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Las Vegas Expert Betting Picks

Vegas veteran Benjamin Eckstein, author of America’s Line, brings three decades of experience to make weekly picks in his “Ecks & Bacon” column.

LAS VEGAS — Ready to rock the Sunday party, and will kick it with the Steelers -7 points over the Jaguars. What’s the old saying? Revenge is a dish best served cold? Or for my French-speaking fans, “La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froide.” Anyway you serve it, or any language you choose, it’s gonna be Pittsburgh that will be smoking the victory cigar. Where does the revenge come from? In Week 5, the Jaguars rolled into Heinz Field, and EMBARRASSED the Steelers with a 30-9 W. Ben Roethlisberger wondered out loud if he “still has it” after throwing FIVE INTs. YEAH, he still has IT! The Steelmen went on to win 11 of 12 after that to get a vital week off. Now look at the other QB, Blake Bortles, and you start to shake. In that huge win at Pittsburgh, Bortles was actually UGLY, completing just eight of 14 passes for 95 yards with NO TDs and 1 INT. And his passer rating was in the toilet at 48.2. Doesn’t matter if it’s in French or English, there’s only one thing left to say. This IS my BEST BET, BABY, or MEILLUER PARI, BEBE!

In the late game, we’re on the Saints +5 points over the Vikings. Another revenge situation, this time for New Orleans. In the season opener, the Saints lost to the Vikings in Minnesota 29-19. MY, how things have changed. In that game, New Orleans trotted out Adrian Peterson, and he managed to squeeze out ONLY 19 yards on six attempts. A.P. was sent packing after four games, and the Saints turned to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Ingram rumbled for 1,124 yards and 12 TDs, while all Kamara did was lead the league in yards per carry at 6.1. Yeah, yeah, I know that the Purple People were second in the NFL in rushing D, but if they load up on the run, there’s this guy named Drew Brees who will operate with surgical precision. C’mon, we’re talking Brees, not Mitchell Trubisky (No. 29 QB rating), Brett Hundley (No. 24) or Andy Dalton (No. 25), the last three Minny opponents. Also, PLZ keep an eye on Vikings C Pat Elflein. He has a bum shoulder and if he’s out, we would open our wallet a little wider. If Elf plays, we still take the plus 5, but kinda light.

Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America’s Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at www.americasline.com. He is beloved by most, when he picks winners, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his email...ben@americasline.com.

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LAS VEGAS — Before we get to the Saturday NFL games, gonna get my tennis racket out and drop a few dollars on the Australian Open. Love Roger Federer, and will be rooting for him, but at +200, it ain’t much of a return. So we’ll work down the list and grab Juan Martin del Potro at +1500. DelPo, if he’s healthy, and it looks like he is, can bang with anyone in the world, and he also LOVES the hard courts in Melbourne.

On the women’s side, without Serena, the draw is wide open. And we’re gonna try Angelique Kerber at +1000 to bring back a little bundle of cash. Angie knows something about winning Grand Slams, with a W in the 2016 Australian and another at the U.S. Open. Both hard courts.

Time to rock the NFL, and we’ll start with the Eagles +3 points over the Falcons. Get in the time machine with me. And we’re going back all the way to 1970. No No. 1 seed since the merger has ever been an underdog. NEVER! So basically, the Birds have become the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. They get NO RESPECT. And most of it has to do with the injury to Carson Wentz and the shaky play of Nick Foles. After a four-TD effort against the Giants, Foles looked kinda eh against the Raiders and Cowboys. Giving him a pass for the Dallas game, and now that he has had three starts and an extra week of practice, we’re expecting MAGIC. Why not. Back into the time machine, this time to 2013 and a playoff game against the Saints. Yes, it was a 26-24 loss, but “Shaggy” was pretty solid in that game, hitting on 23 of 33 for 195 yards with two TDs and NO INTs. The Green Machine has covered 11 of the last 16 at home and with the help of the NFL’s No. 3 defense should stay close enough to pull out a W. Birds 24-23.

