This is a huge three-game stretch for Providence, with a road game at Villanova looming following by a home date with Xavier.

The emotion Butler showed in honoring Andrew Smith against St John’s could drain the team on a short turnaround. But the Bulldogs are the more complete team right now, and they’ll get revenge for the game they dropped earlier this year as 7.5-point home favorites.

I’m backing the Bulldogs as small road dogs here. The SportsLine Projection Model agrees, with a lean to the Bulldogs.

Fuhrman’s pick: Butler (+1.5); SportsLine’s lean: Butler

Todd is 3-1 on college basketball picks when agreeing with the SportsLine Projection Model and 4-3 overall.

Editor’s note: Lines are subject to change. At the time of filing the writer used the SportsLine numbers, which come from a Covers Consensus of major sportsbooks.

Todd Fuhrman arrived to SportsLine with an extensive resume in the sports gambling industry. Fuhrman got his start at Caesars Palace as a financial analyst back in 2005 before transitioning into sportsbook operations full time. Since his departure from the Palace back in 2011, he’s experienced a meteoric rise as a gambling insider and trusted voice in the field. During his previous stint at Fox Sports he covered every sport with a point spread ranging from college and pro football to NASCAR and soccer. Follow Todd @ToddFuhrman

NBA

TODAY IN THE NBA: WILL THE SUNS-PACERS MATCHUP FEATURE ANY D?

LARRY HARTSTEIN
@LarryHartstein
JANUARY 19, 2016 / 10:15 AM Eastern

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PHOENIX  O/U 205
@ INDIANA  -12

Indiana has given up an ABA-like 116.7 points during its three-game losing streak. Phoenix has been a sieve all season, ranking 29th in points allowed (106.9).

So when oddsmakers opened Tuesday’s Pacers-Suns total at 208, bettors jumped on the Over and pushed it to 208.5 or 209 at every book.

The SportsLine Projection Model is going the other way, recommending Under 208.5. As of Tuesday morning, the computer was predicting 200 points.

The Pacers gave up 45 points in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 129-126 loss at Denver — the most points any NBA team has scored in a fourth quarter this season. Indiana got back to basics in Monday’s practice.

“I thought we had better focus,” leading scorer Paul George told the Indianapolis Star. “We were definitely tied into the details of playing defense today, which we haven’t done in a lot of practices.”

These teams have played once this season, host Indiana winning 116-107 on Jan. 12. The Over cashed easily on a closing total of 205.

But coming off that Denver debacle, expect Indiana to put forth a maximum defensive effort. The Under is 10-2 in the Pacers’ last 12 games after they allowed at least 125 points in the previous outing.

There are four games on Tuesday’s card, including the Bucks visiting the Heat.

Check out all the latest picks and grades here.

Last night on SportsLine:  The computer enjoyed a 3-1 night, going 2-1 on A-rated spreads and 1-0 on its lone A-rated total.

SportsLine nailed Golden State +3 (Warriors 132, Cavs 98), Chicago +3 (Bulls 111, Pistons 101) and Under 208.5 in Portland-Washington (Trail Blazers 108, Wizards 98).

The only loss came on Houston +5.5 (Clippers 140, Rockets 132).

SportsLine is 111-83 (57.2 percent) on spread picks, 45-41 (52.3 percent) on totals.

The analysts say:  Matty Simo (115-115-3 on NBA picks) is going Over 192.5 on Bucks-Heat, noting Milwaukee has scored at least 100 points in four straight games for the first time this season.

“The last six times Milwaukee had a total close below 197.5, the Over went 5-1,” Simo writes. “This is the lowest total for the Bucks since they lost to the Spurs 123-98 at home on Jan. 3, easily finishing Over 192.

“With Miami likely looking to push the pace and Milwaukee giving up 103.3 points per game, I’m picking the Over here.”

Trends to note:  The home team is 9-1 ATS in the last 10 Timberwolves-Pelicans games; the host Pelicans are laying 5 on Tuesday. … OKC is 2-7 ATS in its last nine games against losing teams; the Thunder are giving 8.5 points at Denver.

Injuries to watch:  Heat PG Goran Dragic (leg) is not expected to play against the Bucks, while G Dwyane Wade (shoulder) and F Gerald Green (knee) are game-time decisions. … Pelicans G Tyreke Evans (sore right knee) is questionable against Minnesota. … Nuggets C Jusuf Nurkic (knee) isn’t expected to play against the Thunder, while PG Jameer Nelson (sprained left wrist) is questionable. … Pacers G George Hill (personal) is questionable to play at Phoenix. … Suns C Alex Len (hand) has a good chance to face Indiana after missing the past three games.

Get all the updated SportsLine and analyst selections on our NBA picks page.

Editor’s note: SportsLine’s grades can change frequently based on line moves, injuries, lineup changes and updated computer simulations. ‘A’ picks early in the day may not necessarily go off as ‘A’ picks come tipoff. Check SportsLine frequently for the latest grades.

NFL Championship Sunday offers AFC style and NFC substance

They will, apparently, also play a conference championship game on Sunday in the NFC. It’s very possible the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, the NFC’s top seeds, are the two best teams in the entire NFL right now, with the first- and second-ranked scoring offenses, respectively, and the sixth- and seventh-ranked scoring defenses. Cam Newton and Larry Fitzgerald are worthy recipients of our rooting interests, and Ron Rivera and Bruce Arians have done two of the finest coaching jobs this season in guiding their respective teams to the penultimate game.

But for the annual rotation of the television schedule, that game will be the undercard.

Throughout the season, there was an air of inevitability about the AFC Championship Game we will get. Maybe the matchup we ended up with was not always the way we thought it would be, but it was the way we always felt it should be. In the middle of the season, with Peyton Manning on the bench nursing a painful foot injury, it seemed possible we would never see him play again, let alone participate again in the greatest individual rivalry the game has known. When the New England Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos during the regular season, it was Brock and Brady, Part 1, after all.

Through a remarkable series of ups and downs, injuries, losses and comebacks, though, Manning returned, the Broncos and Patriots wound up as the top-seeded teams in the AFC, Tom Brady got all his weapons back and we will get the 17th — and almost certainly final — installment of Brady vs. Manning. You can lament the lack of variety here — Brady is appearing in his 10th conference championship game, the Patriots‘ fifth straight, a staggering testament to the excellence he and Bill Belichick have force fed the rest of the AFC — and you can correctly note that Manning is clearly in the twilight, the darkness closing in on his career, and this will be much more Brady versus the Broncos‘ superb defense.

Or you can just sit back and appreciate a rivalry that we might never see the likes of again.

So, now that the table is set for a Championship Sunday feast, let’s quickly examine each course:

AFC: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

Really, none of the past is prologue here. When the Osweiler-led Broncos beat the Patriots in Week 12, Tom Brady was without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, although he still threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns. And Manning’s formidable gifts, at least the physical ones, clearly have faded even since the middle of the 2014 season, the last time he faced the Patriots. In perhaps the most startling statistic, Manning has thrown just one touchdown pass and eight interceptions at home this season.

But this is the most complete team Manning has been on in Denver, maybe even in his entire career, led — as Manning himself said Sunday night — by the defense all season and with a running attack. Manning is — it is weird to even say this — a complementary player. An exemplary manager of the action, but less and less often the person who will make the biggest play. The Broncos have scored at least 30 points just twice in 17 games this season. Manning falls down under a pass rush by the Steelers and it becomes a metaphor.

Except Manning also got up and completed a pass for a 34-yard gain on that play. He can still occasionally drive a pass downfield, as he did Sunday to Bennie Fowler for a clutch, 31-yard gain on third-and-12. But those moments are the exception rather than the rule. What has not changed, what has never abandoned Manning, is his command over the mental part of the game. He can still get defenses to jump with his cadence, can still detect where the blitz is coming from and direct the play the other way.

