Where There is Smoke, There are the Patriots

Belichick
Belichick
Bill Belichick is being questioned again about his ethics but this is nothing compared to SpyGate.

You know what the biggest shame in this latest assertion against the New England Patriots is? It’s that the team doesn’t need to do this type of stuff. It’s well-coached and has more than enough talent to be winning without spying on other teams and deflating footballs.

Let’s be completely honest here first; the New England Patriots did not win on Sunday night because the footballs Tom Brady was allegedly throwing were softer than they should have been. Brady could have been throwing and handing off marshmallows and the outcome would have still been in their favor. That’s just how dominant they were over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Title Game.

Therefore, this isn’t anything like SpyGate where the Patriots were clearly gaining an advantage over their opponents. There is no doubt in my mind that a portion of their success prior to being caught was due to the illegal taping and observing of their opposition.

My assertion is usually countered by Patriots’ fans who claim the great Pittsburgh Steelers’ teams of the 1970’s were “all on steroids.” They, and many other teams of the 70’s were indeed dabbling with roids and here’s the key part; they weren’t illegal then. What the Pats were doing in SpyGate was illegal and that’s an overwhelming distinction.

Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers said yesterday he actually likes to "over-inflate" the ball due to his large hands.

So here we are again with more allegations of a Bill Belichick-led team doing something against the rules. My honest opinion here, and it was kind of backed up by Aaron Rodgers yesterday, is that most teams mess around with the game balls to a certain extent. In case you missed it, Rodgers said he liked balls to be “over-inflated” because he has larger hands.

In case you aren’t aware of the rules, an official NFL game ball must be between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds of air per square inch. If you take air out of the ball, it becomes easier to grip and to catch. Brand new NFL footballs are not as “new” as you might think when they actually hit the field. Teams are given game balls a few days in advance so that quarterbacks can smooth out the leather.

Some QBs will do this themselves while others rely on ball boys to do it. Essentially, it involves rubbing the balls over and over. This gets perspiration into the leather and takes away that hard, coarse feel to them. Now assume these balls are going to be wet. Taking some air out helps quite a bit in terms of grip.

The irony of the current situation is that D’Qwell Jackson of the Colts was the one who brought it to the attention of his team and Head Coach Chuck Pagano. He did this following an interception in the first half. For a linebacker, a guy who rarely touches a ball, to notice an obvious difference tells me that there is something to this.

The problem is Rodgers’ statement though. You have the league investigating a situation where two of the most high-profile quarterbacks in the league are now involved. What will come of this in my opinion is nothing other than a serious “talking to” by NFL officials.

Honestly? That’s really all it should be because “deflate-gate” is not anywhere on par with SpyGate. But why do these things keep following New England? Perhaps that’s the bigger question in all of this. I can’t recall one team being a part of so many odd things as this one has.

Keep an eye on the smoke because there is likely to be a Patriot nearby.

NFL Championship Game Picks for Today

Rodgers
Rodgers
While there are many other guys who can make a difference, if Aaron Rodgers isn't healthy the Packers can forget it.

The NFL Conference Title Games are on tap later today and here’s my selections for who advances to Super Bowl XLIX.

Green Bay (+7.5) at Seattle (O/U 47) – The Packers opened the season in Seattle and played valiantly but lost. Now the question is whether or not Green Bay ends its’ season in the same place where it began or will they advance to the Super Bowl? Then again, maybe the biggest question is just how close to 100% is Aaron Rodgers?

The Seahawks’ defense will not give Rodgers a chance to to get comfortable which is their goal regardless of who the play but today will be special. Coordinator Dan Quinn will more than likely test Rodgers early with some extra pressure just to see how well he can move. Either way, the Packers need Eddie Lacy to be a significant factor right away.

While under most circumstances Rodgers could carry this team, being less than full health tells me that he’ll need help.

Seattle will not do anything fancy on offense. The plan will be as it always is; run Marshawn Lynch and set up Russell Wilson in play-action. The Packers will attempt to take away Lynch, but they didn’t have a whole lot of luck with DeMarco Murray.

Trends: Green Bay is 2-4 straight up in their last six games in Seattle… The Seahawks are 4-0-1 against the spread in their last five games at home… The total has gone UNDER in four of the Packers last six games at Seattle… Seattle is 3-6 straight up in their last nine games against the Packers

Key Injuries: GB QB Aaron Rodgers PROB/Calf, SEA T Justin Britt QUEST/Knee

The Pick: I really think Green Bay can keep this close but I like a late Seattle score for the cover. Take the UNDER as well.

