NFL Playoff Picks: Betting Predictions for Every Divisional Game
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NFL 2012 Playoff Picks Record
Straight Up: 2-2
Against the Spread: 3-1
Regular-Season NFL Picks Record
Straight Up: 176-80
Against the Spread: 148-108
None of the Wild Card teams advanced last weekend, which is unusual in recent years. So there will be no Pittsburgh/New York/New Orleans playoff run from the depths of the seeding.
If every Wild Card team lost, then logic dictates that every home team won. Do you think this will mess up that time-honored stat about how home field is only a 7 percent advantage?
Maybe. All four home teams have an advantage this week. (Yes, even the 49ers, no matter what the odds say.)
But the advantages are vastly different by matchup.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Now that is a game face
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When: 8 p.m. EST, Saturday
Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: Denver +13.5
Over/Under: Over 50.5 (If No. 12 has anything to do with it, that will be his scoring stat alone)
Weather: Mix of clear and clouds. Windy. Will be 23 degrees and feel like 11 degrees. I think that on the whole the cold favors New England, but not by much.
I'm not particularly a Brady fan (I think he's a cold fish with shark eyes). But, without him the 2011 New England Patriots are two TEs and a weak defense.
Tim Tebow is a fascinating cultural phenomenon. And a topic for a different article. In this game, talking QB is really talking Brady.
Denver—Eric Decker’s knee injury is a big blow. Demaryius Thomas stepped up like a champ last week, but this week the Patriots will know that he is the No. 1 WR. That could make a difference.
Safety Brian Dawkins will probably not play again and safety David Bruton (who was a big factor last week) is questionable with a sore Achilles. That’s not good.
Don’t forget that starting offensive guard Chris Kuper was lost for the season in Week 17. The Denver O-line did a great job of shuffling and still functioning in the Wild Card Round, but it’s still not the same unit that started the season.
New England—The Pats have injuries all along their offensive line. The stalwart Brady protectors—Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins—are all probable, but they are not full strength.
If the Patriots win this game, a bye week giving these three time to heal will have been crucial.
The D-line lost starter Andre Carter a couple of weeks ago and I don’t think that they will have been able to fully replace him.
In Week 17, the Patriots scored 49 points after being down by 21 to the Buffalo Bills. What? Do they not bother to pay attention until halftime?
New England beat Denver, 41-23, in Week 15. As seems to be the New England m.o. this year, the Broncos jumped out in front—only to fall to the New England comeback machine.
By the way, it will be the first game back in New England for Josh McDaniels. He was fired by Denver in 2010—after hiring Tim Tebow and every other second-year player on the Broncos team. Not to mention having coached everyone who isn’t a rookie.
I know it’s legal, but isn’t it tacky to hire your opponent’s former head coach the week before you play them? I'm just saying.
We can talk about all of the stats forever.
The Patriots are a machine fueled by Brady power. New England averaged 39 points in their last three games. The Broncos averaged 15.3 points.
Brady has passed for over 300 yards practically every week this year. Tim Tebow’s average is meaningless; One week it’s 316 yards, one week it’s 60 yards.
Tebow, Willis McGahee and Lance Ball have racked up 160 yards on a regular basis and on average in the last month. The Patriots have run the ball for almost 133 yards on average over the past three contests. That is much more than most people think that they can rush for. Bear that in mind Saturday night.
Both teams average about 23 games per game recently.
The Patriots have given up almost 160 yards every week of the past month. The Broncos should be by far the better squad, but they have fallen off recently and their opponents have been able to come up with almost 141 yards on the ground.
Denver has an edge here—they have allowed opponents to pass for just a touch over 200 yards in the last three games. The Pats allow opposing QBs to get to 230 yards aerially.
I hope that those numbers were entertaining. Because they are virtually meaningless.
If Tebow can pass and get the Broncos to 30 points, Denver can win. For him to pass, either Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas or TE Daniel Fells has to get behind the New England defense.
If they can’t, Brady will just keep grinding out passes with those TEs until he gets to another 34-point game.
If he gets to another 34-point game, the Patriots will win.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
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Time: 4:30 p.m. EST, Saturday
Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -3.5
Over/Under: Under 47.5
Weather: The forecast is for sunny and in the 60s. Good break for the Saints. Now, if the field isn't too spongy things could be much more equal.
New Orleans—WR Lance Moore is still questionable. Drew Brees missed him in the first half last week before he adjusted and just threw it to everyone else.
