My First Saturday Bullets of the “Football-less” Period

Paul
Paul
I don't feel like Chris Paul meant anything sexist in his comments but I get why some feel that way.

In the old days, this weekend was the one where there was that last taste of football for basically a half a year. The NFL Pro Bowl for many years in my lifetime anyway was always played the Sunday following the Super Bowl. That tradition no longer exists as the Pro Bowl is now played the week prior to the Super Bowl.

Therefore for my football-loving friends, we are stuck without our favorite sport for the foreseeable future. Then again, the NFL Combine is in just a few weeks…

On to the bullets.

-While I think Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers could have chosen his words more carefully Thursday night, I really don’t believe he was attacking referee Lauren Holtkamp. In her first season as an NBA official, Holtkamp T’ed up Paul during the game against Cleveland. Afterwards, Paul felt the technical foul was undeserved and added “If that’s the case, this might not be for her.” Many felt Paul was criticizing her because she was a woman and I don’t think that’s the case here. He was clearly frustrated and I feel his shot was more at her inexperience than anything else.

Tiger
Tiger is breaking down at an alarming rate and I'm not sure it's just coincidence.

-There was a time when I really enjoyed watching Tiger Woods play golf but now I’m really starting to wonder if we weren’t duped a bit by the 14-time major winner. Woods withdrew this week from a tournament at the very course he won his last major in 2008. This is now the sixth time Woods has WD’ed and in every case it was due to injury. Not surprisingly, he was also out of contention on each occurrence as well. As his body breaks down I can’t help but wonder if Woods was in fact a user of PEDs. Ironically, it was July of 2008 when the PGA started drug testing. Take it for what you will.

-Fresh off the heels of his thoughts on banning the defensive shift in baseball, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has added that he’d like to see a bidding process take over as the way to find All-Star Game locations. For the previous 82 years, the game has rotated between National and American League ballparks but this year and next, the game will be in National League parks. By moving towards a Super Bowl-like bidding process, I can’t help but imagine we’ll be seeing All-Star Games in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles on an annual basis.

-The Atlanta Falcons admitted this week that they were piping in artificial crowd noise to make the Georgia Dome louder. Therefore, the environment would be tougher for opposing teams. This same claim has been leveled many times against Indianapolis but has never been admitted to or proven. My question is this; if this is illegal, then why were the Seattle Seahawks allowed to build a stadium that creates more natural noise than any other?

-I have to admit it’s pretty cool to look at the standings in the NBA see teams up there that we aren’t normally used to seeing. In the Western Conference, you have Golden State and Memphis while in the East you have Atlanta and Toronto. As much as I like to see the Boston’s, LA’s and Chicago’s of the NBA up there it’s nice that these other cities get a chance to shine and feel the air of a top basketball team.

-Believe it or not, March Madness is just around the corner.

NFL Late-Game Picks for Week 17

Lacy
Lacy
Eddie Lacy could be the 'X' factor in today's game between his Packers and the Lions.

Here are four late games I really like today.

Detroit (+7) at Green Bay (O/U 47.5) – By now you know the history… The Lions haven’t won in Lambeau Field since 1992 and while the players and coaches will scoff at that, it has to be in their minds. Unlike most indoor teams, the Lions are suddenly surviving on the defensive side while the offense continues to struggle.

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is an excellent game-planner and he will he have studied the team’s loss in Detroit over and over to find weaknesses. In my opinion this game is more about Matthew Stafford than it is Aaron Rodgers. Stafford has to play well and he hasn’t for much of the season.

Trends: Detroit is 4-2 straight in their last six games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in four of Green Bay’s last five games against the Lions…Detroit is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games versus the Packers.

The Pick: The Packers have been a scoring machine at home but the Lions can get after it on defense. I like the Lions getting the points and the UNDER.

Newton
Cam Newton needs a big game if the Panthers are to win in Atlanta today.

Carolina (+3) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – Both of these teams are lousy on defense. They each give up about 25 points per game but the Falcons score on average about five more points per game on offense than do the Panthers. Being that this game is an “all or nothing” proposition, I expect both teams to pull out all the stops to earn the win.

One of the key issues here is the health of the Falcons’ receivers. Roddy White has battled ankle issues but will play and Julio Jones has had a hip problem. If both can go, it’s a big boost for the offense.

Trends: The Panthers are 3-6-1 straight up in their last 10 games… The total has gone UNDER in eight of Atlanta’s last 11 games… Carolina is 1-5 SU in their last six games on the road in Atlanta.

The Pick: I like Falcons to cover and I love the OVER.

Arizona (+7) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – The Cardinals are staggering into the playoffs behind a quarterback carousel that is struggling. Drew Stanton will miss this one but could return for a the playoffs. Ryan Lindley gets the start despite being told Logan Thomas would be the man for most of the week.

