A veteran sportswriter whose work appears periodically in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Mike Tierney has covered the NFL for decades and reported from seven Super Bowls. Mike does not consider himself a pet lover. But he likes 'dogs, preferring to evaluate each game from the underdog's point of view. In his weekly NFL Underdogs column last season, Mike has gone 27-22-2 (55.1 percent) each of the past two seasons.
LAST 29 NFL OU PICKS
21-8 LAST 29 NFL OU PICKS | +1215
Yes, the Irish are tearing up the ACC, with five outright wins off the bat. This is the dreaded third road game in a row, and a bump in that road is likely. I remain on the Seminoles? bandwagon despite a loss at North Carolina in which they were destroyed on the boards. They rebound better than Notre Dame and should control that phase. The ?Noles get a second wind here toward the tail end of six straight games against ranked foes.
The Gamecocks have swept four straight games by margins between six and 11 since the return of suspended star Sindarious Thornwell. In a sense, his absence was a plus, as teammates stepped up to fill the void. Florida has failed to cover in seven consecutive tries as a road underdog. Also, the Gators are 0-2 straight-up against ranked competition. South Carolina checks in this week at No. 24.
If the Commodores can pick up where they left off Tuesday in a narrow defeat to mighty Kentucky, they can handle their in-state rivals. Tennessee booted G Detrick Mostella, the No. 3 scorer, off the team this week, and G Shembari Phillips (leg) is questionable. The Volunteers have dropped three in a row straight-up, two at home, while Vandy has covered five consecutive times.
If FSU even approaches its level of play from Tuesday?s schooling of Duke, this could be an outright upset. The Seminoles are unbeaten halfway through a murderers? row of six consecutive ranked opponents and have covered in four straight. The Tar Heels will miss backup C Tony Bradley (concussion), whose absence could be felt against FSU?s tall front line.
It?s a quick turn-around for the Fighting Irish, who won at Miami on Thursday and traveled north on Friday for this matinee affair. Though Notre Dame has taken six in a row outright, the Hokies are riding a 15-game, straight-up home win streak and a 17-5 ATS run there. They need to keep the Irish, supreme in the nation in free-throw accuracy, off the foul line.
Without F Amile Jefferson (foot) again, the Blue Devils will go small against Louisville, whose bigs can punish them. Duke struggled in the second half against NBA-sized (at times) Florida State. No Coach K on the bench is worth a few points to the Cardinals, too. Their defense, tops in the country for efficiency, will impede Duke?s No. 7-ranked offense.
With this total opening at 46.5, I was leaning toward the Over. Then, two things happened. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger?s foot was seen encased in a walking boot. And the weather forecasters issued a prediction of freezing rain or sleet. Those developments drove down the number, but perhaps not enough. Pittsburgh?s last three playoff games have totaled out at 42, 34 and 39. The Chiefs are an Under machine at home, going 38-16 in the last 54 appearances.
21-8-0 in last 29 NFL OU picks | +1215
The Steelers hoard the star attractions in this showdown. Big Ben, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown -- all skill-position players to admire. But Roethlisberger's ailing foot, combined with a mild slump (eight TD passes and eight interceptions in five games), worries me. Moreover, K.C.'s offense has been transformed by the dynamic Tyreek Hill and dependable TE Travis Kelce. Coach Andy Reid's remarkable record with two weeks to prepare -- 19-2 straight-up, including 3-0 postseason -- is the clincher.
It wasn?t long ago that 32 and 17 points were tallied in consecutive Cowboys games. Once in the past five outings, the output has topped 52.5. While recent Packers games have gone north of this figure, it appears as if their premier WR, Jordy Nelson (ribs), will be sidelined. I look for a conservative offensive game plan for Dallas rookie QB Dak Prescott, with time-consuming handoffs to RB Ezekiel Elliott.