Brady, in the meantime, remains stunningly surgical. And on Saturday, with his full complement of weapons around him again, he was releasing the ball in a blur, so quickly that it helped his patchwork offensive line manage the Chiefs‘ pass rush. He placed passes perfectly to Edelman, he rifled shots to Rob Gronkowski. It was Brady in full, a throwback to how the Patriots‘ offense operates when it is at full strength. That four-losses-in-the-final-six-games skid, when the Patriots were trying to get healthy, is a distant memory already, consigned to the past along with those lengthy injury reports. This is the statistic to remember: The Patriots have scored at least 30 points seven times in 17 games, six of them coming in the first half of the season, when Gronkowski, Edelman and Danny Amendola were all available.

To ward off Denver’s pass rush of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, Brady will have to be decisive and quick with his passes. To puncture the Patriots, the Broncos will have to run as they did against New England in the regular season, when they went for 179 yards, including 113 and two touchdowns from C.J. Anderson. And Broncos receivers cannot drop Manning’s passes, no matter how much they flutter, as they did against the Steelers.

It is not the rivalry we remember from even a few years ago, and it will never be again. But if this is indeed Manning’s final season, it is the right way for the AFC to be decided.

NFC: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (6:40 p.m. ET, FOX)

What a weird weekend for these two teams.

The Cardinals withstood two Hail Mary passes by Aaron Rodgers, a head-scratching decision to throw when trying to run the clock and some boneheaded Carson Palmer mistakes to prevail over Green Bay in overtime — largely because Larry Fitzgerald refuses to behave his age and Bruce Arians is the most entertaining play caller in the game, with Arizona opting to blitz Rodgers on one of the Hail Marys and to call for a shovel pass to Fitzgerald for the winning touchdown. Still, the Cardinals seem to have slipped a bit in their last two games.

And Carolina continued a disturbing pattern of looking like Superman in the first half — and Clark Kent in the second. The Panthers team that took a 31-0 lead over Seattle in the opening 30 minutes on Sunday would demolish any opponent left in the field. The Panthers team that let up so dramatically in the final two quarters that it was shut out and allowed Seattle to score 24 points would get beaten by anybody left.

It’s hard to imagine that trendlet continuing against Arizona, in part because the Cardinals‘ defense is too good to allow the Panthers to build up such a huge lead. But also because it is unfathomable that the Panthers would take their feet off the gas with the Super Bowl in reach.

The weird stat of this matchup is that it is the first postseason meeting in NFL history between two starting quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy.

As critical as Newton and Carson Palmer have been to their respective teams this season — they could finish first and second in MVP balloting — they belong to the NFL’s two most complete, balanced teams. Throw out last year’s playoff result, in which the Panthers beat the Cardinals 27-16 on Wild Card Weekend, because Palmer was out. With Palmer, Arians will be able to deploy his plentiful cadre of receivers. Although, after watching Green Bay’s pressure get to Palmer, the veteran QB might not have much time to throw deep against a Panthers secondary that is thin beyond Pro Bowl CB Josh Norman.

Want more than stats and scores? Head to Sidelines, where NFL Media reporters dig deep to find the compelling, thoughtful stories that are the heartbeat of this game.

The Cardinals undoubtedly will try to blitz Newton, because they blitz everybody, sending extra rushers on 44.5 percent of opponents’ pass plays this season (the highest percentage in the league). Newton had 18 touchdowns against the blitz, the most in the league. Keep an eye on the Panthers‘ running game. Jonathan Stewart, playing for the first time in a month, ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks, who boasted the NFL’s top run defense. The Cardinals are vulnerable there, having given up 381 rushing yards in their last three games.

All season, it had seemed the NFC had the better teams in the league than the AFC. This game, coming on the heels of the marquee quarterbacking matchup, should give us an early look at whether the assumption that the AFC team will merely be Super Bowl 50 cannon fodder for the NFC will hold up.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

 

50 things we learned in NFL’s wild-card weekend

In honor of Super Bowl 50, here are 50 things we learned on wild-card weekend:

1. Wide left.

2. Vikings fans, once they defrosted, were heard muttering, “laces out … laces out.”

3. Still, Blair Walsh has to make that kick. From 27 yards? And holder Jeff Locke has to get the laces out.

4. Respect to Blair, though, for taking all the questions after the game.

5. He then broke down in tears at his locker. Sad. But, still.

6. Seahawks just won’t go away, will they?

7. Russell Wilson in the fourth quarter. Won’t bet against him again, will you?

8. What exactly was everyone expecting Saturday night in Cincinnati in a playoff game between two division rivals that don’t like each other? It went according to script.

9. Sadly for the Bengals, that meant they became unglued when it counted most. Like they always do.

10. And yet everyone wants to hire their coordinators. Still can’t understand that one.

11. Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the field after being carted off with a shoulder injury: Heroic or the marvels of modern medicine?

12. You know what we’re saying there.

13. So if it’s Peyton Manning vs. Landry Jones, will it be coined “Battle of the Backups”? Just wonderin’.

14. Randall Cobb is lined up here. Now he’s over here. No, now he’s over there. Wherever he lined up, Redskins couldn’t find him, it seems.

15. Ironic the Texans season ended the same it started, with QB Brian Hoyer looking awful.

16. Prediction: All four road teams will NOT win next weekend. Going out on the limb, we know.

17. There are bad offensive games (we certainly have seen enough of them this season) and good defensive games. Seattle at Minnesota was the latter: Two really good defenses going at it.

18. If you don’t feel bad for Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin, then you need to go see the Wizard and ask for a new heart.

19. Watching a playoff game in the rain just isn’t the same as watching one in the snow. Damn you, global warming.

20. Wait, it was minus-6 at kickoff for Seahawks-Vikings? Coldest home game in Vikings history? Damn you, winter.

21. When did Andy Reid get so conservative on offense?

22. Bengals QB AJ McCarron really said this: “It seems every time we got the ball it was pouring rain and it wasn’t when they had it.”

23. And you wonder why Alabama QBs never make it in the NFL.

24. Stat attack: Teams who lead by 13 or more at halftime are now 146-10 in the playoffs.

25. The Chiefs have not lost a game since the Royals won the World Series. Wow.

26. Favorite tweet from John McClain of the Houston Chronicle: Texans are like puppies. So exited to be there they can’t help but pee on the carpet.

27. Replay review I: If you haven’t already seen it, catch that acrobatic TD catch by Martavis Bryant of the Steelers. Still can’t believe that one.

28.Aaron Rodgers is smiling again. Beware, NFC.

29. That time you strolled into the end zone looking cool only to find out you had the ball in the wrong hand. #DeSeanJackson #awkward

30. For a while there, we didn’t think a home team was going to score at all during the Saturday games.

31. Jim Nantz: Drama king or what? Wow. Mute button came in handy on Saturday.

32. For sale on eBay: Thousands of “You Like That” towels.

33. The CBS research team did feed Nantz an interesting stat: Visiting QBs on wild-card weekend had 37 postseason starts; QBs of the home teams had zero.

34. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had 25 goals the last time the Redskins won a playoff game. He scored his 501st Sunday night. Whoa.

35. (We want to thank the “50 things” research team for that one. What? You think CBS is the only place with a research team?)

36. Last time the Packers were a wild-card team was 2010. They won the Super Bowl.

37. Vontaze Burfict: Would you want him on your team? Think about that one.

38. Houston fans woke up Sunday morning and wondered, “We really chanted for Brandon Weeden during the game?” Then they went back to bed.

