Matthews: NFL Championship "Best Bets"

BOB’S CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP “BEST BETS”...

SAINTS + PATRIOTS QBs = A COMBINED 81 YEARS OLD

The four top scoring offenses and arguably the four best head coaches square off in Sunday’s two NFL Conference Championship games.

Here are Bob’s picks:

NEW ORLEANS (-3 ½) 27, Los Angeles Rams 20 – Rams quarterback Jared Goff has cooled off after a hot start this season. He has only six TD passes and six INTs in his last six games. Drew Brees gives the Saints the edge at quarterback and New Orleans also has the better defense and home-field advantage.

New England 35, KANSAS CITY 27 (-3) – I’ve tried to bury Tom Brady and his Patriots too many times. Coach Bill Belichick is sure to have a plan to contain Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. The most obvious strategy is to try to keep the ball out of his hands by running the ball against a suspect rush defense.

If both of my picks come through, Super Bowl 53 would feature two starting quarterbacks a combined 61 years old.

Home-Road records:

Home – New England 9-0...Kansas City 8-1 (only loss 29-28 to LA Rams Dec. 13)...LA Rams 8-1 (only loss 30-23 to Philadelphia Dec. 16)...New Orleans 7-2 (only losses 48-40 to Tampa Bay Week 1 and 33-14 to Carolina Week 17)

Road – New Orleans 7-1 (only loss 13-10 to Dallas Nov. 29)...LA Rams 6-2...Kansas City 5-3 (including a 43-40 loss at New England Oct. 14)...New England 3-5 (four of the five losses to non-playoff teams; Jacksonville, Detroit, Miami and Pittsburgh. That does scare me a little bit).

JUST WHAT THE YANKEES NEEDED – ANOTHER POWER ARM IN THE BULLPEN

The New York Yankees on Thursday signed another power pitcher for their awesome bullpen – right-hander Adam Ottavino. The 32-year-old free agent got a three-year, $27-million deal.

This reduces the possibility that the Yankees will sign Manny Machado or Bruce Harper – the two best free agents on the market. That would be overkill. The Yankees look baseball’s the best team on paper already.

Ottavino’s 2018 pitching line with the Colorado Rockies: 75 games; 77 2/3 innings; 41 hits allowed; 112 strikeouts; 2.43 ERA; .154 batting average against; 0.99 WHIP (walks + hits allowed per inning).

Ottavino is one of four Yankees who could be closers on many other teams. The three others:

Aroldis Chapman 2018 – 55 games; 51 1/3 innings; 24 hits allowed; 93 strikeouts; 2.45 ERA; .136 batting average against; 1.05 WHIP.

Dellin Betances 2018 – 66 games; 66 2/3 innings; 44 hits allowed; 115 strikeouts; 2.70 ERA; .186 batting average against; 1.05 WHIP.

Zach Britton (2018) – 41 games; 40 2/3 innings; 29 hits allowed; 34 strikeouts; 3.10 ERA; .201 batting average against); 1.23 WHIP. The Yankees expect him to be healthy and  return to top form with his spectacular sinker.

The set-up men also have power arms: Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder.

The starters – Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and/or Sonny Gray -- will be expected to supply five decent innings to set the stage for the bullpen.

The battle plan is for the Yankees to have a lead to protect after five innings. That should be often with this possible starting lineup: CF Aaron Hicks...RF Aaron Judge...LF Giancarlo Stanton...C Gary Sanchez...3B Miguel Andujar...1B Greg Bird/Luke Voit...SS Troy Tulowitzk/Didi Gregorius...2B Gleyber Torres/D.J. LeMahieu.

COULD SU MAKE NCAA TOURNAMENT WITH AN 11-7 MARK IN THE ACC?

Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange basketball team, coming off a treme4ndous 95-91 overtime victory at top-ranked Duke was timely – to say the least – in terms of SU’s hopes to be chosen for this season’s NCAA Tournament.

SU is off to a 3-1 start in the ACC – that’s good.

Not so good is SU’s 12-5 overall record, including losses to UConn by 7, Oregon by 15, Old Dominion by 6, Buffalo by 12 and Georgia Tech by 14.

SU has a history of finishing strong in the NCAA regular season and for doing surprisingly well in the Big Dance once they get there. That’s also good.

I figure an 11-7 record in the ACC would put the Orange in good shape for an NCAA tournament bid. That means they’d need to go 8-6 the rest of the regular season to finish 20-11 overall. One win in the ACC tournament could be the cherry on top.

