COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK SIX – Your betting guide to Week 14

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 14 of the 2015/16 NCAAF season…

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

BOISE STATE at SAN JOSE STATE

(+7.5, Total Points 58)

Friday, 20:30

Boise State have a problem. They can’t defend teams with a triple option attack. They are 1-3 against teams who use such a diverse scheme.

Thomas Sperbeck
Top receiver: Thomas Sperbeck

The Broncos were overturned 37-30 by Air Force last week, meaning they had lost home games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1989, having earlier dropped a 31-24 decision to the New Mexico Lobos. It is also the first time they have lost two consecutive conference games on the blue turf.

The Broncos allowed 271 yards passing against New Mexico and then 279 against Air Force. The Falcons racked up 607 total yards.

There were some positives. Receiver Thomas Sperbeck set the Boise State record for single receiving yards, breaking the mark set by former Detroit Lions wideout Titus Young in 2010.

The San Jose State Spartans will have added incentive to beat Boise State this week, as they will gain bowl eligibility after beating Hawaii 42-23 before the smallest UH crowd in the history of Aloha Stadium.

Spartans’ attack is based on the speedy and versatile Tyler Ervin, who has rushed 253 times from 1,417 yards and 13 touchdowns, and QB Kenny Potter, who has completed 144-of-210 passes for 1,559 yards and 11 TDs to four interceptions in his six starts. He has also rushed for 300 yards and six TDs.

The Spartans are No.1 in the nation against the pass (149.6 yards per game), but rank 109th against the run (207.9 ypg).

Let’s keep this simple: the Broncos’ attack should keep the SJSU defense on their heels and extend their 11-0 record against the Spartans, especially if receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes returns from an ankle injury. It might not be as close as the line would indicate.

BEST BET: BOISE STATE -7.5 @ 1.92

TEXAS TECH at TEXAS

(-1.5, Total Points 72.5)

Friday, 00:30

For most of College Football, this is rivalry week. After Texas A&M left the Big 12 in following the 2011-12 season, Texas has had no real ‘derby’ opponent.

jwj UT OSU 1387
D’Onta Foreman: Can run over Texas Tech

Texas Tech (6-5) does not represent an intense rivalry, since Texas (4-6) has a 49-15 series edge, having won all but two games since 1999. So this is just another game for the Burnt Orange, who face a distant cousin – a loud and annoying one at that.

Fans have not bought into this void, with poor attendance in each of the last two years. They would sooner stay at home and be with their families on Black Friday. Baylor would be a more natural rivalry opponent for the Longhorns, but we digress.

Texas should be a firm favourite had it not been for injuries to their power rushing attack, which will limit what they can do. D’Onta Foreman, who has looked a top talent, is likely to miss the game after surgery on a little finger, picked up in defeat at West Virginia.

Senior running back Jonathan Gray is also unlikely to play with a turf toe injury. Offensive guard Patrick Vahe is also ruled out, having picked up a knee injury in Morgantown.

Still, the Red Raiders’ porous defense should mean this is a high-scoring encounter and the pressure is off the Red Raiders, who are bowl eligible. They defeated Kansas State 59-44 to become eligible and snapped a three-game skid in the process.

We still fancy the Longhorns to come through and give some hope to beleaguered head coach Charlie Strong some respite. He is a good coach and hopefully his rebuilding programme will take a step forward next season.

BEST BET: TEXAS -1.5 @ 2.00

IOWA at NEBRASKA

(+1.5, Total Points 57.5)

Friday, 20:30

This promises to be a fiercely contested clash, with Nebraska (5-6) looking to become bowl eligible and Iowa (11-0) looking to remain unbeaten ahead of the Big Ten title game.

Nebraska has lost several close games and has a couple of strange losses on it seasonal cv, but the Cornhuskers are on a two-game winning streak.

Mike Riley
Big scalps: Mike Riley

Mike Riley’s team are the only ones to have beaten Michigan State and they have a chance to be the only team to beat the two who will contest the Big Ten championship.

The Hawkeyes could get into the playoff at 12-1 with a Big Ten title win, even if they lose here. It is certainly a possibility but, should they lose, they must hope that Notre Dame loses to Stanford.

Yet we reckon one of only two teams to remain unbeaten – Clemson is the other – by winning this week.

Turnovers have plagued Nebraska, while Iowa has played solid, ball-control offense. They are not explosive, but are well coached and concede few penalties. They thrive on the ground and pass only when they have to.

Nebraska has had issues with defending the ball deep, but it has been good against the run, not allowing over 150 yards on the ground all season. In game when conceding over 100 yards on the ground, they are 1-6.

The biggest question is whether or not Nebraska can play mistake-free football. If they can they have a chance of a major win and will go bowling. The Huskers have won five of the last six at home against Iowa, who have never won on back-to-back visits.

It won’t be pretty but the Hawkeyes should get the job done and create a little bit of history.

BEST BET: IOWA -1.5 @ 1.92

NAVY at HOUSTON

(-1.5, Total Points 57.5)

Friday, 17:00

Houston’s (10-1) ninth-ranked offense, which averages 41.09 points per game, takes on No.16-ranked Navy Midshipmen in a cracking match-up, which can be seen live on BT Sports.

Keenan Reynolds
Keenan Reynolds: Heisman Trophy candidate

The winner will host the AAC Champipnship game against the East division representative, which will either be Temple (9-2) or South Florida (7-4).

The Midshpman (9-1) have found their groove on the ground, averaging 361.4 rushing yards during the past five games.

And their pass defense has been solid as well, albeit against modest opposition, averaging 235.6 yards per tilt. They are aiming to win the American Athletic Conference championship in its first season as a member, and are beating conference opponents by an average score of 40-18.

Houston’s pass defense is similarly stout, averaging 237.4 yards in their last five outings and their special teams play has been good, too, notably in the return game, with a 110.6 return yards per game average.

Houston lost a close one to Connecticut 20-17 last week while Navy routed Tulsa 44-21.

The Cougars have an efficient passer in Greg Ward Jr, who has 2,194 yards and 13 TDs, but he missed last week’s game with an ankle injury.

QB Keenan Reynolds has got Navy off to its best start since 1963, with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2015.

He has 82 TDs in his 46-game college career for an average of 1.78 rushing TDs per game, which puts him second in FBS history behind Steve Owens (Oklahoma 1967-69), who had a 1.839 TD per game average in 31 games.

Significantly, Reynolds is ahead of O.J. Simpson (1.636 average – 36 TDs/22G), Marshall Faulk (1.629 average – 57 TDs/35G) and Barry Sanders (1.600 – 48TDs/30G). There is no question Reynolds should be under consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

Houston may have the edge in preparation time. Navy had to fly back and forth from Oklahoma, then turn around and go to Texas on a short week. It puts them at a disadvantage.

While Houston’s run defense is allowing just over 188 yards per game, Navy’s ground game is a different animal entirely from the spread passing teams that do not usually emphasise the run.

We see Navy pulling away in the fourth quarter and having the ability to grind out the clock.

BEST BET: NAVY +1.5 @2.00

OHIO STATE at MICHIGAN

(-1.5, Total Points 47)

Saturday, 17:00

Ohio State’s loss to the Michigan State Spartans last week was a setback, not only because it all but saw their hopes of a national championship die, but because the programme’s seemingly invincible image took a shot.

USP NCAA FOOTBALL: MICHIGAN-SPRING GAME S FBC
Quick turnaround: Jim Harbaugh has Michigan on the rise

Getting one over on superstar coach and a Michigan programme that is once again relevant would go a long way to helping recruitment.

Michigan has been made a favourite just once in the last 10 meetings with the Buckeyes, who lost as a 14.5-point favourite to the Spartans, who were without their starting quarterback.

Ohio State is 10-1 and 8-3 against the handicap in its last 11 meetings with the Wolverines (9-2), who also lost to the Spartans on the last play of their contest a month ago.

The Buckeyes were ranked third in the playoff rankings until their 17-14 loss to the Spartans.

There is still plenty at stake for Ohio State. They could still make the Big Ten title game for a third straight year with a combination of a win at Michigan and a loss by Michigan State at Penn State later in the day.

There is little between these two powerhouses. Tune in to watch if you want a festive feeling – snow is forecast and as a result, the scoring could be on the low side.

This is already factored into the points total line. We think there could be a few errors, particularly with run blocking, so we take the Buckeyes with the points, with the total points eclipsing the current line.

BEST BET: OVER 47 POINTS @ 2.00 

PENN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE

(-10.5, Total Points 46.5)

Saturday, 20:30

After upsetting unbeaten Ohio State, despite an injury to QB Connor Cook, the Spartans can wrap up a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a victory. A win for Penn State will send either Michigan or Ohio State into the title game.

Christian Hackenberg.JPG
Expecting pressure: Christian Hackenberg

Michigan State’s biggest weakness is their shaky secondary, so they will need pressure up front on QB Christian Hackenberg, who has been sacked 36 times this season. He does have the ability to hurt the Spartans deep, however.