Safety Roman Harper hurt his ankle versus Detroit. He’s a hard-hitting, intimidating DB whom the Saints need.
San Francisco—Rookie FB Bruce Miller has a knee issue that has him questionable. That is very bad news for both Niners RBs.
WRs Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, Jr. are both probable with a concussion and sore ankle respectively. Ginn is the return man, so watch to see if his ankle is hampering him.
The absolute best fan sign of the weekend was in the Super Dome and held by a teen-aged boy. It said, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.”
The Saints struggled a bit in the first half against an intense Lions defense. Then they came out of the locker room firing and it was all over. Like 626 yards of offense over.
As always, I have to give a tip of the hat to the offensive line. I'm sure Drew gives them something a big more tangible.
The New Orleans offensive line is anchored by sophomore center Brian De La Puente. Being Brees’ center could be a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, if you miss a defensive read, the chances are high that No. 9 will see it anyway. On the other hand, I’m guessing that Brees probably holds his line to a high standard.
Then there’s that whole don’t-be-the-guy-who-missed-the-block-that-got-Drew-hurt thing. Maybe De La Puente and Jeff Saturday can start a support group for centers under pressure. Then, once the Pats figure out who is where on their O-line, that center can join.
While we’re on the O-line subject, there are many people (particularly Lions fans) who believe that the referees were not watching the blocking/holding very closely on the Saints. Those people have a point and I wonder if the officials in San Francisco will feel the need to overcompensate?
Brees completed 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards, three TDs and zero INTs last week. He highlighted his night with three completions of at least 40 yards.
Jason Taylor said on NFL GameDay Scoreboard: “I’m kind of depressed right now. We could have had Drew Brees twice in Miami. Once in the draft and once in free agency. Twice!”
I’m not sure how Sean Payton convinced the Saints front office to take what was considered to be a significant risk in signing Brees. Look like geniuses now, don’t they?
Frankly, the only surprise from the Saints prolific offense was that New Orleans RBs rushed 36 times for 167 yards. But they did it in typical N’Awleans fashion, with three different running backs and a fullback. Why have one offensive weapon when four will do?
New Orleans RB Pierre Thomas had eight carries for 66 yards and a TD. Those numbers do not begin to describe Thomas’ clutch-yards contribution to the wild-card game.
This man does not receive nearly enough credit in the public. Well, at least the public outside of the Crescent City. I’ve heard Drew Brees praise him to the rafters. That’s a QB who knows that the rushers are his best buddies. Well, except for the line. But I think we covered that.
NFL Network’s GameDay Final guest analyst Phillip Rivers was depressed too as he missed RB Darren Sproles: “He was pound-for-pound the strongest guy on our team.”
All three RBs can also catch and even rookie RB Jed Collins has several receptions, including a couple for TDs. Let’s see, that’s a handful of WRs, an Pro Bowl TE and now four rushers for Drew Brees to choose from. And that doesn't count No. 1 draft pick, Mark Ingram (out with injury.)
No wonder he has over 5,000 yards and rising.
For those of you who haven’t been watching this record-setting offense (and how can you can you call yourselves football fans?), this running game should be cause for even more celebration.
But if you are Niners fan, it provides a serious new wrinkle for Harbaugh’s D.
The New Orleans defense held Detroit to 22 first downs, only two of which were on the ground. Wow.
The Saints converted three of four fourth-down attempts. I have never seen a coach less afraid of 4th-and-3 in my life. He makes Mike Smith look like an amateur.
In a game with 626 offensive yards (and no punts), it’s easy to overlook the New Orleans D. But CB Jabari Greer came up with two key late INTs.
I was concerned that the Saints wouldn’t be able to handle the Lions’ D-line. But, with the help of that running game, the Saints kept the Detroit D on the field forever in the second half and wore them out. I’m sure that they will try the same tactic with the 49ers.
The Niners should take note of the fact that, before they got tired, the physical Detroit defense was rattling those finesse Saints WRs. The first-half drops weren’t bad passes; they were nervous WRs. Hmmm.
The San Francisco 49ers have a terrific young defense, a great running back (who has an excellent backup RB) and a very good offensive game plan.
They also had a scare in Week 17, when their game in St. Louis was much closer than it should have been.
The talented but uneven Rams defense held San Francisco to 116 yards on 37 carries. Give credit to Jim Harbaugh for not giving up on the run. They have to have 25-30 rushing attempts to give Alex Smith a chance to get going in the passing game.
I’m sure that the Saints will want to get ahead early and force Alex Smith to beat them through the air. The Niners rank 29th in passing offense. Hmmm.
Let’s cut to the chase: The game will be determined on two factors:
1) Whether or not a defense ranked second in points allowed (14.3) and fourth in yards allowed (308.2) can stop the Saints offense; and
2) Whether or not SF RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter can control the time of possession by running the football against the New Orleans D.
In the past three games, the Saints have given up 77 yards per game on the ground. The Niners have rushed for almost 132 yards per game in the same time period. These are not compatible numbers going into the divisional game.
Most of the experts think that the rested San Francisco defense can rise to the occasion because the Saints are not nearly as explosive on grass. Okay, so they’ll only score 30 points instead of 45.
San Francisco is a young, talented well-coached team. They might be able to pull this off.
New Orleans is a veteran, talented well-coached team. I’m going with Brees.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
Up to him
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Time: 1 p.m. EST, Sunday
Straight Up: Baltimore
Against the Spread: Baltimore -7.5
Over/Under: Over 35.5
Weather: Sunny and high 30s. That should be only a slight Baltimore advantage that the Texans can manage to overcome if they are playing well, despite being a mostly indoor team.
M&T Bank Stadium has yet to sell me on a home-field advantage. I’m not totally convinced that these are die-hard fans. Maybe it’s being named after a bank, but how about some fire Ravens fans? Can you get excited for someone other than the Steelers?
To be fair, the Ravens won every home stand in 2011. This is the first home playoff game for John Harbaugh. A legend could be born. It's just hard to be a legend when you're named after something "too big to fail."
I was equally skeptical about Houston's Reliant Stadium, but the Texans fans showed me something last week. So, Houston may have established a new home-field advantage in the AFC South (Peyton Manning, take note.)
Houston—TE Owen Daniels hurt his hand last week and may not play. That’s the only new Texans injury.
Baltimore—All of the major Ravens' injured players took advantage of the bye week to get healthy and are probable.
Houston’s rookie QB T.J. Yates went 11-of-20 passing for 159 yards and a TD—and zero turnovers. My theory is that Gary Kubiak has adopted what I call the "Ben Roethlisberger strategy." It's kind of like "the Bourne Identity." Uh, well, not really.
It's this: Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl with a sophomore QB by limiting his passing role and leaning on a world-class running game and defense. Sound familiar?
Yates didn’t make any big mistakes, threw some laser strikes and converted several key first downs. What more do you want when you have Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield?
Foster had 24 rushes for 153 yards and two TDs. Andre Johnson (who was the lone bright spot on this franchise during its infancy) had five catches for 90 yards in his first playoff appearance.
Kubiak needs to get his TEs more involved. But Owen Daniels may have broken his hand Saturday. If he can’t play, it will Joel Dreessen.
Of course, the Bengals could not get pressure on Yates last week. Nor could they execute a tackle after the third quarter.
I’m not sure that defensive generosity is going to last another week.
In last meeting (Week 6) Baltimore won 29-14 and the Ravens shut down Arian Foster. And the Texans had Matt Schaub at QB then. Hmmmm.
Who says defense doesn’t win championships? J.J. Watt apparently didn’t get the memo. Nor did DBs Danieal Manning and former Bengal Johnathan Joseph.
The Houston defense won the wild-card game from the moment of Watt’s pick-six onward. It put the Texans ahead and when the Texans get ahead, they proceed directly to the running game.
(Dear Rex Ryan: If you want a "ground and pound" offense, you need to draft Arian Foster—not Shonn Greene.)
Joe Flacco got a little “chippy” with the media this week. He may be embracing his role as the disrespected QB on a defensive team. Well, it is the Ravens after all.
Flacco must complete at least three deep passes to rookie WR Torrey Smith and a handful of over-the-middle shots to Anquan Boldin, who is due back in the huddle after a knee injury.
After that, just hand it off to Ray Rice. And if Ray gets tired, give it to Ricky Williams (who just went over 10,000 career yards by the way).
Note for Joe Flacco: If throwing over J.J. Watt—throw over J.J. Watt. (Again, Peyton Manning take note.)
I think this game will rest on whichever team gets one more big play.
The Texans got three last week: the Watt INT, the Andre Johnson TD pass and the big Foster run. If Houston can get another 125-plus running yards, one deep one to Johnson and a turnover—maybe.
