Last week: 1-2-1. Postseason totals: 4-3-1, Pct. .563. Best Bets: 1-0-1, Pct. .750.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
NEW ENGLAND 31, Baltimore 28 (+7)
One soft team with no defense made a surprising exit from the playoffs last week. Could another one suffer the same fate this week?
While the Ravens are 1-6 straight up against New England since moving from Cleveland in 1996, they're 2-1-1 against the spread in the last four meetings, losing none of them by more than six points, and winning a 2009 Wild Card Game at Foxboro by 19. They're also 7-4 both ways in road playoff games, and have never gone winless on the road in any single postseason they have qualified for.
Plus, the Baltimore defense is not afraid of Tom Brady and his offense.
And get this: The Patriots haven't beaten a team with a winning record all season, suffering back-to-back losses in both of the mere two times they faced such opponents, 25-17 at Pittsburgh in Week 8 and then 24-20 at home to the Giants the following week.
Maybe even this season, offense sells tickets, but defense wins games. In any case, there is no valid reason to lay the touchdown spread. So don't.
SAN FRANCISCO 23, N.Y. Giants 17 (+2 1/2)
These are not your father's San Francisco 49ers—you remember them, that finesse team that won four Super Bowls in the 1980s with Joe Montana leading the way.
Then again, Alex Smith is hardly Joe Montana, but he doesn't need to be given that his team can run the ball effectively with the seemingly ageless Frank Gore and a defense that led the entire NFL against the run and tied for the top spot in takeaways.
And these teams have had quite an extensive habit of running into one another in the playoffs, and the home team has had a consistent habit of excelling when they have, as in 6-1 straight up and 5-2 against the spread.
Despite the Bay Area's mild climate, weather may indeed play a role in the form of heavy and long-overdue rain in what has heretofore been a shockingly dry winter in that region; and recalling how John Riggins flourished on soggy grass fields three decades ago, Brandon Jacobs could very well do the same. But the demonstrable home-field edge in the postseason portion of this series, coupled with the bargain price—less than a field goal when the Giants finished four full games behind San Fran?—is too tempting to pass up.
And if Baltimore can pull off the outright upset, get ready for an unprecedented "brother act" starring Super Bowl XLVI's opposing head coaches. Warrior was a movie. This would be real.
BEST BET: BALTIMORE