39. And Weeden on those chants: “I’m used to hearing boos. When I was in Cleveland, that’s all they did.”

40. Bud Grant. Honorary Vikings captain. Wore short sleeves for the coin toss. He’s 88. Our hero.

41. Remember, the last time the Chiefs played the Patriots was last season. Chiefs won, 41-14. And people wondered – loudly – whether the Belichick-Brady Era had ended. They meet again Saturday.

42. The return of Seahawks punter Jon Ryan wasn’t quite as dramatic as Ben Roethlisberger’s return, was it?

43. Adrian Peterson. Fumbling in the playoffs. #Tradition

44. Replay review II: Doug Baldwin’s one-gloved catch on Sunday. Wow.

45. Paging Blair Walsh. Gary Anderson on line 3, wants to talk.

46. Final QB rating for Alex Smith: 98.7. And for Brian Hoyer, 15.9.

47. Jordan Reed: We tried to tell you about him. Hope you were listening.

48. So the NFC East and AFC South champs were both one-and-done. Imagine that.

49. Peeking ahead: Seattle at Carolina next Sunday. The other three are undercard games. With all due respect, of course.

50. We think Flo from Progressive Insurance should stop in every losing locker room and say, “No Jimmies for you … Jimmies are for winners.”

Looking ahead to this weeks matchups are predictions are as follows:

Arizona over Green Bay

Seattle over Carolina

Chiefs over Patriots

Broncos over Steelers

Please visit our Facebook page, Sports Talk Guy, to leave your predictions. We shall see….

Daily Fantasy NFL Football Picks for FanDuel, DraftKings, and DraftPot – Wildcard Round

Playing DFS in the NFL Playoffs means combating not only limited options due to a short slate, but also due to the fact that most playoff teams have good defenses and therefore present tough fantasy matchups. I’ve found that short slates lend themselves better to entering more GPP contests and less cash games, especially 50/50s and double ups.

In GPPs, there will tend to be a ton of overlap, and nailing a low owned player that is one of the highest scorers of the day can make a world of difference. DeSean Jackson – who scored a TD in four of his last six games excluding Week 17 – is liable to run by the defense for a long TD regardless of matchup. Markus Wheaton has as many red zone targets (11) as Antonio Brown over the past six weeks. James Jones is averaging 11 targets per game over the past three weeks.

Keep in mind that in short slates you do not necessarily need to use your entire salary cap, especially in GPPs. Remember, the safest cash game plays are not necessarily the players who will finish with the highest scores of the day. Most entrants tend to use their entire cap, which can end up hurting them if a bunch of players in the mid-range and lower salary tiers put up higher or comparable scores to the most expensive players, which is likely simply because the middle and lower salary ranges comprise the majority of the player pool.

Ben Roethlisberger – FD 8400 DK 7200
Opponent– CIN
The NFL leader in passing yards per game (328.2), Roethlisberger has the most upside yardage-wise of any QB on the slate. That upside is bolstered by the fact that DeAngelo Williams (ankle) is banged up and the Steelers may rely on the passing game even more in lieu of pinning their hopes on backup runners Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. The Steelers’ team total is 24.5, the highest on the slate.

Russell Wilson – FD 8600 DK 7000
Opponent– MIN
Over the last seven weeks of the regular season, Wilson tore up the NFL in the form of 300 total yards per game and a 24:1 TD-to-interception ratio. One of those games was against the very Vikings where he went 21-of-27 for 274 yards and 3 TDs passing and also added a 9-51-1 rushing line. The Seahawks’ team total of 22.5 is the third highest on the slate.

AJ McCarron – FD 6400 DK 5200
Opponent– PIT
McCarron gets a nice on-paper matchup against a Steelers defense that allowed the third most passing yards per game in the NFL (271.9). On a short slate where McCarron is one of the cheaper options available, the fact that he is playing in the game with the highest over/under (46.5) cannot be overlooked, especially when two of the games’ over/unders are hovering around 40. McCarron threw for 280 yards and two TDs in just 49 snaps against the Steelers in Week 14.

Kirk Cousins – FD 8000 DK 5900
Opponent– GB
Cousins is not a stud QB like Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson and does not offer as much cap flexibility as Alex Smith or A.J. McCarron, so Cousins’ ownership may be low. However, overlooking Cousins in GPPs on a short slate may prove costly. He quietly led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8%) and finished with 4,166 yards passing and a 29:11 TD-to-interception ratio. Cousins also has favorable home splits: his completion percentage was 74.7% and he averaged 2.5 total TDs per game at home.

RUNNING BACK

Jeremy Hill – FD 6700 DK 5000
Opponent– PIT
Hill is quietly averaging 19.8 touches per game over his last three games, and that volume is extremely valuable, especially in a short slate where the aforementioned Peterson is overpriced. The volume is a nice bonus that aids Hill’s yardage floor, but his fantasy money-maker has been the TD: Hill tied for the league lead with 11 rushing TDs. Hill is tied with Peterson for second in the NFL with 24 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line, but Hill converted more into TDs than Peterson, 10-7.

Fitzgerald Toussaint – FD 5700 DK 3900
Opponent– CIN
The scouting report on Toussaint is that he gets what’s blocked, does the little things well, but lacks difference-making physical talent. That could be very valuable in a Steelers offense that allowed its RBs to amass the second most rushing TDs in the league (15). The Bengals rank a middling 19th in schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to RBs.

Eddie Lacy – FD 6000 DK 4500
Opponent– WAS
Lacy is a beneficiary of supply and demand, as a lack of options at the RB position make Lacy a viable play despite uninspiring averages of 13 touches for 50.6 total yards over his last three games. The Packers are the only team whose RBs have a good matchup on paper: the Redskins rank 22nd in pass defense DVOA and allowed 4.8 yards per carry, the second highest figure in the league.

Adrian Peterson – FD 8400 DK 7300
Opponent– SEA
I don’t like Peterson in cash games this week because he is (arguably) the riskiest option in his salary range. When Peterson faced the Seahawks in Week 13, he had 12 touches for 24 yards. In his only other game against a top-five fantasy defense versus RBs, Peterson had 27 touches for 57 yards against the Chiefs in Week 6. With that being said, the league’s leading rusher is still the most likely candidate to lead all RBs in touches this weekend and has tremendous upside every time he steps on the field.

WIDE RECEIVER

Antonio Brown – FD 9500 DK 9600
Opponent– CIN
Brown led the NFL with 1,836 receiving yards and tied for the league lead with 136 receptions. He has caught at least six passes in 10 straight games. With DeAngelo Williams banged up, it is very likely that the Steelers rely on their passing game even more than usual. Brown is expensive, but has the highest floor and ceiling of any player on the slate.

Doug Baldwin – FD 7300 DK 6700
Opponent– MIN
Baldwin’s tear in the second half of the season has been well documented: 12 TDs in his last eight games and a 90.5 receiving yard-per-game average during that span. Back in Week 13, Baldwin burned the Vikings for a 5-94-2 line. The Vikings are a middling 19th in schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to WRs.

Tyler Lockett – FD 6200 DK 4400
Opponent– MIN
Lockett is a volatile player with major upside who has the potential to be a difference maker on the short slate. Lockett closed out the season with at least 90 yards and/or a TD in three of his last five games. Lockett was missed by Russell Wilson on some bombs last week, but had three punt returns over 30 yards and also makes for a nice pairing with the Seahawks DST. Lockett – who has 4.4 wheels – will likely run the majority of his routes against 37-year-old Terance Newman.

