Congratulations, you've made it through another week. Your reward is a weekend without football. Well, there's whatever the Pro Bowl is now happening this weekend, but I decided long ago that the Pro Bowl wasn't for me, so even with the changes they've made, I continue to pretend it doesn't exist.
Some people dig their heels in on political, cultural or scientific beliefs. I dig mine in on meaningless exhibitions. People need principles in life. For instance, Kyrie Irving's seems to be that he can't go a few months without trying to blow up the franchise he's playing for.
Anyway, just because there isn't any football this weekend doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other sports going on. I've got three picks for you tonight, and three soccer plays to get you through Saturday and Sunday. Before we get to them, let's check in on what else is happening with the two teams who aren't playing football this weekend but will be playing next weekend.
- A look at how the Chiefs built their team around Patrick Mahomes.
- And what about the Eagles? How did they build their roster?
- Does anybody want Russell Westbrook?
- It doesn't look like Texas and Oklahoma will be moving to the SEC early.
Now let's get this money.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Kings at Pacers, 7 p.m. | TV: NBA League Pass
- Key Trend: The Pacers are 12-6 ATS as home dogs this season.
- The Pick: Pacers +3 (-110)
Another Friday, another bet on the Indiana Pacers as home dogs. Sadly, it did not work out for us last week when we took the Pacers as home dogs to Milwaukee, but they were without Tyrese Haliburton then. We knew that when we made the pick, and the thought was his absence had too significant an impact on the spread.
Not only will Haliburton be playing for the Pacers tonight, but we have dueling trends going to battle. The Pacers are 12-6 ATS this season as home dogs and 17-10 ATS at home, period. The Kings are 15-8 ATS on the road and 7-2 ATS as road favorites. Those are both impressive and telling trends (both teams have been undervalued all year), but something must give tonight!
I think it'll be the Kings giving. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing fluky about what Sacramento has done this season. What concerns me about the Kings is their defense. While Sacramento ranks sixth in the NBA in net efficiency, its defensive efficiency of 114.3 ranks 21st. Typically, when you reach the postseason, the teams with the better defenses win out in a series, so that doesn't bode well for Sacramento.
However, we're only concerned with tonight. The more pressing issue is that while Indiana's defense isn't much worse than Sacramento's, it's much better at home. The Pacers have a defensive efficiency of 112.6 at home and an overall net efficiency of 2.2. All of this is a fancy way of saying this Pacers team is much better at home than on the road (as the ATS trends suggest), and I have never been a fan of betting on below-average defensive teams as road favorites.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model sides with me on the spread, and it has a strong lean on the total and moneyline as well.
💰 The Picks
🏀 College Basketball
Columbia at Penn, 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN+
The Pick: Penn -14.5 (-110) -- Who wants to bet some Ivy League basketball with me tonight? These young men will be managing hedge funds one day, but first, they must manage enough points to win a basketball game. Or, more specifically to our needs, Penn must figure out a way to score at least 15 more points than Columbia, and I don't think it'll be that difficult to figure out!
The Ivy League is better than you probably assume, but Columbia is bad. KenPom ranks it as the 344th-best team in the country. They're 1-6 in the conference and the lone win was a two-point win over Yale on New Year's Eve. It's been six straight conference losses since, including an 84-55 home loss to this same Penn squad. Penn shot 15/23 from three in that game, which isn't likely to happen again, but it doesn't need to.
Fresno State at UNLV, 11 p.m. | TV: FS1
The Pick: Fresno State +9.5 (-110) -- Fresno State's had it rough recently. The Bulldogs are only 3-7 in the Mountain West and have lost six of their last seven games after a 2-1 start in the league. However, the lone win in that stretch came at home against UNLV. Fresno shot exceptionally well in that 76-63 win, but while I don't expect a repeat performance on the offensive end, the defense the Bulldogs used to fluster the Rebels that night should be effective once again this evening.
That loss came during a rough stretch for UNLV. It was their fourth consecutive loss and seventh in nine games. They've won three straight since, but the defense UNLV used to get off to a 10-0 start this season has taken a drastic step back in conference play. The Rebels have a negative net efficiency in the Mountain West, which makes it hard for me to trust them to cover a large spread against a Fresno team that struggles offensively but has been solid enough on the defensive end.
Wolverhampton vs. Liverpool, Saturday, 10 a.m. | TV: Peacock
The Pick: Liverpool (-117) -- Liverpool isn't having the season anybody expected of it. There's a long way to go, and things can change quickly, but Liverpool enters the weekend in ninth place in the Premier League behind teams like Brighton, Fulham and Brentford. That's not how any of this is supposed to work! Still, while Liverpool's struggles are real, and there's little reason to believe that they're going to "figure it out" soon, the line on this match seems way off to me.
Wolves are battling for relegation. It's only goal differential keeping them out of the bottom three. Julen Lopetegui replaced Bruno Lage in November, and while he won his first Premier League match against Everton, there hasn't been much of a new manager bounce. The problems that existed before (an inability to create good chances and trouble stopping opponents from generating chances against them) continue unabated. Even against an injury-depleted Liverpool, Wolves is getting far too much credit in the market. Buy low on Liverpool.
Inter Milan vs. AC Milan, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. | TV: Paramount+
The Pick: Inter Milan (-103) -- This is the most interesting Derby della Madonnina in years. OK, maybe since last year when both teams were battling for the scudetto. This year both teams find themselves in very different territory, as they seem lost. Inter enters the weekend in second place in Seria A, but it's 13 points behind Napoli. This club won the scudetto under Antonio Conte two seasons ago but seems to be lacking the ruthlessness it had in front of goal under Conte and for most of last season under Simone Inzaghi.
Still, I'd rather be Inter than Milan right now. Stefano Pioli led AC Milan to the scudetto last season, but after 165 games with the club, I get the strong sense the team has checked out. It happens with nearly every manager, and when you combine it with the burnout from last year's title run and the World Cup being played during the season, this team looks like a squad ready for the season to be over. That's not great, with about half of it still to play! Perhaps this rivalry will be the spark that rejuvenates the reigning champions, but I'm not betting on it.
Barcelona vs. Sevilla, Sunday, 3 p.m. | TV: ESPN+
The Pick: Under 2.5 (+115) -- For all Barcelona's problems off the field, things are working pretty well on it. It has a five-point lead over Real Madrid in La Liga, but while it's second in the league in goals scored and expected goals (xG), its attack is not the team's strength. If Barcelona wins the league, it'll be because of an impenetrable defense.
Through 19 matches, Barcelona has allowed seven goals. Granted, it's had an xG allowed of 15.2, which suggests there's been some luck, but I don't believe it's as much luck as the numbers suggest. They've allowed only 40 shots on target all season. Also, while Barcelona scored 39 goals this season, 28 came in the team's first 11 matches. They've scored only 11 goals in their last eight, but more importantly, they've allowed only three goals in that time. That means the last eight Barcelona matches have averaged 1.38 goals per match. This team is happy getting its goal and shutting up shop.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The Projection Model's strongest Friday night play is an NBA game between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves.