I’ve always said that unless your team is playing in the Super Bowl, the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs is the best weekend of quality football you’ll see in the entire season. On Tuesday 247Sports released the Vegas odds for each of the remaining eight teams, and they are as follows:
Seattle Seahawks 5/2
New England Patriots 13/5
Green Bay Packers 6/1
Denver Broncos 7/1
Dallas Cowboys 7/1
Baltimore Ravens 17/1
Indianapolis Colts 18/1
Carolina Panthers 25/1
As you can see, after Dallas there is a huge dropoff. All four home teams are favored the highest, and what the bottom of this tells you is that out of every one hundred people you survey four of them are going to be hammered enough to think that Cam Newton can win a Super Bowl. To give you an idea of how close the race for the top is, simplified for mathematics the Seahawks have a 2.5 to 1 chance at winning it all, while the Patriots sit at 2.6 to 1. But the harsh reality of the nature of the NFL playoffs is, before the clock strikes midnight on Saturday night both of those teams could potentially be eliminated. I’m not confident that it will happen, but professional football is a bizarre animal indeed and you never really know. So let’s dive in to this all you care to eat buffet of a postseason and take a look at what we think will go down in the Divisional Playoff round.
Of all the underdogs playing this weekend, I can honestly say that the Ravens have the best chance of winning. They played so well in the Pittsburgh game, and it’s impossible to deny that they have one of the best coaches in the league in John Harbaugh. Unfortunately for them, that coaching prowess will be put to the ultimate test on Saturday when Harbaugh’s Ravens take on everybody’s favorite NFL evil genius Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The Patriots have had a week off to rest, and hopefully they have been exposed to the elements over that time period because it’s going to be freezing in Foxborough on Saturday. Uncle Bill’s Satan spawn put up thirty or more points in half of their regular season games this year. They won every single one of them, and four of those opponents made the postseason this year. There were a lot of times where the offense struggled, but the Patriots are built to be a January team and know when they have to lay the wood. While the Ravens can definitely pull off the upset as they have the leadership and the playoff experience, here’s the bad news: They are ranked fourth against the run, which doesn’t do them a lot of good here because the Patriots know that and their play calling is very unpredictable when compared to the rest of the teams they’ve face this year. Conversely, they are ranked 23rd in the league against the pass and are giving up 250 yards in the air a game. So tack on at least another 50 yards there because you’re going to facing a first-ballot Hall of Famer on the road, and that’s an uphill battle both ways in the snow. The question that remains is with Brady and all of his minions healthy enough to put on the type of performance we know New England so well for putting on, is Baltimore going to be able to come up with enough points to take on this potential onslaught of offense with seventy thousand people screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs while the Ravens have the ball? As Homey the Clown would say, “I Don’t Think So…”. I don’t think that this will end up being a shootout, but if it does they don’t stand a chance. For some reason I can see Baltimore struggling in the red zone here, and that’s why I have them pegged for four field goals. I doubt that New England will be able to explode on the Ravens in the same fashion in which they did again the Bengals earlier this year. The Blackbirds are just too strong to let the Brady Bunch have a field day in this one, and even though I think New England should win I don’t like them to cover and I’m telling you with confidence stay under for the point total.
Patriots 24, Ravens 19
On paper, it seems like the Seahawks should be able to tear Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers apart. While both teams are hotter than hell at the moment, when these two met in Charlotte week seven neither squad seemed to be able to tie their shoes properly. Carolina only converted two third down situations, and the Seahawks were only in the red zone once and came out with a 29 yard field goal. The middle of that field must have looked like a rototiller convention had just left town. But I’m getting off topic by discussing it to begin with, because in all honesty that game tells us nothing about what might happen on Saturday night. Here’s a match-up where Vegas clearly doesn’t trust either offense. 40 as a point total is very low, but I do understand it. Carolina’s defense is coming off a beast performance in which they shut down Ryan Findlay, a guy who will probably never play another down in the NFL and likely burns his own butthole hairs with a Zippo. Jonathan Stewart had only 809 yards rushing this year, but the Panthers finished the season ranked seventh in that category. That tells me that Cam Newton can run when the moment calls for it, and those types of rollouts just happen to be one of the Seahawks’ few weaknesses on defense. But let’s be honest, Newton has not yet been able to get out of the divisional round and that’s because once he gets there he is stuck facing teams of Seattle’s caliber. The Legion of Boom started out slow this year, but caught on like wildfire as soon as their playoff hopes were in reasonable jeopardy with a tough schedule in the second half of the year. They gave up a total of forty points in the last six games. If you give up an average of less than a touchdown a game, that tells me that either God hates the Arizona Cardinals or you have reached the point where it’s simply a matter of who to substitute into the game and when. And since NFL history has already established that the first one is true, it’s pretty obvious that the Seahawks are a complete defensive killing machine. This should be a good game in the first half, but I think both of these teams are going to be so jacked on the limelight the second half will be a tad disappointing. For some reason, I can foresee a lot of Seahawks drives stalling in this one. The Panthers have been very good making third down stops over the last month, so I don’t expect I career game out of Russell Wilson at all. I like the Seahawks to win, but not to cover – as the spread is somewhat ridiculous – and I would also say the under on the point total would be a very safe bet.
