I got a bit sad today. I sat down, ready to write this Football Friday edition of the newsletter, when it dawned on me that this is the penultimate Football Friday of the season. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about both the AFC and NFC Championship games on Sunday, and we still have the Super Bowl coming (and I promise you that Football Friday will be packed with Super Bowl picks), but that's it.
Those are the only three NFL games remaining between now and next season.
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Of course, we'll still have plenty of basketball and soccer, and hopefully baseball at some point, but I've really enjoyed writing these Football Friday editions the last few months, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them. If you have any ideas for special features we can include in Fridays going forward -- and keep in mind, basketball lines aren't usually posted until the day of the game -- let me hear about them on Twitter. This newsletter is always open to suggestions.
Speaking of suggestions, I suggest you read these stories.
- Jonathan Jones says Jimmy G will be traded this offseason no matter what happens in the playoffs.
- Tennessee's A.J. Brown is mulling a return to baseball.
- Everybody loves reading about All-Star snubs.
- USMNT star Christian Pulisic talked about his tough season at Chelsea.
It's Friday, Friday, gotta place bets on Friday.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
The Pick: Under 227.5 (-110): I haven't included many NBA games in the newsletter over the last couple of months, so it's time to reiterate some old principles for those who might be new here. To win championships in the NBA, you need superstars who can lift your team through the playoffs obstacle course. To win a lot of games during the regular season, superstars help, but you don't need them if you play great defense. When you look at the regular-season standings, there's a strong correlation between the best defensive teams and the best winning percentages.
Meanwhile, the team with the second-best offensive rating in the NBA is the Atlanta Hawks. They're 22-25 because their defensive rating ranks 27th.
Our two teams in this game enter the night at 33-17 (Memphis) and 30-19 (Utah), with the Grizzlies ranked 9th in defensive rating and the Jazz 12th. So they're not elite defensive teams, but they're solid. Offensively, Utah is the most efficient shooting team in the league with an eFG% of 55.7%, but the Jazz rank 19th in pace. Memphis moves much quicker, as it ranks 9th in pace (having Ja Morant will cause you to want to speed things up), but that's countered by the Grizzlies not being an efficient shooting team. Memphis' eFG% of 51.4% ranks 24th.
In other words, if Utah is controlling the game, it'll move slowly. If Memphis controls the game, it'll move quicker, but it won't run nearly as smoothly. And, in the end, we should finish with a final score a few points below the 227 mark.
Key Trend: The under is 7-0-1 in Memphis' last eight games as a home favorite.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: I'm just some guy writing a newsletter. The SportsLine Projection Model is a machine that can see into the future. Find out what it has to say about this game.
💰 The Picks
The Pick: Nuggets -4 (-110) -- We were burned by the Nuggets' inability to cover as road favorites against Detroit earlier this week, but we're going back to the well tonight. The Nuggets beat a depleted Brooklyn team on the road and have been playing much better in January. Denver has a net rating of 1.1 (13th) on the season, but in January, that number has jumped to 4.6 (7th). Tonight's matchup against New Orleans is one the Nuggets should exploit.
Like Denver, New Orleans is playing better lately, but it still isn't playing well. The only thing that's changed is its offense has improved, but the defensive deficiencies that have been the Pelicans' downfall all year long have worsened slightly in the process, and that's not great with this Nuggets team coming to town. I do have some fear about the Nuggets being in the middle of a long road trip, but this is a game they should win handily if they show up ready to play.
Key Trend: There aren't many trends to support this play, so let's just go with the Nuggets owe us a favor for blowing that cover against Detroit late in the game.
🏀 College Basketball
UNLV at Colorado State, 9 p.m. | TV: FS1
The Pick: UNLV +15 (-110) -- The Mountain West continues to be one of the strongest mid-major conferences in college basketball, and Colorado State is the league's best team. Let's bet against it!
The Rams aren't atop the division in the standings, but power ratings have them ranked a few spots ahead of Boise State thanks to their offense, and that offense will likely lead them to a win over UNLV tonight. However, a Colorado State defense that ranks 97th nationally according to KenPom's adjusted efficiency numbers will make it difficult to cover the 15 points.