For the 49ers, all signs point to this being Jim Harbaugh’s final game there. Where he goes next is up in the air, but despite missing the playoffs, he leaves the franchise far better than he found it.

Trends: Arizona is 0-5 straight up in their last five visits to San Francisco… The Niners are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games… The total has gone OVER in four of the Cardinals last six games against San Francisco.

The Pick: I like UNDER and I think the Cards find a way to keep it close so take them getting the points.

Cincinnati (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The final game of the 2014 NFL regular season is the third and final battle of the day for a division crown. The winner claims the AFC North and will get a home game for Wild-Card Weekend. The loser is still in the playoffs but will have to hit the road.

The Steelers took a close game into the fourth quarter in the first meeting in Cincinnati three weeks ago and scored 25 points to win 42-21. While the Bengals struggled to slow Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers had no answer for A.J. Green. I think both are limited a bit tonight forcing other players to step up.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Cincinnati’s last seven games… The Steelers are 5-2 straight up in their last seven games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games on the road in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I expect a little less scoring tonight so take the UNDER but I’ll take the Steelers to cover in a tight game.

Intriguing NFL Storylines for the Final Week of the Season

Harbaugh
Harbaugh
By all accounts, Jim Harbaugh is coaching his last game in San Francisco tomorrow.

The 2014 National Football League Season comes to an end this weekend and while you can find all the playoff scenarios at nfl.com, I’m looking at those but also a lot more. Let’s get rolling.

Monday is of course now known as “black Monday” because this is typically the day that NFL coaches who are on the hot seat are in fact fired. My expectation is that you’ll see several coaches packing up their offices.

If I’m a betting man, I have to believe Rex Ryan is finally out in New York although there are arguments to be made that General Manager John Idzik is a bigger problem. I also believe Tony Sparano will be removed as the Raiders’ interim tagged coach and will be looking for new employment. I his case, it’s hard to to avoid the decent success his team has had but I believe the Raiders will look elsewhere.

Also on the chopping block will be Mike Smith in Atlanta if the Falcons lose tomorrow. Even if they advance to the playoffs I expect him to be gone unless they make a miraculous run to the Super Bowl.

The biggest name will of course be Jim Harbaugh. Michigan officials were reportedly already in San Francisco yesterday and will be at Harbaugh’s door as soon as the official word comes down that he is fired. Reports are that that will come very soon after the Niners’ final game. My feeling is that the 49ers are making a mistake. Harbaugh has been hugely successful and rescued this franchise from mediocrity. If anyone should go it’s the GM Trent Baalke but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Other potential unemployed coaches: Tom Coughlin, Marc Trestman, Jeff Fisher, Doug Marrone

Green
A.J. Green went for over 200 yards last time the Bengals faced the Steelers. Can he do it again?

Three Division Champs to Be Crowned Sunday

In the AFC, Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season. The winner gets the AFC North title and a home playoff game next week while the loser hits the road to open the postseason.

In their first meeting three weeks ago, the Steelers scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to win 42-21. I expect a much closer game this time around but you have to like the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger who plays well at home especially late in the season.

In Green Bay, a similar situation exists. The Packers host the Lions and the winner earns the NFC North title and possibly a top seed in the NFC while the loser becomes the fifth or sixth seed and starts the playoffs on the road. While the chances exist for Detroit to to be anywhere from a one-seed to a six-seed, they have to get past the Packers in Green Bay.

The last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field was 22 years ago when Rodney Peete was the quarterback and Barry Sanders was the running back. Matthew Stafford has to play better for the Lions to have a chance Sunday.

Last but not least is the showdown in Atlanta where it’s all or nothing for the Falcons and Panthers. A win gets either into the playoffs while the loser goes home and possibly looks for a new coach. The winner of the NFC South will also become the second team since the 1970 merger to win a division with a record under .500 and will create more discussion about re-seeding for the playoffs.

In all likelihood, the Falcons or Panthers will host a team with at least three or four more wins then they have and that doesn’t sit well with many. Take the Falcons with the home-field advantage tomorrow.

 

Auburn at K-State, Tampa Bay at Atlanta Highlight Thursday Night

Rainey
Rainey
Bobby Rainey had a huge game for the Bucs last week and he'll need another one in Atlanta tonight.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Atlanta (O/U 45) – The Atlanta Falcons are a couple of Matt Bryant 50-yarders away from being 0-2 just like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who come to the Empire State of the South tonight for a very important NFC South match-up.

I really had high expectations for the Bucs with new coach Lovie Smith and QB Josh McCown but McCown has been awful and the rest of the team hasn’t done much either in losses to St. Louis and Carolina. Consider that Tampa Bay has lost both games to back-up quarterbacks and that gives you an idea of where this team is right now.

