The Divisional Round of the 2014 NFL playoffs begins shortly, and it promises to be one of the most exciting weekends of football this season. While most fans would be satisfied just taking in the action, many others need to get the juices flowing by having something riding on the outcome.
If your team has been eliminated and you are looking for a reason to cheer someone on or you are just looking to increase your bankroll ahead of the Super Bowl, fret not as I have you covered.
Keep reading for the latest lines and my picks for every game in the round, plus a closer look at a handful of can’t-miss bets you will want to wager the house on.
|Away Team||Home Team||Pick (Spread)|
|New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||NO (+8)|
|Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||NE (-7)|
|San Francisco 49ers||Carolina Panthers||CAR (+1)|
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||SD (+9)|
Carolina Panthers (+1) over San Francisco 49ers
This is the best bet of the Divisional Round and you would be crazy to avoid backing Carolina. It’s a near surefire way to win at least one game against the spread this weekend.
The fact that you are able to get points with the No. 2 seed in the NFC that has gone 11-1 straight up and 8-3-1 ATS over the last 12 games, plus is coming off a much-needed bye, is incredible.
Factor in that Carolina went on the road and dispatched the 49ers, 10-9, at Candlestick Park earlier in the 2013 campaign and you are looking at possibly the biggest home run wager of the postseason.
The Panthers are even better at home, going undefeated over the last seven contests played at Bank of America Stadium and 6-0-1 ATS in that same span. They’ve held opponents to an average of just 12 points per game in Charlotte and the atmosphere in the building will be electric on Sunday.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton admitted as much, while also telling the Associated Press (via The Charlotte Post) that there is more on the line in the NFL playoffs than when he participated in the BCS Championship game with Auburn:
“Two different situations. It’s nothing like college at all. I have yet to experience a playoff game, but I know the atmosphere will be hectic to say the least. There is a lot more to play for if you ask me.”
Which team will cover?
Niners signal-caller Colin Kaepernick will be the key to this game. If he struggles once again, as he did when the Panthers held the third-year veteran to just 91 yards and an interception in their first meeting this season, there is almost no chance that San Francisco can keep this one close.
Considering the strength of the Carolina defense and its proven ability to shut him down, it’s not a stretch to see the Panthers winning this one big and advancing to the NFC title game.
Take the points, back the home underdog and watch as they parlay that lack of respect into a dominant outing on Saturday.
San Diego Chargers (+9) over Denver Broncos
The Bolts were one of the biggest surprises of the latter portion of the regular season and carried that momentum into the playoffs with a shocking, blowout road win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Despite their 4-1 ATS and 5-0 SU record in the last five games, the Chargers are still getting almost no respect heading into a Divisional Round matchup with the AFC West rival Broncos—an opponent that San Diego beat on the road already this season.
The Chargers defense is a large reason why many aren’t giving them a chance at keeping it close against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. It conceded 258.7 yards passing to opposing quarterbacks, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL in 2013. However, that same defense forced four turnovers this past Sunday and was the driving force behind the team’s 27-10 Wild Card win.
Remember, the Bolts also held Manning to a pedestrian 289 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 15 win. The future Hall of Famer connected on just 27-of-41 passes during that Thursday Night Football matchup and also tossed a rare interception.
Don’t forget the rushing defense, which gave up a mere 18 yards to Denver on the ground. San Diego has done that well all year and ranked No. 12 in the league by conceding a mere 107.8 yards per game to opposing rushers.
Philip Rivers’ elite play in 2013 is another reason the Chargers shouldn’t be discounted. He’d be a legit MVP candidate if it weren’t for Manning’s historical, record-setting campaign.
ESPN Stats & Info has a closer look at the strides the San Diego signal-caller has made since last year:
A visual look at the improvements Chargers QB Philip Rivers has made from 2012 to 2013, using Total QBR as a guide pic.twitter.com/eRyU8WZxoY— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2014
As long as the Bolts can force the Broncos into becoming a one-dimensional passing team, they have a great chance at keeping this tight up until the final minutes.
While it is doubtful that San Diego emerges with a second road win over this powerhouse opponent, it could very well keep the score close against a Denver team that allows 24.9 points per game.
Go with the underdog here and watch as this turns out to be another nail-biter, just like three of the four postseason games of 2014.