McCarthy, Packers Have Only Themselves to Blame

McCarthy
McCarthy
Conservative doesn't even begin to describe McCarthy's play-calling yesterday.

I really don’t like the word “choke” as a rule but sometimes it just fits. Maybe it doesn’t apply to the Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers and maybe it does but what I know for sure is that they had no business losing the NFC Championship Game yesterday.

Hats off to Seattle. They stayed positive and persisted and took advantage of the opportunities provided them by the Packers and they are headed back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. But let’s be honest here shall we? The Green Bay Packers did all of the things that teams do to lose leads rather than preserve them and that’s why the state of Wisconsin wakes up in a haze today.

Twice in the first half the Packers had to settle for field goals. One of those field goals was shorter than an extra point. When you’re playing on the road against the defending champs, you go for it but Mike McCarthy saw it differently. If I know anything about football, it’s that when you settle for field goals you are ultimately settling for trouble.

At the beginning of the second half, the Packers shut the Seahawks down on their opening drive and then proceeded to run in it into the ground and punt it. When you have the defending champions on the ropes in their own building you go for the throat and the Packers didn’t.

Then, with about four minutes left and the Seahawks poised to use their timeouts, Green Bay again elected the conservative route. Run for a loss on first down – timeout. Run for a loss on second down – timeout. Run for little gain – timeout. Seattle’s defense had done their job. Less than thirty seconds had come off the clock and now the Seahawks were getting the ball back.

Lynch
Lynch just kept pounding and pounding and along with some luck, it paid off.

When you have the defending champions, or any team for that matter, on the verge of being beaten, you go for the throat. I know, if McCarthy elects to throw the ball and it’s incomplete then I’d be screaming as to why he didn’t try to kill time right? Wrong! You don’t win by trying not to lose and that’s what Green Bay did yesterday.

When you combine the field goals and conservative play-calling you get a loss that will take some time to get over in Green Bay. Dom Capers’ defensive gameplan was more than enough to have earned a victory but even that started to break down as Marshawn Lynch got cranked up in the second half. In all reality though, Capers’ defense forced four interceptions and still lost and that shouldn’t have happened.

In the bitter end, Mike McCarthy has only himself to blame and yes, I realize he didn’t make or not make the plays on the field. There is however a problem that McCarthy failed to solve and that would be discipline. Last week he had an offensive lineman pick up a crucial personal foul that took the team out of a sure chance for a touchdown.

Yesterday, immediately after a turnover that would have given the  Packers the ball inside the Seattle ten yard line, a defensive lineman was flagged for taunting. Again, a field goal and not a touchdown. The biggest breakdown in discipline though came on the on-sides kick.

Green Bay tight end Brandon Bostick admitted after the game that his job was not to go after the potential on-sides but rather, his job was to block the first wave of Seahawks. He failed to do his job and when the kick came to him, he went for the ball instead of doing his job and the rest is history.

Ultimately, players have to execute but Mike McCarthy didn’t do his team any favors.

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.

Betting Line NFC Championship Green Bay vs. Seattle

The NFC Championship Game kicks off Sunday in the Pacific Northwest between the visiting Green Bay Packers and the host Seattle Seahawks.

With a win, Seattle will return to the Super Bowl for the second straight season. Last year the Seahawks defeated Denver in the Super Bowl to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The Packers have not been to the Super Bowl since 2010.

The line currently has Seattle favored by 7.5 points with the point total sitting at 47.

The line has bounced back and forth between -7 and -7.5 in favor of Seattle. The total has gone from an opening of 46.5 to its current 47.

Seattle 13-4 SU and 11-6 ATS has a winning streak of 7 games both straight up and against the spread. Seattle defeated Green Bay in Week 1 of the season 36-16.

Overall Seattle is 25-2 SU and 20-7 ATS since 2012 at CenturyLink Field.