Hackenberg holds the Penn State career records for passing (8,061), TD passes (46), completions (663), attempts (1,182) and total offense (7,818). The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten with 33 plays of 30 yards or more.

Michigan State could also be without QB Connor Cook, who missed last week’s upset with an ankle injury. Tyler O’Connor only managed to throw seven passes against Ohio State, so you have to wonder if the Spartans don’t get much going on the ground, will they trust their back-up passer to win the game for them.

Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, who had to sit out the 28-16 loss to the Michigan Wolverines on senior day, may well return – and when fit, he is vital to the Lions. If he doesn’t it is hard to see Penn State covering the handicap, much less improving head coach James Franklin’s 0-18 record against end-of-season top-25 teams.

BEST BET: MICHIGAN STATE -10.5 @ 1.80 

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MCB INSIGHT: WHO WILL WIN THE TITLE?

The festive period is fast approaching, which is when the race for the Premier League title traditionally starts to heat up.

In the article below, MyClubBetting tipster Calum Chinchen analyses last season’s top six sides and predicts where they will finish at the end of this campaign.

Let us know your opinions via the @MyClubBetting Twitter page and remember to keep viewing our blog for regular betting guides and previews: myclubbetting.wordpress.com

ARSENAL

In truth, it has been a reasonable start to the season for Arsene Wenger’s men. The Gunners may have performed poorly in the Champions League and suffered a humiliating League Cup defeat away at Sheffield Wednesday – but they haven’t let that have a negative impact on their league form. Arsenal find themselves just two points from the top of the table and have been arguably the most impressive Premier League side so far this season.

It has been quite a season so far for Mesut Ozil (below) and his link-up play with teammate Alexis Sanchez has been breath taking at times. The German playmaker has been in fine form and recently broke a Premier League record after assisting in seven consecutive games.

OZIL

Francis Coquelin suffered a fairly serious injury against West Brom recently, and is expected to be out of action until January, at the earliest. The feisty defensive midfielder has become arguably the most important player for the North Londoner’s since bursting onto the scene a year ago and will need to be replaced if the Gunners are going to mount a title challenge. That said, Arsene Wenger is a man who is reluctant to spend in the January window since wasting big money on Jose Antonio Reyes and Andrey Arshavin in 2004 and 2009 respectively. In all honesty, we don’t see him replacing Coquelin, leaving the ageing pair of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini to deputise, who in truth, simply aren’t good enough for a title challenging side.

With that in mind, we see Arsenal falling short in the league again this season.

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 2ND

CHELSEA

Nobody expected Chelsea to be lurking at the foot of the table in late November. The defending Premier League Champions are currently occupying 15th position after losing seven leagues games already this season.

MOURINHO

There is no doubt that defensive issues are costing Jose Mourinho (above) and his side, with the Champions conceding a staggering 23 league goals so far this season. Blues defender’s  John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill all made it into last season’s PFA Team of the Year, however all three have been well below-par this season and have found themselves in-and-out of the team after lacklustre individual performances.

However, many will argue that Chelsea’s back four is being left far too exposed. Nemanja Matic was another player included in the PFA Team of the Year last year after a fine campaign in the midfield anchor position for his side. To the surprise of almost everybody, it has been a completely different story this season, with Matic often being caught out of position and showing a lack of defensive discipline before being eventually being dropped and replaced in the side by the less capable John Obi Mikel.

In truth we feel Chelsea are already too far behind in the running to challenge for the title and feel that a top four spot is even too much to ask for. However, there is no way that a Jose Mourinho managed side will ever finish in the bottom half, so we fully expect Chelsea to recover and pick up a Europa League spot – whether they want it or not!

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 5TH

LIVERPOOL

It has been quite the rollercoaster ride for Liverpool fan’s so far this season. Brendan Rodgers was sacked in early October after a poor start to the campaign and was replaced by the popular, former Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp.

Since the new manager’s arrival Liverpool have shown real improvement, particularly away from home. The Red’s won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge against the Champions, before an even more impressive win The Etihad, where they were dominant in a 4-1 win against Manchester City.

EMRE CAN

Emre Can (above) signed for Liverpool as a central midfield player, however the German often found himself playing out of position (usually in defence) under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp addressed this straight away and returned Can to his favoured position with great effect soon after the managerial reigns. The powerful German international has arguably been Liverpool’s best performer since the arrival of his new manager and his on-field understanding with Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino looks destined for success.

Klopp is a manger used to success and we see him instilling that in his new side – guiding them to a Champions League spot in the process.

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 4TH

MAN CITY

We tipped Manuel Pellegrini’s side to win the title at the start of the season, and Manchester City are now clear favourites after the disastrous start to the season from defending Champions Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero (below) is the key man for City and his fitness is vital for their title run. The prolific Argentine striker historically has problems with injuries and has already missed a number of games this season. However, he has still managed to net on seven occasions, including five goals in a single game against Newcastle back in early October.

AGUERO

Despite finding themselves level on points at the top of table, City have looked less than convincing in defence all season. Vincent Kompany has missed much of the season through injury, with the ageing Martin Demichelis and the error prone Eliaquim Mangala replacing him in less than convincing fashion. That said, summer signing Nicolas Otamendi has seamlessly settled into Premier League football. The former Valencia defender always seems to look calm and composed on the ball, with an outstanding reading of the game and remarkable positional sense. We expect Otamendi to partner Kompany regularly, once the Belgian skipper returns from injury, which should drastically improve City’s defensive issues.

We still fancy City to go all the way this season and are sticking with our pre-season tip.

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 1ST

MAN UNITED

Some sections of the Manchester United support appear to be losing faith in manager Louis Van Gaal (below) and his patient tactics, with chants of ‘attack, attack, attack’ now coming from the United faithful on a regular basis. Van Gaal’s style may not be pleasing everyone, but United simply aren’t conceding goals – which was their main problem during last season.

VAN GAAL

Chris Smalling has been particularly impressive in the United defence, and his commanding presence has contributed to the impressive eight clean sheets kept by the Red Devils this season.

The United defence may be performing well, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the team. Summer signing Bastian Schweinsteiger has been slow to adapt to the frantic pace of Premier League football and has often been criticised for his slow ball movement and lack of attacking emphasis from his deep midfield role.

Another man facing criticism is Wayne Rooney, who has netted just twice in the league so far. The United and England skipper found himself at the focal point of attacks at the start of the season, but has reverted to the attacking midfield role he occupied last season after the arrival of young centre forward Anthony Martial from Monaco on deadline day.

We see United comfortably securing a Champions League spot, without really challenging for the title.

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 3RD

TOTTENHAM

After a transitional campaign last season, Mauricio Pochetinno is really starting to put his stamp on this Tottenham side. Spurs are currently the in-form side in the Premier League, finding themselves in fifth position after an unbeaten run that stretches back to the first game of the season. Since taking over at the club, Pochetinno has sold/released many of the more disruptive dressing room characters, with Emmanuel Adebayor being the most notable example.

Eric Dier had a tough first season in the Premier League, however he has developed into one of the first name’s on the Spurs team sheet this season. The former Sporting Lisbon man has been converted into a holding midfielder by Pochetinno and looks more than comfortable in the new role, particularly when playing alongside fellow England youngster Dele Alli, who has been equally impressive in his own right.

KANE

While things may currently rosy at White Hart Lane, there is one major issue that looms – the depth of their squad. Harry Kane (above) is the only natural striker in the entire Tottenham squad and any injury to the prolific England international would be disastrous for the club.

In truth, we see Spurs falling away and finishing down in the final automatic Europa League spot, unless they strengthen considerably in January.

WHERE THEY WILL FINISH: 6TH

BEST OF THE REST

It seems remarkable that we haven’t mentioned the current league leaders yet, but in our eyes Leicester simply aren’t title contenders. Claudio Ranieri has done a fantastic job since his appointment in the summer and Jamie Vardy has arguably been the player of the season so far, but there is no doubt in our minds that the Foxes will eventually fall away. That said, we do see them holding onto a top ten spot come the end of the season.

Roberto Martinez seems to be enjoying life at Everton again. The Toffees have bounced back from a below-par 2014/15 campaign and are playing some exciting attacking football so far this season. Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku have both been in fine form and will need to continue that if Everton are going to break into the top six.

Southampton are struggling to live-up to the high standards they set for themselves last season. The Saints will have to dramatically improve their form if they are going to better last season’s seventh place finish in the Premier League.

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NFL PICK SIX – Your Thanksgiving Week betting guide

Lions Thanksgiving
Tradition: Giving thanks for Football on Turkey Day

Six weeks remain of the regular season. Two teams remain unbeaten: Carolina (10-0) and New England (10-0) – and this marks the fourth season in league history with multiple 10-0 teams (1934, 1990, 2009).

Entering 2015, 15 teams in the Super Bowl era started 10-0. Of those 15 clubs, all 15 made the playoffs, nine advanced to the Super Bowl and six won the Super Bowl.