The Blue Devils? injury woes continue with a big one. F Amile Jefferson (foot), their foremost rebounder and a 13.6-point scoring contributor, will sit. Plus, Coach K (back) is gone from his second game. More importantly, FSU has not lost since Thanksgiving, its straight-up streak at a dozen. Duke usually gets overbet, as its 1-7 ATS mark in eight recent ACC road games suggest. The ?Noles have covered six of their last seven ACC games. Lay the points.
The public expects the Bears? No. 1 ranking to be fleeting. They have been insulted by being made a decisive ?dog. The thinking is, West Virginia?s suffocating press and half-court defense will bother slow-paced Baylor. Maybe, but the Bears allow 58.3 points per game, fourth best in the nation, and rank 13th in blocked shots. A game likely lacking in scoring favors a team receiving a half-dozen points. What?s more, Baylor leads the series 6-3. Take the points.
The Musketeers have modest expectations tonight for G Myles Davis, who makes his season debut after a prolonged suspension. Projected as the team?s top scorer and assist man, he might see limited minutes. His presence alone with lift the X-men, who have covered four in a row. ?Nova is unbeaten at home, but high-quality visitors tend to avoid runaways. Xavier fits the bill.
The Trojans tend to be discounted because of several off-season player defections, a key in-season injury and a soft non-league schedule. Those days are over. They have yet to lose straight-up at home, and Cal has played just one true road game. That came Thursday at UCLA in a setback more decisive than the 10-point margin suggests. The Golden Bears have covered only once in the past six meetings.
Until recently, UCLA?s hurry-up offense was producing one Over after another. Then the totals were bumped to unattainably high amounts, and the Over has failed to hit in the past four home dates. The Cardinal?s past five road dates have stayed Under, and they will be starved for points without Reid Travis (shoulder), their leading scorer. Only one teammate averages in double figures. Go Under.
What?s gotten into Virginia? The Cavaliers? vaunted defense allowed 88 points in overtime last time out and they were beaten at home before then. Wake should worry them. The Demon Deacons rank 23rd in offensive efficiency by KenPom.com, and all five defeats happened by respectable margins. They can shoot threes, which UVA has not prevented lately, and have gone 12-4 ATS in the series going back seven seasons.
The Cowboys have stumbled out of the gate in the Big 12 with two straight-up setbacks and are 1-8-1 ATS in their previous 10 visits to Waco. But these guys can score big-time ? see 97-70 win over Georgetown ? and unbeaten teams become vulnerable at this juncture of the season in league play. Baylor subscribes to a slow pace, so the spread is substantial.
The Sooners were no great shakes with Jordan Woodard, their standout all-around player (17.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg). They?ve dropped three in a row outright minus him, and he is doubtful (leg). K-State is a longtime Oklahoma nemesis. The Wildcats have covered four consecutively at home and are 17-5 ATS going back several years.
The Hoyas, who have dropped three in a row outright, might be catching Butler at an opportune time. The Bears are coming off an upset of No. 1 Villanova and have No. 10 Creighton next. The trends point to the visitors, who are 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 road games and Georgetown 3-9 ATS in the past dozen home dates, but emotion and desperation override those numbers.
The total here could wind up lower than any in the regular season -- and for good reason. One QB (Connor Cook, Oakland) is a third-stringer making his first start of the season. The other (Brock Osweiler, Houston) has no business starting and was recently demoted. I will ignore those factors and count on this trend: In the past 12 postseasons, the Over has gone 11-5 when the total came up 38 or lower. Let?s pounce on this tiny total and let the trend be our friend Saturday.
Let?s be honest. The Seahawks are down by their standards this season. This pick, though, is more about the Lions, whose knack for keeping it close has faded in concert with QB Matthew Stafford?s injured finger. Detroit is winless straight-up and ATS in outdoor road games. Seattle has never lost outright in a postseason game at CenturyLink Field during the Pete Carroll era. With Russell Wilson at QB, the 'Hawks are 28-15-1 ATS at home. Gotta bite the bullet and give the eight.
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