Seahawks 22, Panthers 13
There’s been an awful lot of vitriol hurled in the direction of the Dallas Cowboys this week, as a lot of NFL fans believe they got away with the flag pickup in the Detroit game. Although an excellent point, it’s also a moot one and the Lions should have known better to think they were going to get a fair shake with Chris Christie in Jerry Jones’ skybox. The Packers are smart enough to realize that none of that matters, and that’s why they are hosting this game instead of it being played in Arlington. I live about a five hour drive from Green Bay, or about 13 Miller Lites for a Packers fan on one of those shuttle buses where everything smells like urine and you have to wake up at about five in the morning to go see a goddamned football game. There is no retractable roof at Lambeau Field, and even down here in the tropical temperatures of Moline, Illinois it’s been so cold that it appears I’ve had a sex change without even paying for the procedure. Speaking of shrinkage, the Cowboys’ secondary is a little thin. They finished a 12-4 season somehow in the bottom quarter of the league against the pass, a stat they’ve been able to make up for by being ranked second in running the football thanks to DeMarco Murray. They have won seven out of their last eight, and that streak included a 42-7 beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts who will be one of five teams remaining in the chase for the Super Bowl by the time this game ends. But their weak secondary is sure to be a serious problem, as Aaron Rodgers has thrown for almost 4400 yards this year. Eddie Lacy is averaging more than five yards a carry, and out of all the playoff teams the Packers are the one who could suffer a non-quarterback offensive position player injury and still be top-notch. Something’s got to give here: The Packers are undefeated at home, and the Cowboys are undefeated on the road. It’s no mystery that Dallas’ achievement is the more impressive of the two, but will that force be enough to actually beat Green Bay where and when it counts? I’m taking the home team Cheeseheads to win here and I like them to cover, but I would seriously avoid the point total bet on this one no matter what you do.
Packers 30, Cowboys 21
At first glance, this seems like it’s an easy pick and that Denver will run away with the game. After all, another Manning/Brady AFC playoff classic is exactly what the NFL wants to see…right? Hold the phone here, we’re not just going to hand this game to the Broncos and wait for Andrew Luck to get his once both of those legends retire. Let’s not forget, the Colts own the league’s number one passing attack. Although Andrew Luck is prone to throwing interceptions, he’s been known to throw them at points in the game where they can be forgotten if not converted into points by the opposition. If he hadn’t been able to place those risky throws with such accuracy, he wouldn’t have the most interceptions of any quarterback in the league in the time since he first took the field while still leading the Colts to the postseason each year he’s been in the NFL. Indy’s only losses after Halloween came to Dallas and New England, two teams who were good enough to still be around this weekend. Denver on the other hand has many more skilled position players than just TY Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Trent Richardson…At any given time, Peyton Manning has the running talents of one CJ Anderson at his disposal. That’s just when he wants to run the ball. When he wants to throw it, he’s got the luxury of selecting from the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker, and a host of other guys who would be number two or three guys on half the teams in the league. Manning led the Broncos to win six out of their last eight games after the beatdown in New England. But in the two losses, there were telling moments that may have signified the end of the physical side of Manning’s mastery may be nearing an end. In the St. Louis game, nothing was working for the Broncos on offense and it was depressing. In the Cincinnati game, things were working better than in STL, but Manning couldn’t stop throwing interceptions against a team that was headed for the playoffs. For some odd reason, I feel like the Colts are going to win here. Since I’ve picked the favorites in every game up until this point, this is the game I’m selecting as my upset. I don’t feel completely confident about it, but sometimes in life you have to take chances. I’d be willing to bet there are a few well-educated football historians that also happen to be Broncos fans, and I bet some of them are scared to death of every playoff game Manning starts given the way the last two games of each of the last seasons ended. Going out on a limb here, but telling you to take the over on the point total as well as the Colts to head to the east coast instead of back to Indiana.
Colts 30, Broncos 27
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