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 12 of the 2015/16 NFL season, starting with the three Thanksgiving Day games. The odds are correct at the time of writing and are industry average.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

PHILADELPHIA at DETROIT

Thursday, 17:30

(+1, Total Points 46)

Philadelphia (4-6) have lost three of their last four games, but are still only a game out of first place in the weak NFC East division. Since being beaten 45-10 by Kansas City in the third of the International Series of games at Wembley, Detroit (3-7) have won two consecutive games but may well struggle to gain a post-season berth.

Mark Sanchez
Another opportunity: Mark Sanchez

The Eagles have won seven of the last eight meetings with the Lions but they have been hit hard with significant injuries at key positions, particularly at the QB position, with Mark Sanchez now deputising for Sam Bradford.

Philadelphia enters the game following a 45-17 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That followed a 20-19 home defeat by the Miami Dolphins.

“You have to be a pro and move on,” said quarterback Sanchez, who passed for 261 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers. “We are going to get another chance to play on Thanksgiving, which is going to be great. You get to have your family back at home watching, and then get a mini-bye the week after that. This could be the start of something good. We’ll figure it out and try to get a win on Thursday.”

Philadelphia, who is undefeated in Thanksgiving Day games, plays on the holiday for the second consecutive season. Last season, the Eagles defeated the Dallas Cowboys 33-10 at AT&T Stadium. Philadelphia has the highest winning percentage among active NFL franchises on Thanksgiving, winning all six contests on this special day.

The Lions, who will play their 76th Thanksgiving Day game dating back to 1934 (with a record of 35-38-2), have won four of the last 18 clashes with the Eagles.

Quarterback Matt Stafford has passed for 1,650 yards in five career games on Thanksgiving Day, the third-most in NFL history. In his past three games on Thanksgiving, Stafford has seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions for a 98.4 passer rating. He aims for his fourth consecutive Thanksgiving game with at least 330 passing yards.

Matt Stafford
Stafford: Interceptions

Yet Stafford has not been helped by a ropey offensive line this season and has tossed 12 interceptions. The Lions have managed just 19, 10, 18 and 18 points in the last four games. In fact, they have only scored more than 19 points twice in the last 10 games. They have averaged just 71.1 yards per game on the ground, so the Lions’ chances will again be on Stafford’s shoulders.

The Eagles are in a slump and the Lions are on a high, but we tentatively put faith in Philadelphia’s balanced attack to eke out victory in the first of the Turkey Day games.

 

VERDICT: PHILADELPHIA 27 DETROIT 17

BEST BET: PHILADELPHIA -1 @ 1.92  

CAROLINA at DALLAS

Thursday, 21:30

(+1, Total Points 45.5)

We do not quite understand how the 10-0 Carolina Panthers opened as underdogs (the line has subsequently moved a point and a half) to beat the Dallas Cowboys (3-7), given that the hosts barely scraped past an ordinary Dolphins outfit in quarterback Tony Romo’s return to action on Sunday.

Tony Romo
Happy return: Romo and Dallas overcame the Dolphins

That was the elite passer’s first game back after a seven-week absence – in which time Dallas lost all seven games. Yet Romo was pressured all game and still looked tentative when faced with a defense that is ranked in the bottom third of the NFL.

The Cowboys enter their matchup against the Panthers having won six of their past nine on Thanksgiving.

Romo has led the Cowboys to six wins in eight Thanksgiving starts. For his career, Romo has passed for 2,232 yards and 18 touchdowns on Thanksgiving, both the most all-time on the holiday.

Carolina’s third-ranked defense is a different beast entirely. They concede an average of 19.1 points per game (ranked 5th), 322.8 yards per game (4th), 228.3 passing yards per contest (7th) and 94.5 rushing yards per tilt (8th).

They are coming off a 44-16 mauling of the Washington Redskins and are vastly underrated by the betting public and Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Mike Shula
Outstanding job: Mike Shula

And it is not just the defense that is firing. While the Panthers do not boast an elite receiver, offensive coordinator Mike Shula has done an excellent job of game-planning and utilising quarterback Cam Newton’s skills.

Newton, who now has 102 passing touchdowns and 39 rushing touchdowns, is the only player in NFL history with at least 100 passing touchdowns and 25 rushing touchdowns in his first five seasons.

The Panthers do not get the recognition they deserve and are the best team in the NFL right now. Nationally, they have the opportunity to prove that point – and they should do so in style.
The line worries us – the Panthers should be between 3-7-point favourites. Part of the reason is history. The Panthers have only defeated the Cowboys once in the last 10 meetings and have lost on their last four trips to Dallas.

Ordinarily, we would suggest keeping stakes low or avoid the game altogether. Yet these Panthers are for real and only the pressure to remain unbeaten will see their chances scuppered. They can cover and win with plenty to spare, history be damned.

VERDICT: CAROLINA 31 DALLAS 17

BEST BET: CAROLINA -1 @ 1.92

CHICAGO at GREEN BAY

Friday, 01:30

(-8.5, Total Points 47)

Green Bay took control of the NFC North with a 30-13 win over Minnesota last Sunday.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. Wide receiver James Jones had six receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in the game. Jones now has seven touchdown receptions this season, which is tied for second in the NFC.

Eddie Lacy
Carrying the load: Eddie Lacy

Running back Eddie Lacy added 100 rushing yards in the victory, his first 100-yard rushing performance this season.

The Packers will host their first Thanksgiving Day game since 1923 when they defeated the Hammond Pros 19-0 at Bellevue Park in Green Bay. These teams play each other for a NFL-record 192nd time on Thursday.

Adding to the occasion, the Packers will honour former quarterback Brett Favre during a halftime ceremony. Favre’s name and retired No. 4 jersey will be unveiled on Lambeau Field’s north facade during halftime. Favre, who played in four Thanksgiving Day games in his career, is one of six Packers legends to have their number retired.

Rodgers will not want to be upstaged, however. We expect him to have a big night.

Brett Favre
Honoured: Brett Favre

The Bears gave the Denver Broncos a fright before succumbing 17-15 at Soldier Field on Sunday, dropping their record to 4-6. While they are not entirely out of the NFC North race, a wildcard spot is perhaps the best they can hope for.

The Bears have a 16-15-2 record on Thanksgiving, but this is the 12th consecutive week that the Bears have been made underdogs

This game mark the fifth time this season the Packers have been favoured by more than a touchdown. Green Bay covered the spread in double-digit wins over San Francisco and St. Louis, but didn’t cover as 10.5-point favourites over San Diego and Detroit. Sunday’s win was the first time in five games that Packers covered the spread.

Meanwhile, the Bears have covered the handicap or have fallen on the line (handicap push) in six of the last seven games.

Jay Cutler heads into the game against the Packers with a 95.2 passer rating in his last seven games (11 touchdowns, four interceptions). Rodgers has an 89.8 rating (13 touchdowns, three interceptions) in the same span.

However, Cutler is 1-11 against the Packers, who beat the Bears 31-23 at Soldier Field in the season opener.

This time it could be a little different, as nine of the Bears’ starters from Sunday’s loss to the Broncos did not start when the Bears hosted the Packers in the season-opener.

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Matt Forte, who didn’t play Sunday because of groin and knee injuries, respectively, could return for the Bears, who could be a little beaten up after a bruising encounter with the Broncos, who boast one of the best defences in football.

As a result, we take the Packers to cover the handicap, with Rodgers having one of his better nights.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 34 CHICAGO 17

BEST BET: GREEN BAY -8.5 @ 1.92

MIAMI at NEW YORK JETS

Sunday, 18:00

(-3.5, Total Points 42.5)

The Miami Dolphins have won on their last three trips to AFC East rival New York Jets. The only time they have won on four consecutive visits was between 1970 and 1973.

Both teams are still in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the AFC, but neither will catch unbeaten division leaders New England.

Chris Ivory
Key man: Chris Ivory

The Jets, who started the season 4-1, are now on the playoff bubble at 5-5 and are coming off a 24-17 loss to the Houston Texans. They could be without center Nick Mangold and cornerback Darrelle Revis through injury.

However, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions in the last two games, will continue to pull the strings.

The Jets have already beaten the Dolphins this season, winning 27-14 at Wembley Stadium. Neither team has played particularly well of late, with the Dolphins proving more inconsistent.

The Dolphins’ offensive play-calling has been interesting, to say the least. Ryan Tannehill, for all his many faults – holding the ball too long, inability to throw an accurate deep ball, persistently throwing behind his receivers in short to intermediate routes – does have good mobility and throws well on the run.

Given the dolphins’ inability to block, shifting the pocket would make plenty of sense. Instead, it appears as though the third-year passer is a tackling dummy, just waiting to be hit behind a line that cannot protect him.

The Jets have struggled offensively but the sieve-like Miami run defense is going to be tested and is just the antidote the Jets have been waiting for. Chris Ivory should go in plenty of fantasy teams this week after a lean spell.

The skinny: We don’t believe in Tannehill, who is clearly not the franchise QB the Dolphins had high hopes for. This is a bad team, lacking depth along both lines and their offense is struggling, even when their defense does manage to keep them in games.

