Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Last week: 1-2-1. Postseason totals: 4-3-1, Pct. .563. Best Bets: 1-1, Pct. .500.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
ATLANTA 26 (+3), San Francisco 21—It doesn't matter how it was done. It doesn't matter how many anxious moments there were while it was getting done. Over the hump is over the hump.
And since the Falcons are now over the hump, they have no business being home underdogs to a team they finished a game-and-a-half ahead of.
Yes, much has been said, and written, about the Falcons and their "easy" schedule. Yet they won and covered in all three of the games they played against teams with winning records during the regular season. It's also worth noting that they beat the same team at home, 34-0, that the 49ers lost to at home, 26-3!
Now a word about the quarterbacks.
Matt Ryan is 34-6 straight up as a starter at home, and 24-14-2 against the spread.
Colin Kaepernick had a passer rating of 89.1 on artificial turf in 2012. Not bad—but pretty far down the FM dial from the 105.1 rating he pulled on natural grass.
Kaepernick also committed two critical miscues—intentional grounding from his own end zone, and a fumble deep in his own territory—that cost the 49ers 10 points in a game that they lost at a domed stadium in overtime. Also note that these two plays had no adverse effect on the aforementioned artificial-turf passer rating.
So it is premature to anoint Colin Kaepernick as the new Steve Young at this point. And Young is relevant here because since he retired, the 49ers have gone 21-38 straight up on artificial turf, and 14-25 indoors.
Finally, Atlanta has won the last four meetings.
The team that should have been favored by four or five points will win the game by four or five points.
NEW ENGLAND 30, Baltimore 27 (+9.5)—Finally in this postseason, "picks against the spread" gets to live up to its name.
When the Ravens broke through and beat the Patriots in the regular season for the first time since moving from Cleveland in Week 3, it nonetheless continued a trend.
What trend? That of the underdog covering in this series—as Baltimore, favored by three, won 31-30. The underdog is now 3-0-1 against the spread in the last four Pats vs. Ravens games.
And this is just the second time in NFL history that the same two teams have played each other in the conference championship game, with the same team at home in both games.
In 1978 and '79, the Steelers both hosted and defeated the then-Houston Oilers for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. The Steelers, of course, won both of those Super Bowls.
But where Pittsburgh covered the spread in both of those AFC title games, New England did not cover in last year's, winning by only three as a seven-point opening-line favorite. And this time around, the number opened even higher.
Six of the eight 2011 division champions repeated in 2012. Three of the four 2011 conference title-game participants also repeated in 2012.
So will both of the losers of those latter games. But just like last year too, one of them will cover.
And wouldn't you know? The same one.
BEST BET: ATLANTA