Jeremy Maclin – FD 7200 DK 6400
Opponent– HOU
After a midseason lull in which he caught exactly three passes in four straight games, Maclin has come alive down the stretch. He has at least six catches and/or a TD in each of his last six games and scored in all but one of those games. He’s still underpriced based off of recent production.

TIGHT END

Jordan Reed – FD 7400 DK 6300
Opponent– GB
Reed finished the season as the PPR TE1 with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 TDs in only 14 games. Before an abbreviated Week 17 appearance, Reed has drawn seven or more targets in six straight games. The Packers rank a middling 14th in schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to TEs.

Tyler Eifert – FD 6400 DK 5000
Opponent– PIT
Eifert could be a GPP difference-maker due to his touchdown potential. He scored an astounding 13 TDs on only 74 targets, a TD rate of 17.5%. In the red zone, Eifert converted 11-of-16 (69%) of targets into TDs (the league average is 24%). The Steelers allowed the seventh most receptions (87) and ninth most TDs (8) in the NFL to TEs.

Richard Rodgers – FD 5200 DK 4000
Opponent– WAS
Although he needed a 61-yard Hail Mary TD to do it, Rodgers does lead all Packers receivers in fantasy points over the last six weeks. He makes for GPP option with most of the field likely to pay up higher at TE. In his last five games, Rodgers has produced 8-146-1 and 7-59-1 lines, but also three one-catch games. The Redskins rank 21st in defensive TE DVOA and 24th in schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to TEs, so the matchup combined with the ineffectiveness of Green Bay’s wide receivers tilt the odds of a strong game in Rodgers’ favor.

DEFENSE

Seattle Seahawks
Despite being the sixth seed and playing on the road, the Seahawks (-5 @ MIN) are the largest favorite on the slate. The Vikings’ team total is 17.5 points. During the regular season, Seattle had the top ranked scoring defense and the second best yardage defense in the NFL. More importantly, Seattle has the top rush defense in the league; if Adrian Peterson is contained, Teddy Bridgewater may have to throw more than usual, setting the stage for fantasy-defense-friendly mistakes.

Kansas City Chiefs
The Seahawks may be the league’s best defense numbers-wise, but the Chiefs have been the league’s hottest defense from a fantasy perspective. They’ve posted eight double-digit fantasy point outings in their last 10 games. The opportunity to keep rolling presents itself in the form of the Texans, who are 3-point underdogs with a team total of just 18.5.

Washington Redskins
The Redskins make for a good contrarian selection backed by the schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to opposing defense metric, which rates the Packers 29th. On paper at least, the Redskins’ defense has the best matchup on the board. As the cheapest option at the position, the Redskins offer a good source of both differentiation and salary relief.

Good luck and enjoy the games. Any of you who wish to comment on this article, or anything you see on sportstalkguy.com, can log in to Facebook and leave visitor posts on Sports Talk Guy. Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.

NFL teams are running to LA. Here’s who could make it

Three National Football League franchises filed this week to relocate to Los Angeles. But while the huge market can support a thriving sports scene, at least one of those teams probably won’t make it there, experts said.

St. Louis Rams fans display a banner in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome on Nov. 1, 2015.

Dilip Vishwanat | Getty Images
The Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams on Monday submitted applications to relocate — getting in their requests on the the first day they could do so. All three have postured to settle into the city, the second-largest in the U.S., which the Raiders and Rams both already left once, after the 1994 season.Relocating to LA would almost certainly improve the financial prospects of the franchises. But facing a complicated process and the possibility of a crowded market, the NFL may approve the relocation of only one or two teams.

An owners’ meeting next week could yield a vote on relocation plans, which would need approval from 24 of the league’s 32 teams.

Each franchise has a strong incentive to move, as they have faced difficulties securing new stadiums and would likely see a big financial boost in Los Angeles. Any of the teams could see their value spike above $2.1 billion if they moved there, at least $500 million higher than if they stayed put, according to rough projections by John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University sports economist.

That factors in the hefty fee a relocating team would owe the league. Vrooman estimates the teams would have to pay $375 million, which could reach upwards of $550 million depending on how the league calculates it.

Approval could hinge on the strength of potential venues. Rams owner Stan Kroenke last year proposed a new stadium and commercial facility that would cost an estimated $1.8 billion in Inglewood, which sits southwest of downtown L.A.

The Chargers and Raiders later proposed an estimated $1.7 billion joint venue in nearby Carson, backed by Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger. The media giant has a strong connection to the NFL through its sports network ESPN.

All three teams have claims to L.A, but one or even two of them could lose the sweepstakes. The process remains uncertain not only because of the business considerations but also internal politics among league owners, said David Carter, principal at The Sports Business Group.

Here are some potential scenarios outlined by experts:

Chargers and Rams both move to LA

The Rams could end up sharing the Inglewood stadium with the Chargers, said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who studies sports. He contended that owners of both teams draw more respect politically from their peers than the Raiders’ ownership does, which could prove crucial in the voting process.

He said the Inglewood facility proposed by the Rams could potentially offer a wider economic boost than the Carson venue. Zimbalist added that the Chargers, based on geographic location, and Rams, from their previous presence in L.A., would be able to generate fan bases there with relative ease. But if history in the L.A. area matters, one may wonder why Zimbalist thinks the Rams would see a benefit, while the Raiders would not. His answer: The Raiders’ ownership has butted heads with other owners in the past, which makes things politically difficult for the team. “I think that (the NFL owners) have no desire to let them move back again.” .

 

The Raiders move to LA

Relocating two teams seems feasible based on the city’s size. The Los Angeles metro area boasts the second-largest number of television households in the U.S., with more than 5.5 million, Vrooman said.

However, he noted that “TV ratings and viewership for sporting events is typically lower in L.A. compared to other megamarkets, even if an L.A. team is involved in the game.” When the Raiders and Rams both played in L.A., games were often blacked out on local T.V. because the teams failed to sell out tickets, Vrooman said.

Regardless of a city’s size, the NFL prefers one-team “monopoly” markets to two-team “duopoly” markets, Vrooman said. The same number of NFL fans support one team instead of two, effectively driving ticket prices higher.

According to that thinking, it would seem that the league would prefer to move the Raiders to L.A. It would leave one franchise — the San Francisco 49ers — in the Bay Area, create a single-team market in Los Angeles and preserve existing monopolies in both San Diego and St. Louis.

The Rams move to LA

However, the Rams may hold an advantage, Vrooman said. Assuming the league decides to approve relocation of only one team, the Rams would likely win out because of Kroenke’s stadium plan, which promotes wider economic development.

“In the end, there is just not enough economic pop in the Carson project to justify the coexistence of two competing clubs,” Vrooman said.

Regardless, franchises would face hurdles after being chosen. Even if a team gets relocation approval this year, its stadium would likely not be ready until after at least one more season.

It would also take time to regenerate a fan base in Los Angeles, a city that has shown lukewarm loyalty to professional football in the past.

 

 

NFL Playoff Power Rankings: The Cardinals Are the Team to Beat

When it comes to playoff systems, the NFL has a good one.

There’s a balance of division winners and wild card teams. The conference’s best squads get a first-round bye.

But it’s not — and never will be — a perfect system.

Sometimes, good teams get left out, and sometimes, weak teams (i.e. not one of the 12 best teams in the league) make the cut.

Look no further than the New York Jets, who finished the season ranked eighth in our power rankings. Our rankings, by the way, are based on nERD, which compares a team to expectation level. The Jets, who finished 10-6, owned a nERD of 4.4, meaning they should have expected to beat a league average opponent on a neutral field by about four to five points.

How do the teams who actually made the postseason rank?