On to prime time, and it’s the Titans +13.5 points over the Patriots. Yes, the numbers are OVERWHELMING. New England is a monster. Best offense in the league. Arguably, the best QB, Tom Brady, of all time. Arguably, the best coach, Bill Belichick, of all time. A weapon, Rob Gronkowski, that NO ONE has an answer for. And now they are motivated by the wacky stories about Double B looking to leave the Patriots for a job with the New York Giants. Pile it on, why don’tcha. Of course, there is a however. Double M, Marcus Mariota, with a little luck, and a batted pass back to him for a TD, performed OK in his first-ever playoff game (19/31 for 205 yards, with 2 TDs and 1 INT). But the reason for looking at Tennessee plus is the Pats have the fourth-worst D in the league. That’s 30th in passing D, and 20th in running D. Of course, Belichick will have some crazy wrinkles after the week off, but we’re gonna stay light, buy the hook, take the Titans +14 points, and PRAY for rain

PLZ come back tomorrow when I’ll drop the two Sunday games on you.

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LAS VEGAS — Now, a little more love, from the college side for all the Ecks & Bacon fans. Thought that Clemson would give Alabama a tougher fight in the semifinal game, but the Crimson Tide were just OVERWHELMING. Will they do it again? Lane Kiffin thinks so. Some of you might not like the Kiff, some might love him. We lean toward the love. Why? Remember when he tweeted about not covering a spread.

It was in a November game against Marshall. His Owls closed as a 6.5-point favorite, and won 30-25. Didn’t cover. Why? Florida Atlantic led 30-23 with 14 seconds left when Kiffin had his punter run out of the end zone for an intentional safety rather than risk having the punt blocked. After the game, Kiffin wrote on his Twitter account, “Didn’t want to cover because of too much rat poison,” which was a reference to a Nick Saban line. Love him or detest him, the Kiff knows his ball.

Here’s what he had to say about the national championship game. “It’s the matchup that Alabama wanted. If you look at who beats Alabama, it’s spread teams with a quarterback that can move around like Baker Mayfield. They probably wouldn’t admit it, but Alabama would prefer this matchup rather than the other way. Whenever Alabama has played the more traditional offenses, that is when Alabama usually shuts them down — the Georgias, the LSUs. So that favors them.” TOTALLY agree with Kiff. And if you think ’Bama has any trouble on the road, their 20-2 record the last three years SCREAMS NO. When it comes to the teacher, Nick Saban, vs the student, Kirby Smart, c’mon, NO FREAKIN’ contest. Why? The numbers tell the story.

Darth Saban has pitched an 11-0 PERFECTO against his former assistants. He is 3-0 against Derek Dooley, 3-0 against Jim McElwain, 2-0 against Will Muschamp, 2-0 against Mark Dantonio and 1-0 against Jimbo Fisher. But the CRAZY number is, the Tide have outscored the opposition 427-111 in these 11 wins. Did I say FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-SEVEN to ONE HUNDRED ELEVEN? Hellz yeah. That’s only an average of 28 points per game. Obviously, more than enough to cover this tiny spread. There’s only one thing left to say. This IS MY BEST BET, BABY!

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LAS VEGAS — More love from the NFL, and we’ll grab the Jaguars -8 points over the Bills. This is all about the Shady. LeSean McCoy. Does he play? Is he out? If he plays, what will his skill level be? Don’t have the answers to these questions, which makes this a tough handicap. However, if we find out that Shady is out, then Jacksonville moves up into BEST BET territory. Why? Buffalo had the fourth-fewest total yards in the NFL, and McCoy accounted for more than 31 percent of them via rushing and receiving. My old math teacher tells me that’s ONE-THIRD of the offense.

NO WAY the Buffs would be able to overcome that. Not against this group of Jags that is on a five-game perfecto at home, and has outscored their opponents 148-65. And if you’re not familiar with the Doug Marrone factor, here ya go. Marrone coached up in Buffalo for two years. Took over a team that was pathetic, and posted a winning record, 9-7, in his second season. Then he got FIRED. For Rex Ryan. Yeah, that worked out well. Check Shady’s status before you open the wallet.

In the late game, it’s the Panthers +7 points over the Saints. Where do you stand on the whole beating a team three times in a season? You might like a New Orleans team that posted a 31-21 win at home as a 6-point favorite, and a 34-13 W as a 5.5-point dog at Carolina. Is that enough to step up to the counter and buy a ticket on the Saints? Or, you could look at last year’s results. The Panthers won at home, 23-20 as a 3.5-point favorite, and lost 41-38 at New Orleans as a 3-point fav. Is that enough to buy Carolina?

