The Divisional Round of the National Football League playoffs is often the best weekend of the playoffs in terms of great games and upsets and I think today will do nothing to deter that notion.
San Francisco (-3) at Carolina – In the divisional playoffs in the Super Bowl Era, when a visiting team is favored, they have lost four of five times. Possibly a negative omen for the 49ers? San Francisco will have much less to worry about in terms of weather as they did last week in defeating Green Bay on a field goal as time expired.
They will however, have to deal with a Panthers’ team that has had a week off and has the confidence of a 10-9 win at Candlestick Park several weeks ago. Carolina has had the Niners’ number recently winning the last four times the two have faced off. Despite having a rowdy crowd on hand today, the playoff experience rides with San Francisco.
I believe the Panthers will do a much better job containing Colin Kaepernick than the Packers did but does that mean more room for Frank Gore and for the passing game? Since Michael Crabtree returned, Kaepernick has been a significantly better passer and this will also make Anquan Boldin more of a target as well.
Cam Newton’s favorite target Steve Smith has been limited in practice all week so his status is uncertain. Tight end Greg Olsen is ready to go and will be a serious factor in the Panthers’ attack. DeAngelo Williams will be the first option but Newton will have to pass in order to keep seven and eight defenders out of the box.
The Niners are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games at Carolina while the Panthers are 6-0-1 ATS in their last seven home games. Things seem to point in favor of the Panthers but I’m taking the experience of San Francisco to cover.
San Diego (+9) at Denver – I honestly have a hard time believing this line considering the two games these teams already played this season. One was a seven-point Broncos’ win in San Diego and the other was a Chargers victory in Denver. Denver jumped out to a double-digit lead in their first meeting but this was also the game where the Chargers got after Peyton Manning and sent him off with a twisted ankle.
San Diego appears to be peaking at the right time offensively with a running game featuring Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Both have picked things up in recent weeks and Woodhead continues to be a huge factor out of the backfield. If Philip Rivers throws less than 20 times as he did last week in Cincinnati than that will mean another Bolts’ victory.
For Denver, this is the start of what the Broncos hope is a shot at redemption. Last year in this round they were stunned in overtime by the Baltimore Ravens who went on to the win the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning, for all of his regular season success, is just 9-11 in his playoff career. Among those numbers is a big number eight. That’s how many times he has been one and done in the playoffs.
I think the Broncos will rely more on the running game than some imagine in this game. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball will see more carries than usual in an attempt to keep pressure off of Manning and allow the play-action passing game to flourish.
San Diego is 8-17 straight up in their last 25 games on the road in Denver. The Broncos are 1-6-3 against the spread at home against San Diego and I think that’s a big factor considering the spread today. The Broncos will miss Von Miller and will struggle to keep Manning upright. I love the Chargers getting the nine.