VERDICT: MIAMI 13 NY JETS 27

BEST BET: NY JETS -3.5 @ 1.92

OAKLAND at TENNESSEE

Sunday, 18:00

(+2, Total Points 44)

Despite their 18-13 defeat in Detroit, the Oakland Raiders (4-6) lost little ground in the AFC Wildcard race. They are still just a game behind four 5-5 teams and one 6-4 team vying for the two available post-season spots.

Derek Carr
Derek Carr: Oakland’s QB is on the rise

Tennessee (2-8) are three games behind the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South, a division in which no team boasts a winning record with six games of the regular season remaining. The Raiders have lost on five of their last six visits to Tennessee, including the last three clashes.

However, they have not dropped four consecutive meetings since 1961-62.

The Titans have played three of their last four on the road and their home tilt was against unbeaten Carolina (which they lost 27-10).

Indeed, they have lost all five home games thus far. Oakland’s three road defeats have come by a combined 10 points and they are value to bounce back.

VERDICT: OAKLAND 27 TENNESSEE 17

BEST BET: OAKLAND -2 @ 1.92

NEW YORK GIANTS at WASHINGTON

Sunday, 18:00

(+2, Total Points 46.6)

Washington’s record against the Giants is poor, with just four wins in the last 19 meetings. Yet there is every reason to think the Redskins (4-6) can bounce back from a 16-44 loss to Carolina by splitting the season series with their NFC East rivals.

The Giants, coming off a bye week, are 5-5 and top the division. They drubbed the Redskins, 32-21, during their first encounter at the MetLife Stadium in a Week 3 Thursday night affair.

kirk cousins
Game manager: Kirk Cousins

Too much has been made about Washington starting Kirk Cousins at quarterback in preference to Robert Griffin III, as the Redskins have relied largely on their running game.

Although Cousins has thrown 10 interceptions and has had a tendency to turn the ball over in crucial situations, the running game could be key in this one.

For while the Giants have a respectable run defense, their reasonable stats are largely masked by the fact that teams know they can be passed upon. The Giants boast the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL and the last-ranked pass defense (averaging over 309.9 yards per game).

The Redskins have been poor on the road, going 0-5, but are 4-1 at home and the Giants have yet to bring much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Consequently, the passers have had more time to find open receivers. Until the Giants find a consistent pass rush – the return of Jason Pierre-Paul has helped in the last couple of weeks – their secondary will remain susceptible.

Where we think the Redskins will have success is with bubble screen passes. Giants’ coordinator Steve Spangnuolo has been more aggressive with blitz package in the last couple of games, and the Redskins have pass-catching backs that can exploit any over-aggressiveness.

The Giants have also not finished drives. They are 25th in the league in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 16 of 34 opportunities inside the 20 yard line.

We are taking a chance on the Redskins, given their poor record against the Giants. But we feel they will run the ball successfully enough to open up the passing lanes.

VERDICT: NY GIANTS 24 WASHINGTON 31

BEST BET: WASHINGTON +2 @ 1.92

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS

MINNESOTA +2 at Atlanta: Minnesota were put in their place by Green Bay last week, dropping their record against winning teams to 0-2. They can finally win one against a quality opponent this week at a venue where they have never tasted defeat on three successive occasions (two currently). Not a game to have a strong view about, however. Vikings 28-21

NEW ORLEANS +3 at Houston: Houston has shown signs of life with three successive wins and are still in with a chance of snatching the AFC South division. New Orleans, at 4-6, are simply looking to keep their season alive. Saints are 1-4 on the road but we like the points and the Saints could well win this outright. Saints 31-28

SAN DIEGO +4 at Jacksonville: Chargers are 2-8 but won four successive meetings. The Jaguars are a game behind Indianapolis and Houston in the race for the AFC South title, having won their last two. We are not sure what the Chargers’ mind-set will be, having dropped their last six. A long, cross-country trip might bring them together. Then again… Jaguars 24-21

ST LOUIS +9.5 at Cincinnati: The Rams have lost their last three, while the Bengals have dropped their last two, but still hold a two-game lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. Rams have the running game to keep this competitive for a while, but their passing attack is ranked 32nd and if the Bengals get in front early, this could get away from St Louis. Bengals 24-16

INDIANAPOLIS -3 over Tampa Bay: Colts came back from a big deficit to win in Atlanta and 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck will continue to deputise for injured QB Andrew Luck. The Buccaneers thumped Philadelphia on the road, but rookie QB Jameis Winston will still suffer a few growing pains. This could be one of those days as the Colts’ running game sparks them to another win. Colts 19-16

SAN FRANCISCO +11.5 over Arizona: The Cardinals are being asked to give up a two-score handicap to a team that has beaten them on six successive occasions in San Francisco. The 49ers were whacked 47-7 in Arizona in September and while we see no reason why the gulf in class will have been bridged sufficiently, the Cards have yet to show they can dominate on the road. Cardinals 33-24

PITTSBURGH +4.5 at Seattle: Pittsburgh has lost six of its last seven trips to Seattle, but has won the last three meetings (including the 2006 Super Bowl). We’ve changed our minds over this one about 10 times in the last five minutes. Something isn’t quite right with the NFC champions and the Steelers’ defense has better than advertised. Seahawks 24-20

NEW ENGLAND -3 at Denver: The Patriots remain unbeaten with a 10-0 record but looked far from perfect in defeating Buffalo 20-13 on Monday night. The Broncos’ defense has been excellent this season, yet their vaunted attack has been more cup-cake than anvil. Can we trust Brock Osweiler to keep pace with Tom Brady and a depleted surrounding cast? Patriots have a yucky 3-15 record at Mile High since 1972. Maybe we can. Maybe Osweiler will yell “Belichick, Belichick,” at the line of scrimmage. Then again… Patriots 28-17

BALTIMORE +2.5 at Cleveland: With elite QB Joe Flacco done for the season and running back Justin Forsett also missing with a broken arm, against anyone else we’d say the Ravens were there for the taking. This game matters not a jot, save for securing a higher draft pick. The Browns need that more and will probably do what the Browns do best and find a new and creative way to lose. Baltimore 23-20

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WEEKEND BETTING PREVIEW – MCB’s Premier League Guide

Your improved club betting service will be arriving within days. In the meantime, we look to continue our good run and, complete with industry average odds, take a glance at the big matches at both ends of the Premier League…

ASTON VILLA v WATFORD

Remi Garde will probably deserve manager of the year honours should he manage to prevent Aston Villa (2.63) from relegation.

Olympique Lyonnais football team?s Head
Remi Garde: Plenty to work on

They are five points adrift of safety after a 4-0 thrashing by Everton, which extended Villa’s winless sequence to 12 games. They have lost 10 times in that span.

Watford’s (2.75) solid start to life in the Premier League has come off the rails a little with three defeats in the last five, albeit to three of the top four in Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester United.

They caused Manchester United plenty of problems last Saturday, before losing to a last-minute goal, but their record against Villa is not a good one – having won just three of the last 14 meetings. They have never won at Villa Park, either.

Despite Villa’s defeat at Everton, it must be remembered that they held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw in Garde’s first game in charge and the Villa faithful invariably make it an intimidating place to go.

Villa simply have to win this to avoid being cut further adrift, particularly with games upcoming against Southampton (A), Arsenal (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H) and Norwich (A) before the year is out.

We are not sure how they are going to do it and, given their form, quite how we can justify the selection is bordering on the questionable. Call it whimsy or perhaps it is something dodgy we have eaten, but gut feeling says a home win in on the cards. [SM]

VERDICT: ASTON VILLA 2 WATFORD 1 @ 10.00

BEST BET: ASTON VILLA TO WIN @ 2.63

BOURNEMOUTH v EVERTON

Eddie Howe will still be reeling after Bournemouth (2.75) threw away a two-goal lead at Swansea last weekend. Goals from Josh King and Dan Gosling put the Cherries 2-0 up at the Liberty Stadium.

Matt Ritchie.jpg
Matt Ritchie: Setting up goals

However, they surrendered that lead shortly after, eventually drawing the game 2-2.

It was a completely different story for Roberto Martinez and his Everton (2.55) side, who were totally dominant in their 4-0 win over struggling Aston Villa at Goodison Park.

Matt Ritchie is the key man for Bournemouth. The Scottish international has assisted 19 goals since the start of last season – only Cesc Fabregas has provided more assists in England’s top leagues, with 20 in the same period.

It has been a wonderful start to the season for Ross Barkley. The Everton playmaker endured a tough time last season, but has bounced back with some fine performances during this campaign, netting five times in the league already.

Everton have only lost once away from home all season, while Bournemouth have just one home Premier League win thus far. Everything points to an away win here. [CC]

VERDICT: BOURNEMOUTH 0 EVERTON 2 @ 14.50

BEST BET: EVERTON TO WIN @ 2.55

CRYSTAL PALACE v NEWCASTLE

It is fair to say that Alan Pardew was less than popular with the Geordie faithful during his time as Newcastle (5.00) manager.

SACK PARDEW
Careful what you wish for: Newcastle fans vented

After months of scrutiny and negativity, Pardew eventually chose to leave the Northeast club in January, in order to take the vacant manager’s job at Selhurst Park, with a club close to both his heart and his home.

