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.
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.
Wisconsin has long been known as “America’s Dairyland” and that of course means the cheese state possesses a large number of cows. The most important calf in all Wisconsin however has nothing to do with producing milk.
This calf is one of the two inhabiting the body of Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Last we saw the potential league MVP, he was leaving the field on a cart at home against Detroit. He eventually returned to lead the Packers to a division title while being stepped on by the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh.
That will have been two weeks ago this Sunday when Rodgers takes the field in the NFC Divisional Playoffs Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. As of this writing, Rodgers has yet to practice with the team and I don’t think that’s the end of the world but how good will his timing be with his receivers?
It was revealed on Thursday that Rodgers had a slight tear in his calf muscle and while it sounds alarming, anytime you have a muscle strain, essentially the muscle has tears so that wasn’t overwhelming news.
This leads me to two questions: First is how effective can Rodgers be if he is unable to use one of his finest assets which is to be mobile? He can certainly beat Dallas by standing in the pocket and throwing the ball but that isn’t what he or Coach Mike McCarthy wants to see.
The second question has to do with you. Right now this line has dipped to Dallas +6.5 in lieu of the Rodgers’ news. Previously, the line was at +7. If you intend to bet this game, how much faith can you put in Aaron Rodgers’ ability to stay on the field and be effective?
If he were 100% healthy heading into this game then I wouldn’t hesitate to go with Green Bay to cover but now things are in serious doubt. Perhaps this will send the money to the Dallas side and I expect it will. Remember this is a match-up of a team with an unbeaten road record against a team with an unbeaten home record.
What you have to decide is whether you think Rodgers can play the full game and at what level and do you have any confidence whatsoever in his back-up Matt Flynn?
I think the wild-card in all of this is Eddie Lacy. If the Packers can establish him as a viable running threat early on then that will take pressure off of Rodgers. I still like the Packers to cover in this one but I have a whole lot less confidence than I did a few days ago.
Did You See this?
Former Miami Dolphins’ running back/fullback Rob Konrad was a nice player during his six-year NFL career but he wasn’t anything spectacular. What he did earlier this week was worthy of a Hall of Fame vote in my opinion.
Konrad was fishing alone in his 36-foot boat when he fell into the Atlantic Ocean while trying to reel in a catch. With his boat on auto-pilot and going away from him, he was forced to swim roughly nine miles to shore. At one point, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter actually flew right over him.
He eventually reached a beach in West Palm and was being treated for hypothermia.
Both of Saturday’s National Football League Divisional Playoff games have stayed pretty stagnant in terms of their lines and I don’t think you’ll see too much in the way of changes. The only exception might be the night time tilt where the Carolina Panthers will be without a key defensive player.
Baltimore (+7) at New England (O/U 48) – 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.
Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of Baltimore’s last eight games on the road in New England… The Patriots are 16-1 straight up in their last 17 games at home… The Ravens are 3-4-1 against the spread in their last eight games on the road in New England… The Pats are 2-3-1 ATS in their last six home games against the Ravens.
The Pick: There is no reason this game shouldn’t be another close one. It’s just what these two teams have done in the playoffs and I don’t see this being any different. I like New England to cover but it’s going to be with a late score and take the OVER.
Carolina (+11) at Seattle (O/U 40) – 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.
As I mentioned in the opening, the Panthers will head to Seattle bigger underdogs then they had planned as stud defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is out with a broken foot. The Carolina defense was already facing an uphill challenge in stopping the running of Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson. Whether or not Lotulelei’s absence will force the line to move I can’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it bump another point.
Trends: The total has gone OVER in six of Carolina’s last seven road games… Seattle is 6-1 straight up in their last seven game at home… The Panthers are 2-4-1 straight up in their last seven games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in nine of the Seahawks’ last 13 games at home.
The Pick: While anything is possible the playoffs, I just don’t see the Panthers hanging around with the defending champs. Take Seattle to over and the UNDER.
The Divisional Round of the National Football League playoffs is often the best weekend of the playoffs in terms of great games and upsets and I think today will do nothing to deter that notion.
