Happy Friday, everybody. Looking at the weather forecast, it looks as though nearly all of us are in for a chillier weekend than usual, which means it's going to be a great weekend to sit inside and watch sports. OK, so I'd say it was a great weekend to sit inside and watch sports even if we were due for nicer weather, but that doesn't matter. What matters is you have a built in excuse not to leave the house, and that's all any of us are looking for, right?
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I want to make sure it's a productive weekend of doing nothing, so I've got a bunch of picks to get you through all of it right here, but before we get to them all, slip into something comfortable and read these stories.
- The toughest lineup decisions facing fantasy owners this weekend.
- The Mets and Marlins swung an intra-divisional trade.
- The Celtics are on top of our NBA Power Rankings.
- USC has shown us all what the transfer portal can do for you.
Now curl up under that blanket and get ready to make some bets.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Bucks at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN
- Key Trend: The under is 5-1 in Milwaukee's last six road games and 7-2 in Philly's last nine at home.
- The Pick: Under 212 (-110)
We could easily see this matchup during the NBA Playoffs, and I'd happily sign up for it now, assuming both teams are at full health. That's not the case tonight. James Harden remains out for Philadelphia, and Milwaukee's Jrue Holiday remains questionable and hasn't played since Nov. 7. While his absence hurts the Bucks overall, the biggest impact is probably felt on the defensive end of the court.
That's odd for me to tell you as I advise you to take the under, but I see value on this total regardless of Holiday's status. The Bucks are first in defensive efficiency at 104.9, while the Sixers are fourth at 109.4. Neither has been anything special defensively. While Joel Embiid is having Wilt-like performances, the Sixers haven't given him much support on the offensive end of the court. Philly ranks 17th in the league in offensive efficiency, which is better than Milwaukee in 22nd.
Also, with Philly at home and favored, there's a strong chance they'll be able to dictate the pace of play, and Philly's preferred pace is slower than my 40 time. The Sixers rank 29th in the league in pace. Only Dallas is slower. And if Milwaukee takes control, it's not exactly in a hurry, ranking 16th in pace. So we have two defensive first teams that don't move quickly and are inefficient on the offensive end. That's not a formula that leads to a lot of overs.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model sees value on both the total and money line tonight.
💰 The Picks
🏀 College Basketball
No. 8 UCLA at No. 19 Illinois, 9:30 p.m | TV: ESPNU
The Pick: Under 145.5 (-110) -- This is an interesting matchup in Las Vegas between two teams that have been top programs in the country the last couple of seasons, but are both breaking in a lot of new faces. While Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez and Jaylen Clark are familiar names to those who have watched UCLA, they've taken on more prominent roles this season as UCLA replaces the production of Johnny Juzang. UCLA is also working freshmen Amari Bailey, Adem Bona and Dylan Andrews into the rotation.
As for Illinois, you may recognize names and faces, but not the uniforms they're in. Terrence Shannon Jr. transferred from Texas Tech, while Matthew Mayer came from Baylor. Shannon has been the best player on the team so far, but this will be the first test for an Illini team working in a bunch of transfers and freshmen. This is also the first test UCLA has faced. Given the new-look rosters, the unfamiliar surroundings, and the step up in class for both teams, I'm thinking tonight's game could get ugly.
🏈 College Football
No. 7 USC at No. 16 UCLA, Saturday, 8 p.m. | TV: Fox
The Pick: UCLA +2.5 (-110) -- The first rule of Bill Walton's Laws of Pac-12 Physics is that if there's anything the Pac-12 can do to hurt itself, the Pac-12 will do that. We saw evidence of this last week when Oregon lost at home to Washington and dashed its College Football Playoff hopes. UCLA did the same thing later that evening, stubbing its toe at home against Arizona. That means the Pac-12 has only one legitimate CFP hopeful left: USC.
That means it's time for the Trojans to do what the laws of physics require of them. Now, because science can sometimes be tricky, I'm choosing to take UCLA and the points rather than the Bruins straight up. After all, it's entirely possible that the Trojans could pick up the win here and then lose next week against Notre Dame. Whatever the case, I don't trust USC's defense to cover.
No. 22 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC
The Pick: Oklahoma State +7.5 (-110) -- If I knew quarterback Spencer Sanders was unavailable to play in this game, the spread would make a lot more sense. However, Sanders wasn't supposed to start last week, yet he made an appearance in Oklahoma State's 20-14 win over Iowa State and promptly led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive.