The Runnin' Rebels aren't having a great season in Kevin Kugler's first year, but there have been recent signs of improvement. While the Rebels are only 3-4 in conference play, their defensive performance has taken a significant step forward in those seven games compared to its performance in non-conference, and UNLV didn't play a demanding non-conference schedule. Also, while Colorado State has shot 38.2% from three this season (17th), that number has dropped to 31.2% in the Mountain West. Also, Colorado State is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, and UNLV is decent on the defensive glass. That's an area UNLV will be able to exploit, and denying the Rams those few extra possessions might make all the difference in the world when it comes to covering this spread.
Key Trend: The underdog is 5-2-1 ATS in the last eight meetings.
Bengals at Chiefs, Sunday, 3 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Chiefs -7 (-110) -- Cincinnati, you're a wonderful story, and I appreciate you pulling through and making me look smart last week. Sure, I only had you covering, but all the reasons I wrote about why I took you to cover were evident in your victory. Unfortunately, while you could get past Tennessee even as Joe Burrow was beaten into oblivion, that same approach isn't going to work against Kansas City. The fact is that Cincinnati's offense did not play well against Tennessee, but it didn't matter because Tennessee was even worse.
That won't work against a Kansas City team that nobody can stop. I'm still feeling some of the adrenaline from that Chiefs/Bills game last week, and I can't shake the feeling that the game was the de facto AFC Championship. Even if Tennessee had gotten past the Bengals to host this game, I don't think my feeling would change. Kansas City is simply too good of a team. Early in the year, we wondered if the Chiefs had lost their way, but in retrospect, we were just watching a team with an entirely brand new offensive line figure things out.
Once it all clicked up front, the Chiefs went back to juggernaut mode, and that juggernaut will be too much for the Bengals to handle. Yes, Cincinnati will score more points this weekend than last, but it won't be nearly enough.
Key Trend: The Chiefs are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games.
49ers at Rams, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. | TV: FOX
The Pick: 49ers +3.5 (-115) -- I can't go against the 49ers in this matchup. There's far too much history that says this is the right side to be on. San Francisco has won six straight against the Rams, as Kyle Shanahan seems to have his old friend Sean McVay's number. There are also the trends surrounding the 49ers as underdogs under Shanahan that I went over last week but will reiterate now that they've improved once again. After last week's win, the Niners are now 26-17 ATS as underdogs and 18-10 as road dogs.
While the trends are fun, there are football reasons for this pick, too. The 49ers aren't a great matchup for the Rams. San Francisco has a strong enough offensive line to at least slow down the Rams' push up front. As for Los Angeles' Jalen Ramsey, he isn't as effective against the 49ers because they have so many options.
The Rams shut down the Cardinals offense in the Wild Card round because Arizona's offense is basically a one-read offense, and the Rams had Ramsey moving around and covering that first read. That forced Kyler Murray to improvise, and it worked against Arizona (as did not having DeAndre Hopkins for all the obvious reasons). Last week against Tampa, Ramsey shadowed Mike Evans most of the afternoon to limit him, and the Bucs were without Chris Godwin (torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (torn ego). It left Tom Brady with limited options to throw to, and it put the Bucs in a big hole early.
The 49ers offense has options. If the Rams use Ramsey to eliminate Deebo Samuel -- which won't be easy, seeing as how he can line up anywhere -- there's still George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. In other words, no matter what the Rams do defensively, San Francisco can counter. And that's why I like their odds of covering at a minimum.
Key Trend: San Francisco is 18-10 ATS as road underdogs under Kyle Shanahan.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Bellator 273 is on Saturday night and MMA expert Andrew Gombas has shared all of his favorite bets for the card.
🏀 Tonight's Parlay
I'd only go with a half-unit on this parlay. My numbers suggest there's value, but not as much as I'd typically be looking for. Still, it's a small college slate tonight, so this is the best I can find, and it pays +107.
- Toledo (-360)
- Dayton (-270)
- New Mexico (-550)