Crystal Palace (1.70) have come on heaps and bounds since the appointment of Pardew, finishing 10th in the Premier League last season, despite being in the relegation zone when he took over.

It has been a completely different story for the Newcastle. John Carver took the managerial reigns from Pardew and immediately found himself being dragged into a relegation battle.

Carver then left the club in the summer after narrowly avoiding relegation last season, before being replaced by Steve McClaren who, in all honestly, hasn’t fared any better. The Magpies have only won two league games all season and find themselves in a lowly 17th position.

The two sides clashed three times in all competitions last season, sharing a staggering 13 goals during those meetings.

That fact, combined with the poor defensive record possessed by Newcastle this season leads us to believe that Palace will win here, in a game containing more than two goals. [CC]

VERDICT: PALACE 2 NEWCASTLE 1 @ 8.50

BEST BET: OVER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.80

MAN CITY v SOUTHAMPTON

Such was their abject display in a 4-1 home defeat, Manchester City (1.53) made an ordinary Liverpool side suddenly look like world-beaters. The fact is, they are far from it.

Nicolas Otamendi3
In-form: Nicolas Otamendi

City were playing without injured captain Vincent Kompany, but leaving in-form Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho on the bench was either a laughable error of judgement by manager Manuel Pellegrini or simply a gamble – resting them after their exertions for South American countries – that back-fired.

Either way, it is unrealistic to expect the defensive partnership of Elaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis to produce anything other than the result it did.

City have won just one of their last four Premier League games, which is hardly the stuff champions are made of.

Southampton (6.00) suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat by Southampton – their third loss of the season at home. The Saints have yet to be beaten away from home, however, winning twice and drawing four times.

The Saints have not won at The Etihad since 2004, suffering defeat on all five subsequent visits, and all five saw three or more goals scored.

We take City to get back on track with a routine win and hand Southampton their first road defeat of the season. [SM]

VERDICT: MAN CITY 3 SOUTHAMPTON 1 @ 12.00

BEST BET: OVER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.62

SUNDERLAND v STOKE

Sam Allardyce will be delighted after picking up his second win as Black Cats manager on Monday night. Jermain Defoe grabbed a vital late winner at Selhurst Park to give Sunderland (3.25) all three points, lifting them above Bournemouth in the table.

Patrick Van Aanholt1
Struggling: Patrick Van Aanholt

Stoke (2.35) are beginning to find form after a shaky start to the season. The Potters are coming off two momentum-building league victories which saw them beat Chelsea at home before getting an impressive three points away at Southampton.

There is no doubt that Sunderland look a far more organised outfit under Allardyce.

However, they do still lack quality. Patrick Van Aanholt is starting to look low on confidence and has had no end of problems so far this season. The former Chelsea full-back was given at torrid time by Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park and the Mackem faithful are beginning to lose patience after a string of poor individual performances from the Dutchman.

Bojan is most definitely a man in form. The technically-gifted Spanish striker returned from a long-term injury earlier in the season and has scored vital away winners against Swansea and Southampton in recent weeks.

Stoke haven’t been involved in a game containing more than two goals since their 2-1 win over Bournemouth in September – and we expect that run to continue at the weekend. We are going for a low-scoring draw here. [CC]

VERDICT: SUNDERLAND 1 STOKE 1 @ 7.00

BEST BET: UNDER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.6 

LEICESTER v MAN UNITED

Let’s start with the obvious. Leicester (3.40) are in a false position at the summit of the Premier League table.

Jamie Vardy
Top striker: Jamie Vardy

Take a look at just who they have played. With the exception of Arsenal (to whom they lost), they have not played any of last season’s top four and in their 13 games, nine of them have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. Let us see how much of the current lauding of manager Claudio Ranieri and striker Jamie Vardy there is at the end of the season.

Man Utd (2.10) are a point behind the Foxes in second place and while we are not saying they will win the league, their current price of 5.00 to do just that seems generous.

They look a back-to-lay proposition.

While United have injury problems, particularly up front, they have lost just three of the last 26 meetings with Leicester.

The Foxes are catching United at the right time and the Leicester love-in may well continue a little while yet.

United are the obvious bet, but we would be happy to lay them, with Leicester and Draw on the Double Chance market at 1.57 suggested. [SM]

VERDICT: LEICESTER 1 MAN UNITED 1 @ 6.50

BEST BET: LEICESTER AND DRAW @ 1.57

TOTTENHAM v CHELSEA

At the start of the season, many would have been staggered to hear that Tottenham (2.25) would be going into a game with the champions as clear favourites. Spurs are the in-form side in the Premier League, currently occupying fifth place after going unbeaten since their opening day loss at Manchester United.

Harry Kane
In form at last: Harry Kane

On the other hand, Chelsea (3.00) are in real trouble at the moment. The Blues were less than convincing in their narrow home win against Norwich last time out and find themselves at the bottom end of the league table after a wretched start to the season.

Harry Kane has turned the corner after a slow start to the season and now finds himself in fine form. The England striker has scored seven times in his last four league appearances and will be looking continue that against a Chelsea defence that has already conceded 23 times this season.

That said, the champions have a wonderful record against Spurs, only losing once in the last 12 meetings between the two London sides.

With that in mind, we fancy Chelsea to get at least a point at White Hart Lane. [CC]

VERDICT: TOTTENHAM 1 CHELSEA 2 @ 11.00

BEST BET: CHELSEA AND DRAW @ 1.55 

WEST HAM v WEST BROM

West Ham (1.91) are worthy of their top six place, given they have beaten the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the road.

But without talisman Dimiri Payet, West Ham produced a gutless performance at Tottenham last Sunday. In contrast, West Brom (4.00) saw off title aspirants Arsenal.

Diafra Sakho
Welcome return: Diafra Sakho

The Hammers will be out to avenge a spineless 4-0 FA Cup fifth round defeat at The Hawthorns last February, while the visitors will be keen to snap a six-game winless streak at Upton Park, which equals their worst run in trips to East London (from 1961-67).

West Ham’s home form has not been so productive. Despite the return of Pedro Obiang, Diafra Sakho and Alex Song from injury, the loss of Payet and Enner Valencia is immense.

However, we still reckon the Hammers will be in the top 10 at season’s end and odds of 1.83 to do that are fair.

The Throstles are not so much ‘Boing Boing’ as ‘Boring Boring’, but they have won three of their six road games this season.

They have drawn six of the last nine meetings with the Hammers, and while the hosts are a much better side, the visitors are catching them at the right time. Consequently, the Hammers can be laid at 1.83. [SM]

VERDICT: WEST HAM 1 WEST BROM 2 @ 13.00

BEST BET: WEST BROM AND DRAW @ 1.83

LIVERPOOL v SWANSEA

We can’t be the only ones thinking about how ironic it would be should Liverpool (1.50), formerly managed by Brendan Rodgers, defeat a Swansea (7.00) side who could (if speculation is correct) sack Garry Monk and hasten the return of Rodgers as manager.

daniel sturridge
Outstanding talent: Daniel Sturridge

Swansea have won one of their last nine Premier League games and confidence appears to be draining form the side, if their 2-2 home draw with Bournemouth is taken at face value. Their sole win in that span came at struggling Aston Villa and they have tough games upcoming against Leicester (H), Manchester City (A) and West Ham (H).

Readers of this column will have noted that Liverpool’s win at Manchester City was not wholly unexpected. The return of striker Daniel Sturridge should see a further upturn in form, especially given their run of pre-Christmas opponents, all of whom occupy the lower reaches of the division: Newcastle (A), West Brom (H), Watford (A). We can see them encamped in the top four by the end of the year.

While we still feel Liverpool’s defensive frailties will ultimately cost them a trophy, Swansea have not managed a win in the last seven meetings and this looks a routine win for the hosts. [SM]

VERDICT: LIVERPOOL 3 SWANSEA 1 @ 12.00

BEST BET: LIVERPOOL -1 @ 2.38

NORWICH v ARSENAL

In truth, neither of these sides are coming into this game with any real momentum.

Mesut OZil
Record setter: Mezut Ozil

Norwich (6.00) find themselves dangerously close to the foot of the table after losing five of their last six league games.

Arsenal (1.55) suffered a shock defeat at West Brom last weekend and have only managed one win of their last five games in all competitions. The last meeting between these sides was back in May 2014 and ended in a 2-0 Arsenal win at Carrow Road.

Mesut Ozil set a new Premier League assist record last weekend. The German’s cross to Olivier Giroud for Arsenal’s goal at The Hawthorns allowed him to become the first player in Premier League history to record at least one assist in seven consecutive games.

Of the last nine meetings between these sides, only two have ended with less than three goals being shared. It is also worth noting that five of Arsenal’s seven away league games this season have resulted in more than two goals being scored.

Considering those stats, we fancy Arsenal to win in a relatively high scoring encounter. [CC]

VERDICT: NORWICH 1 ARSENAL 3 @ 13.00

BEST BET: OVER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.65 

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NFL PICK SIX – Your betting guide to Week 11

Seven weeks remain of the regular season. Two teams remain unbeaten: Carolina (9-0) and New England (9-0) – and this marks the fourth season in league history with multiple 9-0 teams (1934, 1990, 2009).