The Falcons should get tackle Jake Matthews back this week and that will help an offensive line that has struggled a bit. Atlanta and Matt Ryan currently have the league’s top passing attack and the second best overall offense.

The bad news for the Falcons is that they are dead last in total defense and 26th against the run. The Bucs enter tonight with the 11th best rushing attack but only a 31st ranked passing game. That means the Falcons will load the box and force McCown and the Bucs to beat them with the pass.

Tampa Bay had a surprise performance last week from running back Bobby Rainey who ran 22 times for 144 yards against the Rams. Atlanta must limit him and force the Buccaneers to air it out.The Pick: I like the Bucs getting the points but I like Atlanta to win. Take the UNDER as well.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in seven of Tampa Bay’s last ten road games… The total has gone OVER in eight of Atlanta’s last 11 games at home… The Bucs are 1-5 straight up in their last six games in Atlanta… The Falcons are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games at home against Tampa Bay.

Malzahn
Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn brings his Tigers into Kansas State tonight.

Auburn (-9.5) at Kansas State (O/U 65) – The defending SEC champs travel to the “Little Apple” of Manhattan, Kansas to take on Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. The Tigers are currently averaging 52 points per game in wins over Arkansas and San Jose State.

As for the Wildcats, they are also 2-0. They’ve defeated Iowa State and Stephen F. Austin but the win over the Cyclones was by four and in the final minutes. That’s important because Iowa State has lost to North Dakota State but also beat Iowa so getting a read on these Wildcats might be difficult.

In order to win this game, K-State will need a positive start and a fired up home crowd. Making the Gus Malzahn offense struggle is a key to any team’s success. The Wildcats will need to possess the ball too and take time off the clock.

For the Tigers it will be business as usual. Keep the Wildcats’ defense on its’ heels with a ferocious hurry-up offense and then attack the KSU offense with their speed.

The Pick: This has potential upset all over it. A primetime game with a hostile crowd awaits the Tigers but their talent will prevail. Take them to cover and I like the UNDER.

Trends: The Tigers are 11-1 straight up in their last 12 games… K-State is 2-4 ATS in their last six games at home… The total has gone OVER in four of Auburn’s last six games on the road… The Wildcats are 16-3 straight up in their last 19 games at home.

I Expect a Lot of Points in the Games I Like in the NFL Today

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger
The Steelers must protect Ben Roethlisberger in order to beat Buffalo today.

I’ve got four games I’m watching today and I expect a lot of points to be scored in all of them. Check them out.

Buffalo (+3) at Pittsburgh – The last time the Buffalo Bills left the city of Pittsburgh with a victory, a guy named O.J. Simpson had just reeled off over 200 plus yards rushing. That’s the mid-1970’s for those scoring at home. I find that tidbit interesting because the Bills come into Heinz Field today with a very good rushing attack and the Steelers are having all kinds of trouble stopping the run.

The positive for the Steelers is that despite a porous defense, coordinator Dick LeBeau is 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks and E.J. Manuel gets the start today after missing several weeks with an injury.

Buffalo enters 0-5 against the spread in their last five trips to the Steel City. Pittsburgh’s inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger and the Bills’ running attack tells me otherwise though. Take the Bills in Pittsburgh.

Dallas (+7) at New Orleans – Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan welcomes his former team to the Big Easy today. Dallas comes in with the NFC East lead which might not be saying a whole considering how bad the division is. Dallas pulled out a huge win last week over Minnesota in the final seconds while the Saints were struggling to keep Drew Brees protected in a loss to the New York Jets.

Ryan has worked wonders with the Saints defensively and his unit will be challenged by Tony Romo and a crew of good receivers. The Saints will be happy to be back in the dome where the offense clearly runs better. Dallas is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games on the road in New Orleans.

I expect a lot of points and with the over/under listed at 50 take the over. The Cowboys seem play close games so I like them with the points but New Orleans to win the game.

Lynch
I expect large doses of Marshawn Lynch today in Atlanta.

Seattle (-4.5) at Atlanta – This match-up had so much potential back at the beginning of the season but my how things have changed. This is a rematch of a great divisional playoff game from a year ago won by the Falcons but I don’t see that happening today.

The Seahawks top-rated defense will continue to cause problems for Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan who has been a turnover machine of late. He is supposed to get Roddy White back today but I don’t know how healthy he really is. Offensively for Seattle, I expect large doses of Marshawn Lynch and a nice game from Russell Wilson because Atlanta just can’t pressure the quarterback.

The Falcons enter at 2-6 against the spread in their last eight home games against Seattle. Despite the one o’clock start, I expect the Seahawks to cover today.