 

12. Washington (14th Overall, 1.38 nERD)

According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which compares a player to expectation level, Kirk Cousins was the league’s sixth-best quarterback. He added 136.29 points above expectation on his drop backs and 9.72 more with his legs.

As a team, though, Washington ranked 30th in overall rushing efficiency this year after adjusting for schedule strength. A 23rd-ranked pass defense and an 13th-ranked run defense combined to give them just the 17th-best defense overall, the worst ranking of any playoff team. Aside from the passing game, the team showed a lot of weaknesses, relative to their playoff peers.

11. Houston Texans (12th Overall, 2.01 nERD)

Much of the Texans’ success came from DeAndre Hopkins, who finished fourth among all players in Reception NEP. Basically, he was the fourth-best receiver in football this year. That’s despite playing on the 27th-best passing offense after adjusting for schedule strength, the worst in the playoff group.

Of course, their defense wound up 3rd overall in our rankings, thanks to a 10th-ranked rushing defense and the 3rd-best passing defense in the NFL. These strengths will have to mask the 26th-best rushing attack in the NFL this year if they hope to make a playoff push.

10. Green Bay Packers (11th Overall, 2.17 nERD)

This isn’t the same Packers squad as it was in past years, but they did still will themselves to the 12th-best schedule-adjusted offense in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers actually ranked 22nd in Passing Net Expected Points this year, just one year removed from leading the league and posting a top-10 season since 2000 in terms of Total NEP.

The defense actually finished 11th overall, mainly because of their 9th-ranked pass defense. Green Bay finished just 26th in rushing defense, by far the worst rank of all playoff teams. Thankfully for them, they get a first-round matchup against Washington, whose rushing woes are well-documented.

9. Minnesota Vikings (10th Overall, 2.45 nERD)

Behind Teddy Bridgewater, who finished fifth in rushing points above expectation among quarterbacks, and a top-seven running back in the metric, the Vikings wound up with the second-best rushing offense in the NFL this year. That running back was actually Jerick McKinnon. Adrian Peterson finished 14th.

Bridgewater did, however, rank just 29th in Passing NEP. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

8. Denver Broncos (9th Overall, 3.87 nERD)

If you told me before the season that the Broncos would have finished 28th in overall offensive efficiency, 25th in passing efficiency, and still wound up with the 1 seed in the AFC, I never would have believed it. But that’s the kind of thing that can happen when you own the league’s best defense.

Denver finished with an Adjusted Defensive NEP of -80.31, meaning they denied 80 points from their opponents. Second-place Carolina was at -35.60. Yeah, that’s how they finished 12-4. Thanks to homefield advantage, they own a 9.2 percent chance to win the championship, second-best among AFC teams.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (7th Overall, 5.41 nERD)

Speaking of good defenses, Kansas City (-28.93) finished fourth overall. They were ninth in rushing defense and fourth in passing defense. Combine this with the third-best rushing attack in the NFL, and you have a candidate to control a playoff game — especially against a team that struggles rushing the ball like the Texans.

Even without Jamaal Charles, this Chiefs team has a lot of the right components to compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (6th Overall, 6.61 nERD)

Remember what I said about not believing things if I knew the Broncos would finish like they did? Well, the Bengals enter the playoffs with the second-best passing attack in the NFL, based on our metrics. Even with his missed time, Andy Dalton finished fifth in Passing Net Expected Points and led the NFL on a per-drop-back basis.

Tyler Eifert led all tight ends in per-target Reception NEP among those with at least 40 targets on the year. This passing offense combined with a top-10 defense could make some noise, provided Dalton returns healthy and as good as he was this year.

5. New England Patriots (5th Overall, 6.96 nERD)

Even with all of his missing pieces for some time — Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon LaFell, and on and on — Tom Brady finished second in passing efficiency this year.

Unfortunately, their defense doesn’t stand out in any particular area (12th overall, 13th against the pass, and 11th against the run). They’re a well-rounded squad with a modest rushing attack, but health will be the key factor for them. The first-round bye should help, and their 13.6 percent chance to win it all is best among AFC teams and third overall.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (4th Overall, 8.34 nERD)

Pittsburgh eked into the playoffs because the Jets are the Jets. They boast the fourth-best offense in the NFL (third-best among playoff teams) — and they had balance, ranking seventh in passing and fifth in rushing efficiency.

They did have top-11 units on defense, too. The Steelers finished 11th against the pass despite some shaky cornerback play and were 5th against the run. Cincinnati, their first-round opponent, was 20th in rushing efficiency, so this could be a key component to the wild card game. Despite the nERD ranking’s suggestion that they’re the best AFC team, they own a 6.4 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, third-highest among AFC teams.

3. Carolina Panthers (3rd Overall, 9.26 nERD)

Carolina didn’t complete the perfect season, but they did finish with the 2nd-best defense and pass defense (in addition to a 12th-ranked rushing defense).

Even with a thin receiving corps and an injured Jonathan Stewart, they ranked seventh in offensive efficiency. With Cam Newton leading the league in Rushing NEP by a pretty decent margin (his 41.20 was about six points better than second-best), Carolina wound up fourth in adjusted rushing efficiency, giving them a stout defense and a hard-to-stop rushing attack. Their 19.4 percent chance to win it all is second highest in the playoffs.

2. Seattle Seahawks (2nd Overall, 10.17 nERD)

Seattle is only the 6 seed in the NFC, but our metrics have been high on them all year. Their early losses dented their record, but they were never really as bad as the win/loss column made it seem.

Remember how Teddy Bridgewater was barely a top-30 passer this year? That’s bad news for the Vikings, as the Seahawks rank fifth against the pass.

On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin guided Seattle to the fourth-best passing offense in the NFL. Despite the 6 seed, they have a 7.5 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, fifth best among all remaining teams.

1. Arizona Cardinals (1st Overall, 13.11 nERD)

Arizona has lived at the top of our power rankings for just about the whole season. And for good reason.

They owned the best offense (their 214.30 schedule-adjusted NEP blew second-place New Orleans’ 172.28 out of the water), and Carson Palmer led them to the best passing efficiency in the NFL.

They owned the seventh-best defense overall, the third-best run defense, and the eighth-best pass defense. That’s why they have a 26.7 percent chance to win it all, by far the highest among all teams.

Ok, Saturday is fast approaching and as for The Sports Guy, we are predicting a Arizona vs Kansas City Super Bowl. Please visit our Facebook page “Sports Talk Guy” and give us your prediction and comments on what you like regarding the content on this website.

Around the NFL-What to watch for on Wild Card Weekend

 

Saturday

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans, 4:35 pm ET (ESPN/ABC)

1. This is a rematch of a 27-20 Week 1 win by the Chiefs that established many Kansas City themes for the season. Kansas City is great at getting leads early, and then holding on for dear life with a strong running game. Now the Chiefs have Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware running the ball instead of Jamaal Charles, yet they have only improved throughout the season.

2. That opening loss also set up the enormous waste of time that Texans coach Bill O’Brien called “The Ryan Mallett era.” Brian Hoyer was replaced in that game and Mallett’s solid relief effort gave him an extended audition for the gig. Hoyer ultimately provided stability at the position and is fully healthy after missing a few games with a concussion. He finished with 19 touchdowns and seven picks in a sneaky solid season.

3. J.J. Watt has the use of both of his hands again, and he’ll have a favorable matchup against a mediocre Chiefs pass protecting crew. The bigger X-factor is Kansas City’s best player, Justin Houston. He could be returning from a knee injury for his first game since Week 12. And he could have a great matchup against a Texans team that will be without stalwart left tackle Duane Brown, who tore his quad in the season finale.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:15 pm ET (CBS)

1. This was the worst possible scenario for the Bengals. They were so close to earning a bye in Denver last week, and now they have to face the most-talented quarterback in the division. The Steelers just won in Cincinnati a few weeks ago on the day that Andy Dalton broke his thumb making a tackle after an interception. Dalton is not expected to be back for this game.