Brady
Can Tom Brady point the Patriots back to the Super Bowl?

Indianapolis (+7) at New England (O/U 54) – Last year in the divisional playoffs the Patriots rode the running of LeGarrette Blount to a big-time win over the Colts. Blount returns by way of Pittsburgh but things have changed a lot since they played a year ago. In fact, they met in the regular season where the Patriots’ Jonas Gray ran for 200 yards in a win over Indy.

Gray was late for practice later the following week and he’s hardly seen the field since. The one thing about the Bill Belichick-led Pats is that they rarely do what you think  they are going to. Just when you think they’ll go to the air, they go to the run and vice-versa. For the record, I expect them to throw.

For the Colts, the gameplan won’t change. They will ride the arm of Andrew Luck and they’ll do their best to pretend to they have a running game with Boom Herron. Don’t laugh because if Herron can find any success at all then Luck becomes even more dangerous.

The one thing you can never predict is turnovers. If the Colts can get a few, then this game becomes very interesting.

Trends: The total has gone OVER in five of the Colts’ last six games when playing in New England… The Patriots are 5-0 straight up in their last five games against the Colts… Indy is 2-13 SU in their last 15 games at New England… The total has gone UNDER in five of New England’s last seven games.

Key Injuries: IND CB Greg Toler QUEST/Groin… NE C Brian Stork OUT/Knee

The Pick: The Pats cleared a big hurdle in coming back to beat Baltimore last week and I think they win today but the Colts will find a way to keep it close. Take the OVER too.

Prop Bets for the NFL Championship Games

Wilson
Wilson
Think Russell Wilson gets into the end zone on Sunday? It might be worth your money.

Thanks to our friends at Bovada, I’m providing you with a bevy of prop bets coming from both games this Sunday. My best advice on wagering these is to consider this; I believe you will significant scoring in both games. When I say “significant” I would look for the NFC Title game to be played in the mid to upper 20’s and the AFC Title Game to be played in the 30’s.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Who will record the most Passing Yards?

Andrew Luck (IND) QB 5/4

Tom Brady (NE) QB 2/1

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB 3/1

Russell Wilson (SEA) QB 7/1

 

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Who will record the most Rushing Yards?

Marshawn Lynch (SEA) RB 10/11

Eddie Lacy (GB) RB 11/10

Dan Herron (IND) RB 7/1

Russell Wilson (SEA) QB 10/1

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Who will record the most Receiving Yards?

Rob Gronkowski (NE) TE 3/1

Jordy Nelson (GB) WR 4/1

Randall Cobb (GB) WR 5/1

T.Y. Hilton (IND) WR 5/1

Julian Edelman (NE) WR 6/1

Brandon LaFell (NE) WR 9/1

Doug Baldwin (SEA) WR 10/1

Jermaine Kearse (SEA) WR 15/1

Dan Herron (IND) RB 15/1

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Which game will have the higher TV rating?

GB vs SEA EVEN

IND vs NE -140

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Which market will have the higher TV rating?

Green Bay 5/4

Seattle 9/5

Indianapolis 5/1

Boston 3/1

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Will either game go to Overtime?

Yes +750

No -1500

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – How many calls will be overturned both games combined?

Over 1½ (-120)

Under 1½ (-120)

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – Will anyone from the Patriots besides Tom Brady attempt a pass during the game?

Yes +1000

No -2000

(GB @ SEA) – Total Passing Yards – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 260½ (-125)

Under 260½ (-105)

(GB @ SEA) – Total Completions – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 22½ (-125)

Under 22½ (-105)

(GB @ SEA) – Total Passing Attempts in the game – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 34½ (-125)

Under 34½ (-105)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 1½ (-180)

Under 1½ (+150)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 2 (+110)

Under 2 (-140)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over 2½ (+140)

Under 2½ (-170)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

0 4/1

1 21/10

2 11/5

3 3/1

4 or more 7/1

(GB @ SEA) – Total Interceptions – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

Over ½ (-155)

Under ½ (+125)

(GB @ SEA) – Total Interceptions – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

0 6/5

1 7/5

2 9/2

3 or more 9/1

(GB @ SEA) – Total Passing Attempts in the game – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 27½ (-130)

Under 27½ (EVEN)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 1½ (-140)

Under 1½ (+110)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 2 (+140)