Denver (-7) at San Diego – We really don’t know quite what to expect from the Denver Broncos today. They come off their bye-week with their head coach John Fox in Charlotte. He is recovering from heart surgery. That means defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is the interim coach. What I think you’ll see happen is that Peyton Manning will take even more control of the offense.

San Diego is coming off of a very frustrating overtime loss to Washington. Philip Rivers is playing much better under offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt than he did in previous years under Norv Turner. Look for balls to be flying most of the day in Southern California because both defenses give up significant passing yards.

The over/under today is 55 and you’d be wise to go with the over. The Broncos are 5-9-4 against the spread in their last 18 games in San Diego. Look for lots of points today and take San Diego to keep it within seven.

Falcons Fading Away, Betting Market Catching Seahawks

The Atlanta Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks in NFL action on Sunday. The Falcons have faded away into oblivion this season, while the Seahawks remain in first place in the NFC West.

Nevertheless, the betting market seems to have finally caught up with the Seahawks. After having a great record against the spread, Seattle has not covered in four of its past five games.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks visit Atlanta on Sunday with major sportsbooks like sportsbook.com, topbet, betonline and Bovada as a substantial favorite over the floundering Falcons, who have been called out recently by their head coach for not making an effort to win.

Atlanta has been hit hard by injuries and does not have the weapons on offense it had last season when they beat the Seahawks 30-28 on a last second Matt Ryan scoring drive that eliminated the Seattle from the playoffs.

Ryan has played subpar football of late. The Atlanta quarterback lost Julio Jones his talented wide receiver to injury for the season and Roddy White another receiver has been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Ryan has thrown seven picks over his past two games.

The line at Bovada currently has Seattle favored by 5.5 points with the point total sitting on 45.

The line opened last Sunday with Seattle at -7. However, it has been bet down steadily all week and was at 6 and 5.5 on Saturday.

The dominance that Atlanta once had at home is no longer existent. The Falcons are 2-5 ATS in their past seven games at home and have not covered in five of their past six games overall.

Seattle on the other hand is 7-2 ATS in its past nine games on the road.

Seattle is 4-0 SU since losing to Indianapolis. However, Seattle has not been too impressive the past two games. They rallied last week against Tampa Bay after falling down 21-0 and a week prior to that needed a defensive stand at the goal line to beat St. Louis.

Ryan and the Falcons started 2-3, but since then the season has been turned upside down. Over their past two games, both on the road, the Falcons have lost to Arizona and Carolina.

Ryan has nine touchdown passes and a single interception in Atlanta’s home games this season. Steven Jackson the veteran running back returned to the lineup, but could not jump-start a running game that is ranked No. 32 in the league.

Atlanta is 2-6 SU and ATS and is for all intents and purposes out of hope for the postseason.

Many bookmakers keep waiting for Atlanta to bust out of their funk, but the tools are not in the shop to fix the broken pieces this season.

With no running game and the team’s top receivers injured, the Falcons season is finished.

The Seahawks have covered seven straight games in which they are 3.5 to 9.5-point favorites.

Home games for Atlanta have been high scoring averaging 54 total points.

Pick: Seattle and the OVER.

Broncos, Niners Favorites for Super Bowl XLVIII

San Francisco may have fallen at the final hurdle on Sunday night, but bookmakers have installed the team as joint favorites (with Denver) to win next year's Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.

Before the dust has even settled on the spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVII, bookmakers have released odds relating to Super Bowl XLVIII, to be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Feb. 2, 2014.

Sunday night’s game in New Orleans proved to be something special. From the opening anthems – including a poignant performance by the Sandy Hook Elementary School Choir – through Beyonce’s love it/hate it halftime performance, from a 34-minute power outage to the confetti raining down on the champions, this was a Super Bowl that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

San Francisco and Baltimore put on one heck of a display, with the Ravens jumping out to a 28-6 lead on the first play of the second half, before San Francisco mounted another unthinkable comeback. It came down to the last seconds of the game, with the Ravens managing to hold off the Niners, ultimately going on to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

But football betting is fickle, and before the Ravens can even enjoy the sweet taste of victory, bookmakers are putting a new spin on things and offering odds on next year’s super event.

As it stands, Denver and San Francisco have been installed as the favorites to follow in Baltimore footsteps next season.

After a long and tough season, San Francisco almost made good on 9/1 preseason odds this season. The Northern California side advanced to the Super Bowl – and came within touching distance of a win – having been eliminated at the conference championship stage last season.

Odds makers believe Jim Harbaugh’s side will do even better next year, assigning the team 7/1 odds of winning Super Bowl XLVIII. The Niners will again be in search of Super Bowl victory No. 6, tying that record achieved by Pittsburgh.

