NFL Playoff Predictions: Picking Divsional Round Games Against the Spread
After a lackluster start to the NFL playoffs, this weekend's slate of Divisional Round games promises to be more accessible to fans. A big part of that is because you just have better teams playing this weekend.
No disrespect to Indianapolis, Minnesota, Cincinnati or Washington, but when you can replace those teams with the likes of Denver, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta, the games are going to be better.
In anticipation of this huge weekend of football, here are our predictions for all four games against the spread.
Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-8.5)
The Ravens got an emotional victory in Ray Lewis' final home game against Indianapolis last weekend. The competition gets a little more difficult this week, as the top-seeded Broncos look to increase their winning streak to 12 games.
It will be easy to dismiss the Ravens in this game. They hardly looked like a Super Bowl contender against the Colts, fumbling away opportunities to put the game away and surviving with a bend-but-don't-break defense that gave up 419 yards.
If that happens against Denver, Lewis will be riding off into retirement.
These two teams met in Week 15, with the Broncos winning 34-17. It was closer than that score would indicate, at least through the second quarter, before Joe Flacco threw an interception near Denver's goal line that was returned for a touchdown.
Flacco can't make those same mistakes in a playoff game. He has to be the one to lead this offense against a team that can score a lot of points in a short amount of time.
Unfortunately, given the way Denver's defense is playing and Peyton Manning playing out of his mind, the Ravens don't have enough to win this game. They will cover the spread, for what that's worth.
Broncos 30, Ravens 24
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-3)
These two teams have changed so much since that Week 1 game when San Francisco went into Lambeau and won that it would be hard to draw many conclusions now.
The Packers are as healthy as they have been in a long time.
Charles Woodson was a key player for that defense in the victory over Minnesota, but the 49ers have a much better offensive line and more balance than the Vikings.
Aaron Rodgers is rolling right now. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games, including the playoff victory against Minnesota.
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Of all the changes these teams have gone through, the biggest is the 49ers starting Colin Kaepernick. He is going to be under the microscope now, starting his first playoff game after leading the team to a 5-2 record in games he started.
While not as accurate in the pocket as Alex Smith, Kaepernick is more explosive. He has a great arm and developed a strong rapport with Michael Crabtree, who has 35 catches over the last five games.
The 49ers come into the game banged up. Vernon Davis did play in Week 17 after suffering a concussion the week before, but he was largely ineffective catching one pass.
Justin Smith, who is the lynchpin of the defensive line, is back at practice after suffering a partially torn left tricep in Week 15 against New England. He will probably play on Saturday, but will he be effective?
Pass protection has been a source of concern for the Packers all season. So if the 49ers are able to get pressure with their defensive line, they can neutralize all the things that Rodgers does so well.
This will end up being the best game of the weekend. I want to take the great defense in San Francisco, but something tells me the Packers are ready to make a serious Super Bowl run.
Packers 24, 49ers 20
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (-2)
I am actually surprised that the Falcons are getting a slight edge in this game. No one seems to think they are as good as their record, and everyone has hopped on the Seattle bandwagon in the last five weeks.
But the Seahawks showed in that game against Washington they are not invincible.
They struggled to stop the dynamic pistol offense the Redskins use early, falling behind 14-0. With Robert Griffin III a shell of his former self, it took them four quarters to take control of the game.
The Falcons are more equipped to make a playoff run this year than they have been in the last two years. They are more dynamic on offense thanks to Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan.
Even though all four of those players were there for last year's humiliating loss against New York, they have had more time to develop a better rapport this season.
One area that does concern me about the Falcons is rushing the passer. They finished 28th in the league in sacks. If they can't put pressure on Russell Wilson, he will pick that weak secondary apart.
I know the Seahawks are the better team, but I think the Falcons are going to break this postseason drought sooner rather than later.
Playing at home against a team that played a physical game a week earlier should help them.
Falcons 26, Seahawks 21
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-9)
The fact that the Patriots are "only" favored by nine points is a bit surprising. They had some problems on both sides of the ball down the stretch, but the Texans are a mess right now.
Houston's victory over Cincinnati last week was as bad a playoff win as you will see a team have. You don't need style points in sports. It does help when trying to evaluate where you are at.
Right now the Texans look like a mess.
Matt Schaub has nothing going in the passing game. He did complete 29 passes against the Bengals, but he didn't take any chances down the field and had no touchdowns.
The Patriots have their full offense back together for the first time in seven weeks with Rob Gronkowski on the field. Even without their star tight end, the Patriots beat the Texans by 28 points in what Houston was calling the biggest game in franchise history.
That Houston secondary scares me, not in a good way.
That unit has forced only one interception in the last five games. Unless J.J. Watt and the defensive line is putting pressure on Tom Brady, this is going to turn into another blowout in a hurry.
Patriots 34, Texans 20
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