2. The Steelers lost DeAngelo Williamsto an ankle injury during Sunday’s often-underwhelming win over theBrowns. That left Fitzgerald Toussaint as the team’s lead back and he responded with 24 yards on 12 carries. Pittsburgh risks becoming one-dimensional on offense, just like they were last year after losing Le’Veon Bell heading to the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger has had too many loose throws with six picks over the last three weeks.

3. So much of this game will come down to AJ McCarron, assuming he starts. The Steelers‘ defense didn’t improve as a whole over the course of the season. It makes too many mental errors and shouldn’t be able to win the one-on-one matchups against A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones.

Sunday

 

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings, 1:05 pm ET (CBS)

1. The Seahawks destroyed Minnesota 38-7 five weeks ago, and the Vikings haven’t been the same team since. They nearly won in Arizona, then played their best football of the season to finish on a three-game winning streak. The Vikings‘ defense (Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph) were all hurt in the first game. If nothing else, the defense should be more reliable this time around.

2. The Vikings will have to play better because Russell Wilson is coming off the best stretch of his career. Seattle’s passing game has dialed up big plays, and the running game found footing withChristine Michael in the season finale. The hope is that Marshawn Lynch will return from an abdominal injury for the playoffs.

3. The biggest concern for Minnesota could be when Teddy Bridgewater drops back to pass. He simply hasn’t received much protection all year, and that continued in Week 17 against Green Bay.Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett remain one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.

Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins, 4:40 pm ET (FOX)

1. It’s hard to comprehend that an offense led by Aaron Rodgers is well below average, but that’s how this team is playing. It has averaged under 300 yards over the last three weeks. In consecutive games against playoff teams to close the season, thePackers scored a total of 21 points. It’s hard to know where to start, but the Packers have no rhythm. Every successful play is seemingly improvised, which is hard to duplicate week after week.

2. The Redskins, meanwhile, enter the postseason playing better offensively than the biggest Kirk Cousins fanboys could have ever imagined. Cousins has thrown 19 touchdowns with only two picks since Week 10. Jordan Reed has turned into a gamewrecker and Washington’s receiver depth will test Green Bay’s secondary.

3. Green Bay wants to be a power running team, yet it just doesn’t have the results to make it possible. The Packers lack an identity on offense. Their defense, on the other hand, is playing well enough to win most weeks. It’s a recipe for a close game in Washington.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Bulls’ Portis, Nuggets’ Jokic making impact

 

Last March, Chicago Bulls rookie Bobby Portis did not impress Toronto Raptors big manPatrick Patterson. Portis, then at Arkansas, recorded a season-low two rebounds to go along with 13 points against Kentucky, and Patterson didn’t understand the hype surrounding the forward.

This was of course just one game against one of the top teams in college basketball but that didn’t concern Patterson. He just didn’t think Portis was any good.

Fast forward to Monday when the Bulls took on the Raptors and the two big men became matched up against each other. Patterson finished the game with seven points and four rebounds while Portis ended with 12 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Not only did Portis win the head-to-head matchup, the Bulls came away with the 104-97 win. Portis was part of a key stretch in the fourth that sealed the victory for Chicago as the Bulls’ bench took over in the game’s final period.

Due to an injury to Joakim Noah, Portis has been playing a lot more of late and is consistently making an impact. According to Bulls forward Taj Gibson, Portis has earned his minutes and his strong play is not surprising.

“He goes against Joakim for fun, he goes against me in practice on a daily basis, he goes against Pau in pregame,” Gibson told ESPN’s Jon Greenberg. “He’s getting molded in the right way. Like I tell guys on the team, rookies work their way in and earn their minutes. Bobby is earning his minutes, and he’s doing it the right way.”

Portis is taking advantage of his opportunity in Chicago and has slowly climbed up our rookie rankings. Here’s how the rest of the rookie class shapes up this week:

Studs

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week #1) — Towns holds on to the top spot after averaging yet again a double-double. Over Minnesota’s last three games, Towns shot 51.4 percent and averaged 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 35 minutes.

Towns had a monster game against the Pacers on Saturday, finishing with 24 points (10-16 FG), eight rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. He leads all rookies in rebounds (9.4) and is second in blocks (1.9).

Towns also may have had one of the funnier moments of the season on Monday. Picking upAndrew Wiggins‘ shoe, Towns played defense for basically an entire possession while holding on to the sneaker. Truly, nothing will stop Towns from competing on every possession.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks (#3) — Nearly averaging a double-double and after a strong performance against the Cavs, Porzingis moves up a spot and is number two this week. In New York’s last four games, Porzingis averaged a very solid 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.8 blocks. With Carmelo Anthonyout against the Cavs on Wednesday, Porzingis did most of the heavy lifting for the Knicks and finished with 23 points (including four three-pointers), 13 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block.

Despite knocking down four three-pointers against the Cavs, Porzingis is still a mediocre three-point shooter. The Knicks rookie is shooting 33.3 percent from behind the arc but is much better from the field, shooting 42.2 percent.

Porzingis has improved on defense and is averaging an even two blocks a game, which is first overall among rookies and sixth best in the league.

3. D’Angelo Russell , Los Angeles Lakers (#4) — Playing with some consistency, you have to wonder if Russell will eventually move back into the Lakers’ starting lineup. He has at least been finishing which seems to be crucial for his development.

In the Lakers’ last four games, Russell is averaging 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He also shot 45 percent and 40 percent from three.

Russell is averaging 2.3 turnovers, which may seem high, but remember he’s a nineteen-year old rookie who is learning and playing through his mistakes. Plus his court vision is simply phenomenal.

4. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers (#2) — Okafor is injured with a sore knee and

missed Philadelphia’s last two games. He may return on Wednesday against theSacramento Kings but is a game-time decision.

Despite missing some time, Okafor had a strong performance in his lone game last week against the Milwaukee Bucks. Okafor did get dunked on but he finished the game with 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. The Sixers youngser leads all rookies in scoring at 17.6 points a game.

5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (#7) — Definitely a raw talent, Jokic has to be the steal of the draft. A second-round pick (41st overall), Jokic has been a strong force off the bench for the Nuggets.

In Denver’s last four games Jokic is averaging 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals in 21.9 minutes. Jokic had a great game against the Spurs on Saturday, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

With Jusuf Nurkic returning from injury, it will be interesting to see what type of role Jokic plays moving forward.

D'Angelo Russell keeps improving every week.
D’Angelo Russell keeps improving every week. (USATSI)

Promising

6. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons (#6) — A versatile and key player off the bench for Detroit, Johnson averaged 8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists over the Pistons’ last three games. His shooting, which had been inconsistent at the start of the season, has improved; he shot 43.9 percent from three in Detroit’s last three games (taking 2.3 threes a game) and overall is shooting 38.7 percent from the field.

 

7. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat (#5) — On Christmas against the Pelicans,

Winslow had a nice all-around game finishing with nine points, six rebounds, a steal and a block, but he has missed Miami’s last two games due to a bum ankle and perhaps not coincidentally, Miami lost those two games. Winslow has been a crucial player off the bench for the Heat this season, particularly defensively, and his absence has clearly been felt.

8. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets (#9) — Kaminsky continues to improve each and every week. Against the Celtics on Wednesday, he scored a career-high 23 points (on 20 shots) and grabbed eight rebounds. Over Charlotte’s last three games, Kaminsky is averaging 13 points to go with 4.3 rebounds on 37.5 percent shooting.