Under 2 (-170)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 2½ (+240)

Under 2½ (-300)

(GB @ SEA) – Total TD Passes – Russell Wilson (SEA)

0 3/1

1 7/4

2 11/5

3 5/1

4 or more 9/1

(GB @ SEA) – Total Interceptions – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over ½ (-130)

Under ½ (EVEN)

(GB @ SEA) – Total Interceptions – Russell Wilson (SEA)

0 1/1

1 7/5

2 5/1

3 or more 15/1

(GB @ SEA) – Total Rushing Yards – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 39½ (-125)

Under 39½ (-105)

(GB @ SEA) – Total Rushing Attempts in the game – Russell Wilson (SEA)

Over 7½ (-115)

Under 7½ (-115)

(GB @ SEA) – Will Russell Wilson (SEA) score a Rushing TD in the game?

Yes +250

No -325

Luck
Like Andrew Luck for two or more TD passes? Then lay some money down!

(IND @ NE) – Total Passing Yards – Andrew Luck (IND)

Over 295½ (-125)

Under 295½ (-105)

(IND @ NE) – Total Completions – Andrew Luck (IND)

Over 25½ (-130)

Under 25½ (EVEN)

(IND @ NE) – Total TD Passes – Andrew Luck (IND)

Over 2 (-140)

Under 2 (+110)

(IND @ NE) – Total Passing Yards – Tom Brady (NE)

Over 285½ (-115)

Under 285½ (-115)

(IND @ NE) – Total Completions – Tom Brady (NE)

Over 24 (-115)

Under 24 (-115)

(IND @ NE) – Total Passing Attempts in the game – Tom Brady (NE)

Over 36½ (-115)

Under 36½ (-115)

(IND @ NE) – Total TD Passes – Tom Brady (NE)

Over 2 (-150)

Under 2 (+120)

 

 

 

Breaking Down Sunday’s NFL Divisional Playoff Games

Romo
Romo
As vulnerable as Aaron Rodgers is, Tony Romo could be in the same position with his bad back.

On Thursday I gave you the breakdown of today’s games while right now I’m giving you an up close look at tomorrow’s game. Let’s get to it.

Dallas (+6) at Green Bay – If the forecast holds, it’s going to be extremely chilly in Green Bay and that will favor the hometown Packers unless the Cowboys resist the temptation to throw it too much and stick the ground game. DeMarco Murray can in fact lead the Cowboys to victory if that offensive line gets rolling.

The Packers will hope that Aaron Rodgers’ bad calf has had enough time to heal but we’re hearing he hasn’t practiced and the calf is “strained.” This means there are definitely tears in the calf muscle. Either way, I expect them to stay as balanced as they can be behind Eddie Lacy. Of all the games this weekend I think turnovers will dictate more about the outcome than the others. This could favor Green Bay because Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home since Bill Clinton was in office.

OK, that’s an exaggeration but you get the point. One thing we can’t forget here is that Tony Romo has been playing a bad back for most of the second half of the season. One hit in the frigid cold and Romo could be out.

Trends: Dallas is 1-4 against the spread in their last five games at Green Bay… The total has gone OVER in five of the Packers last seven games at home against the Cowboys… The Cowboys is 8-0 on the road in 2014… Green Bay is 8-0 at home in 2014.

Key Injuries: Dallas T Doug Free DOUBT/Knee, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers PROB/Calf

The Pick: I like Dallas getting the points but Green Bay wins a tight one.

Luck
If Luck gets time to throw, he could be all smiles by game's end.

Indianapolis (+7) at Denver – Don’t be a bit surprised if the Colts come into Denver and pull off the upset. Yes the running game is pathetic and the defense is susceptible to getting beat either on the ground or through the air but if any game has the feel of an upset it’s this one. The Broncos have relied heavily on C.J Anderson in the second half of the season and I’m guessing the Colts will look to take him away first.

That will more than likely give us a passing duel between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. While I believe Luck will turn the ball over once or twice, I’m also not convinced that Manning is 100% especially with regards to his arm strength. If the Colts can bottle up Anderson enough to force the Broncos into second and third and long situations then that will test my theory about Manning’s arm strength.

The Denver defense could make any of my thoughts useless because if they can force the Colts into sacks and early turnovers then things could ugly early and often but I see a competitive game in this one.

