The Divisional Playoff round is set with the four teams that received byes hosting games this week. After all four road teams won in the Wild Card round – but only two covered the spread – what should bettors expect this coming weekend?
Kansas City (12-5) at New England (12-4)– Spread: Patriots -4.5
New England (7-1 home, 4-3-1 ATS) dropped two straight and four out of six to end the regular season. Their lone loss in Foxborough came against Philadelphia in a game that saw the Eagles score three defensive/special teams TDs. New England ranked third in the NFL in scoring and ninth in total defense. Injuries were a big part of their late-season decline and they should be healthier after the week off, but personnel issues still remain, especially along the offensive line.
The Chiefs humiliated the Texans in Houston on Saturday, shutting out the home team, 30-0. (They were one of the two road teams that covered, just in case the score didn’t make that abundantly clear.) The win was the 11th in a row for KC, who started the season 1-5 and were written off by everyone outside of Missouri. The Chiefs’ run was spurred by an elite defense and a virtually mistake-free offense that boasts an above average ground game.
Andy Reid’s squad gave up just 17.9 points per game, third best in the league, and posted the best turnover margin in the AFC. The Chiefs are 9-8 ATS, overall, and 6-3 away from home after crushing Houston.
The Pats haven’t been dominant against the number at home, but having a healthier receiving corps should be enough to cover against the Chiefs, who will likely be down their own top wideout, Jeremy Maclin (high ankle sprain).
- Pick: Patriots -4.5
Pittsburgh (11-6) at Denver (12-4) – Spread: Broncos -6.5
There’s no question that the Bronco defense is among the best in the NFL, but that’s about all that’s clear about this game at the moment. Denver (8-6-2 ATS, 3-5 home) will be led by Peyton Manning, who has played one decent half of football since mid-November. The future Hall of Famer lost the starting role to Brock Osweiler earlier in the year, partly due to injury but also largely due to performance reasons; he was leading the league in interceptions when Osweiler took over. That said, the 39-year-old has looked better when rested and will be plenty rested for the Divisional Playoffs.
- The Steelers (8-7-2 ATS, 4-4-1 road) were gifted a win on Saturday in Cincinnati. While Pittsburgh was the better team for most of three-and-a-half quarters, it took a Bengal fumble and two bad penalties to line up a game-winning field goal for Pittsburgh. But the Bengals may still have done in the black-and-gold, injuring both Ben Roethlisberger (separated shoulder) and Antonio Brown (concussion). Their status, along with running back DeAngelo Williams, is up in the air, but don’t expect any of the crucial trio to be at their best come Sunday. That makes the rested and healthier Broncos the play.
Pick: Broncos -6.5
Green Bay (11-6) at Arizona (13-3) – Spread: Cardinals -7
The Cardinals (9-7 ATS, 3-5 home) led the NFL in total yards this year while featuring a defense that ranked among the top-ten in the league against both the run and pass. They’ll be without All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee injury) on Saturday, but the Honey Badger didn’t play in Week 15, either, then Arizona pasted the Packers, 38-8, in a game that was over by halftime.
Green Bay (10-7 ATS, 6-3 road) looked the best it has in months on Wild Card weekend, coming back from an early 11-0 deficit to dominate Washington, 35-18. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak. After they got kicked in the teeth by Arizona, the Pack closed the regular season by losing a de facto division title game at home to Minnesota. They finished the regular season with average league rankings on both sides of the ball.
The Packer defense played one of its best games of the year against Washington … and still gave up 18 points. They’ll be facing one of the most potent attacks in the league this weekend. Expect the Cards to put up big numbers again. This time around, though, the Packer offense should perform a little better – their receivers finally showed signs of life against Washington – which makes the over (50) the best option.
- Pick: Over 50
Seattle (11-6) at Carolina (15-1) – Spread: Panthers -3
The Panthers (11-5 ATS, 6-2 home) were the top scoring team in the NFL this year, had the best turnover margin in the league, and gave up only 19.3 points per game (sixth overall). They haven’t lost SU at home all season and also beat the Seahawks in Seattle (27-23) back in October. Quarterback Cam Newton is a virtual shoo-in for MVP and has looked unstoppable with both his arm and his legs, despite working with a crew of drop-prone receivers.
Seattle (8-8-1 ATS, 4-4-1 road) needed a missed chip-shot field goal to survive Wild Card Weekend. Thanks to Blair Walsh’s choke-job, the Seahawks escaped frigid Minnesota with a 10-9 win. The team didn’t score during the first three quarters, but much of that can be chalked up to the weather (which hovered at or below zero the entire game). Seattle closed the year as one of the hottest teams in the NFL and had the top scoring defense in the league during the regular season.
Seattle is an uber-dangerous opponent, but no one has been able to keep pace with Carolina at home this year. Throw in the fact that Marshawn Lynch may still not be in the lineup this weekend, and laying a field goal with the Panthers is my preference.
- Pick: Panthers -3
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)