Defensively, Kaminsky has also stepped up his game. He is averaging 1.7 blocks in Charlotte’s last three games and had back-to-back games with two blocks.

9. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls (#10) — As mentioned at the top, Portis nearly recorded a double-double in a season-high 27 minutes against the Raptors on Monday, finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds and two assists. A great big ball of energy, Portis has earned consistent playing time for the Bulls and it will be interesting to see how the team fits him in after Joakim Noah returns from injury.

10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (#15) — With Eric Bledsoe out for the rest of the season, Booker will get a larger opportunity with the Suns. Booker played well last week, scoring in double figures twice. Against the Sixers, Booker hit three three-pointers and finished the game with 19 points. A lights-out shooter, Booker is now shooting 50 percent and 57.1 percent from three.

Under the radar

11. Larry Nance Jr. , Los Angeles Lakers (#12) — Nance is turning into a reliable player for the Lakers. He had the best game of his young career against theGrizzlies on Sunday finishing with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Nance followed that up with another impressive showing by scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds against the Hornets.

12. Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards (#8) — With Bradley Beal still injured, Oubre continues to get playing time for the Wizards. He scored in double figures in back-to-back games and averaged 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in Washington’s last three games. He hasn’t been bad. The drop in our rankings is more about other guys getting better.

13. Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder (Unranked) — After two strong performances, Payne looks to have moved ahead of D.J. Augustin and could be OKC’s new backup point guard. Against the Bucks on Tuesday, Payne finished the game with 16 points, three rebounds and three assists.

14. Boban Marjanovic, San Antonio Spurs (Unranked) — A true giant of a man, Marjanovic still hasn’t played consistently but when he gets an opportunity he has produced. Against the Timberwolves on Monday, Marjanovic shot a perfect 7-for-7 and finished the game with 17 points and four rebounds.

15. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic (#13) — A potent scorer, Hezonja is shooting 47 percent and 42.6 percent from three. His playing time has fluctuated all season but he played well when given the opportunity. Against the Heat on Saturday, Hezonja scored eight points and dished out four assists in just under 20 minutes.

Bobby Portis is excited to be climbing up our rankings.
Bobby Portis is excited to be climbing up our rankings.

Topics: Andrew Wiggins, Boban Marjanovic, Bobby Portis, Bradley Beal, Cameron Payne,Carmelo Anthony, D.J. Augustin, Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor, Joakim Noah, Justise Winslow, Jusuf Nurkic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kelly Oubre,Kristaps Porzingis, Larry Jr. Nance, Marcelo Huertas, Mario Hezonja, Nikola Jokic, Patrick Patterson, Russell,D’Angelo, Stanley Johnson, Taj Gibson, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, NBA

Inside Baseball: 13 big free agents still looking for deals; more MLB notes

 

Never before has there been such a great collection of star free agents who remain unsigned heading into the new year. With only hours to go before the clock strikes 2016, still available are no less than a trio of All-Star-caliber outfielders, one of baseball’s most feared sluggers, a quartet of excellent starting pitchers, some very fine infielders and more — enough top-notch players to fill half a big-league roster.

Meantime, a bunch of pundits and prognosticators seem to be worrying about all these unsigned players, quite possibly needlessly. While deals signed to this point are bigger than ever — how about an outfielder like Jason Heyward with 13 home runs getting $184 million and two opt-outs, and a pitcher like Scott Kazmir who seemed to be or was retired a few years ago getting $48 million over three years, and an opt-out of his own — some are foolishly suggesting there aren’t going to be any more big deals.

Some are flat out saying there aren’t going to be any more $100 million-plus deals (besides, presumably slugger Chris Davis, who hasn’t yet taken the Orioles’ $154 million bid), and still others are wondering whether a few of the free agents might be stuck without a landing spot and may even find themselves in the uncomfortable spot of having to consider a one-year deal and in effect starting over next winter. That’s not too likely. As things stand, there are no perfect teams.

While there are surely some unsigned free agents who are growing a little antsy, there are also teams with big needs, and there’s still big money to be spent in this $9 billion game. And while some teams have suggested they won’t play for the big boys, you can never be too sure. Minds change, and mystery teams surface.

Angels owner Arte Moreno recently said aloud that he didn’t intend to sign one of the big outfielders remaining, but word is that the Angels are still in contact with the big guys —Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and perhaps Alex Gordon, too. It’s quite likely someone over there’s still thinking about it.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak recently said he didn’t anticipate any “dynamic”-type signings after missing out on their own guy Heyward. But it wasn’t long after that the Cardinals snapped up solid starting pitcher Mike Leake for $80 million. One man’s dynamic is another person’s routine, I suppose. There may not be another $200 million offer forthcoming, that’s true, but now there’s some buzz the Cardinals may also be looking again at a big bat at first or in the outfield, where this winter they already lost Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos in addition to Heyward.

The Tigers also have been on record at different times denying that they are “looking at” the big outfielders, and one Tigers-connected person on Wednesday still put it as “doubtful” they’d go big for an outfielder. But they’ve surprised folks before. They are also known to love Cespedes (and Gordon, too), and their owner Mike Ilitch is one of the best in the business; consistently, Mr. I puts winning above all else.

The Nationals are yet another team that can’t be ruled out in the outfield market, as they also tried with their own $200 million bid for Heyward, and they probably could use someone to bat behind MVP Bryce Harper going forward. Cespedes, who hits righties as well as lefties, would seem like a potential fit. One Nats-connected person, speaking about the possibility of Cespedes, said, “Probably not, at least not at the moment.” Which doesn’t exactly shut the door on Cespedes.

The Giants are yet another teams that’s still surveying the outfield market. It isn’t certain whether they’d sign another megadeal after spending $220 million on Johnny Cueto andJeff Samardzija. But they appear to be testing the waters, at the least.

Add all those maybes to the White Sox, Orioles and Royals, three teams that are clearly in the outfield market, and there’s probably a lot of needless angst, at least for the top outfielders. So while some players may be getting nervous — one top player on this list recently admitted he’d heard “nothing” lately — the reality is, there’s plenty of time left, and no one will have to take up a collection for any of these. It’s possible, of course, that a player or two won’t get exactly what they sought. But that’s nothing new.

Here goes, our baker’s dozen of frontline free agents to go …

Where will free agency's best remaining hitters end up? (USATSI)
Where will free agency’s best remaining hitters end up? (USATSI)

1. Chris Davis: He’s been staring at that $154 million, seven-year offer from his old Orioles team forever, it seems. Meantime, the Orioles have started to look at some other options, though it isn’t known how anxious the Orioles are to turn away from Davis. Word is that owner Peter Angelos badly wants Davis back. And while some wonder whether Angelos may start to lose his patience at some point, any claim that the offer is off the table seems a little shaky since the O’s almost surely would do that same $154 million deal if Davis came back to them.

Angelos may simply fear bidding against himself. But he can’t know if Davis has anything comparable or close — he’d fit the Angels, Cardinals or Astros (though Los Angeles/Anaheim and St. Louis people have downplayed that possibility, and no one believes Houston would pony up that sort of money; one Astros-connected person said, succinctly, “not in our plans” about Davis). The Blue Jays and Red Sox are two more teams that have been tied to Davis, and agent Scott Boras recently met with Hal Steinbrenner in Tampa, though that may be an even bigger longshot than the others.

As for the Davis camp, they are believed to have a higher AAV in mind, one that exceeds what non-homer hitters Heyward ($23M per), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.9M per) and Hanley Ramirez ($22M) got. Meanwhile, the O’s have talked to Upton (from adjacent Virginia) and Cespedes (who hits righties well and could fit). Obviously Davis, who’s hit 126 homers since 2013, works best in that their main desire is a big lefty bat; in fact, he’s hit more home runs than Heyward and Gordon combined over the last three years.