San Francisco (-3) at Carolina – In the divisional playoffs in the Super Bowl Era, when a visiting team is favored, they have lost four of five times. Possibly a negative omen for the 49ers? San Francisco will have much less to worry about in terms of weather as they did last week in defeating Green Bay on a field goal as time expired.
They will however, have to deal with a Panthers’ team that has had a week off and has the confidence of a 10-9 win at Candlestick Park several weeks ago. Carolina has had the Niners’ number recently winning the last four times the two have faced off. Despite having a rowdy crowd on hand today, the playoff experience rides with San Francisco.
I believe the Panthers will do a much better job containing Colin Kaepernick than the Packers did but does that mean more room for Frank Gore and for the passing game? Since Michael Crabtree returned, Kaepernick has been a significantly better passer and this will also make Anquan Boldin more of a target as well.
Cam Newton’s favorite target Steve Smith has been limited in practice all week so his status is uncertain. Tight end Greg Olsen is ready to go and will be a serious factor in the Panthers’ attack. DeAngelo Williams will be the first option but Newton will have to pass in order to keep seven and eight defenders out of the box.
The Niners are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games at Carolina while the Panthers are 6-0-1 ATS in their last seven home games. Things seem to point in favor of the Panthers but I’m taking the experience of San Francisco to cover.
San Diego (+9) at Denver – I honestly have a hard time believing this line considering the two games these teams already played this season. One was a seven-point Broncos’ win in San Diego and the other was a Chargers victory in Denver. Denver jumped out to a double-digit lead in their first meeting but this was also the game where the Chargers got after Peyton Manning and sent him off with a twisted ankle.
San Diego appears to be peaking at the right time offensively with a running game featuring Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Both have picked things up in recent weeks and Woodhead continues to be a huge factor out of the backfield. If Philip Rivers throws less than 20 times as he did last week in Cincinnati than that will mean another Bolts’ victory.
For Denver, this is the start of what the Broncos hope is a shot at redemption. Last year in this round they were stunned in overtime by the Baltimore Ravens who went on to the win the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning, for all of his regular season success, is just 9-11 in his playoff career. Among those numbers is a big number eight. That’s how many times he has been one and done in the playoffs.
I think the Broncos will rely more on the running game than some imagine in this game. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball will see more carries than usual in an attempt to keep pressure off of Manning and allow the play-action passing game to flourish.
San Diego is 8-17 straight up in their last 25 games on the road in Denver. The Broncos are 1-6-3 against the spread at home against San Diego and I think that’s a big factor considering the spread today. The Broncos will miss Von Miller and will struggle to keep Manning upright. I love the Chargers getting the nine.
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).
The NFL reaches the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday, with eight teams looking to advance to the conference championship round. Four of those teams will be in action Saturday.
With last week’s four wildcard fixtures all going with the bookies’ favorites, bettors will be looking for an underdog team to emerge from the pack this weekend. If an underdog is to run out winners, it’ll have to do so on the road as all four home sides are favored heading into play.
Casino Review takes a look at Saturday’s fixtures, starting with the No. 1 ranked team in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
4:30 PM ET
After a humiliating 34-17 defeat at home to the Broncos in Week 15, Baltimore (11-6, 4-4 road) will look to make a better showing of itself in this weekend’s divisional opener.
Denver (13-3, 7-1 home) meanwhile will look to extend an 11-game win streak – its’ longest since John Elway was slinging the ball on the way to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII – and move to within one game of this year’s Super Bowl. At 11/4 to lift the Lombardi trophy, odds makers certainly expect the Broncos to do just that.
The return of Ray Lewis last weekend certainly helped the Baltimore defense, which limited Indianapolis to just nine points. Whether that defense can handle Peyton Manning’s high-scoring offense remains to be seen.
At 30.1 points per game, Manning and the Broncos are second to New England in scoring this season. The Broncos are fourth in the league in total yards (397.9 YPG), something the Ravens can only dream of.
