NFL Divisional Playoffs Round - Game 4

Houston Texans (13-4 SU, 10-6-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday January 13th, 2013. 4:30PM Eastern
Where: Gillette Stadium Foxboro, M.A.
TV: CBS

Point Spread: NE -9.5
Over/Under Total: 49.5

The road to Super Bowl makes a stop in Foxboro this Sunday when the New England Patriots host the Houston Texans inside Gillette Stadium. The visiting Texans took down the Bengals in a gritty 19-13 grudge match last week to advance to this week's AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Houston's defense flexed their muscles last week by holding Cincinnati to just 198 total yards in a dominating performance. This week J.J. Watt and the Houston defense will face a huge test against Tom Brady's quick striking Patriots offense when both teams collide for a chance to earn a ticket to the AFC Championship Game.

New England's entire team should be well rested following their bye last week which should give even bigger worry towards that Houston defense. The Patriots offense led the NFL this season by averaging 427 yards and 34.8 points per game. Perhaps more importantly QB Tom Brady blasted this same Texans' defense with 4 passing touchdowns inside Gillette Stadium back in week 14 in route to a 42-14 blowout. Beyond being arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL, Brady has had one of his best seasons on paper with 4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns, and just 8 picks.

WR Wes Welker leads the team with 118 catches for 1,354 yards and 6 touchdowns. However, Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski have both played large roles towards the offensive success with a combined 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clearly the Patriots have tons of weapons in the passing game and one of the greats behind center. So how can the Texans slow down this offense and avoid any week 14 repeat performances? For Houston's defense, everything starts up front along the defensive line led by J.J. Watt. Watt led the NFL with 20.5 sacks this season just two shy of Michael Strahans NFL record. It will be absolutely imperative that Watt, Antonio Smith, and the rest of the guys up front keep pressure on Brady in effort to keep the Patriots offense from posting another big number.

Currently the Patriots are listed as 9.5 point favorites over the Texans and that number could easily move to double digits by game time. Over 2/3s of the betting public are laying the points with the Patriots with that week 14 blowout fresh in everyone's memory.

Still, the Texans showed some signs of hope last week by the way they were able to run the football with Arian Foster against a tough Cincinnati defense. Foster carried the ball for a season high 32 carries resulting in 140 yards and a touchdown. Foster's consistency on the ground helped Houston gain twice as many first downs as Cincinnati (24-12) and dominate the time of possession battle by eating up just less than 39 minutes of game play. If Houston can dial up that recipe again this week and keep the Patriots offense on the sideline, the Texans would be a strong pick to cover the spread. Throw in a few big plays between QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson (112 receptions, 1,598 yards, and 4 touchdowns) and a flat out upset comes into the picture as well.

Betting Trends: Houston is just 2-4 ATS in their last 6 games on the road and just 1-3 ATS in their last 4 meetings with the Patriots. The total has gone under in 5 of Houston's last 6 games. The Patriots have gone over the total in 6 of their last 7 games and 11 of their last 14 home games.

New England's offense showed their ability to move the football with ease in their last meeting against Houston and I expect the same yet again. I understand that the last meeting does not hold any significance in sports betting, but the Patriots offense creates a big mismatch for this Texans defense which will be exploited for the 2nd straight time this Sunday. Additionally, the unsung hero in recent weeks has been the Patriots defense that has given up just 16 points on average over the last 6 outings.

The Play: New England -9.5 and Over 49.5

NFL Divisional Playoffs Round - Game 3

Seattle Seahawks (12-5 SU, 12-5 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-3 SU, 9-6-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, January 13th, 2013, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: FOX

Point Spread: Atl. -3
Over/Under Total: 45.5

The Seattle Seahawks have taken care of the first step of their all-road NFC playoff journey this postseason, but that road will turn South to the Georgia Dome this Sunday when they take on the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons in an NFC Divisional Playoff game on Fox.

Seattle converted the first stop of their hopefully long road playoff journey with a, 24-14, victory over the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round last weekend. Running back Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson combined for 224 yards rushing and the defense held an injured RG3 in check as the Seahawks powered back from an early 14-point deficit to beat the Redskins and win their first road playoff game in 30 years.