Trends: The Colts are 6-1 straight up in their last seven games against Denver… The Broncos are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games against Indianapolis… The total has gone OVER in four of Indy’s last six games at Denver… Denver is 5-0 SU in their  last five games at home.

Key Injuries: Indianapolis LB Jerrell Freeman PROB/Abdomen, Denver LB Brandon Marshall QUEST/Foot

The Pick: The Colts have had pretty good success against the Broncos in recent years and despite leaking oil into the playoffs I like the Colts and the OVER.

An Early Look at the NFL Divisional Playoff Lines and Latest Super Bowl Odds

Suggs
Suggs
If Suggs has the same impact in New England that he had in Pittsburgh then another Ravens' win is possible.

Things are liable to change slightly as injury reports come out later this week, but right now I’m focusing on the lines for the Divisional Playoffs as they stand today. Below, you’ll find the latest Super Bowl odds as well.

Baltimore (+7) at New England – Tom Brady has lost just three times at home in the NFL Playoffs but two of those losses were to the Baltimore Ravens who come to town yet again. The Patriots are typically very good coming off of a well-deserved bye, but questions will certainly arise about whether they are all in sync with the time off.

The Ravens come to Gillette Stadium with nothing to hide. They know they have a pedestrian secondary and will rely heavily on the pass rush to slow down the Patriots. Offensively Joe Flacco will need to be his unflappable-self in order for the Ravens to win and advance. Ultimately however, the Patriots’ offensive line will do a better job than did Pittsburgh’s and Tom Brady will expose that secondary. I like the Pats to cover as of right now.

Newton
Cam Newton will need a Superman-type performance if his Panthers are to pull the upset in Seattle.

Carolina (+11) at Seattle – This is more than likely going to be the least interesting game of the weekend yet somehow it has garnered the Saturday night primetime spot. That probably isn’t fair because if the Carolina defense can limit the Seahawks’ offense then there’s a chance this could be a close game.

My gut tells me otherwise though. Cam Newton is less than 100% and running back Jonathan Stewart can only do so much. I have to believe the Seahawks will be primed for this game as a return to the playoffs has been their top goal since day one. Right now, I like Seattle to cover.

Dallas (+6) at Green Bay – If the forecast holds, it’s going to be extremely chilly in Green Bay and that will favor the hometown Packers unless the Cowboys resist the temptation to throw it too much and stick the ground game. DeMarco Murray can in fact lead the Cowboys to victory if that offensive line gets rolling.

The Packers will hope that Aaron Rodgers’ bad calf has had enough time to heal. Either way, I expect them to stay as balanced as they can be behind Eddie Lacy. of all the games this weekend I think turnovers will dictate more about the outcome than the others.

I like Dallas getting the points but Green Bay wins a tight one.

Indianapolis (+7) at Denver – Don’t be a bit surprised if the Colts come into Denver and pull off the upset. Yes the running game is pathetic and the defense is susceptible to getting beat either on the ground or through the air but if any game has the feel of an upset it’s this one. The Broncos have relied heavily on C.J Anderson in the second half of the season and I’m guessing the Colts will look to take him away first.

That will more than likely give us a passing duel between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. While I believe Luck will turn the ball over once or twice, I’m also not convinced that Manning isn’t 100% especially with regards to his arm strength. If you’re looking for a game to go with the underdog then I love the Colts in this one.

Latest Super Bowl Odds

Seattle 2/1

New England 10/3

Green Bay 11/2

Denver 6/1

Dallas 7/1

Indianapolis 16/1

Baltimore 18/1

Carolina 28/1

Final Two Games of Wild-Card Weekend on Tap

Dalton
Dalton
All eyes will be on Andy Dalton today as he looks for his first playoff win.

The opening games of the National Football League’s Wild-Card Weekend left us wanting more as both games were lacking in my opinion of big plays and “down-to-the-wire” drama. The Carolina Panthers held the Arizona Cardinals to less than 100 yards of total offense in their win in the NFC while the Baltimore Ravens went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Steelers.

The Panthers will find out their destination today while the Ravens will head to New England where they’ve had some good playoff success. On to my thoughts for today’s action.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis (O/U 49) – Last time the Bengals came to Indianapolis they left without even scoring a single point. I have to believe they will have watched that tape a great deal this week to see where things went wrong. I definitely think you’ll see heavy doses of Jeremy Hill in order to set up play-action.

The Colts have leaked serious oil heading into the postseason and they have to hope they can find their groove. The rushing attack for Indy has been a struggle all season but they’ll need to find some semblance of it in order for Andrew Luck to have time to throw.