Since Oklahoma State is out of the running for the Big 12 Championship, let me propose a theory: Mike Gundy sat Sanders to give him a week to heal ahead of this game. When the Cowboys were struggling to beat Iowa State, he sent him in to help win the game. But this is the game Gundy's had his eyes on. It's Bedlam. Oklahoma is leaving for the SEC soon. Winning this game is everything for Gundy and the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Sooners have been mediocre all season long, and their lone win against a team with a winning record came against a Kansas team without its starting quarterback. Take the Pokes, folks.
Iowa at Minnesota, Saturday, 4 p.m. | TV: Fox
The Pick: Iowa (+118) -- Last week, North Carolina was an underdog on the road against Wake Forest, and I did not understand it. I felt the same way here. I don't care what the power ratings say, Iowa is a better team than Minnesota right now, and the market hasn't adjusted nearly enough.
Minnesota has won three straight to get to 7-3, but those wins have come against Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern, three teams that are a combined 8-22. The Gophers have not beaten an FBS team with a winning record this season. They beat Michigan State earlier in the year before the Spartans turned things around, but they're still only 5-5. Against Purdue, Illinois and Penn State, the Gophers were outscored 91-41. Iowa's defense will make it very difficult for a one-dimensional Minnesota offense to move the ball, and Iowa wins this game more often than it loses it. The pig is going back to Iowa City.
Bears at Falcons, Sunday, 1 p.m. | TV: Fox
The Pick: Over 49 (-110) -- While there is no simple rule to follow when betting NFL, a great place to start is betting on the team with the best quarterback. And, in the greatest upset of all time, the Chicago Bears are playing an NFL game with a clear QB advantage. Justin Fields has been an absolute force for the Bears for the last month, and I don't see an Atlanta defense that's struggled all season being able to slow him down.
The problem is the Bears' defense stinks. Even as Fields has become a modern hybrid of Mike Vick and Lamar Jackson, the Bears have continued to lose games because they can't stop anybody. Of course, while this is terrible for the Bears' win-loss record, it's been great for anybody betting the over. The over has hit in four straight Bears games, and it's eking out the win. It's flying by. The average total of those four games has been 44.4 points, and the games themselves have averaged 63.3.
Bengals at Steelers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Steelers +4 (-110) -- I get to bet the Steelers as home dogs? In a divisional game? Thanks! Normally I would tell you trends don't mean a lot because they're limited samples, but that's not the case here. Mike Tomlin has coached the Steelers for 267 games, which is as large a sample size as you can find in NFL trends. The Steelers have been underdogs 82 times. They've gone 48-29-5 ATS in those games.
As home underdogs, the Steelers are 15-3-3 ATS. In games against the AFC North, they're 52-39-6 ATS. These teams met in Week 1, and the Steelers won 23-20, with T.J. Watt terrorizing Joe Burrow before leaving the game with a pec injury. Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase caught 10 passes for 129 yards and a TD. T.J. Watt is back for the Steelers. Ja'Marr Chase is out for the Bengals. Everything points to Pittsburgh here.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Soccer betting expert Jon "Buckets" Eimer, who went 20-12 on his World Cup Qualifying picks for SportsLine, has locked in his best bets for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
⚽ World Cup Futures & Thoughts
The World Cup begins Sunday in Qatar (subscribe to our new soccer newsletter!), so I don't have my standard soccer bets for you this weekend. The truth is, betting on international soccer is a lot more difficult than club soccer. It becomes even more so when the World Cup is suddenly being played during the middle of a season.
That said, it's soccer, and it will be on our televisions from morning until evening for the next couple of weeks, so some of you will probably want to bet on it. So here are a couple of thoughts to keep in mind during group play this week.
- Teams have had little to no time to prepare: This means managers haven't had the necessary time to install a plan, and when this happens, most managers get conservative. I think unders could be smart bets for the first week or so of matches, as teams will be more inclined not to blow it than to win it.
- Things could be hectic early too: Because of the lack of preparation, mistakes will be made, and upsets are more likely to happen. While nobody expects much from teams like Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia as far as advancing in the tournament, keep in mind the players on their national teams play together in their home leagues. That could be an advantage for them in earlier matches.
OK, so with those thoughts out of the way, how about some futures?
- Argentina to win World Cup (+500)
- France to win World Cup (+650)
- Wales to Qualify from Group B (+120)
- Poland to Qualify from Group C (+100)
- Serbia to Qualify from Group G (+110)