Green Bay 13-4 SU and 9-7-1 ATS is adjusting to playing with its superstar, Aaron Rodgers, injured. Rodgers the star quarterback for the Packers has an injured calf muscle. However, he engineered Green Bay’s comeback win over Dallas last weekend by tossing for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns.

However, having success against the Dallas defense is not the same as facing Seattle’s stingy defense.

Since 2012, Seattle is 14-3 SU and 9-7 ATS when a favorite at home by 7 or more points.

The UNDER cashed out 5 times in the past 7 games for Seattle.

Green Bay is 4-4 SU while 3-5 ATS this season on the road.

The key to this game will be if Rodgers can be effective passing the ball with his limited mobility against such a high caliber defense for Seattle.

The Green Bay defense must also come up big. During the loss in Week 1, Green Bay gave up 4 touchdowns on defense to Seattle.

Russell Wilson is playing strong at quarterback for Seattle. During the Seahawks seven-game streak, Wilson is throwing for 246 yards and running for 42 yards per game.

With the exception of Rodgers, Green Bay is healthy. Seattle has had injuries all season, but for the large part, their core players currently are healthy.

The weather forecast calls for rain and temperature in the 50s.

The 7.5 points seem too high for this game. The dog looks like it has good value.

I like Green Bay and the points, with the total cashing on the UNDER.

NFL “Final Four” Betting Lines and Trends

The NFL Conference Championships kick off on Sunday January 18. When the NFL reaches its own “final four,” it has an aura of magic surrounding it.

The NFL version is sure to have surprises when the Green Bay Packers visit the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts visit the New England Patriots.

Of the four head coaches, three have coached teams during a Championship Game – Mike McCarthy for the Packers, Pete Carroll for the Seahawks and Bill Belichick for the Patriots.

McCarthy and Carroll won their only conference title games with straight up and against the spread victories.

Belichick has a record of 5-3 straight up and 3-5 against the spread in his 8 previous conference championships, including 5 consecutive ATS losses in his past five. He is 0-5 ATS as well in conference title games after his team has scored 24 or more points the previous weekend in the divisional round.

Despite up-tempo, no huddle passing attacks increasing in popularity today in the NFL, any head coach will be the first to say that running the ball is key to success in this league, especially during the postseason.

It is no coincidence that since the 21-17 win by the New York Giants over New England in Super Bowl XLVI, 22 of the past 28 straight up winners in the playoffs rushed for 100 yards or more in their win.

In fact, the teams that have outrushed their opponents in conference title games are 22-12 SU as well as 22-11-1 ATS.

The six teams managing to rush for over 165 yards won as well as covered each of the six games.

While each of the four teams in this week’s title games average over 100 yards rushing per game for the season, just Seattle allows fewer than 100 yards rushing defensively.

Green Bay allows the most yards defensively on the ground at 121 per game.

Conference championship teams that are coming off a win on the road, this season that is Indianapolis, that was preceded with a win at home, are 8-4 straight up and 10-2 against the spread since 1998. Those figures included a record of 6-0 ATS as a dog of 4 points or more.

Ten of the past 15 championship games with a point total at 46 or higher, have cashed to the OVER.

New England is a perfect 10-0 SU over its past 10 games against opponents from the AFC South.

Seattle has a record of 5-0 SU as well as ATS in its past 5 games at home against

Andrew Luck the quarterback for the Colts is 5-1 straight up and ATS in games the Colts are underdogs in his career against opponents with a better than .750 winning percentage.

Opening Point Spreads in AFC and NFC Title Games are Similar

Both conference championships in the NFL feature point spreads of about a touchdown. The New England Patriots on Sunday night opened as a favorite by between 7 and 7.5 points over the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title next Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks opened at -7 for their NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers next Sunday.

The opening line in the AFC title game on Bovada and topbet was similar at Patriots -7, minutes after the Colts have upset Denver.

The point total for the Colts vs. Patriots title game opened at 54 on both betonline and sportsbook.com.

On the different money lines, New England is the favorite at -300 and the Colts are the underdog at +250.