Now the Seahawks have earned the task of taking on the top-seeded 13-3 Falcons at home in the Georgia Dome, a building where Atlanta went 7-1 this season with their only loss coming in the form of a mail-it-in, 22-17, loss in a means-nothing season finale to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two weeks ago.

Despite 13 wins and a strong season, a lot of questions still surround the Falcons going into their opening Divisional playoff game Sunday. The Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs under head coach Mike Smith and with Matt Ryan playing quarterback, including a one-and-done performance the last time the Falcons were the No. 1 seed in the NFC (in 2010), so both Smith and Ryan will have to remove the 300-lb. monkey off their backs against the red-hot Seahawks who have won six in a row.

Those questions still hanging around the Falcons have also had an affect on the opening point spread for Sunday's contest too, with Atlanta only opening the game as slim 1-point favorites at home in round two. With most of the early money tilted in favor of the Falcons as small home favorites, most sportsbooks have since moved the number up to minus -2.5 to stop the flood of Atlanta money at the window.

The over/under total opened at 45.5 and can still be found there even though the number is still less than 24 hours old. The sportsbooks that have moved off the opening total have adjusted it up to 46, although you can still find plenty of books sitting at 45.5 still depending on your preference.

In addition to the demons the Falcons carry in regards to their playoff woes under Smith and Ryan, there's also some strange statistical anomalies that may plague the Falcons offense in this game.

Ryan and the Falcons have always been known as a solid home team in the dome, but he certainly didn't play that way this season. This year Ryan threw for 71.9 % and 21 touchdowns in his eight road games, but only hit 65.1 % and 11 TDs at home in the Georgia Dome. Ryan's "struggles at home and lack of results also hurt the overall offense, since the Falcons scored 27.9 points per game on the road, as opposed to just 24.5 ppg at home this season.

Atlanta also played the easiest schedule in the NFL this season, as the winning percentage of the Falcons opponents was a meager .422 in 2012 (108-148). They did go 2-0 against the two playoff teams they played during the regular season (27-21 over Denver in week 2, 24-17 over Washington week 5), so one could argue they played the schedule they were given and took care of business.

Don't underestimate the fact that the Falcons will be playing with a huge chip on their shoulders too, as they will hear all week long from everyone and their brother that they haven't won a playoff game yet and will get little respect for most of the talking head "experts" on TV.

Atlanta and Ryan will be facing a Seahawks defense that is starting to look like a unit on a mission for a championship. After giving up a quick 14 points and some early yards to the Redskins last week, the defense tightened and shut down the Redskins running game in the second half. The only issue with the Seattle defense is the possible loss of defensive end Chris Clemons. Clemons, the Seahawks sack leader with 11.5, left the Wild Card game early and it is feared he may have torn his ACL (MRI results are still pending as of press time). If Clemons is indeed lost for the remainder of the postseason, rookie Bruce Irvin will be counted on to replace him. Irvin is solid in his pass-rush ability, but at 248-lbs., you can expect the Falcons to run right at him a lot if he has to play on early downs all game long.

The good news is that the Seahawks shouldn't have much trouble getting their running game established on offense. Atlanta gave up 123 yards (21st in NFL) a game rushing and a huge 4.8 yards per carry during the season, a tally both Lynch and Wilson will surely try and take advantage of come Sunday.

Atlanta's defense will be at full strength however, as the bye week did a ton of good in healing up injuries as end John Abraham (ankle) and defensive backs Dunta Robinson (concussion), Asante Samuel (shoulder) and William Moore (hamstring) are all listed as probable and are likely to go on Sunday against the Seahawks. If there is one matchup to watch for on Sunday it's in the trenches, where Seattle is using a combo of J.R. Sweezy and John Moffitt at right guard. Sweezy is a former defensive tackle moved over to offense, and Moffitt has bounced on and off the inactive list all season, so look for the Falcons to try and take advantage of the weakness with an active and strong game out of DT Vance Walker (3 sacks) inside.

These two teams met last season in Seattle in what turned into a nail-biting, 30-28, win for the visiting Falcons. Of course Wilson wasn't in a Seahawks uniform yet, so any comparisons or overemphasis on that game is a mistake, but it should be noted that Lynch was held to just 24 yards on eight carries in the loss. However, Atlanta held a 20-point lead early in the second half and the Seahawks were forced to abandon the run as they played in catch-up mode for the final 25 minutes of the game.

