Matthews: How Many Underdogs Will Win This Weekend

HOW MANY NFL ROAD UNDERDOGS WILL WIN THIS WEEKEND?

Three visiting teams and three underdogs won in last weekend’s four NFL wild-card playoff games.

Will those trends continue in this weekend’s four Division Round games? A strong case could be made for all four underdogs. It would be a surprise to many handicappers – including me – if the favorites sweep.

Here are Bob’s picks:

The Los Angeles Chargers are a better team man-for-man than New England. But the Patriots have Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and maybe an effective Rob Gronkowski. Has there ever been a more impressive coaqch-quarterback-tight end trio in NFL history?

I like the Chargers on Sunday because they’ve been very good on the road this season (8-1 including last week’s upset win in Baltimore) and pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram figure to keep steady pressure on Brady.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 0-7 lifetime against Brady but he is 6-1 against the spread in his seven playoff games and 40-23-3 all-time as a road underdog.

I’m counting on Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Keenan Allen being close to 100 percent healthy.

The “Best Bet”: Los Angeles Chargers 33, NEW ENGLAND (-4) 30.

Saturday’s games

(home teams in CAPS)

KANSAS CITY (-6) 27, Indianapolis 24 – The Chiefs haven’t been quite the same on offense since the release of star running back Kareem Hunt and the team’s defense has been mostly weak all season.  The Colts are 10-1 in their last 11 games but haven’t faced a quarterback nearly as good as Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs figure to win but Colts QB Andrew Luck has been razor sharp and should keep the game close all the way and the 6-point spot seems a tad generous.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (7) 30, Dallas 17 – The Cowboys are much better at home (8-1 including last week’s win over Seattle) than on the road (3-5) and haven’t won a road playoff game since 1992 (0-7 since). The Rams have put up at least 400 yards offense in seven of their eight home games and I’m counting on star running back Todd Gurley II to be close to 30-touch, 100 percent healthy.

Sunday’s other game

NEW ORLEANS (-8) 33, Philadelphia 17 – The Saints crushed the visiting Eagles 48-7 Week 11. This game will be closer, but not that much closer. New Orleans is very tough at home and has more offensive weapons. The Saints are solid on defense and Philadelphia’s running attack is far from potent.

The bottom line – For the four home teams, three wins straight up and two wins against the point spread...for the visiting teams, one outright win and two wins ATS.

HOW MUCH WOULD TEBOW HELP THE RED WINGS AT THE BOX OFFICE

Tim Tebow this week became proposed to 2017 Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. She accepted.

I assume they won’t be married before and/or on their honeymoon on April 15-16-17, when Tebow is expected to be playing in the outfield for the Syracuse Mets against the Red Wings at Frontier Field.

The Red Wings generally draw under 1,000 fans to home games in early-to-mid April. How much do you think Tebow’s appearance might help at the box office? My guess, crowds of at least 3,000. And I’m wondering what sort of promotion the team’s clever front office is working on.

A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE HALL OF FAME AMERKS

Steady right winger Steve Landon and rugged defenseman Doug Janik this week became the 63rd and 64th members of the Rochester Americans Hall of Fame. They’ll be inducted in ceremonies Friday, February 8.

Here are three players I believe have been overlooked by the committee:

Center Wally Boyer – Five seasons; 278 games; 87 goals; 124 assists; 211 points...he was a smallish (5-foot-7, 160 pounds) center and a solid penalty-killing specialist who had 24, 20, 20 and 20 goals in his four full seasons for Rochester, including the first Calder Cup team in 1965...When the NHL expanded, he played five seasons with Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Yvon Lambert – The former AHL scoring champion and long-time Montreal Canadiens star finished a stellar career with two solid seasons with the Amerks. In 158 games, he had 53 goals and 65 assists for 118 points, plus 10 goals and 15 assists in 30 playoff games. He was the buffer between abrasive coach Mike Keenan and the younger players on the great 1983 championship team.

Dominic Pittis – In two stints covering three seasons with the Amerks, this nifty center had 75 goals and 171 assists for 246 points in 204 regular-season games and 16 goals and 54 assists for 70 points in 57 playoff games.