Baltimore has spluttered on offense this season, ranking mid table in most major offensive categories. A defense that has been littered with injuries has not been its usual savior either. Denver however has one of the very best defenses in the league, ranking in the league’s top four in opponents points, yards, passing yards, and rushing yards.
Baltimore faces added pressure from the location of this matchup. The Ravens, like so many other sides, have struggled in the Mile High City, recording a 1-3 record. It has been more than 11 years since the side won in Denver.
The Ravens will look to history for a booster though. As well as being 6-4 all-time against the Broncos, the Ravens won the only previous playoff meeting between these sides, a 21-3 win on Dec. 31, 2000. That season saw the Ravens win the Super Bowl.
The Ravens could get an assist from the weather also. With game time temperatures expected to be in the 20s, the Maryland side will hope that Manning continues his struggles in cold weather during the playoffs, where he is 0-3 in games with a -40 degree temperature. You can guarantee that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh has been quick to point out Peyton Manning’s 9-10 record in the postseason to his team.
Odds: Denver is an overwhelming favorite in this one. The spread opened at 9½ and has subsequently risen to 10. The total opened at 44½, but has bumped up a point to 45½.
Take: DENVER – Harbaugh can point out all of the deficiencies he likes but the simple truth is this is a Broncos side that doesn’t look like it can lose. With a 7-1 home record, the Broncos are winning games in the Mile High City by an average of 16 points. Manning looks rejuvenated and has a terrific supporting cast, whilst Baltimore barely looks to have it all together. That loss in December gives few people faith in the Ravens either. Denver (11-4-1 ATS) is the best team in the league at covering the spread, and even though 10 points is a sizeable amount, take the Broncos to cover. So far this postseason, the total has gone under in every game. This may be your best chance to take the over with the free-scoring Broncos.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
8:00 PM ET
Whilst much of the talk this week has focused on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning to Northern California and San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick making his first playoff start against the team he used to root for, something else has fallen by the wayside; this is the return of one of the best playoff rivalries in football.
The Packers and Niners met during four consecutive playoff runs between 1996 and 1999. Green Bay won the first three, including a 35-14 victory in 1997 on the way to winning Super Bowl XXXI. The two sides met again in 2002, with the Packers recording a fourth win in five meetings.
Now, the 2012 versions of these teams will look to put this rivalry back on the map.
Green Bay (12-5, 4-4 road) secured a relatively easy win over Minnesota last weekend, but there’ll be no such cakewalks this weekend. San Francisco (11-4-1, 6-1-1 home) has played tough all season, is well-rested, and comes into this game with bragging rights; the Niners defeated Green Bay 30-22 on opening day.
Much has changed for both sides since that late September meeting. Green Bay has found some stability, and has won 10 of its last 12. San Francisco is fielding a different quarterback, one that the Packers will not be able to get to as easy as Alex Smith.
The Packers – 34-27-1 all-time against the Niners – will be confident that San Francisco is there for the taking. The Niners struggled somewhat down the stretch, narrowly hanging onto the NFC West crown after outlasting a resurgent Seattle side. The Packers also have the motivation to make it to the NFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch against those very Seahawks. Retribution, and real refs, will be on the mind if that showdown takes place.
The Packers’ offense – which ranks fifth in the league in scoring – will square-off against a tough San Francisco defense, which gave up just 17.1 points per game this season. Only Seattle gave up fewer. The Niners also rank in the top four in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed.
Odds: San Francisco is a three-point favorite at home, a number that has remained constant since opening. The total stands at 45.
Take: GREEN BAY – Whilst many have had San Francisco earmarked as NFC champions for much of the season, Green Bay has the pedigree, not to mention experience, to win this won. The Packers had won 13 of their last 14 meetings with the Niners before this season’s loss, and that veteran defense will be only too happy to take its chances against an inexperienced Kaepernick. In addition to the upset win, take the total to go over. San Francisco has taken the total over 10 times this season, and Green Bay certainly has the firepower to add to those chances.