Last week’s perfect start will be a tough act to follow. I find the divisional round to be typically the toughest to bet on. You are always faced with the same questions: Are the home teams well rested or rusty? Are the road teams’ tired or carrying momentum? It’s difficult to know until the games get going, but one thing is for sure, we’re in for a great weekend of football.
Playoff Record: 4-0 (ATS 4-0)
1. Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos (-9.5)
Last week Ray Lewis played his final game in Baltimore. It was great that he was able to end by winning a playoff game and finishing with one last Ray dance on the final knee was a great idea the Raven’s coaching staff and a fitting way for him to go out. This week I expect will be Ray’s last game ever.
The Broncos have been unbeatable since the end of October. The offense is humming along under Manning and the defense is one of the top units in the league. I think it’s safe to say that if you had your choice, you’d take the Denver offense over Baltimore’s. I have a lot of respect for players on the Ravens defense, but I think Denver boasts the superior unit right now. With advantages on both offense and defense, plus home field advantage and a week of rest, I can’t see the Ravens escaping Denver with a win.
Spread: Broncos (-9.5)
2. Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)
The Seahawks are the 2nd hottest team in the NFL, behind the Broncos. If you’re leaning towards the Seahawks your reasoning probably includes the fact that the last time the Falcons were the #1 seed in the NFC, they got blown out at home by the Packers. Somehow this has led everyone to call Atlanta choke artists. I guess what people seem to forget is that the Packers blew pretty much everyone out that year on the way to a Super Bowl win. The Falcons didn’t play very well, but losing to the eventual Super Bowl champs isn’t necessarily ‘choking’.
I see the Seahawks running the ball effectively and making plays in the passing game to the tune of 20-25 points. The story will be how the Seahawks defense does against Matt Ryan and his aerial attack. Sherman and Browner are big, physical corners who have been very effective in press-man coverage. Julio Jones and Roddy White present a different task altogether. Not only are the as big, if not bigger, but they are faster. The Seahawks pass rush will need to get to Ryan to give their secondary a chance. This game could come down to Tony Gonzalez. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor is a big body who matches up well physically against Gonzalez. I think the 1st ballot Hall of Famer has a big day in his last playoff run and the Falcons host the NFC Championship game.
Straight Up: Falcons
Spread: Falcons (-2.5)
3. Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (-9.5)
If this game is anything like the last time these two played, it’s going to be ugly. Tom Brady said recently that he doesn’t expect it to be the same as before, and I agree with him. Regardless of how poorly the Texans finished the season, they put it all behind them and got back on the right side of the momentum train last week with a win over Cincinnati.
The Pats are going to score points, that’s clear. JJ Watt and the rest of the Texans defense will have to force a few punts and a turnover or two if they want to have any chance at winning. This game comes down to how well the Texans offense plays and more specifically their running game.
If the Texans can run the ball effectively and control the clock, they will reduce the time Brady has the ball in his hands. New England has been running the fast break offense all season which is designed to take advantage of a tired defense. If the Texans offense stays on the field, their defense will have time to rest.
The Texans will put up a better fight, but New England moves on.
Straight Up: Patriots
Spread: Texans (+9.5)
4. Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (-3)
The irony is that despite Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Willis, Randy Moss and other flash names playing in this game, it will depend on the likes of unsung defensive linemen Justin Smith who will play but is coming off an undisclosed elbow injury. Smith is a force on the defensive line and if he is near 100%, the Packers are in trouble. 49ers pass rush specialist Aldon Smith has failed to record a sack when Justin is not in the lineup. Justin’s power not only wears down the offensive linemen, but his presence creates one-on-one matchups for Aldon. The Packers offensive line is missing starters and could be described as mediocre at best. If that unit can give Rodgers time, the Packers will advance. If not, Rodgers will be forced to get rid of the ball quickly on underneath routes, which is a recipe for disaster with Willis and Navarro Bowman roaming the middle.
Facing Joe Webb last week was a blessing for the Packers defense as they face a quarterback with similar mobility this week. Kaepernick is a much better passer than Webb though and he has better receivers to throw to. I could see this game going a number of different ways, but my gut tells me that the pass rush will get to Rodgers and the crowd at Candlestick Park will make it difficult for him to adjust plays at the line of scrimmage. I think whoever wins this one, advances to the Super Bowl.
Straight Up: 49ers
Spread: 49ers (-3)