On Saturday, the Patriots struggled in their 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Pats did not cash as the favorite by 7 points.
New England is now 3-11 against the number in its past 14 postseason games.

While New England has been asked to cover yet another large number in a huge game, the task is against an Indianapolis team they defeated last November by a score of 42-20 as a road dog of 3 points.

The move in the line from the Patriots +3 away from home to -7 playing at home represents a large adjustment since the Week 11 head-to-head game.

The two teams met as well last year during the playoffs with an identical point spread. New England easily defeated the Colts in that game 43-22.

Thus far, in his career Andrew Luck has lost each of his three head-to-head games against Tom Brady and New England. Each of the three has been a blowout. In his rookie season, Luck lost to New England by the score of 59-24.

While Seattle opened at -7 over the Packers the line was quickly bet up on Sunday night to -7.5.

The point total was posted at 46.5 and has been seen at 47 as well.

The money line has Seattle favored at -280 with Green Bay available at +240.

Seattle covered its 13-point spread in their 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. It was the seventh consecutive win as well as cover for Seattle.

Green Bay did not cover as the favorite by 5.5 points in its 26-21 win over Dallas.

Green Bay is also 0-3 SU and ATS as a road dog this past season.
One of the three losses came in Week 1 at Seattle 36-16. In that game, Seattle was only a favorite by 4.5 points and the point total was at 47.

As the weekend approaches, the lines will move, with the majority of the betting not until Friday and the weekend prior to kickoff.

Taking My Shot at Props for Today’s Games

Harbaugh
Harbaugh
You can be sure Jim Harbaugh is not discussing his pants with Colin Kaepernick.

I’ve spent all week breaking down the AFC and NFC Championship Games and I’m ready to just have a little fun instead of grinding away at over/unders and spreads and who is on what streak and who isn’t. Therefore, I’m just going to throw out everything possible that comes to mind in terms of some prop bets you might want wager on. Don’t laugh; some of these will be off the wall.

AFC Championship

Most Passing Yards – I like Peyton Manning because the Pats will force him to throw more than is probably expected.

Most Rushing Yards – Most will go with LaGarrette Blount here based on last week but I’m going to go Stevan Ridley. He will benefit from all the attention paid to Blount.

Most Receiving Yards – I think Manning will spread the wealth among his many targets and with that thought I like Julian Edelman who will thrive underneath the backers of Denver.

Most Field Goals – This is probably a prop a kicker doesn’t want to win because that means his team is settling for field goals rather than touchdowns. I like Stephen Gostkowski here and I hope that isn’t bad news for him.

Game Props

Most Personal Fouls – Very few people can frustrate a defense the way Tom Brady can. That thought in mind, take the Broncos with the most personal fouls.

Most Challenges – Patriots because Bill Belichick is the smartest man alive.

Manning
I expect that Manning will stop using 'Omaha' and will switch to 'Papa John's.'

First Team to Score – Denver. Manning and Company will come out of the gates quickly.

First Player With a Personal Foul – Jaime Collins

Most Penalties – Aggression wins, take the Patriots.

Coin Toss Winner – Denver because the coin thinks Peyton Manning has funny commercials.

First Player to Score – Stevan Ridley

Over/Under on Phil Simms Expressing His Undying Love for Tom Brady – 12, get it?

Over/Under on Number of Times Peyton Manning Yells ‘Omaha’ – Zero. Here’s hoping he comes up with something else like ‘Papa Johns.’

NFC Championship Game

Most Passing Yards – Go with Colin Kaepernick because he has more weapons at receiver and tight end and I believe throwing will win this game.

Most Rushing Yards – I really want to go with a quarterback here but I’m going to go with Marshawn Lynch. I think his ability to break tackles will be the key.

Most Receiving Yards – I have to go with the guy that San Francisco got for a meager 6th-round pick and that’s Anquan Boldin. This is exactly the reason the 49ers wanted him.

