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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Monday, December 18, 2017 at 3:55 PM




Go right ahead and blame Big Ben for the Pittsburgh Steelers' tough-to-stomach 27-24 loss to the 2.5-point favorite New England Patriots on Sunday evening ... after all, he was all-too-quick to throw others "under the bus" after his "fake spike" blew up in his facemask when the Patriots tipped and then intercepted an end zone pass intended for Steelers' WR Eli Rogers.

But when Pittsburgh fans/bettors really want to find a real villain to this gut-wrenching loss than place the blame at the feet (or the hands) of TE Jesse James who did not - repeat, did not - make a successful catch of that goal-line strike thrown by Roethlisberger.

Add it up and the Steelers - now 11-3 SU (straight-up) this year and tied with New England for top spot in the AFC playoff pecking order (of course, the Pats hold the all-important tie-breaker now) - really can spread the blame around when you stop to consider that the Pittsburgh defense never did get a handle on the QB Tom Brady-to-TE Rob Gronkowski tandem that burnt the Steelers for three big plays on the go-ahead touchdown/two-point conversion drive that pushed NE into the 27-24 lead with :56 left.

And maybe you can fault Pittsburgh coaching/overall execution for not expanding an eight-point fourth-quarter lead - a first down here or there would have iced things in the mid-to-late stages of the fourth quarter, you know! - but the proverbial bottom line is the Steelers are gonna rue this week-before-Christmas game from here through the post-season - especially if that post-season just so happens to have a dead-end sign in Foxboro.

Jim Hurley's Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have the winner of tonight's Monday Night Football game between the Atlanta Falcons at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when you check in today either online or 1-800-323-4453. And there's lots of NBA winners and College Basketball winners on tap as well every night of this week plus the blizzard of College Football Bowl games keeps rolling with action all week long ... make sure you're all aboard by signing up now for Jim Hurley's Discount Bowl Offer!

On Monday Night Football, it's ...ATLANTA (8-5) at TAMPA BAY (4-9) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

If truth be told, there's been more "Super Bowl hangover" talk surrounding this here-and-now Atlanta Falcons team than any squad in recent memory. Still, despite four one-possession losses this year and an offense that's been rather scattershot at best, here we go heading into this NFL Week 15 Monday Night Football clash with the Falcons on the inside-looking-out at a playoff berth and with a legitimate shot to "run the table" and win the AFC South.

If Atlanta is gonna conquer 6.5-point home dog Tampa Bay this evening, then Falcons' QB Matt Ryan better get his act together after his 3-interception game in the 20-17 win/cover against 2.5-point pup New Orleans back on Dec. 7th (okay, so one pick came off a deflected pass where Ryan deserved better) and Ryan gets some help here 'cause Tampa Bay star defensive lineman Gerald McCoy is out with a biceps injury.

Spread Stats - Atlanta is just 6-7 ATS (against the spread) this year but the Falcons have notched pointspread wins in six of their last six NFC South games. On the flip side, Tampa Bay's a rotten 3-9-1 versus the vig this season and a collective 10-20 against the Las Vegas prices in its last 30 home games ... ugh!

In other NFL Week 15 News /Notes ...

Let's take y'all back to this past Saturday - for just a moment - as the Los Angeles Chargers watched their four-game SU winning streak snapped in a lopsided 30-13 loss at Kansas City. Hey, the Bolts (7-7) now are a full game back of the Chiefs for the AFC West lead as QB Philip Rivers aired three INTs and the Chargers' defense missed a slew of tackles - not exactly a prime-time showing for rookie head coach Anthony Lynn's squad that must trek to New Jersey for a second time this year for this Sunday's tilt against the New York Jets ...

On Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys held off the dysfunctional Oakland Raiders 20-17 thanks in large part to a referee's folded-over index card that showed the 'Boys had converted a fourth-and-one play and then later came QB Derek Carr's silly goal-line fumble-turned-touchback - how many times are we gonna witness NFL running backs, quarterbacks an wide receivers all attempt to stretch over the goal line/pylon and instead lose the ball out of the end zone? It is an A+ idiotic play that we can't believe head coaches don't stop their players from doing. Heck, Raiders' head coach Jack Del Rio even seemed miffed at Carr for the dopey move - he barely looked at 'em during a scoreboard replay - and so the way-too-overrated Raiders season is kaput at 6-8.

So much for that 13-to-1 favorite to win the Super Bowl, right? ...

Finally, pointspread mavens take note that NFL Betting Favorites will enter tonight's Falcons-Bucs with a composite pointspread record of 114-96-9 ATS with 4 Pick 'Em games, meaning NFL chalk sides have covered at a .543 winning rate ... not bad at all.


On Tuesday, it's ...BOCA RATON BOWL - at Boca Raton, FL
AKRON (7-6) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (10-3) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The "Lane Train" has been runnin' full steam ahead - and now here comes Lane Kiffin's club into the program's first bowl since 2008 (remember that 24-21 upset win against Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl when Howard Schnellenberger was running the Florida Atlantic show?).

Hey, the folks in Las Vegas posted FAU as 17-point betting favorites for this clash and the number's gone up, up and away to 23 points and the Owls will cover that bloated price tag providing RB Devin Singletary (1,796 yards rushing and an FBS-best 29 rushing scores) and QB Jason Driskel (1,977 yards passing with 13 TDs and 4 INTs) are playing their "A game".

The Akron kids - fresh off one of the greatest backdoor covers in years (was down 38-0 before "rallying" back in a 45-28 loss while taking 20.5 points in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game versus Toledo a few weeks back) - tries to hang around here with the nation's 118th-ranked offense (out of 130 FBS teams).

Spread Stats - Florida Atlantic is 9-4 ATS overall after going a collective 6-16-1 spreadwise the prior two seasons; Akron is 8-4-1 ATS this season and overall the Zips have covered six of their last nine games when placed in the role of double-digit underdog.

NOTE: There's more College Bowl coverage in the next edition of Jim Sez.