We’ve got four outstanding NFL Divisional Playoff games this weekend with two large favorites in the AFC and two small ones in the NFC. Let’s take a look at the matchups and see if we can find a few winners.
Ravens at Broncos (-8½, 46)
We saw this game in Week 15 at Baltimore with the Broncos winning easily, 34-17. The tide turned in the final seconds of the first half with Denver up 10-0, and Baltimore inside Denver’s 5 getting ready to make it 10-7. Joe Flacco threw an interception and the Broncos ran it back 98 yards for a score. Just like that it was 17-0 and 31-3 heading into the fourth quarter.
That was the Ravens third loss in a row, in what could have been their fifth straight. Remember the 3-point wins against Pittsburgh and the Chargers (Ray Rice 4th and 29 play). It may be premature to say they are out of their slump, but beating the Colts last week goes a long ways, especially considering it was the first time the Ravens had Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed on the field at the same time.
The Broncos have won 11 in a row and covered four straight. The only question is having the week off. We’ve seen top seeded teams very vulnerable in the last 7 seasons with 5 of the Wild Card teams going on to win the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Broncos 34, Ravens 29
Packers at 49ers (-3, 45½)
These two played in Week 1 at Lambeau Field with the 49ers winning 30-22 as 6-point underdogs. A lot has changed since, at least for the 49ers. Despite QB Alex Smith being very productive, coach Jim Harbaugh kept visualizing Smith’s talents being the difference between simply getting to the NFC Championship – like last season – to actually winning the game.
Enter Colin Kaepernick. While he can make plays that Smith can’t with both his legs and arm, there is something to be said for Alex playing his role and not turning the ball over, the cornerstone of Harbaugh‘s 49ers. If Harbaugh’s gamble of putting all his eggs in one basket fails, he’ll be ridiculed far worse than he’s ever felt at any time in career.
This is a huge game for Harbaugh, and his team knows it. The Packers have started to run the ball a little better, but their weakness on the offensive line is glaring, and part of the reason they started 2-3. They can’t give Aaron Rodgers the protection he needs to succeed against teams with a good pass rush, and they‘ll be facing one of the fiercest pass defenses in the league.
If you look up and down the Packers schedule, outside of clobbering the Texans, they don’t have many quality wins and their 38-10 loss to the Giants amplifies the point more regarding the Packers offensive line. This should be one of the best games of the weekend.
Prediction: 49ers 37, Packers 28.
Seahawks at Falcons (-2½, 46)
They call Falcons QB Matt Ryan “Matty Ice” and that title has worked well as he’s gone 33-6 at home as a starter. If we had to label him for his postseason performance, his nickname would be “Matty Mush.” He’s 0-3 in the playoffs and the combination between that and just being perceived as an ordinary “good” team has them as a short home favorite over the Seahawks.
This is a rare situation where the visiting team in the divisional playoff round is rated higher than the No. 1 seed. But the perception is that the Seahawks are better and have played much tougher competition along the way. The Falcons beat the Broncos in Week 2 before Manning got his groove going. Atlanta then beat the Redskins before they got going, and then they beat….wait, I guess that’s it. No one else they beat made the playoffs.
On the other side we have a team that is rolling with a 6-game winning streak with wins over the Packers, Patriots, 49ers and Redskins. Seattle has been outstanding defensively all season long, but it was when rookie QB Russell Wilson started getting comfortable that they started to look like team that could make the Super Bowl.
The Falcons have too much losing baggage within the locker room between coach Mike Smith, Ryan and the 0-for-lifetime playoff record of Tony Gonzalez.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Falcons 13.
Texans at Patriots (-9, 48)
I’d like to believe a lot has changed with Texans since losing at New England, 42-14, in Week 14. I want to take the points badly, but Matt Schaub scares me. On the positive side, we have a great running game with Arian Foster. Even though the Pats held him to 46 yards rushing in their earlier meeting, it’s a great starting point to find value in the dog.
We know that if Foster and the offensive line can get going. They can control the clock and flow of the game despite Schaub. The Texans were considered an elite team before losing 3 of their final 4 regular season games.
Those losses are part of the reason to find fault with Houston this week. They had the top seed in the playoffs wrapped up, then the No. 2 seed. All they had to do was win one of their final two and they couldn’t. They bounced back last week, which perhaps shook them out of their misery. It seems like too tough of a task, mainly because Schaub is playing in only his second playoff game.
The Texans defensive makeup doesn’t scare Tom Brady. In order to beat the Patriots, Brady has to be rattled. Look for the largest margin of victory on the weekend to come in this game.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Texans 17.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Contact Micah at MicahRoberts@GamingToday.com.
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