LAYING THE POINTS

Here's your hard-luck NFL gambling guide for this weekend

Drew Brees
Do the opposite! Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.
Saints vs Colts: Good, bad & ugly

Recently a new neighbor asked me, "You're in the lame street media (here we go), you got any picks for the games this week?"

You came to the right guy. I work down the hall from the ESPN 97.5 guys. I hear things. You want games? I got games.

I told him: take Alabama (-18.5) over Notre Dame, Clemson (-7.5) over Ohio State, and just because you seem like a good person, here's a third one, the Titans (-7 over Texans). The numbers are too low. These games are guaranteed wipeouts.

Three for three, baby. All losers. Alabama and the Titans didn't cover and Clemson lost outright. I'm good like that. I don't bet because, borrowing from Michael Corleone in Godfather II, the greatest movie ever made, if history has taught me anything, it's that I stink at betting on sports.

I used to work in Phoenix – the boys and me, we all got pretty heavy into sports betting. There was a shuttle flight to Las Vegas. We'd go up after work, sometimes during lunch. Been there, done that, lost my paycheck. True story, swear: I once bet a six-team parlay, all favorites. If they all hit, that's 45 to 1 odds. That's some sweet action. I lost all six games. That's just as hard as winning all six.

If I bet $20 on the Harlem Globetrotters, that would be the night the Washington Generals won, which they haven't done since 1972. If I bet on a 5th grade production of Moby Dick, Ahab would catch the whale and buy drinks for everybody at the Krusty Krab.

When it comes to sports betting, I am George Costanza: "Every decision I've ever made in my entire life has been wrong, be it something to wear, something to eat, it's all been wrong."

So in the spirit of Bizarro World, where "us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty. Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect," here are my "guaranteed loser" picks for this weekend's NFL Divisional Round playoff games. You know what to do.

Remember, the winners of this weekend's games advance to their respective Conference Championship game.

For Houston Texans fans, let me explain what a Conference Championship game is, because your team has never gotten that far. Conference Championship games are reserved for teams that go deep in the playoffs, with the winners advancing to the Super Bowl. Now, the Super Bowl is a game…

Kansas City Chiefs (-8) vs. Cleveland Browns: Don't be fooled by the Browns' destruction of the Steelers last weekend. The Steelers were sitting ducks, the most overrated, under-achieving team in the league down the stretch. Security guards at his home stadium think Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's first name is "Parker." The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes romp, 45-18. Take the Chiefs.

Buffalo Bills (-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens: The Bills are my favorite team to watch this season. Quarterback Josh Allen is the real deal, cannon arm, can run, team believes in him. The Ravens were impressive last week against Tennessee (I lost that one, too), but they have a running back playing quarterback. All in on the Bills, 35-31.

Green Bay Packers (-6.5) vs. Los Angeles Rams: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is this year's MVP. Every team should draft a quarterback just to rile up their guy. The team with the better quarterback and better receivers wins in the NFL. That's Green Bay. Although Jake from State Farm says there is no Rodgers Rate, back the Pack, 42-17.

New Orleans Saints (-4) vs. Tampa Bay Bucs: a few years ago, I asked a former NFL quarterback who used to work with me for his Super Bowl pick. He said, "Never bet against Tom Brady in a big game." I took his advice. Ouch! These teams have played twice this year with the Saints winning both times. They say it's hard to beat a team three times, but it's really not. One team is clearly better, and it's the Saints, 27-16.

There you go, four guaranteed losers. See you at your inbox.

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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