2. Yoenis Cespedes: There are still about six to seven teams involved, thanks to a field that is actually widening based on his uncanny ability to hit right-handers. Cespedes interestingly enough posted a sterling .909 OPS vs. right-handers in 2015, 104 points higher than the lefty-swinging Gordon even and 208 points higher (double that Gordon number) than the league average right-handed hitter.

The White Sox, Orioles, Giants and Angels were mentioned as possibilities by Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, and CBS Sports can verify that quartet. Plus, add at least a couple other possibilities, with the Tigers and Cardinals believed to at least be weighing runs at a big outfielder, and the Nationals thought to be an outside possibility to do so. Sanchez also mentioned that the Rangers are “monitoring” Cespedes. The Rangers definitely like Upton and want to become more right-handed, but for now there are said to be budget issues, making such a run unlikely. The Nationals are another team that could fit, and they still should have money left over from their failed attempt to sign Heyward.

Whatever knocks he takes, Cespedes is maybe the best speed-power-arm combination in baseball, and whether he has four or five teams, or even seven teams, interested, he’s probably going to be able to get a sizable deal.

3. Justin Upton: His market has been remarkably quiet. But no one should assume that’s because this 28-year-old who hit 26 home runs in 2015 is about to strike out in free agency. He’s been tied to the Orioles — and the Norfolk, Va. product is said to like that idea — and also the Giants and Angels (though a lefty bat fits both those teams better). Any of the second-place finishers for Cespedes could become involved, as well. Agent Larry Reynolds got $75.2 million for Upton’s older, less talented and less focused brother Melvin. So he should ultimately do well for the former No. 1 overall pick (just ahead of Gordon in the legendary 2005 draft).

Of the four big free-agent outfielders, Upton actually leads in WRC+ (weighted runs created plus) over the last three years, with 127 to 117 for Heyward, 116 for Cespedes and 115 for Gordon. Upton is also one of 10 players with at least 15 homers in the last eight seasons, and the only dual threat of the group (113 steals; none of the others has even 70 steals). And his five 15-15 seasons in that span is tied for most in the majors. Plus, he’s logged at least 149 games each of the last five years, and to the surprise of some, he’s finished third in Gold Glove voting in the NL the last two. Even though things seem quiet and he may not match some big early predictions, there’s no reason he shouldn’t score here.

4. Wei-Yin Chen: The Royals and Nationals are both interested. Kansas City may even favor spending as big for him as Gordon, their own free-agent outfielder. The Giants, Cardinals and Dodgers all checked in, but the Giants signed Samardzija and Cueto, the Cardinals inked Leake and the Dodgers may prefer a right-hander after signing the lefty Kazmir (and one without a draft choice attached). The Orioles could also easily circle back, as well; after all, he’s their No. 1 pitcher.

5. Alex Gordon: The Royals made a four-year offer (Jim Bowden of ESPN reported it to be for about $12 million to $13 million a year), and afterward, word came from Gordon’s camp to Kansas City that as things stood then the Royals had “no chance” to retain their star left fielder. The Cardinals, Angels, Dodgers, White Sox and Orioles all have been tied to Gordon, with the Angels, White Sox and Orioles all believed to favor a lefty bat like Gordon. The Nationals are yet another team that would fit — though the South Siders of Chicago may be the favorite here.

6. Yovani Gallardo: This terrifically talented and tough right-hander showed last year that he could succeed in a hitters’ park in the American League, which opened things up for him. The Astros, Royals and Orioles — three AL teams — have been known to be in the hunt for a while, the Blue Jays checked in recently and the Dodgers still make sense (though they seem intent on keeping that draft pick, even if it’s pick No. 26). Considering what a great hitter Gallardo is, the National League might work best, though for now the suitors are mostly in the junior circuit.

7. Ian Desmond: A lot of folks will point to the big Nats deal he once turned down. But that was before an uncharacteristically rough season, and an unpredictably strange lack of shortstop interest that has put him in a tougher spot. It’s not necessarily a great sign that word has come out that teams are considering other positions for him, but the reality is, he will be a starting shortstop somewhere; it would be a waste to put this elite talent elsewhere.

The Padres still need a shortstop, and that may be the most logical landing spot at this point. One person with Padres connections, however, wondered whether an investment of “$60 million to $70 million” (his estimate) made sense for a team not expected to contend this year. However, their top guys, president Mike Dee and GM A.J. Preller, don’t seem like the types to sit out the winter, especially where there’s a potential prime opportunity like this.

Desmond has the highest cumulative WAR of any major-league shortstop since 2010 at 15.1 (followed by Troy Tulowitzki at 14.1, Jhonny Peralta at 13.1, Brandon Crawford at 12.0 andAndrelton Simmons at 11.8). Desmond is also one of three shortstops in history to go 20-20 three consecutive seasons (Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez are the others) and one of only eight shortstops in history to reach 100-plus homers and 100-plus steals through their age-29 season (besides Ramirez and Rodriguez, some of the others are Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Alan Trammell and Robin Yount). Desmond also is known for durability (he’s the only MLB player with 90 homers, 100 steals and 750 games played over the last five seasons). But all that being said, there has to be a fit.

Two possible dark horses: the White Sox, who like to lie in the weeds, have unproven Tyler Saladino at shortstop for now; and the Rockies, which might be a good spot for Desmond to go and rebuild his value, have a domestic issue with Jose Reyes.

8. Gerardo Parra: This fine-defending versatile outfielder is said to have “seven or eight” teams in on him, including the under-the-radar Rockies. Colorado has been reported here and elsewhere to be considering a trade for Carlos Gonzalez and by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick to be looking at trades for their other incumbent outfielders, as well. Colorado, meantime, is said to be a serious pursuer here. The Royals also make sense for Parra, as do the Nats, who have more work to do and GM Mike Rizzo, who acquired Parra for the Diamondbacks and is said to be a fan.

9. Kenta Maeda: It’s known that the Dodgers met with the Japanese pitcher, who has some impressive numbers over there and no draft compensation attached to him (that’s big for the Dodgers). Los Angeles is still looking around after signing Scott Kazmir. Some scouts see him as a mid-rotation starter, but while few other teams have been connected to him thus far, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Cross the Yankees off, though; they aren’t interested.

10. Dexter Fowler: He had a terrific second half for the Cubs, especially offensively, and the Cubs, Nationals, Giants and Royals all could work. Not a lot of buzz so far, though.

11. Howie Kendrick: He’s had a remarkably quiet market, but he is an excellent hitter who’s also a clubhouse plus. The Royals, Diamondbacks and both Los Angeles teams look like they make the most sense, but Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi told Dodgers writers they’re probably OK with Ki’ke Hernandez and Chase Utley there.

12. Ian Kennedy: Some wondered whether he should have taken the qualifying offer. But he is an innings-logger (at least 80 innings the last five years) who posted a higher strikeout rate than any free-agent starter besides David Price. He’s been connected to the Royals, Tigers and Brewers, and the Nats, who can be connected to almost anyone at the moment, could make sense, as well.

13. Denard Span: He’s said to have worked out for some teams, and agent Scott Boras recently told Jon Paul Morosi and Mike Ferrin on Sirius that he expected Span to sign “in the near future.” The Royals have interest, and a positive history with Boras, as do the Nats and the Giants. The Cubs could also work if they decided to move Heyward to right field and found a taker for Jorge Soler.

Should be a very interesting end to the pre-season hot stove league as we see where these remaining solid free agents end up signing.