Entering 2015, 19 teams in the Super Bowl era started 9-0. Of those 19 clubs, all 19 made the playoffs, 11 advanced to the Super Bowl and seven won the Super Bowl.

Since 1990, 21 teams have qualified for the playoffs with a losing record through nine games. At least one has done so in each of the last four seasons. Last year, Carolina (3-5-1) accomplished the feat and advanced to the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Entering Week 11, there are currently 23 teams with a 4-5 record or better.

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 11 of the 2015/16 NFL season. The odds are correct at the time of writing and are industry average.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

Allen Hurns 1
Allen Hurns: Sure-handed

TENNESSEE at JACKSONVILLE

Friday, 01:25

(-2.5, Total Points 42.5)

This isn’t a game that too many will be staying up to watch. Incredibly, Tennessee (2-7) and Jacksonville (3-6) are still in the mix for the AFC South title, with Houston (4-5) and Indianapolis (4-5 and minus injured QB Andrew Luck) tied at the top of the division.

Yet there is plenty to look forward to for fans of both teams, starting at the quarterback positions.

Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota had 13 touchdown passes in the first half of the season, which is the most of any rookie through his team’s first eight games in NFL history. He also has a 98.3 passer rating, which would rank third all-time among rookie quarterbacks.

Marcus Mariota 1
Great start: Marcus Mariota

He is the only rookie in NFL history to have two games with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions. And 10 of his TDs have come on the road.

Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has also looked the part this year after a difficult rookie season and has 19 TDs in nine starts, with 11 interceptions. He is the franchise QB the Jaguars have been looking for and they have started to build a frighteningly productive offense, with WRs Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson each snaring seven TDs.

They also have a decent ground game. Jaguars’ running back T.J. Yeldon has started all eight games in which he’s played for Jacksonville and leads AFC rookies with 531 rushing yards. He’s been a steady contributor this season, posting at least 60 scrimmage yards in seven of his eight games, including three 100-yard performances.

Seven of the last eight meetings in Tennessee saw 43 points or less scored and while Jacksonville have issues closing out games and protecting Bortles (he’s been sacked 83 times in a season and a half), the Titans do not have a dominant receiving corps or a consistent running game to help Mariota’s development. We take the Jaguars to win and cover.

VERDICT: TENNESSEE 17 JACKSONVILLE 27

BEST BEST: JACKSONVILLE -2.5 @ 1.92

DALLAS at MIAMI

Sunday, 18:00

(-0.5, Total Points 47.5)

The Dallas Cowboys (2-7) will travel to take on the Miami Dolphins (4-5) in a rematch of Super Bowl VI, won by the Cowboys (24-3). Do not rule out the Cowboys from winning the NFC East, even with their lowly record.

Tannehill 2
Ryan Tannehill: Struggling for consistency

Why? Tony Romo. The QB is set to return on Sunday, having missed the last seven games (all losses) through injury.

The Cowboys have one of the best offensive line in the NFC East and have a lot of experience at the skill positions. While they have had one of the toughest schedules, it is about to get a lot easier.

The NFC East is headed by the New York Giants (5-5), with Washington (4-5) and Philadelphia (4-5, who have lost QB Sam Bradford) next in line. The odds about the Cowboys winning the division are 33-1 and while that looks big, the limitations of the other trio are there for all to see.

Victory over Miami would see those odds come tumbling and Miami has plenty of injury problems, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, with DE Cameron Wake on IR, linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle) and cornerback Brice McCain (knee) all likely to miss the game.

The Dolphins managed to win in Philadelphia last Sunday but were far from convincing and they cannot stop the run, giving up an average of 142.1 yards per game.

The Cowboys will need to establish the running game to keep the pressure off of a QB coming off a broken collarbone.

But while Miami’s defense might be in trouble, don’t expect Ryan Tannehill to bail them out – the QB is in his third season and is still plagued by inconsistency, despite having an effective receiving unit.

Miami may be still in the hunt for a wildcard, but they have lost four of the last five meetings and we simply do not think that Tannehill can take the game on his shoulders. Until he steps up and becomes a leader, we simply don’t trust these Dolphins.

VERDICT: DALLAS 27 MIAMI 23

BEST BET: DALLAS +0.5 @ 2.00

DENVER at CHICAGO

Sunday, 18:00

(-1.5, Total Points 41)

Denver (7-2) has lost two in a row, QB Peyton Manning is sidelined with a foot injury and with New England to come after this clash, suddenly the sky is falling in.

The Broncos do have a three-game lead on Kansas City in the AFC West and on one of the best defences in the AFC.

The Broncos, who have lost four of their last five meetings in Chicago, come up against former head coach John Fox and former offensive coordinator Adam Gase for the first time since their departure in February.

Adam Gase
Adam Gase: Rising star in the coaching ranks

It will also be a first for Chicago QB Jay Cutler – he gets to face the Broncos for the first time since he was controversially traded in April 2009. The Bears (4-5) are one of seven teams in the NFC who have four wins, but both the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons are two games ahead of them in the race for the wildcard spots.

The Bears are 1-3 at home, having managed to score 23, 23, 22 and 20 points at Soldier Field. But since Week 4, they have been competitive in every game, with five of their six subsequent games settled by three points or less (they are 3-2 in those games) and they enter this on a back of a 37-13 win at San Diego.

We see a low-scoring game. The Broncos have not managed to win the ball with any degree of authority and the Bears will stack the box, daring Brock Osweiler to beat them through the air.

Matt Forte is likely to return after a knee injury and may be just the boost Chicago needs, despite rave reviews for Michigan State rookie Jeremy Langford, who has done an excellent job in relief over the last couple of weeks.

Bears have their tails up and while this is a tricky game to call, we still think that planning for the Broncos’ defense will cause Gase and Cutler a few sleepless nights. Denver can win this in a close, low-scoring contest.

VERDICT: DENVER 13 CHICAGO 10

BEST BET: DENVER +1.5 @ 1.92

OAKLAND at DETROIT

Sunday, 18:00

(+1, Total Points 48.5)

Expect a shoot-out as the Oakland Raiders (4-5) take on the Detroit Lions (2-7) and it may not be all one-way traffic.

Last week, the Lions won at Green Bay for the first time since 1991 in a bounce-back performance following their 45-10 defeat by Kansas City at Wembley. Yet they still possess one of the worst rushing attacks in the league.

Rodney Hudson
Rodney Hudson: Overlooked key for Raiders

Oakland are in the thick of the AFC wildcard hunt but have been weakened by the loss of linebacker and top pass rusher Aldon Smith, who was suspended for a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy after being arrested on August 6 on drunk-driving charges – his third such arrest (and fifth overall) since 2012.

The Raiders’ pass-blocking and run game has also struggled without center Rodney Hudson, who sat out practice again on Wednesday with an ankle sprain. He is listed as questionable to start.

Their questionable cornerbacks should also mean that Lions’ passer Matt Stafford should have a big day and, equally, Detroit’s paper-thin run defense should see Raiders’ running back Latavius Murray may hay. The Lions have allowed a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns this season and Murray is averaging a decent 4.7 yards per carry.

Yet their propensity to pass – they threw the ball 43 times against the Vikings last week (and had 19 rushes), despite Minnesota playing a two-deep zone for much of the contest. Even though they have an excellent young quarterback in Derek Carr, they must commit to the run if they are to beat the Lions, but that is easier said than done if Hudson is sidelined

Still, we think the Raiders will be too strong for a Detroit team that will be playing its first of three home games in a 12-day stretch. The Lions’ depleted secondary will find it tough to handle receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

VERDICT: OAKLAND 33 DETROIT 27

BEST BET: OAKLAND -1 @ 2.00

GREEN BAY at MINNESOTA

Sunday, 21:25

(-1.5, Total Points 44.5)

Many people are wondering what has happened to the Green Bay Packers over the last two weeks. Two defeats – including last Sunday’s home shocker to the Detroit Lions, who had not won at Lambeau Field since 1991 – poses plenty of questions.

Aaron Rodgers 2
Simply the best: Aaron Rodgers can bounce back

The truth is, Green Bay have played a relatively soft schedule. They are 6-1 against teams with a losing record and 0-2 against teams with a winning record. In racing parlance, they are flat track bullies.

If Green Bay are paper tigers, similar sentiments apply to the Minnesota Vikings, who now lead the Packers by a game in the NFC North with a 7-2 record. The Vikings are 0-1 against teams with a winning record and 7-1 against teams with a losing record.

The Packers have lost one of the last 11 meetings and four of the last 19 clashes. They are 1.5-point underdogs on the road but it is rare to see the Pack lose three on the bounce and Aaron Rodgers and company can take care of business.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 23 MINNETOTA 20

BEST BET: GREEN BAY +1.5 @ 1.92

TAMPA BAY at PHILADELPHIA

Sunday, 18:00

(-5.5, Total Points 45.5)

While back-up passer Mark Sanchez will start for the Philadelphia Eagles (4-5), they could still be a great bet to see off the Buccaneers. The running game should be able to roll and the Eagles’ defense is legitimate, their front seven – especially their young line – is very good.