It should be noted that the underdog is a strong 5-2 ATS in the last seven head-to-head meetings. Seattle is red hot right now both on the field and as a wager (5-1 ATS in L6), and of course Atlanta has struggled in the playoffs (0-4 ATS in L4 playoff games), so the betting trends are also going against the Falcons at home this week.

The over also looks like decent trend play on Sunday. Not only is the over 4-1 in the last five head-to-head meetings between the Seahawks and Falcons, but the over is also 5-1 in Seattle's last six playoff games (only under was last week's game vs. Wash.) and 3-1-1 in the Falcons last five playoff games as well.

The Play: Seattle +3

NFL Divisional Playoffs - Game 2

Green Bay Packers (12-5 SU, 10-7 ATS) vs. San Francisco 49ers (11-4 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFL Divisional Playoffs
Date/Time: Saturday, January 12, 8:00 p.m. EST
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
TV: FOX

Point Spread: SF -3
Over/Under Total: 45

In a football game between two synonymous teams, it's customary that whichever team is playing at home will automatically be labeled a -3 favorite. As it happens, that's what the San Francisco 49ers are against the Green Bay Packers in this weekend's NFC Divisional Playoff match. In other words, the game is so close that the only reason the 49ers are the favorites is because they're playing at home.

The last time these two teams met was way back in Week 1 when the 49ers walked away with a 30-22 win over the Pack, but of course that was with quarterback Alex Smith manning the helm. Now, thanks to a controversial mid-season change by head coach Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' man. "He's got a good grasp of the game plan so far," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick earlier this week. "I'm excited that he's ... it's a bit savant-like, you know, the way he's handling it so far this week. So that's really encouraging."

Harbaugh is obviously high on his QB, whom he believes has big-play potential. In the regular season, Kaepernick went 136 of 218 for 1,814 yards and 10 touchdowns; not only that, he bolstered the run game by rushing 63 times for 415 yards (6.6) average and five scores. That's an even better average than the 49ers' leading rusher, Frank Gore, who has carried 258 times for 1,214 (4.7) and eight touchdowns. It's no wonder the 49ers had the fourth-best rushing offense in the league this year with an average of 155.7 yards per game (YPG).

Despite thriving on the ground, the 49ers have struggled at times through the air. Kaepernick has put up respectable numbers, but the team still only averages 206.1 passing YPG-good for 23rd in the NFL. Their leading receiver is Michael Crabtree, who has 85 receptions for 1,105 yards (13 Avg) and 9 touchdowns, while tight end Vernon Davis has 41 catches for 548 yards (13.4) and five touchdowns. Not bad but not great either.

Despite the wishy-washy pass game, the 49ers actually have a vigorous offense that never gives up. What's more, they have a fantastic defense, which is ranked 2nd in the league allowing an average of just 294.4 total YPG. That's quite a bit better than the Packers, who allow 336.8 YPG (good for 11th in the NFL).

Speaking of the Pack, they don't have the benefit of a first-round bye like the 49ers. Instead, they're fresh off a 24-10 win at home against the division rival Minnesota Vikings, who were without QB Christian Ponder. On a side note: Anyone else think the Packers might have eased up in their Week 17 match against the Vikings to keep the Chicago Bears out of the Playoffs?

In that game, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers went 23 of 33 for 274 yards and a touchdown. Not superb, but in line with his fantastic season where he finished with an NFL-best 108 rating after going 371 of 552 for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. While the Packers have a non-existent run game-their leading rusher is Alex Green who has carried 135 times for 464 yards (3.4 Avg)-he's got plenty of aerial options to choose from.

That includes Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley. Jennings had the biggest game last week against the Vikings by catching four passes for 61 yards, but Rodgers managed to spread the ball out to ten different receivers. Surprisingly, only one pass went to Cobb, who is the team's leading regular-season receiver with 80 catches for 954 yards (11.9 Avg) and eight touchdowns.

Vesper Abadon's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Packers are on a roll. In the last 11 games of the regular season, they went 9-2 as Rodgers completed 66.5% of his passes for 29 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Even more impressive is the fact he did it without a run game to open things up. Teams know Rodgers is going to throw and they still can't stop him.

