The divisional round of the Playoffs features hefty spreads across the NFL Odds board, lending momentum to the idea of an upset or two could be brewing on the horizon. Here's our game-by-game analysis complete with NFL picks against the spread.
Ravens +7.0 vs. Patriots -7.0
Baltimore Ravens are gearing up for another AFC showdown with the Patriots, their fourth postseason clash in the last five years. In 2009, the Ravens beat the Patriots 33-14 at Gillette Stadium coming through as the 4-point road pups; in 2011, they lost to the Patriots 23-20 but covered as the 7-point road pups; and in 2012, they beat the Patriots 28-13 to come through as the 8-point road pups. That's a distinct NFL betting trend in the postseason that tips the scale towards the Ravens for your NFL picks.
Of course, this season's installment of the Patriots is one of the best in recent memory, an assessment that underscores this rather hefty 7-point spread. The Patriots are the third highest scoring team this season with 468 points through 16 games, which is an average of 29.25 points scored per game. At home, they've scored 264 points for an average of 33-points per game. Overall, on the season, they are 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS with a 16.2-point margin of victory. On that home form, it's going to take a brave person to bet against Tom Brady and Company, even if it's a matchup with the Ravens, the equivalent of kryptonite to Patriots.
By way of introduction to the playoffs, Tom Brady and the Patriots have already heard enough of about the Ravens and their dangerous floating ways. They've been asked about it. They've talked about it. All they'd like to do now is just put paid on that notion. The way the narrative is shaping up, plenty have earmarked the Patriots for the upset in the Divisional Round. Earlier in the season, when the Patriots lost in a big way to the Chiefs, the Patriots bounced back with a seven-game winning streak that silenced their critics. The postseason may be an entirely different ball game, but the Patriots understand this better than anybody having already lost twice in three postseason meetings with the Ravens. They aren't going to underestimate them, surely.
Free NFL Picks: Patriots -7.0 at Bodog
Panthers +10.5 vs. Seahawks -10.5
Betting against the Seahawks may seem an exercise in futility, but a 10.5-point spread seems a bit absurd, don't you think. Consider the Panthers held the Seahawks to a low-scoring, grind in week 5 of the regular season that the Seahawks were fortunate to win 13-9, this many points does seem to be overenthusiastic. This NFL betting line appears to be down to perception: a losing team in the Panthers (7-8-1 SU), who reached the playoffs by virtue of an anaemic NFC South, taking on the defending champions Seattle Seahawks, who rounded out into sublime form down the stretch winning six on the trot to take the best winning run of form into the postseason. It doesn't seem to take any stock of the Panthers' own run of form, which improved to five straight wins with a win over the Arizona Cardinals in the wildcard round.
There's an argument to be had about the quality of teams the Panthers beat down the stretch to assemble this run of form. But that argument could easily be applied to the Seahawks too, as they faced their divisional rivals in five of their last six games, familiar foes that were dealing with a whole slew of issues towards the business end of the season. The key element that can't be ignored: winning begets winning. Both teams are winning and neither is going to apologise for which teams they beat to get here. All that matters, is they are through to the divisional round, a win away from the NFC Championship game. So both teams notionally have an equal shot to advance.
CenturyLink Field may be an unnerving place, which gives them the decided edge in NFL betting markets. However, the Seahawks haven't been infallible on home turf this season. They lost to the Cowboys 30-20 earlier in the term. Overall, the Seahawks have been inconsistent on offense and since their date with Tony Romo and the Cowboys they've not come up against a top quarterback in top form. Cam Newton and the Panthers are tough football team that play a physical brand of football, built well to counter what the Seahawks bring to the table. They can pass and run the football just as much as the Seahawks can, which makes this a closer matchup in our opinion than the NFL odds would suggest. Hence, we recommend taking the Panthers as the hefty 11-point underdogs on your NFL picks. Frankly, we wouldn't be shocked if the Panthers pull off the outright upset and eliminate the Seahawks as well.
Free NFL Picks: Panthers +10.5
Cowboys +6.0 vs. Packers -6.0
Sunday's second NFC Showdown is a highly anticipated affair between the two hottest hands in the game down the stretch: Tony Romo (113.2 rating) and Aaron Rodgers (112.2 rating). What makes this clash additionally intriguing is the undefeated records that are on the line: the Cowboys are 8-0 SU on the road and the Packers are 8-0 SU at home.
On the offensive side of the ball, there's plenty to recommend both teams in this game. Tony Romo is coming off the best December of his career, posting some sensational numbers and leading the Cowboys down the stretch with a perfect 4-0 record. In the wildcard round, however, the Detroit Lions' defense kept Romo honest, putting him to task on each and every drive. Indeed, they very nearly upset the Cowboys at AT&T stadium, fritting away a 20-7 lead to lose 24-20. Although the Cowboys will be chomping at the bits to have escaped such a close call, the win did leave a lot to be desired.
In a quarterback league, Aaron Rodgers' blend of accuracy, signal calling and sheer determination is second to none. The way he's torn to shreds every single opponent that has come to Lambeau this season is a marvel, not to mention his eye-popping stats. And the confidence the team has behind their quarterback could be the difference maker, along with their underrated defense that could harass Tony Romo to no end. At first glance, a six-point spread seems to be a lot to be giving the Packers given the month Tony Romo and the Cowboys have just put to bed. But this is Lambeau and Aaron Rodgers is one of the best when it comes to shredding through defenses, a side of the ball the Cowboys can be beat on. As such, we're not comfortable betting against Aaron Rodgers and Company on their turf where they are 6-1-1 ATS with a 19.4-point margin of victory.
NFL Picks: Packers -6.0
Colts +7.0 vs. Broncos -7.0
Quite a few narratives online have put this game on the upset alert for their SU picks, never mind ATS picks. We're of the other opinion, the Broncos all the way across the board. Much is being made of the young vs. the old; the successor vs. the predecessor and the seductive prospect of the changing of the guard occurring at this pivotal stage of the playoffs. Paying lip service to Andrew Luck's obvious talent is fine, but when it comes at the expense of a tried and tested champions such as Peyton Manning it has the whiff of overzealousness, not to mention seriously underestimating the wealth of experience the seasoned veteran has at his fingertips.
Earlier this season, the Broncos launched their campaign on a 30-24 win over the Colts at Mile High. Granted the Colts covered as the 8-point pups on the road, but how much stock should NFL bettors put into that remains to be seen. It was the first game of the season after all and the perfectionist Peyton Manning was working with a revamped Broncos side. This is going to be an entirely different ball game at Mile High. It's also the middle of winter and conditions are going to be very different to those the Colts enjoyed in September. Andrew Luck only just improved to 2-2 SU in the postseason with a win over the Bengals, who have a history of faltering in the playoffs. It sends them into this game with some optimism. But are the Colts (on both sides of the ball, mind) as close to the Broncos as some NFL pundits are suggesting? We don't think so. So we're banking on the Broncos on our NFL picks to cover the 7-point spread at home.
Free NFL Picks: Broncos -7.0