Look for the impactful interior lineman Bennie Logan as a key component in slowing down Buccaneers’ top rushing threat Doug Martin.

Bennie Logan
Difference-maker: Bennie Logan can be a major force

The Eagles threw away an easily winnable game against the Miami Dolphins last week with a desperate performance. There has been a marked drop-off in production from the offense, which lacks talent. The offensive line has struggled to block in the absence of starting left tackle Jason Peters and the receivers have dropped passes all year.

However, no-one really knows what to expect from Philly. If DeMarco Murray gets into a rhythm early, it will help Chip Kelly’s fast-paced attack.

If he doesn’t, then we could see the Eagles passing close to 45-50 times and we’d wager that they will come out passing in a bid to help the running game.

The Bucs do not have a ton of experience in their front seven and they will be kept off balance by an up-tempo attack, especially since they don’t have a good track record of rushing the passer.

We think we will see plenty of scat-back Darren Sproles and an easier-than-anticipated win for the Eagles.

VERDICT: TAMPA BAY 17 PHILADELPHIA 31

BEST BET: PHILADELPHIA -5.5 @ 2.00

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS

ATLANTA -5.5 over Indianapolis: Colts (4-5) have only lost once in eight trips to Atlanta (6-3) but they start 40-year-old QB Matt Hasselbeck, who guided them to back-to-back wins over Jacksonville and Houston. Julio Jones against a 26th-ranked pass defence which could be without Safety Mike Adams is a big miss-match. Falcons 31-20

BALTIMORE -2.5 over St Louis: The home team has won four of the last five in the series and the Ravens are not as bad as their (2-7) record would suggest. Every Ravens game this season has been decided by eight points or fewer and they are finding new and creative ways to lose late. Still, their 0-4 ATS home record has to change soon. May as well be on Sunday. Ravens 23-17

WASHINGTON +7.5 at Carolina: The Panthers have won four of the last five meetings but traditionally there has been little between them, with eight of the last 11 meetings settled by four points or less. Can Panthers remain unbeaten? Probably. May not be without a scare, though. Panthers 24-20

SEATTLE -12.5 over San Francisco: There is a lot of pent-up frustration from the Legion Of Boom. The Seahawks had their tails handed to them by Arizona last week. The 49ers are meeting the NFC champs at the wrong moment. Seahawks 28-10

CINCINNATI +5 at Arizona: Two Super Bowl contenders? The Cardinals (7-2) are for real and the Bengals (8-1) are not as bad as Monday’s stunning home defeat by Houston would suggest. Can QB Carson Palmer put one over on his old Bengals’ team-mates? That will be the storyline. The Bengals have the weapons to exploit the Cards’ only real weakness – run defense. Bengals 26-23 OT

NEW ENGLAND -7 over Buffalo: And then there was one. The Patriots are hurting – replacing WR Julian Edelman is not going to be easy – and one of only two remaining unbeaten records could go. Then again, Tom Brady is 24-3 all-time against the Bills and 12-1 in seasonal rematches with them. Who are we kidding? New England 37-24

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EL CLASICO: THE MCB PREVIEW OF SATURDAY’S CLASH

By Calum Chinchen

Spain’s biggest two clubs face-off at The Bernabeu on Saturday evening, in the first El Clasico of the season. Meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona rarely seem to disappoint and we expect Saturday’s game to be no different. Last season’s two La Liga clashes saw the sides share seven goals and an astonishing 17 yellow cards.

Hosts Real Madrid (2.50) are coming off a 3-2 away defeat to Sevilla last time out, and many of the Los Blanco’s faithful still seem unsure about manager Rafael Benitez. The former Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli boss was surprisingly handed the reigns at Real Madrid when his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties after failing to win a single major trophy last season.

BENITEZ
Benitez: Not convincing everyone

 

In truth, Real had a fairly low-key summer in comparison to their usual activity. Former employees Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vasquez returned to the Bernabeu on permanent deals, while Casemiro and Denis Cheryshev were both re-included in the first team squad after season-long loan spells away from the club. Young talents Danilo and Mateo Kovacic were also bought in from Porto and Inter Milan respectively, signalising a potential change in philosophy for the Spanish giants. While many neutral fans seem to be applauding Benitez in his removal of the club’s Galactico policy, the Real Madrid natives aren’t too happy – and it’s beginning to show.

The iconic Real Madrid front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema don’t appear to be gelling as well as they have done in previous years, with Madrid attacks often looking hurried and forced so far this season.

Casemiro has been one of the bright sparks for Real since arriving back at the club after his loan spell at Porto. In previous year’s the club have lacked a defensive minded midfielder, but the Brazilian seems to be an ideal fit due to his positional awareness. The former Sao Paulo man appears to have learned from his loan spell in Portugal and now finds himself in an almost indispensable role for Los Blancos, as he seems to liberate the five players in front of him with some well needed defensive discipline.

CASEMIRO
Casemiro: Now vital for Real

 

Barcelona (2.75) have kicked on from where they finished last season and find themselves in a familiar position at the top of the La Liga table. The Catalan giants have been forced to promote from within after a transfer embargo was recently placed upon the club, with academy graduates Munir and Sandro Ramirez both playing a key role so far this season.

That said, the transfer embargo didn’t prevent Barca from adding to their squad over the summer, with two of last season’s most impressive performers in La Liga moving to the Camp Nou. Arda Turan joined from Atletico in a big money deal, while Aleix Vidal arrived from Sevilla after a fine season. However, neither will be able to feature in the game, as they cannot make their debuts until January due to the embargo placed on Barca.

Lionel Messi hasn’t played for Barcelona since injuring his left knee against Las Palmas back in September. Some reports are suggesting that Messi will be back in the squad for Saturday’s game, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him absent once again. Luis Suarez and Neymar have taken on the goal scoring responsibility in his absence, sharing 20 of the club’s last 23 goals between themselves.

SUAREZ NEYMAR
Suarez & Neymar: Both in the goals

 

Discipline has always been an issue for both sides during previous Clasico games, however Luis Enrique and Rafa Benitez are both placid men, so we don’t expect to see any eye gouging (think Mourinho) or any pig head’s being thrown onto the field (think Figo) in this meeting. That said, we really wouldn’t be surprised to see a red card to be shown during the 90 minutes, especially with the likes of Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Pepe and Sergio Ramos being present.

In truth we fancy Barcelona here, and would be tipping the straight win if Messi was definitely fit, however we are erring on the side of caution in case of his absence.

VERDICT: REAL MADRID 2 BARCELONA 2 @ 11.50

BEST BET: BARCELONA (DRAW NO BET) @ 1.95

 

WEEKEND BETTING PREVIEW – MCB’s Premier League Guide

Your improved club betting service will be arriving within days. In the meantime, we look to continue our good run and, complete with industry average odds, take a glance at the big matches at both ends of the Premier League…

WATFORD v MAN UNITED

Watford (5.00) have undoubtedly looked the most comfortable of the three newly-promoted sides this season. Quique Sanchez Flores took the managerial reins over the summer and has done a fantastic job at Vicarage Road, replacing their previous style with a far more organised one.

VAN GAAL
Van Gaal: Losing support

That said, they have an atrocious record against Saturday’s opponents. The Hornets have lost all of their last nine meetings with Manchester United (1.85), with their last win coming back in 1986.

Manchester United fans appear to be losing faith in manager Louis Van Gaal and his seemingly negative tactics, with cries of ‘attack, attack, attack’ coming from the United faithful on a regular basis. Although their style isn’t pleasing everyone, United aren’t conceding goals – which was their main problem last season.

The Red Devils have kept an impressive eight clean sheets already this season and haven’t conceded in any of their last four league games. We see that continuing at the weekend and fancy United to keep a clean sheet at Vicarage Road. [CC]

VERDICT: WATFORD 0 MAN UNITED 1 @ 6.25

BEST BET: MAN UNITED CLEAN SHEET @ 2.15

CHELSEA v NORWICH

Approaching the end of November, champions Chelsea (1.44) are three points off the relegation zone. They have lost seven times in their last 11 league games (including their last three) and have only managed to keep a clean sheet twice in 12 games. It is frightening how poor they have become.

Alex Neil
Under pressure: Alex Neil

Still, Jose Mourinho is in a good spot, for he will receive a substantial pay-off should owner Roman Abramovich cut ties with the beleaguered Portuguese.

Despite things looking bleak, the Blues have a few games upcoming that fall into the winnable category: Norwich (h), Tottenham (a), Bournemouth (h), Leicester (a), Sunderland (h), Watford (h). Things could look completely different before the year is through.

Norwich (7.50) have won one of the last 10 meetings with Chelsea and have not won at Stamford Bridge since 1993.

Alex Neil’s side snapped a winless run of six games including four successive defeats, when beating Swansea 1-0 two weeks ago and they have difficult games upcoming: Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h), Watford (a), Everton (h), Man Utd (a), Tottenham (a).