With that said, you can't underestimate the 49ers. They already beat the Packers this season (albeit before their current heater) and played well enough to secure a first-round bye. That means they've had an extra week to rest and prepare for their opponents. Apparently Kaepernick's ready to go, and I think he'll be the difference maker in this game.

Rodgers and company will have a dogfight on their hands against the 49ers' staunch defense, but they'll still put up points. It'll be up to Kaepernick to harness some of that big-play potential if the 49ers are going to do the same. If he does and brings his "A" game, the 49ers could very well find themselves in the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row.

The play: 49ers -3

NFL Divisional Playoffs Round - Game 1

Baltimore Ravens (11-6 SU, 7-9-1 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS)
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Date/Time: Saturday, January 12th, 2013, 4:30 p.m. EST

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
TV: CBS
Point Spread: Denver -9 Total: 46

With an AFC Wild Card victory already in hand the Baltimore Ravens now will attempt to go on the road to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on Peyton Manning and the red hot Denver Broncos in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game Saturday on CBS.

Baltimore secured their date in Denver Saturday afternoon with a, 24-9, victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the opening round Sunday. Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis came back to lead an inspired Ravens defensive effort that bent a lot, but didn't break, and Joe Flacco and the offense went back to their ground-n-pound running attack to get past the Colts and punch their ticket to the second round.
But now it gets difficult, as they will take on Manning and the Broncos who are riding an 11-game win streak that propelled them to the AFC West title and all the way to the top seed and homefield throughout the AFC playoffs.

Saturday's AFC Divisional playoff tilt will also be a rematch of week 15 action that saw the Broncos go into M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and lay a, 34-17, whoopin' on the Ravens. Don't be fooled, the Broncos victory over the Ravens back in December was even more lopsided than the score shows, as they led 31-3 midway through the third quarter before taking their foot of the pedal.

With the Broncos rested and red hot, and playing at home in the upper atmosphere of Mile High, it should be no surprise that Denver opened as 9-point favorites. With the large point spread still less than 24 hours old, most of the early money has come in on the underdog Ravens, but ironically the sportsbooks that have moved off the opening number have actually gone up to either minus -9.5 or even -10.

The over/under total opened at 45.5 and has held there after the early steam at most books, but the few that have moved the number have gone up to 46 to bring the push back into play.

Offensively it will be interesting to see how much the week off will affect the Broncos and Manning, since they finished the regular season pretty much hitting on all cylinders averaging nearly 400 yards (398 - 4th in NFL) and over 30 points (30.1 - 2nd)) per game. Denver scored an average of 36 points in their final three games, starting with the 34 they put on the Ravens the last time they met in week 15, so the bye week may end up cooling them off as opposed to gaining any advantage with the week watching.

Also, it's not like the Broncos needed to rest anyone during the bye. Other than the natural bumps and bruises following a 16-game campaign, the Broncos are healthy with just return man Trindon Holliday (ankle - questionable) and extra defensive back Tracy Porter (concussions - out) on the injury list out of the players that contributed to the Broncos 13-win season (not including the players already on I-R).

Manning and the Broncos will be playing against a different Ravens defense then the last time they met though, as Lewis returned to his linebacker spot to put all of the Ravens big-name defenders on the field all at once for the first time all season. The Ravens did give up an alarming 419 yards to the Colts last week, and they also "allowed" Indy to hold almost a full 15-minute time advantage on the Ravens offense, but they did hold the Colts to just three field goals. Those two trends could prove fatal against the Broncos however, unless the Ravens defense can find a way to get off the field on third down (allowed Colts 45%, 9-of-20).

The Ravens rediscovered their roots on offense last week with 172 yards on an impressive 32 carries (5.3 ypc). But before anyone anoints O-Coordinator Jim Caldwell as the savior and the Raven run attack as being back, a deeper look at their offensive numbers paints a slightly less rosy picture.

First, a majority of those running yards came from backup running back Bernard Pierce (13 carries for 103), and Pierce came up huge in place of Ray Rice who put the ball on the ground twice with two drive-killing fumbles and ended up the game clearly in the Ravens doghouse. Those yards also came against the Colts, the team that entered the game as the 29th-ranked run defense in the league, a far, far cry from what they'll face this week against the Broncos and the 3rd-ranked unit in the NFL (91 ypg allowed).

