The 2014 NFL playoffs are about to reach a crescendo before an epic conclusion in the Super Bowl. The conference championships are just around the corner and feature four of the greatest teams the league has to offer, with some of the best players in the business ready to take the field.
It’s a Sunday slate of games you simply aren’t going to want to miss and it could hardly be more exciting. Perhaps the only way to up the thrill level is to have something riding on the outcome of the games.
Whether you are looking to plop down a massive bet at the sportsbook or just a friendly wager amongst your pals, you don’t want to end up on the wrong side. Keep reading for my picks for both games, plus an in-depth look at each matchup.
AFC Championship: New England Patriots (2) at Denver Broncos (1)
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Betting Line: Broncos -4.5 (via ScoresAndOdds.com)
You should know the drill by now. This is Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady and all other storylines take a backseat to the rivalry between these two future Hall of Fame signal-callers.
While it’s fun to debate who of the two is the better player, gamblers are going to want to look at which quarterback is potentially more profitable. The trends are pointing to Brady and New England as the strongest play in this much-anticipated matchup.
Brady is 2-1 over Manning in the playoffs, with a 1-1 tie in the AFC Championship Game. The New England quarterback has 10 wins in 14 meetings with Manning, many of those stemming from his time with the Indianapolis Colts.
However, the Pats have dominated the Broncos as of late, going 5-1 straight up and against the spread over the last six games. The most recent showdown came in Week 12, when the two foes met in Foxborough. New England cobbled together a 24-point comeback to win SU and ATS in overtime, 34-31.
That win proved that the Pats have what it takes to beat this team, even if they fall into an early hole. However, with the way their running game has played as of late, it isn’t likely to happen.
Remember, New England gashed the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round for 234 yards on the ground on 46 carries. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount has received 24 carries in each of his last two games, going for 166 yards and four scores last week and 189 yards and two scores in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills.
The Broncos boast a strong rushing defense—conceding just 101.6 yards per game on the ground—but that won’t stop this Pats team from dialing up the rush and looking to keep their offense balanced. The last thing they want to do is put the ball in Manning’s hands, as he threw a pair of touchdowns and his running backs pounded it 48 times for 280 yards and a score in their last meeting.
Denver has struggled to figure out the AFC East, going just 0-5 SU and ATS against the division over the last five games. The team is also just 2-7 ATS over the last nine postseason games, a bad sign for its chances of advancing to the Super Bowl.
Take the points here and back a New England squad that is built for success on the road and has proved itself against the Broncos in the most trying of circumstances. It’s not a home run, stone-cold lock, but it’s always much better to get points than give them in a situation like this.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Broncos 24
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers (5) at Seattle Seahawks (1)
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Betting Line: Seahawks -3.5 (via ScoresAndOdds.com)
While the AFC championship will focus on the rivalry between two individual players, the story of NFC Championship Game will be the teams and how much they collectively dislike one another, to put it gently.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll commented on the game during his radio appearance on 710 ESPN Seattle, as per ESPN’s Terry Blount:
I think it's the matchup that everybody wanted like to see. We don't mind it one bit and they don't mind it, either. It'll be a great one…These are the two teams everyone was talking about early in the year, so it's interesting how accurate all the [predictors] were. There's not a better matchup you could find right now in the NFC. We're thrilled about it.
These NFC West foes have been battling for supremacy in the division and conference over the past few seasons, with Seattle having a slight edge—especially at home.
In fact, the Seahawks have outscored San Francisco at CenturyLink Field by a total of 55 points in their last two contests. They lost just one total game in the Pacific Northwest during the 2013 campaign, while they went undefeated in their own digs during a breakout 2012 season.
That should make the difference in this one, as the teams are extremely evenly matched aside from that. They share a similar record over the last two seasons, with the 49ers going 23-8-1 and Seattle going 24-8-0. These rivals also score an average that falls within 0.7 points per game (25.4 points per game for the 49ers, 26.1 for the Seahawks).
Most importantly, they both pride themselves on a stout defense that can completely overwhelm and dominate the opposition. The 49ers rank third in the league in scoring defense, giving up just 17.0 points per game. The Seahawks have been even better, ranking atop the NFL in that category with a mere 14.4 points per game allowed.
Which team will cover?
Seattle’s rushing defense was good all year—giving up just 1,626 yards, the seventh-best mark in the league—and will have to be great on Sunday.
Considering the Niners rely heavily on a rushing attack led by Frank Gore (the team ranked third in the league with 137.6 yards per game on the ground), a stout Seattle front would make all the difference in this one.
You’re going to want to lay the points here and take the chalk. Seattle is downright unstoppable at home and well worth a play as a favorite here. Expect them to advance to the Super Bowl after 60 minutes of great football.
Prediction: Seahawks 21, 49ers 14