SOME FUN NUMBERS...

+++Duke’s two freshmen who figure to be the first two picks in the 2010 NBA draft (through 14 games this 13-1 season):

Zion Williamson – 26.3 minutes per game; 20.9 points per game; 9.5 rebounds per game; 2.4 assists per game; .679 field-goal percentage (114-for-168); .707 free-throw percentage; .280 three-point field-goal percentage; 26 blocked shots; 31 steals.

RJ Barrett – 31.3 minutes per game; 22.8 points per game; 6.5 rebounds per game; 4.1 assists per game; .462 field-goal percentage (122-for-264); .649 free-throw percentage; .313 three-point field-goal percentage (25-for-80); 7 blocked shots; 13 steals.

+++The Syracuse Crunch allowed a franchise-low 10 shots Wednesday night and lost 4-0 in an American Hockey League game at the Binghamton Senators.

+++Jeff Skinner need one more goal to become the first 30-goal scorer for the Buffalo Sabres in a season since Jason Pominville in the 2011-12 season. Goal leaders year-by-year since: Thomas Vanek 20...Tyler Ennis 21...Tyler Ennis 20...Jack Eichel 24...Evander Kane 28...Jack Eichel/Sam Reinhart 25 each.

+++The Sabres host Tampa Saturday. Buffalo beat the visiting Lightning 2-1 November 13. Tampa Bay is 21-3-1 in 25 games since (43 of 50 possible points).

+++The Los Angeles Lakers are 3-5 in games LeBron James has missed this season.

+++In three seasons as head coach of the Buffalo Bills (2001 through 2003), Gregg Williams was 3-13, 8-8 and 6-10 (total 17-31). He was 5-3 as interim head coach for the Cleveland Browns this season and was fired.

+++Maybe Oklahoma Sooners quarterback/Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray would be late bloomer in baseball, but his sophomore season as the center fielder for the Sooners was hardy spectacular: 51 games played; .296 batting average (56-for-189), fourth-best on the team; 46 runs; 13 doubles; 3 triples; 10 RBI; 47 RBI; .556 slugging percentage; .398 on-base percentage; 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts; 28 walks; 56 strikeouts.

SHORT SHOTS

The Bills reportedly are pondering whether or not to retain defensive end Shaq Lawson. I hope they do. He played much better this season and is one Doug Haley first-round pick worth keeping.

The baseball world is wondering what the Milwaukee Brewers know about Yasmani Grandal that the rest of the teams don’t know. The Brewers signed the free-agent catcher to a one-year deal worth $18.25 million. He was benched by the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the 2018 World Series because he couldn’t hit or catch.

St. Bonaventure clobbered Saint Joseph’s 73-47 at home Thursday night and will host the Fordham Rams Saturday, 4:30 p.m., at Blue Cross Arena in the only Division I basketball game in Rochester this season. The Bonnies are 5-10. Fordham is 9-6 after a 66-61 loss at Duquesne Wednesday. Going up against the NFL playoffs, I think anything more than 4,000 would be a decent crowd.

The Kentucky Derby purse May 4 will be $3 million, up $1 million and the first boost in 14 years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, January 11

Landon Collins 25...Chris Boucher 26...Mark Pysyk 27...Max Starks 37...DeShaun Foster 39...Jake Delhomme 44...Rory Fitzpatrick 44...Rey Ordonez 47...Richmond Webb 52...Tracy Caulkins 56...Steve Jordan 58...Brett Bodine 60...Ben Crenshaw 67.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

January 11

46 years ago (1973), the American League adopted the designated hitter rule...36 years ago (1983), Billy Martin was named manager of the New York Yankees for the third time...29 years ago (1990), Pat LaFontaine of the New York Islanders set a team record with a goal in his 11th straight game...15 years ago (2004), trailing by 3 points in an NFL Division playoff game, Philadelphia faced 4th-and-26 on the final drive; Donovan McNabb hit Freddie Mitchell for a first down to set up game-tying FG; Eagles won in OT...3 years ago (2016), No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Clemson 45-40 in the college football national championship game.

Bob Matthews' Column

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