The divisional round of the 2014 NFL playoffs is just about to get underway, meaning gamblers have a limited amount of time to get their last-minute bets in on the upcoming slate of action.
Whether you are looking to plop down a massive wager at the sportsbook or just make a small bet amongst friends, you would be wise to back the right team and come out on the winning side.
Here’s a look at the updated lines for each game and my predictions for the outcome of each against the spread, plus a closer look at a couple of picks you definitely don’t want to miss out on this weekend.
|Away Team||Home Team||Pick (Spread)|
|New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||SEA (-9)|
|Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||NE (-7)|
|San Francisco 49ers||Carolina Panthers||CAR (PK)|
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||SD (+9)|
Seattle Seahawks (-9) over New Orleans Saints
The Seahawks are a heavy favorite in this matchup, proving that oddsmakers weren’t shaken when three road teams won straight up during Wild Card Weekend.
While those trendy results may have some eager to back New Orleans—fresh off its first true road playoff win in franchise history—smart bettors will stick to their guns and go with a tried-and-true Seattle squad.
The chalk lost just a single game at CenturyLink Field during the 2013 campaign and blew out the Saints in a nationally televised Week 13 Monday Night Football contest just over a month ago.
Not much has changed since, although the Seahawks have gotten even better against the run and are getting a key offensive weapon back in the mix.
According to the Seahawks’ official Twitter feed, the defense finished the season allowing just 38 total yards on the ground to its last four opponents:
Best stat in last 4 games of 2013: 38 combined rushing yards allowed by Seahawks defense. http://t.co/aOL1FB0t6K— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) January 1, 2014
Seattle was great before that amazing stretch and finished the year being ranked No. 7 in the league at stopping the run, conceding a shade over 101 yards per game to the opposition.
Expect New Orleans, a squad that averages just 92.1 yards per game rushing, to have its offense reduced to a one-dimensional, predictable attack. The Saints will simply find nowhere to run and come up empty-handed when they try to find space against this ferocious front.
The aforementioned weapon just happens to be Percy Harvin, one of the biggest game-breakers in the NFL today. While he has only played in a single game since being traded from the Minnesota Vikings to Seattle, Saturday represents the perfect time for this 25-year-old to shine for his new team.
Harvin’s elite combination of speed, athleticism and vision makes him a danger to break off a home run play at any moment, whether that comes as a receiver, out of the backfield or in the return game. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has the ability to give Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fits by utilizing his new toy in unique and unseen ways.
Harvin recently spoke about his return from a hip injury that has kept him sidelined, telling Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times:
“I’m just going to cut it loose. I made all the cuts and did all the things in practice that I could possibly do in a game. I felt no limitations and no swelling came, no setbacks. I’m going to go out there and give it all I have."
Expect Harvin’s emergence—coupled with the Seahawks' usual defensive dominance—to be a difference-maker and a huge reason why Seattle runs away with an easy victory on Saturday afternoon.
Carolina Panthers (PK) over San Francisco 49ers
The Panthers opened up as a slight favorite before quickly moving to a one-point underdog. However, wise gamblers began pouring money in on Carolina and shifted this spread down to a pick ‘em.
If you still haven’t backed the Panthers, now is the time. There is a decent chance that the dollars keep coming and eventually Carolina winds back up as chalk in this divisional matchup with the 49ers.
Foregoing a chance at backing the red-hot No. 2 seed in a home matchup with an opponent it already proved it can beat—on the road to boot—would be downright foolish.
Remember, the Panthers are 8-3-1 ATS over their last 12 games and 11-1 straight up in that same span. They are 7-0 SU over their last seven home contests and 6-0-1 ATS in that span. Carolina simply wins football games in Charlotte, and it’s been a bad decision to go against that line of thinking.
Many believe that the lack of playoff experience on the Panthers roster will doom them against this battle-tested 'Niners squad, but Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert thinks otherwise.
He spoke with Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer about being disrespected in the face of glaring trends that suggest his team should be taken more seriously:
“To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous why we’re the underdogs at home when we’re 7-1 at home, when we beat teams that are in the same caliber as San Francisco, if not better. Personally I got a bad taste in my mouth about it.”
Don’t start overthinking the Panthers' 10-9 win in Candlestick Park earlier this season. It was a clear indicator of what will happen in Bank of America Stadium on Sunday when these two teams meet again.
Which team will win?
Carolina had Colin Kaepernick’s number and forced the young signal-caller into one of his worst games as a starter. He was held to 91 yards and an interception, a testament to the schemes and strength of the Panthers defense.
While Kaepernick is coming off a good game against the Green Bay Packers on the road, that has been a team he has owned over the past two seasons. Carolina is a different animal and will prove it once again before punching a ticket to the NFC Championship.