Norwich can often look good going forward, but their defence has been atrocious at times. They look ideal cannon fodder for Mourinho’s crew to get back to winning ways. [SM]

VERDICT: CHELSEA 3 NORWICH 0 @ 10.00

BEST BET: CHELSEA -1 @ 2.25

EVERTON v ASTON VILLA

Roberto Martinez seems to be enjoying life at Everton (1.55) again. The Toffees have only lost three times all season and are unbeaten in their last three league games.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa - Pre Season Friendly
Commanding: Micah Richards

Aston Villa (6.75) have made a solid start to life under new manager Remi Garde. After only picking up four points before his arrival, Villa got an impressive point against Manchester City in the Frenchman’s first game in the hot seat.

Romelu Lukaku has been in fine form of late. The powerful Belgium striker has already scored seven times this season and looked particularly menacing in Everton’s draw with West Ham.

Micah Richards was the stand-out performer for Villa against his former club Manchester City. In truth, the club captain has looked solid and comfortable in the Villa defence since his arrival over the summer.

Everton have only lost once at home all season, while Villa have only won one game on the road. With that in mind, we see nothing other than a home win here. [CC]

VERDICT: EVERTON 3 VILLA 1 @ 12.50

BEST BET: EVERTON TO WIN @ 1.55

NEWCASTLE v LEICESTER

If you think Chelsea’s dip in form has been surprising, then Leicester’s (2.50) prominence in the Premier League table will have knocked you off your feet.

Claudio Ranieri
Easy start: Claudio Ranieri

The Foxes have lost just once this season – to Arsenal – the only side they have faced from the top four – and they have conceded 20 goals (only the bottom six have conceded as many or more). Indeed, West Ham and Swansea are the next-worst defensively, having conceded 16.

It will be interesting to see how long Leicester stay in the rarefied air of the top six. Our guess is they will come down with the Christmas decorations.

The Foxes have won the last two meetings with Newcastle, but you have to go back to 1965 to find them winning three consecutive meetings.

Newcastle (2.75) have picked up seven points from a possible 12 and earned their first away win of the season, despite being battered by Bournemouth, in their last fixture. While they remain in a relegation scrap, four of their next six games are at home and they have looked a different proposition in their last two at St James’ Park.

The odds are such that it may be worth taking a chance on the hosts, who created plenty of scoring opportunities against Stoke in their last home game. The stats say this could well be a shootout, so it would not be a surprise to see it end in a low-scoring draw, especially if Leicester striker Jamie Vardy is sidelined. Still… [SM]

VERDICT: NEWCASTLE 2 LEICESTER 1 @ 10.00

BEST BET: NEWCASTLE AND DRAW @ 1.50

SOUTHAMPTON v STOKE

Southampton (1.57) has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Stoke City (6.50). The Potters have won once on the South Coast since 1968 – and that was 35 years ago. They also have not managed back-to-back victories over the Saints since 1969.

After a slow start, Southampton are unbeaten in the last six (winning four and drawing two) and sit seventh in the table, four points outside of the Champions League places.

They do have a somewhat tricky period before Christmas, with games against Man City (a), Aston Villa (h), Crystal Palace (a), Tottenham (h), Arsenal (h) and West Ham (a), so picking up three points against Stoke would be handy.

Stoke have won four of their last seven, only losing once (to Watford), and have only lost once on the road this season (at Arsenal).

Four of the last seven meetings between the two have ended in a draw and eight of the last nine meetings saw both sides score. We think that trend might end and that the hosts can keep a clean sheet. [SM]

VERDICT: SOUTHAMPTON 2 STOKE 0 @ 7.00

BEST BET: UNDER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.73

SWANSEA v BOURNEMOUTH

The pressure is starting to build on Garry Monk. Swansea (1.85) have won just once in their last nine games and were extremely disappointing in their loss to Norwich last time out. Reports suggest that Monk is safe in his job, but we feel he needs a win on Saturday to remain in his position.

GOMIS
Gomis: Needs a goal

Bournemouth (4.50) are also in trouble. Eddie Howe’s side have struggled to cope after the loss of key players to injury and have seen a dip in form after a positive start to the season. The Cherries have lost all of their last four league games, conceding a disappointing 13 goals in the process.

The goals have dried up for Swansea which, in our eyes, is the main reason for their lack of form. Bafetimbi Gomis started the season in fine form. However, the energetic France international is now without a goal since netting the winner against Manchester United back in August.

Bournemouth’s problem lies at the other end of the field. Club captain and dominating centre back Tommy Elphick suffered a serious ankle injury in early October and, in truth, the Cherries’ defence has been in tatters ever since.

We fancy the Swansea attackers to return to form against the below-par Bournemouth defence, securing a high-scoring win for the home side – keeping their manager’s job safe for another week. [CC]

VERDICT: SWANSEA 3 BOURNEMOUTH 1 @ 15.00

BEST BET: OVER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.90

WEST BROM v ARSENAL

Many people expected Tony Pulis to make a greater impact than he has done since taking over as West Brom (7.25) manager. The Baggies have failed to impress so far this season and find themselves in 13th position after winning just four league games.

KOSCIELNY
Koscielny: Vital Presence

Arsene Wenger seems to be prioritising league football for the first time in many years. Arsenal (1.45) have recently suffered embarrassing defeats to Bayern Munich and Sheffield Wednesday in cup competitions. However, their league form has been superb and the Gunners find themselves level on points with leaders Manchester City.

Laurent Koscielny was out injured for the games against Bayern and Sheffield Wednesday, and was clearly missed. The reliable French defender is vital for his club as the Gunners rarely seem to lose when he is present.

Excluding Arsenal’s 4-1 win on the final day of last season, games between these two clubs are often tight affairs. Prior to that result, the previous five meetings had either ended in a draw or a one-goal win for either side. We see that continuing this weekend and fancy a narrow away win. [CC]

VERDICT: WEST BROM 1 ARSENAL 2 @ 8.50

BEST BET: WEST BROM +2 (HANDICAP) @ 1.60

MAN CITY v LIVERPOOL

Liverpool (5.00) have a frighteningly good record against Manchester City (1.67) – they have lost just seven of the last 39 meetings. City have won the last two meetings at The Etihad but astonishingly, they have not won three consecutive meetings at home – or two consecutive meetings – since 1937.

STERLING
Facing his old club: Raheem Sterling

City could be without top striker Sergio Aguero but Raheem Sterling is expected to face his old club for the first time since his £49 million move.

Liverpool’s defence is their weak link. They lack pace. Yet Jurgen Klopp has them playing much better as a unit since his arrival.

There is no question they will be a greater force once Daniel Sturridge returns to full fitness and they may well break into the top four, given Chelsea’s poor start to the season.

There have been seven draws in the last 15 meetings between City and Liverpool, and given the Citizens’ inconsistent form against the Merseysiders, we reckon a draw could be the best the hosts can hope for. [SM]

VERDICT: MAN CITY 1 LIVERPOOL 1 @ 7.50

BEST BET: BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE @ 1.67

TOTTENHAM v WEST HAM

A bitter London derby is the only game in town on Sunday and Tottenham (1.57) are catching West Ham at just the right time.

KANE
Dubious penalty: Harry Kane went down easily to earn a spot kick

The Hammers, who have lost just once on their travels in the league this term, will be without their midfield puppet-master Dimitri Payet, who was injured by a horror ‘tackle’ from Everton’s James McCarthy – one of the dirtiest players in the league – in their 1-1 draw at Upton Park. Spurs have lost just once this season and remain unbeaten at home.

West Ham (5.50) have won three of the last five meetings and were it not for a highly dubious penalty decision going against them in the sixth minute of added time at White Hart Lane in February, Spurs would have lost four of the last five meetings.

However, they have never failed to beat West Ham at home on four consecutive occasions in their history and given the Hammers’ injury problems, we take Spurs to land the odds with ease. [SM]

VERDICT: TOTTENHAM 3 WEST HAM 1 @ 12.00

BEST BET: TOTTENHAM WIN AND OVER 2.5 GOALS @ 2.25

CRYSTAL PALACE v SUNDERLAND

There is no doubt that Sunderland (6.75) are now in real danger. Sam Allardyce has struggled to steady the ship since taking over at the Stadium of Light last month, with a 3-0 win over bitter rivals Newcastle being the solitary high point.

PARDEW
Pardew: Attack-minded

Crystal Palace (1.55) are coming off two brilliant league results. The Eagles followed their home draw against Manchester United with a very impressive 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield last time out.

Alan Pardew has adopted an ultra-attacking style since taking over at Selhurst Park, with particular emphasis placed on attacking full-backs and wingers. While this has proved successful, it has also caused problems at the back, with Palace often looking susceptible to goals on the counter attack.

Both sides have scored in three of the last four meetings and while we expect Palace to win here, we do also see Sunderland getting on the scoresheet. [CC]

VERDICT: PALACE 2 SUNDERLAND 1 @ 9.00

BEST BET: BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE @ 1.95

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