Most Field Goals – In a game that is expected to be a low scoring slugfest, field goals will be important. I like the home-team kicker in this one and that means Steven Hauschka.

Game Props

Most Personal Fouls – In a game where trash-talking and late hits will be coming from all angles I think the Seahawks will take the cake here.

Most Challenges – This is too easy. The whiny Jim Harbaugh is likely to take this prop.

First Team to Score – San Francisco. Because they need to get the crowd out of the game immediately.

First Player with a Personal Foul – Richard Sherman or Aldon Smith. Take your pick.

Most Penalties – Seattle. Although San Francisco could push this because of false starts due to crowd noise.

Coin Toss Winner – Seattle because the crowd noise will force the coin to go their way.

First Player to Score – Steven Hauschka

Over/Under on Amount of Times Jim Harbaugh’s Pants are discussed – 9 because that’s allegedly how much spends on them.

Over/Under ob Number of References to the ’12th Man’ – 12 is way too low so let’s double that to 24.

 

Picks for the AFC and NFC Championship Games

Belichick
Belichick
Bill Belichick is still pursuing that elusive fourth Super Bowl title.

This is the weekend that I really believe fans of all four teams despise the most. They might not realize it now but they will. This weekend is unique because fans in Denver, New England and San Francisco have been here many, many times while fans in Seattle have not.

Getting here is a great accomplishment, but losing on the cusp of going to the Super Bowl really is the worst feeling a fan can have in my opinion. It’s even worse than losing the Super Bowl because at least you can say you’re team got there. Speaking of, let’s who I have getting there….

New England at Denver (-4) – After opening at -6.5, the line has gradually come down this week. A lot of bettors have been on the New England bandwagon and with good reason. Tom Brady and Bill Belches have had a great deal of success against Peyton Manning and now they have a running game that could keep Manning on the sidelines.

Whether you’re a fan or not, the one thing you have to admire about the Patriots is how they can morph into something different on a game-by-game or even season-by-season basis. Last week against Indianapolis they scored over 40 points yet Tom Brady didn’t have a single touchdown pass as the running game overwhelmed the Colts.

Brady and Company will be enticed to go back to throwing the ball a bit with Denver cornerback Chris Harris out for the season now with an ACL injury but it will be hard not to stick with what got them here which is pounding the football. The New England offensive line has been outstanding in the running game and if they have any weakness it comes in pass protection which leads me to believe they will be run-first on Sunday.

The Denver gameplan is simple. Use the weapons you have in Eric Decker, the Thomas’s and Wes Welker and force New England’s hand in terms of who it is they want to take away. Don’t discount the running game with Knowshon Moreno though either. Defensively, the Broncos must stop the run first and actually force Tom Brady to beat them with his arm.

I told you earlier this week that the over/under of 56.5 will go the way of the over and I’m sticking to that. Good weather is expected and I see lots of scoring. The Pats 4-4 record on the road this season worries me a bit and they are 4-11 against the spread in their last 15 games in Denver. The Broncos were 7-1 at home but they are just 1-6 ATS in their last seven games against the Pats.

As much as I’d like to take Denver I just can’t go against Brady and Belichick here. Take the Pats getting the 4.5.

Carroll
Carroll has built a monster in Seattle but can they get past San Francisco in the NFC Title game?

San Francisco (+3) at Seattle – This game started at the same line you see here and I don’t see it changing. This will be an absolute war and I think calling it a ‘war of attrition’ is not wrong. Whoever comes out on top will need the extra week to recover in time for the Super Bowl.

The Niners enter as the hottest team in the league when you really think about it but the specter of what has happened to them in their last two visits to Seattle looms large. San Francisco was outscored 71-16 in their last two trips to the Pacific Northwest. Jim Harbaugh and his Wal-Mart pants will no doubt use this as motivation in an effort to strike early and get the crowd quieted down.

