Three out of the four Wild Card Round games came down to the wire, so one might assume that the divisional round will be quite similar. Despite that, three of those games have fairly large spreads attached to them, so the oddsmakers obviously feel as though things will be much different this weekend.
Perhaps they're right, but the competitiveness that has been displayed throughout the season suggests that these games will be extremely close. That internal struggle will make betting on the games quite difficult, but there is undoubtedly some money to be made.
Here are the three best bets against the spread for this weekend's divisional round as teams vie for the right to play for a conference title.
|Away Team||Home Team||Spread||Pick ATS|
|New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||SEA (-8)||NO|
|Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||NE (-7.5)||IND|
|San Francisco 49ers||Carolina Panthers||SF (-3)||SF|
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||DEN (-10)||DEN|
Spreads courtesy of Bovada
Indianapolis Colts (+7.5 @ NE)
There is a certain mystique that surrounds quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come playoff time, and that is something that the Indianapolis Colts will have to overcome in the divisional round. The Pats have largely had the Colts' number in the playoffs over the past several years, but things are different now. Peyton Manning is now leading the charge for the Denver Broncos, while Andrew Luck is quickly putting his stamp on the Colts franchise.
Luck's legend started to grow in the Wild Card Round, when he led a 28-point comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs. Indy obviously can't afford to fall that far behind against the Patriots this week, especially on the road, but it is clear that the Colts have something intangible on their side.
With that said, something has to give in Foxboro, Mass. The combination of Brady and Bill Belichick boasts an impeccable home playoff record; however, some cracks have started to form in the armor, as noted by NFL on ESPN:
Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 11-3 at home in the playoffs: 8-0 first 8 games 3-3 last 6 games— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 8, 2014
The Pats are no longer unbeatable at home during the postseason, and that bodes well for the Colts.
Indianapolis experienced some late-season struggles, so it's easy to forget how impressive the team was this year. The Colts knocked off a trio of Super Bowl contenders in the Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, so there is no reason why they can't do the same to the Patriots. New England has found a way to persevere through a myriad of devastating injuries this season, but the buck stops here.
Which team is most likely to cover the spread in the divisional round?
San Francisco 49ers (-3 @ CAR)
When the Carolina Panthers scored a hard-fought 10-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers during the regular season, people finally started to take the Panthers seriously as contenders. With that in mind, it's only fitting that they will have to get past the Niners once again in order to further establish themselves. Carolina does have home-field advantage on its side this time around, but the Niners are the more battle-tested team.
The 49ers have made consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game, and they represented the NFC in last year's Super Bowl. They clearly know how to win big games in the playoffs, but that is something that the Panthers still have to learn.
Carolina is a fairly young team without a ton of playoff experience, but wide receiver Steve Smith has been through the grind before. Although Smith intends to play against the Niners, according to the Panthers' official Twitter account, it remains to be seen if he'll be as effective as usual after injuring his PCL:
Steve Smith: "I'm going to play Sunday, but it's about how much I don't worry about the knee." http://t.co/jmXrkWVxZL— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 6, 2014
Smith didn't have a standout season by any means, but Cam Newton won't have much to fall back on if he is ineffective. That will be even more pressure on the likes of Greg Olsen, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn, and it would likely force Newton to run more as well.
The play of Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is also a concern after the Panthers defense handled him during the regular season, but he'll find a way to rise to the occasion on the playoff stage once again.
New Orleans Saints (+8 @ SEA)
If the New Orleans Saints come to Seattle with the same effort level that they did during the regular season, the Seahawks will undoubtedly run them out of the stadium once again. On the heels of the Saints' first ever road playoff win, however, there is reason to believe that this game will be far more competitive.
New Orleans showed plenty of mettle and toughness in beating the Philadelphia Eagles during the Wild Card Round, and it should most definitely have a renewed attitude in the divisional round.
Beating the Seahawks on the road may seem impossible, but it isn't. The Arizona Cardinals outlasted Seattle in a Week 16 slugfest, and although the Saints generally don't play that type of style, they aren't incapable of it. New Orleans relied more heavily on its running game than usual in the Wild Card Round, and running back Mark Ingram came through with a strong showing.
In addition to that, the Saints are doing everything possible to prepare for the hostile environment they are sure to encounter in Seattle, per the team's official Twitter account:
Actually performing within that situation is a totally different story, but it's essentially impossible for the Saints to be worse than they were the last time the two teams played. Drew Brees is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and that counts for something come playoff time.
The Seahawks are the better all-around team since they excel in all three phases, but the Saints are more complete than they're given credit for. Look for the Seahawks to escape with a win, but New Orleans will keep it close enough to cover.
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