The Niners are not alone though. Denver has also been assigned 7/1 odds of winning it all next season.

After a season that showed Peyton Manning – the eventual runner up in MVP voting – still has it and that the Broncos are stacked with talent, bookmakers like the Mile High City side to improve on this year’s conference championship appearance. A win would secure Denver’s third Super Bowl championship.

Third on the bookies’ list is perennial Super Bowl favorite, New England. By the time Super Bowl XLVIII rolls around, it will have been nine years since the Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi trophy aloft, but Brady and Co. are still expected to make noise this coming season.

New England is 15/2 to win next season’s Super Bowl, which puts the side marginally behind the odds (11/2) assigned to the team ahead of this past season.

Another perennial favorite takes the number four spot on the NFL Futures list. Green Bay is considered 10/1 to win the championship. The Packers were not as dominant as some expected this season, but with Aaron Rodgers under center there are few that wouldn’t expect the Wisconsin side to contend at the very least. Another Packers-Niners playoff clash wouldn’t go amiss either.

The top five is rounded out by a pair of sides with 12/1 odds: Baltimore and Seattle.

Baltimore may have won it all on Sunday night but bookmakers believe that the “Team of Destiny” used up most of its luck during the 34-31 victory over San Francisco. But then again, the bookies took a big hit thanks to Baltimore’s horrendous play ahead of the post season that saw the team 28/1 to win the Super Bowl after Week 15. There’s no way the bookies want the Ravens to win again.

It’s hard to imagine Baltimore won’t get a deal done that keeps Joe Flacco under center, but without Ray Lewis – and perhaps Ed Reed (retirement?) – the side will have a few spots to bolster if it’s to make a push.

Meanwhile, Seattle is a surprise entrant in the top five (which is actually a top six). Behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks were certainly one of the surprise packages this season, but most will be questioning whether Pete Carroll’s side can repeat this season’s success. Odds makers apparently believe they can.

The NFL Futures’ Top 10 is rounded out by Houston (14/1), Atlanta (18/1), New Orleans (18/1), and Pittsburgh (18/1).

Elsewhere on the Futures list, bookmakers expect Kansas City – this season’s worst team – to improve under the tutelage of Andy Reid. The Chiefs are considered 50/1 to win Super Bowl XLVIII, which makes them tied for 22nd place on the list.

Jacksonville is expected to be the league’s worst team next season. The Jaguars have odds of 150/1 to win it all. Buffalo and Oakland are second worst on the list, with odds of 100/1.

 

Odds to Win Super Bowl XLVIII

Denver Broncos 7/1

San Francisco 49ers 7/1

New England Patriots 15/2

Green Bay Packers 10/1

Baltimore Ravens 12/1

Seattle Seahawks 12/1

Houston Texans 14//1

Atlanta Falcons 18/1

New Orleans Saints 18/1

Pittsburgh Steelers 18/1

Chicago Bears 20/1

New York Giants 20/1

Dallas Cowboys 25/1

Washington Redskins 30/1

Indianapolis Colts 33/1

Cincinnati Bengals 35/1

Detroit Lions 35/1

Minnesota Vikings 35/1

Philadelphia Eagles 35/1

San Diego Chargers 35/1

New York Jets 40/1

Carolina Panthers 50/1

Kansas City Chiefs 50/1

Miami Dolphins 50/1

St. Louis Rams 50/1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 50/1

Arizona Cardinals 66/1

Cleveland Browns 66/1

Tennessee Titans 66/1

Buffalo Bills 100/1

Oakland Raiders 100/1

Jacksonville Jaguars 150/1

Odds supplied by Bovada

Conference Championship NFL Betting Tips

Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens will look to score an upset for the second straight week, as they travel to New England to face the Patriots.

So here we are. It’s game day in the NFL and by the time Sunday rolls into Monday we’ll know the two teams going to New Orleans in two weeks to battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Whilst this weekend won’t feature a Denver Broncos side many expected to win it all just one week ago,  nor will it feature a big do-over matchup between Green  Bay and Seattle – whose Week 3 matchup still sits on the NFL’s results page like an ugly blot – it will feature two very intriguing matchups. That’s two matchups that look easy to pick on the surface, but root around and you’ll find it’s anything but.

Read on to find out how Casino Review will be betting this week, and then take our picks straight to your bookie.

 

San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

3:00 PM ET

The ongoing indifference to Atlanta (14-3, 8-1 home) has continued this week with bettors and experts alike shirking the Falcons in favor of a more popular side. The Falcons won an opening postseason game for the first time in four attempts last week, knocking off a fan-favorite Seattle side.