Both teams will push their running games on each other and each will find little success. That means the quarterbacks will have to win the game with their arms and legs. I look for more rushing yards from Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson on scrambles out of the pocket than I do on designed runs. Both men will also be forced to make plays down the field with the passing game and the opportunities must be taken when given the chance.

The over/under 39.5 is very tempting in terms of the over but I’m not biting. I see a 20-17 type game here which fits the under and that’s where I’m going. The 49ers are 0-5 against the spread in their last five trips to Seattle while the Seahawks are 4-1 straight up in their last five games against the Niners. The Seahawks have been a team destined to get to the Super Bowl all season but the recent struggles of Russell Wilson concern me.

I also think this the game Anquan Boldin was acquired for because no one catches the ball in tight coverage the way he does and the presence of Michael Crabtree can’t be overlooked either. Take the 49ers getting the three.

 

 

Trends to Consider if You’re Wagering the NFC Championship Game

Smith
Smith
Will Aldon Smith be a difference-maker in the NFC Title game?

On Tuesday, I ran through a series of trends and numbers that you’ll want to consider if you’re going to wager on the AFC Championship game between New England and Denver. Today I do the same for the NFC.

The Teams

The San Francisco 49ers are making their 15th appearance in the NFC Title game which is the current record. Overall, they are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the AFC. By contrast, the Seattle Seahawks are making just their second NFC Title game appearance.

To be fair, they did reach the AFC Title game when they were members of that conference but lost to Miami. The 49ers are an impressive 6-2 on the road in NFC Title games while the Seahawks are 1-0 at home. The Seahawks have also won six straight playoff games at home after starting 0-2.

This game features two of the top three scoring defenses in the NFL. This has occurred eight times previously with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick and Wilson
Will rushing yards or passing yards be the bigger difference between Kaepernick and Wilson on Sunday?

The Quarterbacks

Colin Kaepernick is 4-1 in the postseason with his only loss coming in Super Bowl XLVII. That record also includes a very good 3-0 record on the road. His completion percentage in those five playoff games is just 57.9% with his high being 76% in last year’s NFC Championship game win over Atlanta which was on the road. Keep in mind too that one third of Kaepernick’s career interceptions have come against Seattle.

Russell Wilson has more career starts but less playoff experience. His postseason record stands at 2-1 with a win at home and a win at Washington last year. His loss came against Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. Wilson’s postseason completion percentage is right at 60% with a high of 66.6% coming in the loss to the Falcons.

Kaepernick and Wilson had almost the exact same rushing yards total this season. Kaepernick rushed for 524 while Wilson was just 15 yards better at 539. The rushing similarities don’t stop there. Kaepernick carried the ball 92 times while Wilson had four more at 96. Kaepernick did have a four to one advantage in rushing touchdowns however.

The Over/Under

After opening at 40.5, the over/under for the NFC Title game has slipped to 39 points. Unlike the AFC Title game, points are liable to be at a premium on Sunday. The Seahawks have beaten San Francisco 29-3 and 41-13 in the teams’ last two meetings in Seattle. The first would have come under today’s O/U number while the game from last year in Seattle would have been over the O/U number.

Ironically, the 49ers have scored 23 points in both of their postseason wins while the Seahawks have scored 23 in their one playoff victory. Assuming both stay on that pace, the over/under would clearly be an ‘over’ selection.

In San Francisco’s case, the total has gone under in four of their last five meetings when playing Seattle. The total has also gone under in four of the Niners’ last six road games.

For Seattle, the total has gone under in four of their last five games at home and has gone the way of the under in all of the Seahawks’ last five games.

Because these two teams both allow less than 20 points per game I’m going to push for the under here.

The Coaches

Jim Harbaugh is in his third year with the 49ers and has a playoff record of 5-2 over that span. Pete Carroll has been in Seattle for four seasons and he has a playoff record of 4-4. Keep in mind he was 1-2 when he coached the New England Patriots in the 1990’s.

Harbaugh does have three road playoff victories in the last two seasons whereas Carroll is unbeaten at home in the playoffs.

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.