Let’s face it; all eyes will be on Andy Dalton who is 0-3 in the playoffs. He hasn’t played well in any of the three previous postseason games. The good news? He plays much better during day games than he does night games.

Key Injuries: CIN WR A.J. Green OUT/Concussion, TE Jermaine Gresham QUEST/Knee… IND G Hugh Thornton OUT/Shoulder

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of the Bengals’ last eight games… Indianapolis is 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread when on the road in Indy.

The Pick: I like the Colts to cover and the OVER.

Stafford
Matthew Stafford has to shake off an average regular season and play well today in Big D.

Detroit (+7.5) at Dallas (O/U 48) – The Lions received some good news when Ndamukong Suh’s suspension was overturned earlier this week which means he will play against the Cowboys. I believe his presence will have serious impact on the game but only if his team’s offense can find some success and that hasn’t been easy in recent weeks.

The Cowboys will do nothing special. They will run the ball with DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo will look for Dez Bryant in the passing game. If the Dallas defense plays well, this game could get ugly early. The only way it doesn’t is if the Lions’ top-ranked rushing defense can force Romo to be the only source of offense.

Matthew Stafford needs a signature win and his play this season doesn’t make me think this is the week but the talent is there. He must avoid the bone-headed plays that seem to haunt him. If he can, a close game may be in store today.

Key Injuries: DET G Larry Warford OUT/Knee, DT Nick Fairley DOUBT/Knee…DAL T Doug Free DOUBT/Knee, G Zack Martin PROB/Ankle

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in 14 of Detroit’s last 19 games… Dallas is 2-4 against the spread in their last six games at home… The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Lions’ last nine games on the road.

The Pick: Take Dallas to cover and I like the OVER.

Predictions for All Four Games of Wild-Card Weekend

Newton
Newton
Cam Newton has played well since returning from his car accident several weeks ago.

Arizona (+6) a Carolina (O/U 38) – The Arizona Cardinals are limping into the NFL Playoffs as they have seen their defense struggle and their offense sputter behind Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at QB. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals should be taken lightly because they still have the ability to shut you down defensively.

In Carolina, the Panthers may have finished under .500 but they are feeling great about themselves and rightfully so. The running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart and the defense gotten significantly more stingy in recent weeks.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Arizona’s last seven games… Carolina is 7-3 straight up in their last ten games against Arizona… The Panthers are 2-4 against the spread in their last six game against the Cardinals.

The Pick: Arizona will force Cam Newton to beat them with his arm, but I think his legs will be more important. Take the Cards with the points and the UNDER.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell has not practiced yet this week. On Sunday night, he hyper-extended his knee and at this point, I don’t think we’ll see him play. Despite signing Ben Tate this week, I think the Steelers will use Josh Harris who has been on the practice squad most of the year.

The Ravens will need Joe Flacco to find his groove after looking pretty average if not bad in recent weeks. The defense is not what it used to be but if it doesn’t have to deal with Bell, they may find themselves just having to defend the pass.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in four of Baltimore’s last five games… The total has gone OVER in 11 of Pittsburgh’s last 16 games at home against the Ravens… Baltimore is 1-3-1 against the spread in their last five games in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I like Pittsburgh with a late score to cover and I like the OVER.

Sunday’s Games

Luck
Andrew Luck could use a little help from his running game against the Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis (O/U 49) – Last time the Bengals came to Indianapolis they left without even scoring a single point. I have to believe they will have watched that tape a great deal this week to see where things went wrong. I definitely think you’ll see heavy doses of Jeremy Hill in order to set up play-action.

The Colts have leaked serious oil heading into the postseason and they have to hope they can find their groove. The rushing attack for Indy has been a struggle all season but they’ll need to find some semblance of it in order for Andrew Luck to have time to throw.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of the Bengals’ last eight games… Indianapolis is 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread when on the road in Indy.

The Pick: I like the Colts to cover and the OVER.

Detroit (+7.5) at Dallas (O/U 48) – The Lions received some good news when Ndamukong Suh’s suspension was overturned earlier this week which means he will play against the Cowboys. I believe his presence will have serious impact on the game but only if his team’s offense can find some success and that hasn’t been easy in recent weeks.

The Cowboys will do nothing special. They will run the ball with DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo will look for Dez Bryant in the passing game. If the Dallas defense plays well, this game could get ugly early.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in 14 of Detroit’s last 19 games… Dallas is 2-4 against the spread in their last six games at home… The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Lions’ last nine games on the road.

