A historical trend that you will hear about the NFL Divisional round is that at least one team who played in the Wild Card round has moved on to the conference championship since 2005. A lot of people say the NFL has parity, and any team that makes the playoffs could win the Super Bowl. This has been true in cases with the New York Giants twice under Eli Manning and the Packers in 2011. However, you have to ponder if there is still parity in the NFL. The Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Packers were all expected to win double-digit games before the season, and they accomplished that feat. Those four teams are clearly the best teams in the league and it’s reflected in the point spreads this weekend. So the historical trend that a home team is likely to lose this weekend can be thrown out the window. It would be surprising if the final four doesn’t involve New England, Denver, Seattle and Green Bay (unless Rodgers is ineffective because of injury.)
Here is a look at each game and my thoughts on the point spread and totals:
Ravens at Patriots (-7)
This game feels like one where the Patriots blow out the Ravens or Baltimore somehow wins straight up. The Ravens have had past playoff success in Foxboro and are an experienced side. Baltimore’s offense has looked really good at time with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. The Ravens are a dangerous team but there are several reasons why I think New England can with rather easily. First, the Patriots are very solid on both sides of the ball. They have a great home field advantage in Foxboro and have routed teams there this season. In the last six games, the Ravens are 4-2 but none of their wins were against playoff teams. This is the same Ravens teams that lost to Case Keenum and Houston, and were struggling with Connor Shaw and Cleveland in Week 17. Baltimore caught Pittsburgh at the right time last week with the Steelers not having Le’Veon Bell. The Ravens secondary is very shaky and New England can exploit that part of Baltimore’s defense. Joe Flacco does have playoff success but I think his general road struggles will hurt the Ravens. I like the Patriots at -7 and would like them even more if the line drops on game day.
Panthers at Seahawks (-10.5)
I think this line is right where it should be. The Panthers defense has looked very good and it’s not a fluke. This is a team that shut down Drew Brees and Matt Ryan at home in December. The Seahawks defense has looked even better down the home stretch of the season but they weren’t facing the toughest competition. In the final six games, Seattle played Drew Stanton, Colin Kaepernick twice, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Lindley and Shaun Hill. Cam Newton is probably the best out of that bunch but the Panthers and Newton lack offensive talent. It’s hard to see where the points will come from for Carolina. These two teams played in a 13-9 final score back in October so the Seahawks might struggle to score as well. However, late scores and good field position could push the total over 39.5. If you have to take a side in a contest go with Carolina because it’s a double-digit spread with a low total.
Pick: Pass (Contest: Panthers)
Cowboys at Packers (-5.5)
The spread for this game has gone down a bit and now we know Aaron Rodgers has a small tear in his calf. Here is the handicap for this game when not talking the Rodger injury into consideration:
Case for the Cowboys: They are 8-0 on the road. The Cowboys have a great running game that can control the clock, keep Aaron Rodgers off the field and execute against a questionable Green Bay defense.
Case for the Packers: They are 8-0 at home. The Cowboys are 8-0 on the road but only beat one playoff team (Seattle) away from Dallas. One of the games was in London against Jacksonville so that’s more of a neutral site game. The Cowboys are coming off an emotional comeback win against Detroit, and now have to travel to one of the hardest places to play.
I would lean Green Bay especially now that the line is down. Rodgers’ calf injury is a concern especially in winter weather but I couldn’t take the Cowboys after how their game went last week. Because of the Rodgers injury and the Cowboys wanting to slow the game down by using running back DeMarco Murray, under 52 might be the best way to look at this game.
Pick: Pass (Packers)
Colts at Broncos (-7)
The Colts are coming off a solid performance against the Bengals but it’s hard to figure out if they are a good team. The Bengals were missing A.J. Green and were coming off tough games against Denver and Pittsburgh to end the season. The Colts coasted into the postseason and knew they were likely to host a playoff game for several weeks. The Broncos have an improved defense but there has been recent concerns with Peyton Manning. I think this game will be similar to the Week 1 meeting between the two teams.The Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead and the Colts made the scored respectable with two late touchdown. Denver ended up winning 31-24. I think the Broncos will get an early lead and Andrew Luck will throw the ball 30+ times in the second half to try to lead a comeback. I would look at Broncos to cover the first half spread.
Pick: Pass (Broncos)