But if Joe Flacco can get two deep balls to Torrey Smith and Ray Rice zips along for over 125 yards—then the Ravens will advance.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
We do so have a running game.
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Time: 4:30 p.m. EST, Sunday
Straight Up: New York
Against the Spread: New York +8
Over/Under: Over 52.5
Weather: partly cloudy and 20s (will probably feel colder)
New York—CB Aaron Ross went out of the Wild Card Game with a concussion but is probable on Sunday. The Giants need him.
On the other hand, third RB Danny Ware’s concussion has him questionable.
Green Bay—The week off has helped Charles Woodson’ knee and the star CB is expected to play.
Rookie return specialist and WR Randall Cobb has a groin strain but is also healthy enough to play.
The best news for Aaron Rodgers is that both No. 1 WR Greg Jennings and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga are probably going to be treading the frozen tundra alongside their Packer brethren.
Not such good news is that RB James Starks’ ankle has him questionable.
The Packers simply must be able to run the ball and Starks is the guy who did it for them last year. Without him, Green Bay will have to depend entirely on Ryan Grant. Time to earn last year's bling, dude.
The Giants defense showed both fire and toughness in the Wild Card Round. They completely deflated the ostensibly high-flying Atlanta Falcons offense.
After the Dirty Birds tried twice unsuccessfully for a 4th-and-short conversion, the fight completely went out of the Falcons offense. Mike Smith needs to realize that, absent a stouter O-line, his addiction to fourth-down theatrics is going to get him fired.
I’m not sure that Big Blue's big defenders can have a similar impact on the Packers, but it’s possible since that’s exactly how the Chiefs defeated Green Bay in December.
The G-men made Tony Gonzalez a non-factor last Sunday. This is not an easy accomplishment when you are talking about the man who is behind only Jerry Rice in career receptions.
I would study some film if I were Packer TE Jermichael Finley.
New York's defense capped off the day with an Osi Umenyiora sack on Matt Ryan. Actually, it was on both Ryan and O-lineman Will Svitek. Umenyiora relentlessly pushed the 308-pound tackle backwards toward the QB. Svitek would not give up—so Osi tackled them both. I’m sure Michael Strahan is proud.
Second-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was much criticized all year, but that D-line has really pulled it together in the last few games.
After five years as Coughlin’s secondary coach in Jacksonville, I’m sure that the head coach’s faith and backing helped Fewell get through the criticism until he got his starters healthy. And now they are kicking $%^# and taking names.
His squad gave up only 10 points on average in the past three games. Meanwhile, the Packer D has surrendered 27 points in its last three outings. This is New York’s biggest ray of hope in chilly, historic and fanatic-filled Lambeau Field.
If all things were equal, I would take the Giants defense over an uneven Packers O-line. But when it comes to football, Wisconsin isn’t exactly an “all things equal” type of place.
New York shut down the Atlanta offense at home—can they shut down the Packers offense in Green Bay and then (possibly) the Saints in the dome? Well, I sure wouldn't be betting junior's college fund, that is for sure.
Everything is clicking in New York right now. Eli Manning is all grown up and moving into the NFL QB stratosphere.
As cute as Tim Tebow is and as strong-armed and smart as Matthew Stafford is—they are little boys compared to Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. And Eli Manning has joined the grown-ups table.
His passing is largely responsible for the creation of a strong receiving corps out of a group of B+ and A- players.
And the running game is back. It’s not as strong as it once was, but it’s credible and I defy anyone to want to tackle either Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw more than 10 times in one day.
I’m sure it feels like running into a brick wall. Repeatedly.
This offense should be able to score on a Packers defense that sorely misses safety Nick Collins (injury) and linebacker Nick Barnett (now a Buffalo Bill).
The D has had to rely completely on CB Charles Woodson. The other DBs are often described as "opportunistic" (a rather kind characterization for a group that can blow the big play or make the big interception), but they alone won’t give Manning trouble sleeping. However, when led by Woodson, it’s a different matter.
Of course the bottom line in this game will be whether or not Aaron Rodgers and his five WRs has a better day than Eli Manning and his three WRs and a TE.
Will Rodgers show any rust at all after two weeks off?
Will the Giants receivers have trouble with the cold and a rock as hard as a wrecking-machine ball?
If Rodgers comes out hot—it could be all over.
The key will be Big Blue’s D-line versus the Packers O-line. Isn’t it always?