Thinking that Drew Brees has enough talent, and enough of a defense to advance, but not prepared to lay a touchdown. Not with All-Pro TE Greg Olsen back. Olsen missed nine games, including BOTH losses to New Orleans, then returned for the final four. That’s an enormous plus for Cam Newton and should allow the Panthers to make this a field-goal game. With five covers in eight road games, and 11 covers in the last 15 as an underdog, we’ll buy the hook, and take Carolina +7 points.

PLZ check back tomorrow for my explosive pick on the national championship game.

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LAS VEGAS — If you’re skating onto the NHL ice tonight, you might wanna take a look at the Blackhawks over the Golden Knights. No “Vegas” flu for the ’Hawks in Chicago, just an easy win as a small favorite.

No whining, no distractions. Just getting down to bizness and throwing out the Titans +8.5 points over the Chiefs in the early game. Money is flooding the market and it’s ALL Kansas City. The Chiefs opened up at -7.5 late Sunday night, and are now at -8.5 and have even seen a -9 at the Wynn here in Vegas. Looks like it might be on the way to -10, and if so, we’re gonna take a small taste of Tennessee. Looked at Kaycee’s 4-0 stretch run, and they played only one team with a winning record, the Chargers. So, not impressed.

Also dug into the Chiefs’ four-game losing streak and noticed that mobile QBs, like Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo and Dak Prescott of Dallas, gave Andy Reid’s crew trouble. Say hello to Marcus Mariota, who is one of the MOST mobile QBs in the NFL. Then looked at the Titans’ last six games, and the record was just 3-3, but they didn’t lose any of those games by more than four points. Expecting Reid to be his usual conservative avatar, and looking for K.C. to advance, but not by more than a TD.

In the late game, we’re on the Rams -6 points over the Falcons. You gotta throw out L.A.’s ugly 34-13 loss to the 49ers last week. Didn’t mean a thing so they didn’t play Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. That’s Goff who has the BEST passer rating in the NFL since Week 9. That’s Gurley who, even though he sat last week, finished the season with 1,305 yards, second to Kareem Hunt by just 22 yards. But led the NFL in TDs with 19. That was 13 rushing and 6 receiving.

Speaking of receiving, he caught 64 balls for 788 yards, which was ONLY 12.3 average yards per catch. WHAT a weapon. And Donald on defense, ONLY an ALL-PRO. They’re all back, rested and ready to rumble. Then please look at Atlanta’s suddenly anemic offense, averaging just 17.6 points per game the last five times out, and the ugly record on the road, covering only one of the last six. You know what’s coming, and there’s only one thing left to say. This IS MY BEST BET, BABY!

And PLZ check me out on Twitter over the weekend, @vegasvigorish, because you never know when I might find another golden nugget.

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LAS VEGAS — It was my WHINE & cheese last week, now it’s the sportsbooks WHINING again. They were SCREAMING about losing $11.4 million on baseball in November. CRY me a FREAKIN’ RIVER! What they didn’t mention was, it wound up as a winning November, $9.8 million and change with solid results from football and basketball. That made for the 52nd straight winning month. Yeah, FIFTY-SECOND STRAIGHT WINNING MONTH!

No more whine, just a couple of bowl games to fatten the wallet.

Tonight, we’re gonna jump on maybe the best bowl matchup outside of the College Football Playoff, and grab USC +9 points over Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Looked over the Buckeyes’ 11-2 record, and the wins over losers like Indiana, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois didn’t impress me one bit. Urban Meyer has a very good team, but not a great team. Clay Helton has a very good team, but not a great team. So, where’s the edge? We’re getting 8 points with the Trojans before the game starts. SC played NINE bowl teams during the season (we included Stanford twice), and should be able to hang. Superstar QB Sam Darnold is a special talent, and while O-State’s running game is pretty amazing, USC has Ronald Jones II who rumbled for 1,486 yards. Ain’t gonna be an easy task, but since money is starting to show on the Bucks, gotta buy a ticket at +9 on Southern Cal.

Since I will not be with you on New Year’s Day, gotta rock the College Football Playoff, and we’ll start with Oklahoma +2 points over Georgia. Totally get that head Dawg Kirby Smart is a defensive “genius,” and he shut down a pretty good Auburn team in the SEC title game, but in all of Georgia’s 12 wins, K-Smart has NOT seen anything like Baker Mayfield. Actually, aside from Auburn and Alabama, can you name one QB from the SEC? Thought so. Mayfield’s numbers were STAGGERING! Of course he won the Heisman Trophy, had 41 TD passes and 4,340 air yards and ran for 310 yards and five scores for an Okie team that averaged 44.9 points per game. Understand that the Dawg D is No. 4 in the nation, allowing only 13.2 ppg, but they AIN’T seen anything like this guy. Gonna BAKE a pile of money and rock the Sooners.