The Pick: Take Dallas to cover and I like the OVER.

Playoffs are Set; Questions are Many in the National Football League

Jets
Jets
Jets' Owner Woody Johnson (center) has parted ways with his General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan.

The National Football League is now into its’ second season and there is no shortage of great story-lines so let’s get to it.

Ryan/Idzik Out

Earlier this morning the inevitable came down from New York Jets’ Owner Woody Johnson. Both General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan have been fired and now the Jets will have to bring in a whole new regime there.

Whoever comes in will have a quality front-seven to work with but a whole bunch of questions on offense especially on offense. I have to believe you’ll see the Jets look for an offensive-minded guy but there’s no guarantee especially when you’re talking about the Jets.

AFC Playoff Breakdown

The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are your top seeds and have next week off. The Pats will play the lowest remaining seed from Wild-Card Weekend while the Broncos will host the higher one.

Bell
The Steelers' playoff success will hinge on the health of Le'Veon Bell.

Rematches are the name of the game on Saturday and Sunday in the AFC. In primetime, the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host Baltimore. This will be the rubber match as the teams split earlier this season with both winning at home. The Steelers are currently listed as 3.5 point favorites.

The Sunday afternoon game features a rematch from earlier this season as the Indianapolis Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals. In week seven, the Bengals traveled to Indy and were crushed 27-0 in a game where their offense mustered just eight first downs.

The Colts are struggling though as the playoffs arrive. The running game is nearly non-existent and they have banged up receivers. For the Bengals, it always comes back to Andy Dalton who will make his fourth start in the playoffs and is still looking for his first win. The Colts have opened as six-point favorites.

NFC Playoff Breakdown

The defending champion Seahawks are your top seed in the NFC while the Green Bay Packers are the two-seed.

The first NFC game on Wild-Card Weekend will be Arizona traveling to Carolina. The Panthers blew out the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South yesterday and despite having a losing record, Carolina will not be an easy out. The defense is playing better and the running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart.

Obviously the issue for Arizona is the QB position. Drew Stanton is expected back from his sprained knee but will he be able to generate enough offense? This was the same place Arizona started their Super Bowl run in 2009. The Cards are a 4.5 point underdog.

The final game of the opening weekend features the Detroit Lions playing at the Dallas Cowboys. An interesting point here is that the Cowboys were unbeaten on the road this season. That means they went 4-4 at home in ATT Stadium.

The Lions come in with a struggling offense and a defense that is licking its’ wounds after Aaron Rodgers beat them on basically one leg. If Matthew Stafford can’t get himself right then this will be yet another one and done for the Lions in the postseason. Detroit is opening as a seven-point underdog.

What to Expect in the Playoffs

I don’t believe Seattle and New England are 100% infallible but they are clearly the favorites. Going in to either team’s stadium will not be easy but neither team was unbeaten at home.

If you’re looking for teams to cause trouble then go with the Panthers in the NFC and the Steelers in the AFC. The only issue with Pittsburgh is Le’Veon Bell who hyper-extended his knee and is uncertain for Saturday.

I think this is a season where chalk holds. Dallas at Seattle in the NFC title game and Denver and New England in the AFC Championship.

My Top Picks for the NFL This Sunday

Brees
Brees
Drew Brees and the Saints are on the road in Atlanta in the NFL's opening weekend.

Finally. The opening weekend of the NFL is here and here are the games I like Sunday.

New Orleans (-3.5) at Atlanta (O/U 51.5) –  Word has it in Atlanta that this game is considered one of the biggest in a long time in town. The reason? Coming off of last year’s horrible season, the Falcons believe this is a big time measuring stick for them. The Saints are favored to win the NFC South and come in with both a high-powered offense and an aggressive defense.

Atlanta has receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White back in the best shape they’ve been in recently but is there a replacement for Tony Gonzalez? I like the confidence shown by Mike Smith’s team but I think the Saints come in and cover. I also like the over in this one as well.

Roethlisberger
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has lost just one time in his career to the Browns.

Cleveland (+7) at Pittsburgh (O/U 41.5) – Brian Hoyer may be the starter in Cleveland but I have a strong feeling we’ll see Johnny Manziel at some point on the field in Pittsburgh. It might only be in a package or two but I still think he makes an appearance. The reason is simple; the Steelers have a lot of new faces on defense and if Manziel can come in and confuse them with bootlegs and play-action then Browns’ coach Mike Pettine will take it.