San Francisco (12-4-1, 5-3 road) provided an offensive display to rival any that came before it, handing the Green Bay Packers a heavy defeat, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick winning his first ever playoff start. The Niners will look to replicate that result and head to the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1994 season.

Lost in the haze of the Atlanta bashing that has gone on this season is the advantage the historical Falcons take into the game.

Atlanta won the only postseason meeting between the two sides, a 20-18 affair in Jan. 1999. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year. Atlanta also owns a 19-18-1 advantage in the head-to-head series when playing in the Georgia city. Granted, one game is not much of an advantage, but this far into the season, any advantage is sought out regardless of how slim it might be.

The Falcons have won two straight against the Niners in Atlanta, with San Francisco’s last win coming on Oct. 14, 2001.

Whilst Atlanta has gone 1-1 in conference championship games, San Francisco has con 5-7. Granted, all five wins have preceded a Super Bowl victory, but that’s still a losing record. Additionally, the Niners are 1-3 in conference championship games played on the road. Only a 1989 win over Chicago saw the side victorious. The win in Chicago was actually the Niners’ last road playoff win; the team has gone 0-5 since.

In the regular season the Falcons had higher averages in points scored, total yards, and passing yards than the Niners. Yes, San Francisco’s bully defense ranked higher, but Atlanta was still excellent when it came to preventing teams scoring, allowing just 18.7 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league.

So, those people that thing Atlanta is out of this one before it even starts might want to reconsider.

Now, will Atlanta win?

The Falcons will be up against a San Francisco side that has been on fire of late. The team has won two straight and four of the last five, and the move at quarterback – with Kaepernick replacing Alex Smith – has sparked a more offensive-minded team; an offensive-minded team that happens to be a beast defensively. Well, except last week, and that’s where San Francisco might come unstuck.

We all know the Packers can score, but Atlanta was right behind Green Bay in points scored this season, so the Niners should beware.

Atlanta however has not fared well against dual threat quarterbacks, with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson having solid outings against the Falcons this side. Injury may have been the only thing stopping Robert Griffin III from having a big day also.

Odds: San Francisco opened as a three-point favorite on the road this weekend, but bettors like the Niners and that number has risen to five. The over/under has risen also, increasing from 47½ at opening to 49½ on game day.

Take: SAN FRANCISCO – The Niners came so close to a Super Bowl appearance last year, and this year, the team is better. More versatile than the 2011 side, expect the Niners to give Atlanta a heavy dose of the running game, something the Falcons were not great against this season. While The Falcons showed a rare glimpse of a running game last weekend, expect the Niners to quash any such attempt this week. This game is likely to be close, but take the Niners to cover the spread by the end of the game, with the total going over.

 

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

6:30 PM ET

In a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, Baltimore (12-6, 5-4 road) makes the trip north to New England (13-4, 7-2 home).

The Patriots made short work of the Texans last week, covering a 10-point spread. Bettors pounded that action, with the hapless Houston side entering the game more like a victim than a contender. Whilst the spread has risen to an identical number, bettors are less sure that New England can handle the Ravens in a similar manner.

Baltimore may have crawled to the end of the regular season with four losses from five, but a revitalized side that features Ray Lewis has taken care of business this postseason. Last week’s shock upset in Denver has many wondering if this Ravens side is destined for a Super Bowl win. Of course, destiny plays no part in sports betting.

During this postseason, Baltimore has improved on most of its offensive stats, including points scored, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. Believe it or not, the Ravens average more offensive yards per game than the Patriots this postseason.

But the Ravens will be up against history.

New England is 7-1 in conference championship games. That one loss came against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 21, 2007.

Conversely, Baltimore is 1-2 in conference championship games, defeating Oakland on the way to Super Bowl XXXV, and losing to Pittsburgh and New England.

New England is 4-0 in conference games played at home.

Both sides have scored one victory against the other in the postseason.

Odds: New England opened as 7½-point favorites, but that number has risen to 10. The over/under is 52, up from 51 at opening.

Take: NEW ENGLAND – Whilst there is undeniably an urge to go with Baltimore in this one, at the end of the day, New England should get out alive. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 on Sep. 23, but this New England side has found form since then. Take the Ravens to cover the spread, as they have done in both postseason games against the Patriots. Take the total to go over, as has been the trend for both these sides this season.

NFL Divisional Playoffs: Sunday Preview

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will look to put a halt to a three-game playoff losing streak with a win over Seattle on Sunday.

The NFL playoffs just got interesting.

After a tepid wild-card weekend, the divisional round of the postseason got off to a bang thanks to a 70-yard Joe Flacco bomb. That monster strike would set up a double overtime Baltimore (12-6) victory, as the side upset a heavily-favored Denver (13-4) team 38-35.