Here are SU’s remaining 14 ACC Games. Can you project eight victories?

Home Saturday vs. Pittsburgh...home Thursday, January 24 versus Miami...at Virginia Tech Saturday, January 26...at Boston College, Tuesday, January 30...at Pittsburgh, Saturday, February 2...home Tuesday, February 5 versus Florida State...home Saturday, February 9 versus Boston College...at North Carolina State, Wednesday, February 13...home Wednesday, February 20 versus Louisville (glad Rick Pitino won’t be coaching the Cardinals)...home Saturday, February 23 versus Duke (get your tickets early)...at North Carolina, Tuesday, February 26...at Wake Forest, Saturday, March 2...home Monday, March 4 versus Virginia (can’t project a victory here)...at Clemson Saturday, March 9.

Not Mission Impossible + far from a cinch = A reasonable goal.

WHY I BELIEVE HARDEN/ROCKETS ARE NO THREAT TO BEAT CURRY/WARRIORS

Here’s the update on the NBA’s two three-point shooting marvels (league rank in parentheses):

James Harden (Houston) – 531 3-point attempts (1st)...199 3-point shots made (1st); .375 3-PT FG% (58th)...He’s a great volume shooter but do his teammates get enough chances to help win a championship?

Steph Curry (Golden State) – 401 3-PT attempts (2nd)...184 3PT shots made (2nd); .459 3-PT FG% (4th)...He’s the best of the team’s three stellar three=point shooters.

Houston – 43.9 3PTA per game (1st)...15.4 3PM per game (1st); .352 3PT FG% (16th)

Warriors – 33.4 3PTFG per game (8th)...13.4 3PTFGM per game (4th); .392 3PTFG% (2nd).

SHORT SHOTS

Former NFL star Greg Hardy is a big favorite (bet $550 to win $100) to defeat Allen Crowder (bet $100 to win $375) in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 143 Saturday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Hardy is 3-0, with three knockouts in under one minute. Crowder is 9-3.

According to Covers.com, 17 points from Duke Monday night was the biggest spot to Syracuse since at least the 1997-98 season, when such data was tracked.  Since then and before Monday night, the biggest spot to the Orange was 14 points in 2017. The host Tar Heels won 85-68.

SU basketball recruit Joe Girard III of Glens Falls High School scored 53 and 56 points in two games last week. The Orange should be a much better three-point shooting team next season.

The Rochester Red Wings will have their first speaking bobblehead giveaway this season – July 24 – in honor of exrtremely popular long-time stadium, arena and many other popular events usher “Uncle Phil” Salamone.  The bobblehead will say, “Uncle Phil Loves You.”

The New York Mets announced on Thursday that outfielder Tim Tebow will be invited to major-league spring training for the first time.  He’s likely to start this season with the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. They’ll play the Red Wings in Rochester April 15-16-17 if the snow has melted by then.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, January 18

Leonard Fournette 24...Brett Lawrie 29...Michael Pineda 30...Julius Peppers 39...Brian Gionta 40...WWE Dave Bautista 50...Brady Anderson 55...Mark Messier 58...Pat Sullivan 69. Kevin Costner 64 is invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, January 19

James Beresford 30...JaVale McGee 31...Thomas Vanek 35...Elvis Dumervil 35...Walter Jones 45...Ian Laperriere 45...Tyrone Wheatley 47...Phil Nevin 48...Rick Krivda 49...Sylvain Cote 53...Michael Adams 56...Chris Sabo 57...Ottis Anderson 62...Steve DeBerg 65...Jon Matlack 69...Terry Hanratty 71...Fred Valentine 74...Dan Reeves 75...Junior Seau was born on this date 50 years ago (1969) and died in 2012...Sarah Fisher 26 and Dolly Parton 73 are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, January 20

Nick Foles 30...Rey Maualuga 32...Jeremiah Trotter 42...David Eckstein 44...Rae Carruth 45...Jalen Rose 46...Brian Giles 48...Terry Kirby 49...Mark Stepnoski 52...Ozzie Guillen 55...Nick Anderson 51...Stephan Edberg 53...Chris Morris 53...Rich Gannon 53...Ron Harper 55...Ray Hamilton 69. Buzz Aldrin (89) is invited to the birthday party.

Bob Matthews' Column

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