Philadelphia @ Arizona – 3 PM EST
Two teams that looked to have the least chance of advancing deep into this year’s playoffs now find themselves one win away from the Super Bowl as the Eagles and Cardinals face off this Sunday afternoon.
The obvious choice here seems to be Philadelphia as they are the more experienced team and are coming off an impressive win against the defending champs last week.
The line opened at Philly -3, which was the highest line for a road favourite in the Conference Finals since the 1979 LA Rams were -3.5 @ Tampa. The -3.5s didn’t stay up for long as it quickly jumped to -4 and has stayed there all week. Recently there’s a few -3.5s popping back up.
The Eagles are the popular choice as I’ve found them taking public action anywhere from 51-71 percent at several sites which record such info.
It should be noted that overall the Eagles may have had an easier schedule throughout the season despite playing in the tough NFC East as their opponents had a .492 winning %, while the Cards faced opponents with a .536 winning mark.
The Cards got waxed by the Eagles back in week 13 to the tune of 48-20. However that game was in Philly and long before the Cards decided to start running the ball like they have in the playoffs.
Just like vs the Giants, the Eagles will concede a large size advantage to Arizona’s offensive line.
However this didn’t seem to matter as Philly’s quick, aggressive and undersized defense were able to stop the Giants on several key drives. This included two crucial short fourth-down conversions where the larger Giants should’ve been able to easily push forward.
Where size may come into play is the matchup of Cards WRs Fitzgerald 6'3" and Boldin 6'1", both well over 200 pounds taking on a much smaller Eagle secondary. Boldin should be playing this week, which will be a huge lift even though Fitzgerald had no problem shredding the Panthers D on his own last week.
While it’s impressive that both teams have made it this far, I wouldn't call either’s path to the Conference Finals flashy. Arizona’s shocking blowout of Carolina deserves huge marks, but let’s be honest, they were aided in large part by an epically horrendous performance by Jake Delhomme who almost single-handedly lost his team the game.
The Panthers also for some reason abandoned the run which is their strong suit, which played in Arizona’s favour. On the Eagle’s part, final scores aside, they’ve need late fourth-quarter surges to make it this far.
They lead the Vikes 16-14 going into the fourth until a PR TD and late FG gave them the 26-14 win. In New York they lead 13-11 going into fourth until scoring 10 points again in the fourth to pull away.
What’s interesting is that the Giants missed two field goals and got stopped on two forth downs which could’ve made the score closer. In fact, had they not missed the field goals maybe Tom Coughlin wouldn’t have felt the need to go for it on fourth and turn the ball over.
The Eagle’s have also been getting it done without a strong running game as Westbrook hasn’t exceeded 53 yards on the ground since Dec 7. Vs the G-men he was held to a number matching his jersey, 36 yards.
In reading previews throughout the week I stumbled onto one that mentioned that Westbrook’s knee has been so bad he has trouble walking up to the podium for press conferences. His backup Corell Buckhalter has also been limited in practice this week with a knee injury of his own.
With what looks to be a very limited running game in Philly, going against a Card’s team finding success in passing, rushing, on defense and playing at home, I’m going out on a limb and calling the upset at Arizona +4
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh – 6:30 PM EST
This game is a tough call for me. I have action with futures bets for the Ravens to win the AFC and also to win the Super Bowl. When Baltimore won last week, I was hoping to be able to hedge out and guarantee profit by taking their opponent on the money line.
I was hoping for the Chargers to win as I thought they may be a slight dog to the Ravens, however the Steelers came through and opened up as rather larger favourites at -5 and have been hovering around -250 on the ML.
Unfortunately, -250 seems rather high for me to lay, as to at least cover my losses on the futures bets should the Ravens lose, I’d be sacrificing quite a large portion of my potential Ravens winnings.
Despite a strong public backing for the Ravens, I’ve found 55, 56, 62 and 63% public consensus on them at varying sites, the line has moved up in Pittsburgh’s favour. It made it to -6 and now has come down to -5.5 at some shops.
Anytime the public backs an underdog yet the line goes the other way you should always precede with caution.
The Ravens are bringing back memories of the Super Bowl team of past, yet will arrive in Pittsburgh pretty banged up. Eleven starters were limited or sat out of practice on Thursday. LB Terrell Suggs was reported to be having trouble lifting his arm over his head with his shoulder injury.
In the Steelers, Baltimore will almost be reliving last week’s Divisional Final facing an opponent very similar in style. The Ravens have gotten by on their stellar defense but have hardly been invincible.
The Dolphins stalled the entire first half yet when they started to throw in the second half had much more success until a drive killing botched handoff. The Titans, who are hardly known for their passing, saw Kerry Collins manage 281 yards through the air vs the Ravens.
Had it not been for timely turnovers in the red zone and a stalled play clock, we could have a rematch from Week 16 with Pittsburgh visiting Tennessee.
The Ravens claim to have wanted to play the Steelers over the Chargers and possibly for good reason. They beat the Titans last week, and those Titans handled Pittsburgh in Week 16 31-14.
In the two previous meetings with Pittsburgh this year, the Ravens lost by only three and four points. In Week 15 they actually lead most of the game until a late-game controversial TD by Pittsburgh gave the Steelers the victory.
The Steelers were the only team who took advantage of the week off last week however the game may not have been as big a blowout as it felt.
Yes, the Chargers got a late TD to make it closer; however Steel Town saw many fortuitous bounces go their way. The Chargers were without LT, yet stilled struck for an early TD 2 minutes in.
However shortly thereafter they gave up a PR TD. One River’s pass was also knocked up into the air for a Steeler INT, Pittsburgh recovered a live ball after they punted and it bounced off an unsuspecting Eric Weddle and they were awarded a 1st and goal after a pass interference call in the end zone.
While I don’t think the Steelers win was as impressive as some, if the Ravens struggled vs the Titan’s 27th ranked passing attack, I worry about them vs Pittsburgh’s tied for 16th passing attack.
Given the two teams past meetings and Raven’s ability to cause a turnover at will, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a close game or Raven victory. However I cannot forget how awful Baltimore looked last week.
They will be limping in with several injuries and facing a team who held the Chargers to 17 seconds of possession in the third quarter last week. That is an amazing stat!
My heart wants the Ravens for my future bet, but taking that out of the equation I’ll have to take a look at Pittsburgh -5.5.