If that wasn’t enough, San Francisco (12-4-1) took a slight edge on the book and rammed it down Green Bay’s (12-6) gullet. The 49ers, behind a magnificent Colin Kaepernick, took down the Packers 45-31, advancing to the NFC championship game next Sunday (3PM ET).

Today, fans will be looking for the same level of excitement as the divisional round of the playoffs comes to a close with a pair of intriguing matchups.

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

1 PM ET

The prospect of a mouthwatering NFC championship matchup between division rivals San Francisco and Seattle (12-5, 4-5 road) could be just 60 minutes of football away.

The resurgent Seahawks will travel east for the second weekend in a row, looking to hand the No. 1 seeded Falcons another playoff defeat. Atlanta (13-3, 7-1 home) will be looking to silence the naysayers convinced the team is incapable of winning in the postseason.

The Falcons have lost their last three playoff matchups. Two of those games came in the wild-card round, with the other coming in a divisional matchup with Green Bay following the 2010 season. The Georgia side was a No. 1 ranked team that year also.

With a win, the Falcons can follow Seattle’s own example. Ahead of last weekend’s wild-card game in Washington, the Seahawks had been winless in road playoff games since 1983. Pete Carroll’s side exorcised that trend in one fell swoop. Bucking trends is something very much on the Falcon’s agenda.

Speaking of trends, Seattle has only won two postseason games twice in franchise history. Following the 2005 season, the AFC West-winning Seahawks went to the Super Bowl. In 1983, the AFC wild-card Seahawks were successful in the wild-card and divisional rounds, before falling to the Raiders in the AFC championship game.

Atlanta has the edge on the offensive side of the football. The Falcons ranked seventh in the league in scoring (26.2 PPG) and sixth in passing yards (281.8 YPG). Seattle however has a huge advantage in the run game, averaging 161.2 yards per game (3rd) compared to Atlanta’s 87.3 yards per game (29th).

Seattle will also have a decisive advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Seahawks had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league this season, giving up just 15.3 points per game. The side ranked in the top 10 in opponents’ total yards (306.2 YPG), passing yards (203.1 YPG), and rushing yards (103.1 YPG). The Falcons meanwhile fell outside of the top 20 in those categories, although Mike Smith’s side was particularly stingy in the points department, giving up just 18.7 per game (5th).

Seattle leads the all-time head-to-head series 8-5, although that record is 3-3 since the side moved across to the NFC in 2002. Atlanta has won three straight in the series.

The ‘experts’ all seem to think that Seattle – winners of eight of the last nine – will emerge victorious from the Georgia Dome. Odds makers however give Atlanta a three-point edge at home.

Seattle (12-5-0 ATS) has fared much better than Atlanta (9-6-1 ATS) this season, thanks in part to a series of upset victories, including those over Green Bay, New England, Chicago, and San Francisco.

The total opened at 45 and has subsequently risen to 46. Both teams have shown prevalence for the total going under, with nine Seattle games and 11 Atlanta games falling below the set marker.

After a wild-card weekend that saw all four totals go under, the divisional round began with both Saturday games going (well) over, something worth pondering.

 

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

4:30 PM ET

If ever a team could be buoyed by Baltimore’s performance on Saturday, it’s Houston (13-4, 6-2 road).

Heading into Sunday’s matchup with New England (12-4, 6-2 home), the Texans have been all but written off by pundits, fans, and bookmakers alike. The slumping Texans lost three of the last four regular season games before fending off Cincinnati in a lackluster wild-card encounter last weekend.

Add to this a debilitating 42-14 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 10 – which kick-started those three losses in four games – and you have a team with no chance. Except, as Baltimore showed, every team has a chance at this point in the season.

Believe it or not, New England’s last Super Bowl-winning campaign came following the 2004 season. The perennial title hopeful Patriots have actually come up short in the last six attempts, including three times in the divisional round or before, a fact Houston should latch onto.

New England outranks the Texans in most facets of the offensive games, including points scored, a category in which the Patriots led the league (34.8 PPG). Houston however is the superior defensive side, although both teams conceded an equal 20.7 points per game during the regular season. The Texan defense had been more prolific until New England handed the side that lopsided loss.

New England leads the all-time head-to-head series 3-1. Houston has not won in two tries at Gillette Stadium.

Bookmakers set the opening spread at 9½, a number that has since risen to 10. New England will need to avoid complacency though, as they are the same numbers offered in favor of Denver on Saturday.

New England (9-6-1 ATS) matched the Texans’ output against the spread during the regular season, although Houston (10-6-1 ATS) fell off pace towards the end of the season, failing to cover in five of the last seven games. The Texans did manage to cover the spread in last weekend’s game against the Bengals.

