It’s Thursday night. What are you doing? Are you watching football? Are you prepping for the beginning of the MLB postseason tomorrow? Or are you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the NHL to pull its finger out?
Okay, nobody’s doing the latter. However, if you are missing out on some hockey action, head over to Bovada for some playful props. Ask yourself: will the Oilers go to Seattle? Is Pat LaFontaine crazy enough to buy the Islanders? And what’s the good of being favorites to win a league that probably won’t play (again) this year? The Penguins would love to know the answer to that last one.
Anyway, back to business.
Football’s back tonight with NFL and NCAA matchups. We’ll look at both below. Then, after yesterday’s stunning season finales, we’ll take a look at the Wild Card matchups on tap for Friday.
NFL: Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams
Thursday, 8:20 PM ET
Preseason, this particular edition of Thursday Night Football looked dead in the water. An AFC West matchup not involving San Francisco? Why bother? Hands together then for Arizona (4-0) making this one a little more interesting.
The Cardinals, who were frankly underrated prior to this season, will look to nudge to 5-0 with a win over St. Louis (2-2). History suggests that’s exactly what will happen, with the Cards having taken the last eight road games in this fixture.
St. Louis – far from off to a bad start – could play spoilers, although oddsmakers think otherwise. Arizona opened as 2 ½-point favorites, a number that has fallen to 1 ½. Nearly 64 percent of bettors have followed suit. The over/under is 39 ½.
Take: ARIZONA — The birds will win another close one (three games this season have been decided by four or fewer) and enjoy being amongst the ‘elite’ for another week.
NCAAF: #13 USC @ Utah
Thursday, 9 PM ET
Remember when you wrote USC off? It was three weeks ago after that loss to Stanford. Well, #13 USC is looking to make another run at those polls and a National Championship.
After beating Cal two weeks ago, the Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) have had an extra week to prepare for its first trip to Utah (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) in 95 years.
If we learnt nothing more than Washington’s Thursday night win over Stanford last week, it’s always to expect the unexpected. Except in this game.
Take: USC — The Trojans will make short work of Utah and begin to ascend the ranks again, beating the 14 ½ spread in the process. Whether it’s too late for a National Championship remains to be seen.
Also playing: Arkansas State @ Florida International (7:30 ET) | East Carolina @ UCF (8 PM ET)
MLB Wild Card (NL): St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves
Friday, 5 PM ET
Whilst you’ve got the football on, remember to start making your picks for the MLB postseason. Oddsmakers are still working on the ins and outs of odds as I write this, but expect the Yankees to enter as favorites. Of the nine other teams involved in the postseason, only Cincinnati has a winning record against the Bombers this season, although San Francisco and St. Louis have yet to face the 27-time world champions.
Before that though, Atlanta (94-68, 48-33 home) hosts the Cardinals (88-74, 38-43 road) at Turner Field on Saturday. This one looks like a cakewalk for the Braves, particularly when you factor in Atlanta’s 5-1 advantage over the Red Birds this season and St. Louis’ less than stellar road record.
But then again, upsets were made for games like this. Still, Atlanta is favorite with 80 percent of bettors taking that action.
Take: ATLANTA — Because the Braves simply don’t lose when Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) is on the mound.
MLB Wild Card (AL): Baltimore Orioles @ Texas Rangers
Friday, 8:30 PM ET
Over in the American League, Baltimore (93-69, 46-35 road) travels to Texas (93-69, 50-31 home) for the one-game Wild Card playoff.
The O’s perhaps would have preferred hosting this one – something Wednesday night’s loss to Tampa Bay made impossible – but in fairness the Maryland club hasn’t had the best of seasons against the Rangers. Texas is 5-2 against Baltimore, including a 2-1 record in Arlington.
But emotions could play a huge part in this one. How are the Rangers going to feel after allowing the AL west crown to slip away? How is the team – favorites to take the World Series just a week ago – going to cope with the knowledge that it’s do or die? Will Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) cope with the pressure? Who will pitch for the O’s?
There’s just about as many questions to answer here as there was going into the last day of the season. One thing we do know is that the New York Yankees lay in wait.
Take: EITHER — This one’s as good as flipping a coin. Yes, you can imagine all of Texas’ hard work unraveling and the Orioles continuing their surprising season, but you can also imagine Texas using this as motivation in the same way St. Louis did last year, leaving the Orioles to wonder ‘what if?’ until spring rolls around. Need a pick? Okay. Go with…Texas. Postseason experience pays off in the end.