Well, as has been the case for most of the past decade, both No. 1 seeds failed to make it to conference championship weekend in the NFL playoffs. In fact, we came only about 31 seconds from both failing to do so this season, but Atlanta’s Matt Ryan showed why his nickname is “Matty Ice” with last week’s game-winning field goal drive against Seattle for the NFC’s top-seeded Falcons.
There are almost too many props to go over, but let’s start with the old favorites: most passing, rushing and receiving yards along with highest-scoring team at Sportsbook.ag. Last week, I loved the Patriots to be the highest-scoring team, and probably 95 times out of 100 a team that scores 42 points as New England did will win any playoff weekend. However, last weekend’s 276 points combined were the most scored ever on any playoff weekend. Whereas no team topped 24 points in the wild-card round, no team had less than 28 in the divisional round. The Niners won the week with 45 against Green Bay thanks to a historic performance from QB Colin Kaepernick in his first playoff start.
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This week the Pats are +120 favorites against Baltimore (+450 long shot). I don’t like New England here as the temperatures will be below freezing by kickoff, and it’s supposed to be quite windy. The Ravens held that high-powered New England offense to 23 points in last year’s AFC title game loss, and the Pats lost Rob Gronkowski last week for the rest of the season with a re-broken forearm. Nope, the choice has to be either San Francisco (+200) or Atlanta (+400) in the cozy comforts of the 72-degree Georgia Dome. Because I believe the Niners win something like 28-24, they are the pick.
Last week’s rushing leader was Kaepernick with a ridiculous 181 yards, an NFL record for a QB in any game. Kaepernick wasn’t a betting option then, but he is now at +350. The Falcons allowed the most rushing yards per attempt by opposing quarterbacks than any team in the NFL this season. But they will 100 percent make Kaepernick beat them with his arm, so don’t bother there. Also, because of the weather at Foxboro, I have to recommend Baltimore’s Ray Rice at +250 (co-favorite with Niners’ Frank Gore) in what should be a run-heavy Ravens attack. New England kept Rice in check in last year’s AFC title game with 67 yards on 21 carries. But in the Ravens’ Week 3 win over the Patriots, Rice had 101 yards on 20 carries (he averages 97.3 vs. New England in the regular season over his career). And last week, Rice led all running backs with 131 yards on 30 carries. I expect a similar workload this week unless Rice starts fumbling again as he did against the Colts in the wild-card round.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson won last week with an NFL playoff rookie-record 385 passing yards in the loss to Atlanta. I liked Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers against the Niners, but he disappointed with 257. This week, Brady is the even-money favorite. Frankly, Brady hasn’t been as good as Joe Flacco recently in the postseason. I like Ryan at +300. Don’t believe the Falcons will be able to run on the Niners and that Ryan will throw around 40 times. He topped 40 attempts seven times during the regular season and passed for at least 301 yards in five of those. His confidence should be soaring after his first playoff victory.
Seahawks tight end Zach Miller won last week with 142 receiving yards, while I liked the Niners’ Michael Crabtree at 7/1. He finished with the third-most at 119. Crabtree is a +600 second-favorite this week along with Atlanta’s Roddy White and Julio Jones and New England tight end Aaron Hernandez. The favorite is the Pats’ Wes Welker at +400. Certainly, Welker and Hernandez should see more balls with Gronk out, but Brady will still spread the action around. Ditto with Ryan and all his excellent Falcons targets, including Tony Gonzalez (+1000). I see no reason not to take Crabtree again. He now has three 100-yard games in his past four, and Kaepernick clearly loves him – to the detriment of Niners tight end Vernon Davis, who rarely sees the ball.
I always enjoy historical props, and with the Ravens and Patriots staging the first AFC title game rematch in the following season since the Broncos-Browns in 1986 & 87, there are a handful at Bovada comparing last year’s game to Sunday’s. Brady was fairly lousy in last year’s win – admitting he “sucked” – by throwing for 239 yards, no TDs and two picks. He is at -60.5 yards (-125) against that total on Sunday. No Gronk, and Brady has topped 299.5 yards passing in just two of the past six games. Take the +60.5 at -105.
Rice is at -7.5 yards (-125) against last year’s 67-yard total, and I love that one. You can also get Rice at -4.5 rushing yards (-115) against Patriots running back Stevan Ridley. Jump on that as well. Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin had 101 yards receiving in last year’s title game and is set at -25.5 yards (-125) this time around. After a pretty mediocre regular season, Boldin has been a factor in Baltimore’s past three games. But I don’t see him getting 76 receiving yards. Take the -25.5. I would also jump on Welker at -17.5 yards (-125) against Boldin (-105).
Finally, who scores the first touchdown of the AFC title game? The two starting tailbacks, Rice and Ridley, are 13/2 favorites. I think I would double up here in taking Welker at 15/2 and the field at 13/2 – on the latter, if any defensive player or special teams player does it you cash in.
In the NFC title game, Gore (13/2), Kaepernick (15/2) and Atlanta’s Michael Turner (15/2) are the favorites. I like the Falcons’ Gonzalez at 8/1. It’s the first conference championship game for Gonzalez and potentially the career finale for the first-ballot Hall of Famer. The greatest receiving tight end in NFL history did score Atlanta’s first TD last week, and I believe he does it again.
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