The total opened at 48 and has since increased to 49. New England’s high-scoring offense saw the total go over in 11 games this season, while a more defensive-minded Houston side was only involved in seven games that went over. Last weekend’s wild-card fixture saw the total go under.

The previous two meetings between the sides (2010, 2012) have both gone over the 49-point marker, with this season’s 56-point matchup topping the 51½ total at kickoff.

 

The winner of the Seattle-Atlanta game will face San Francisco in the NFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (3 PM ET).

The winner of the Houston-New England game will host Baltimore in the AFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (6:30 PM ET).

Denver Remains Atop NFL Futures

Bookmakers currently expect Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to replicate John Elway's success in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII.

Ahead of this weekend’s divisional round of playoffs, the Denver Broncos remain favorites with bookmakers to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy on Feb. 3.

Having enjoyed a bye week during the wild-card round of playoffs, Denver (13-3) has been given odds of 11/4 to win Super Bowl XLVII, marking the fourth straight week the side has seen its odds shorten.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are considered 11/10 to win the AFC, something they can achieve by defeating Baltimore this weekend and the winner of New England-Houston next weekend.

New England (12-4) is nipping at the Broncos’ heels on the NFL Futures list.

Having also enjoyed a bye last weekend, the Patriots have been given 7/2 odds of winning the Super Bowl. The number represents the team’s shortest odds since topping the list at 3/1 following Week 14.

The Patriots are considered 7/5 to represent the AFC in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

With Denver and New England topping the list, it is left to Baltimore (11-6) and Houston (13-4) to prop up the NFL Futures, where odds makers have little faith in the two sides.

Both the Ravens and Texans have been handed 18/1 odds of lifting the Lombardi trophy, and 9/1 odds of even making the big game.

What’s more, both opened as 9½-point underdogs ahead of this weekend’s divisional playoffs. The spread in both games has risen to 10 as bettors come down in favor of the home sides.

Over in the NFC, both Green Bay (12-5) and San Francisco (11-4-1) find themselves with 6/1 odds to win the Super Bowl.

Bookmakers prefer the 49ers chances this weekend though, giving Jim Harbaugh’s side a three-point edge heading into the two meeting on Saturday at Candlestick Park.

This advantage on the lines has translated to a marginal advantage on the NFC Futures list. San Francisco has odds of 11/5 to win the NFC, whilst Green Bay is considered 3/1.

This weekend’s other NFC clash features Seattle (12-5) and Atlanta (13-3), two teams that have been assigned 7/1 odds of winning the Super Bowl.

Atlanta opened as a three-point favorite on the game line, with 12/5 odds (second in the conference) of winning the NFC. Pundits haven’t exactly been silent in their support of the underdog Seahawks in this one, but Bovada is reporting that bettors are showing a slight lean in favor of the Falcons.

Bovada has also put together odds of the exact matchup that will take place in New Orleans.

Currently, based on Futures standings, the favorite Super Bowl matchup is Denver vs. San Francisco (11/2), a rematch of Super Bowl XXIV held in 1990 at the Super Dome in New Orleans. For the record, the Niners took that game 55-10.

Next on the list is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIII, pitting Denver against Atlanta. Odds of this particular matchup currently stand at 6/1.

Other potential Super Bowl rematches include: Denver vs. Green Bay (Super Bowl XXXII), which sits at 7/1; and New England vs. Green Bay (Super Bowl XXXI), another game that took place in the Big Easy. That one ended 35-21 in favor of the Packers. Odds of this latter matchup currently stand at 8/1.

For a full list of odds on each potential matchup, see below.

 

Odds to Win Super Bowl XXXVII

Denver Broncos (11/4)

New England Patriots (7/2)

Green Bay Packers (6/1)

San Francisco 49ers (6/1)

Atlanta Falcons (7/1)

Seattle Seahawks (7/1)

Baltimore Ravens (18/1)

Houston Texans (18/1)

 

Odds to win the 2013 AFC Championship   

Denver Broncos (11/10)

New England Patriots (7/5)

Houston Texans (9/1)

Baltimore Ravens (9/1)

 

Odds to win the 2013 NFC Championship   

San Francisco 49ers (11/5)

Atlanta Falcons (12/5)

Green Bay Packers (3/1)

Seattle Seahawks (13/4)

 

2013 Super Bowl XLVII Matchup     

Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers (11/2)

Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons (6/1)

New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers (13/2)

Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers (7/1)

New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (7/1)

Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks (15/2)

New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers (8/1)

New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks (9/1)

Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers (30/1)

Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons (30/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs.  San Francisco 49ers (30/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons (30/1)

Houston Texans vs. Green Bay Packers (35/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers (35/1)

Houston Texans vs. Seattle Seahawks (40/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks (40/1)