In Clemson/Alabama III, we got the Tigers +3 points over the Crimson Tide. Even though ’Bama is ranked No. 4, they are still a favorite. Maybe because Nick Saban has five national crowns. Fine with me ’cause I’m all over the +3 and also gonna take the moneyline, which is +$140. Might even throw down a two-team 6-point teaser, taking Oklahoma from +2 to +8 and Clemson from +3 to +9. The prevailing sentiment is advantage Tide because Deshaun Watson is not playing. Well, lemme give you some Kelly Bryant love. All he did this season was lead the Tigers to a 12-1 record, hit on 244 of 362 passes for 2,678 yards and 13 TDs with just 6 INTs. Oh yeah, he also gobbled up 646 yards on the ground. Dabbling with my man DABO, and you can call this my BEST BET, BABY!!!

And PLZ check me out on Twitter over the holiday weekend, @vegasvigorish, where I might find another golden nugget on the college bowl board.

And from all the nuts that live in the Ecks & Bacon universe, enjoy a HAPPY & SAFE New Year!!

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LAS VEGAS — PLZ let me whine before we get to the best bets. Started off EN FUEGO on the bowl board, posting a 6-1 record heading into the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl Thursday night. And by the way, if that’s not THE GREATEST bowl name ever, you can Email me (see below) and gimme yours. Any who, which is how we say any how in Vegas, found a phenomenal offense/defense mismatch. Florida International came into the game as the #1, as in NUMBER ONE, rated red zone offense. Temple had the #93, as in NINETY THREE, rated red zone defense. Perfect. Good enough for best bet status for sure.

Then, on the very first series, as in the VERY FIRST FREAKIN’ SERIES, International’s starting QB, Alex McGough, goes down with a fractured collarbone. Did I mention that was the FIRST DAMN series. By the way, it was his LEFT collarbone, not his right or throwing arm. He coulda pulled a Jack Youngblood who played with a broken leg in Super Bowl XIV. Naturally, the backup up kid, Maurice Alexander, was HORRIBLE, hitting on only 16 of 33 with two INTs and a PATHETIC 6.7 QBR. Did I mention his QBR was SIX POINT FREAKIN’ SEVEN? Okay, enough yelling, lets put a few BBs under the Christmas tree.

Here we go yo. Best bet time and it’s the Saints -5 points over the Falcons. So last week, we stumbled with our best bet when New Orleans failed to cover a 15.5 point spread in a 31-19 victory over the Jets. Watched the game and was praying for a back door cover, but it never came. It also looked like the Saints were kinda going thru the motions, didn’t have any real intensity, and were looking forward to this matchup against Atlanta that will determine the king of the NFC South.

Drew Brees and his guys have not lost a game at home since the bye week (6-0) and the Ws have come by an average of 11 points per game. They’ve also been BRILLIANT against the spread against their division opponents, covering 12 of the last 16. Also have a little side plate of revenge on the table from the Falcons 20-17 win over in Atlanta back on December 7. And since the Falcs have covered only two of the last eight on the road, there’s only one thing left to say. This IS MY BEST BET BABY!

Will look to add another notch to our 12-3 college best bet record and grab San Diego State -6 points over Army. First the spread stats. San Diego (10-2) rolls in with an 8-3 spread record, 5-3 as a favorite, with a DELICIOUS 5-0 spread PERFECTO on the road. Army (9-3) marches in with a 5-6 spread log, 4-2 as a dog and on the road. LOVE the Army, my dad served, and appreciate everything they do, but gotta roll with the Aztecs here.

A few reasons and it revolves around Aztec head coach Rocky Long. The Rock has been BRILLIANT in the last two bowl games, beating Cincy 42-7 in 2015 and Houston last year, 34-10. He has also seen Army’s famous triple option, or flexbone, and beat the Cadets twice. BEST BET BABY!!!

And PLZ check me out on Twitter over the holiday weekend, @vegasvigorish, where I might find a golden nugget on the college bowl board. And from all the nuts that live in the Ecks & Bacon universe, enjoy a MERRY & SAFE Christmas!!