Broncos QB Peyton Manning
Last week: 3-1. Postseason totals: 3-1, Pct. .750. Bets Bets: 1-0, Pct. 1.000.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
DENVER 45, Baltimore 14 (+9)—Theseus had Medea. Alydar had Affirmed. And the Baltimore Ravens have Peyton Manning—to whom they lost for the ninth consecutive time four weeks ago (and also not covering in the last eight).
Not even the fact that Manning moved from Indianapolis to Denver, or that the Broncos have an extensive history of futility on artificial turf to live down, seemed to make any difference whatsoever, as Denver went into Baltimore and came out with a cosmetically "close" 34-17 victory. Denver went into the game having been 6-11 straight up and 5-12 against the line since 2007 on rugs, and even Manning couldn't improve their form, having gone 1-2 both ways.
You may be interested to know that since 2006 teams losing a regular-season game to a team at home and then playing the same team on the road in the playoffs are 2-5 both straight up and against the spread in the postseason rematch, with both exceptions involving the New York Giants following up a loss at home to Green Bay in the regular season with a playoff win there.
Even in their wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, the Ravens still allowed a disturbing 441 total yards. Look for P-Man to pile on both the yards and the points in the week's safest investment.
Green Bay 24 (+3), SAN FRANCISCO 17—In the summer of 1991, Jim McMahon turned more than a few heads when he wore a jersey with a question mark rather than a number on it during the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp. Colin Kaepernick should be similarly attired for this game—for he is a huge question mark going up against the quarterback with the best career postseason passer rating on the road in NFL history.
The Packers have had no problem whatsoever getting it done in San Francisco, winning six of their last seven there and covering in all seven. Green Bay was 3.5-point underdogs when they lost 30-27 at Candlestick in a 1998 wild-card playoff game. Their defense's meteoric rise from 32nd in the league in 2011 to 11th in 2012 has gotten shockingly little attention from the the likes of ESPN, which this week is choosing instead to bombard us constantly with Terrell Owens' game-winning (but not covering) catch in the aforementioned playoff game.
Well there won't be any last-minute heroics from the San Francisco 49ers this time around, leaving the Packers to await the outcome of Sunday's other NFC semifinal game, to see whether Aaron Rodgers will get to add to his gaudy road playoff record, or whether they will be heading back home for the conference title game.
Seattle 27 (+2), ATLANTA 21—What is it about the Kellys in college football? Neither Chip nor Brian has been able to win the big one. And what is about the Ryans in the NFL? Buddy Ryan went 0-3 in the playoffs as the head coach in Philadelphia, despite getting two of the games at home. And then there is Matt Ryan, taking the same 0-for-3 lifetime postseason collar into this game.
In Matt Ryan and Atlanta's case, the bye may actually work to their disadvantage, as they are facing a team that just won a playoff game last week.
One would figure that since the Falcons finished two games ahead of the Seahawks during the regular season, that the line here should be closer to five than two. But don't let the "value" lead you astray; instead, hold true to the maxim of not betting on a team as a favorite to do something they have never done before.
NEW ENGLAND 38, Houston 17 (+10)—Twenty-four hours after the Broncos will have sent a huge message, it will be up to the New England Patriots to respond. In a way, a win here would be one of Bill Belichick's hallmark achievements, for it would send a defending Super Bowl runner-up to a conference championship game the following season for the first time in 19 years.
It is very difficult to take this matchup seriously. The game's late time slot only adds to New England's already formidable weather advantage. Furthermore, even in these, the two best seasons in franchise history, the Texans are 1-7-1 against the spread on artificial turf. Only the respect one has to have for the Super Bowl Runner-Up Jinx makes New England not quite as much of a lock as Denver.
BEST BET: DENVER