In fact, the Denver defense has been overshadowed by Manning all season long but they deserve as much credit for the No. 1 seed as anybody. LB Von Miller (18.5 sacks) and DE Elvis Dumervil are one of the best, if not thee best pass-rushing duos in the game right now, and when combined with veterans Keith Brooking, Wesley Woodyard and Champ Bailey in the back-half the Broncos were the quietest 2nd-ranked defense the NFL has probably ever fielded (291 ypg; 4th in scoring at 18.1 ppg).

Prior to the Broncos victory in week 15, the Ravens had actually enjoyed a mini two-game win streak SU over Denver (31-17 in 2009, 30-7 in 2010). However, Baltimore hasn't won a game in Denver since a, 20-13, win at Mile High in 2001, going 3-1 SU (2-1-1 ATS) in games played in Denver in the head-to-head series.

As far as betting trends are concerned, the home team (5-2 ATS in L7) and the favorite (4-0 ATS in L4) have enjoyed this series in recent history. Overall Baltimore is 7-2-1 ATS in the last 10 head-to-head meetings, but the Broncos are 6-1 ATS in their last seven home playoff games whereas the Ravens are a draining 1-5 ATS in their last six AFC Divisional playoff games.

The over/under trends are a toss up, as just about every Ravens trend points to an under wager (5-1 in L6 playoff games, 4-1 in L5 Divisional games) while every Broncos trends points to the over (5-1 in L6 playoff games, 8-3-1 in their 12 AFC games this season).

This game kind of reminds me of the BCS National Championship game. We've got a well respected team showing up as a huge, along with huge public backing. And then reality sets in and the better teams blows them out.
I like Denver to win and cover convincingly.

The Play: BRONCOS -9 $$$$$
Bonus teaser...7 points DEN -2 & Over 39 $$

NFL - Wild Card Weekend Part 2

Colts (11-5) @ Ravens (10-6)
Lot of sidebars in this game; Colts coming back to Baltimore (they’re 9-3 vs Ravens, winning eight of last nine meetings, three of last four played here), former Indy coach Caldwell is now calling plays for Baltimore, former Raven DC Pagano replaced Caldwell as Colts’ head coach, returning from bout with leukemia to resume coaching last week, Ray Lewis’ pending retirement after a great 17-year career. Baltimore ended 8-game series losing streak with 24-10 win over Colts here LY, but they limp into playoffs, losing four of last five games; they fired their OC in December, rare occurrence for team with winning record- they were actually underdogs in last four games. Ravens are 2-4 as home favorite this year, winning at home by 31-1-7-2-35-19 points (lost to Steelers/Broncos). Indy has issues; they allowed 352 rushing yards at woeful Chiefs two weeks ago, but in storybook season (they were 1-15 LY), have overcome all odds behind rookie QB Luck. AFC North home favorites are 5-8 vs spread; AFC South road underdogs are 6-9. Colts won five of last six games, are 6-4 vs spread as underdogs this year, 2-4 away from home.

Seahawks (11-5) @ Redskins (10-6)
Since 2006, road favorites in Wild Card round (non-divisional winner favored over divisional winner) are 3-5 vs spread. Two rookie QBs, two hot teams. Seattle won five in row, seven of last eight games; they had scored 58-50-42 points in consecutive games before Rams challenged them in 20-13 Seattle win last week. Should be noted that Seahawks are 2-5 in true road games this year (beat Bills in Toronto), winning 16-12 at Carolina, 23-17 in OT at Chicago, game that ultimately cost Lovie Smith his job, so Hawks are not stellar road team (lost at Arizona-Rams-Lions-Miami). Washington won/covered last seven games, pulling out win last Sunday night over rival Cowboys in what was essentially a play-in game; they’ve run ball for average of 180.6 ypg over last five games. Redskins won six of last eight games with Seattle, but two losses came in ‘05/’07 playoffs, both played out west. Seattle is +12 in turnovers in last four games (+12 for season), Washington is +10 in last six games, +16 for season. NFC West road faves are 3-2 vs spread. NFC East favorites are 6-15 vs spread, 5-9 at home. Five of last six Seattle games, three of last four Redskin games went over the total.

That being said..
The Plays:
Ravens -7 $$$
BAL/IND under 47 $$
Skins +3 $$$$$

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