The bad news for Cleveland is that Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger is 17-1 all-time against the Browns and he’s 9-0 at home in Heinz Field. Pittsburgh will be without receiver Lance Moore which means I think they rely on the running game more often. I like the Browns getting the points but I like the Steelers to win a close game. Take the under as well.

Cincinnati (+1) at Baltimore (O/U 43) – Andy Dalton enters the season opener with an 0-3 record in Baltimore which explains his Bengals being one-point underdogs. Both teams are featuring new offensive coordinators. Hue Jackson is in Cincinnati and Gary Kubiak is in Baltimore. Kubiak will look to re-establish the running game for the Ravens while the Jackson will plan to make Dalton a more efficient passer.

The Ravens are still re-tooling their defense while Cincinnati as a few new faces as well including rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard. I expect an extremely close game but I like the Ravens and I like the over.

Carolina (+3) at Tampa Bay (O/U 38) – This has been the most interesting line of the week as the Panthers have gone from a three-point favorite to a three-point dog and it’s all because of Cam Newton. The Panthers’ QB didn’t practice all week but did run with the first team on Friday. I really like the Bucs this year a team to watch because of their big receivers and new coach Lovie Smith.

A lot of people think the Panthers are prime for a setback this year and I happen to be one of them. They are thin at receiver and the defense has lost some pieces from last year’s team. I like the Bucs to cover and I like the under.

Indianapolis (+8) at Denver (O/U 55.5) – This one almost seems too easy despite the suspension of Wes Welker. The Broncos have had several long months to stew over their horrible performance in the Super Bowl and now they get Peyton Manning’s former team at home in primetime. In last season’s opening game, Manning threw for a record seven touchdowns.

While both teams have made some upgrades defensively I think the Broncos are primed for a big performance in their home and season opener. I like the Broncos to cover and I like the over as well.

 

Patriots 2-9 Against the Number in Last 11 Postseason Games

In what should be an exciting, high scoring and entertaining AFC divisional playoff game, the Indianapolis Colts visit the New England Patriots on Saturday night January 11, at 8:15 pm. ET.

The Colts are 12-5 SU and 11-6 ATS and look to post a second straight upset in the postseason over the 12-4 SU and 8-8 ATS New England Patriots.

That Indianapolis made it this far is an accomplishment in itself. They trailed Kansas City 38-10 during the third quarter last week. However, they accumulated 372 yards plus 35 points over the final 24-plus minutes to shock the Chiefs 45-44.

New England has far more experience in the postseason than Indy. The Patriots have been to the “elite eight” 10 times in Coach Bill Belichick’s 14 seasons and are vying for their eight AFC conference title.

New England has won two straight divisional playoff games. In 2011, they covered as a favorite of 14 points by defeating Denver 45-10 and last season rolled over Houston 28-13 while laying 8 points.

The big difference this season is the injuries, murder charges and free agency as the Patriots receiver corps has been decimated. Rob Gronkowski has been felled by yet another injury, Aaron Hernandez sits in a jail awaiting his murder trial and Wes Welker now catches passes from Peyton Manning in Denver.

Nevertheless, the Patriots this season at home have been unbeatable at 8-0 SU and are 6-2 ATS. However, against the other seven teams in the postseason field, the Pats are just 2-2 SU and ATS. The two victories were three point wins over both New Orleans and Denver at home.

Beware, New England is a horrible, bankrupt-making 2-9 ATS over its past 11 postseason games.

Both teams create puzzling questions for public bettors such as will the Colts keep the game close enough to cover the number or will the Patriots have enough in their tank to cover such a big number?

Currently the line has New England favored by a TD and extra point, with the point total at a low 52.5 considering the offensive numbers both teams can put on the board.

Bovada opened their line at -9 for New England, but that was quickly bet down on their site and others like betonline and sportsbook.com to -7.5 and has come down on other sites such as topbet to just -7.

The weather could play a slight role in the game, as it should be in the 50s, but there is a high probability of rain. Check on weather sites for updates and on your favorite wagering site prior to kickoff.

New England is just 2-9 ATS over its past 11 postseason games, but they are 5-1 SU over their past 6 games overall this season. I like the Patriots less the 7 points and with that, I will take the OVER as well in what should be an entertaining, high scoring game with New England scoring late on defense to cover the seven.