Ranking the NFL Divisional-Round Playoff Games by Betting Attractiveness
by Trevor Whenham - 1/6/2015
Wild-Card weekend in the NFL delivered about what you would expect - some good football, a couple of surprises, a major controversy, and a total dud of a game. Now, though, the stakes start to really get high. The best teams in the league come off the sidelines, and the games promise to be wars. Unfortunately, this week's action isn't necessarily the tightest we have ever seen - all four games have spreads of at least six points. Still, there is some good betting to be done and some intriguing handicapping before we make those bets. Here is how I rank the four games this weekend in terms of betting attractiveness:
Baltimore Ravens (+7) at New England Patriots: These teams know each other well - this is the fifth time in the last three years that they have met. Each team is 2-2 both straight up and against the spread, so neither team will feel hopeless. What makes this one most interesting, though, is that Baltimore - a true January team - has again found their form when it matters most. Their decimation of the Steelers on the road last week was impressive, but it shouldn't be surprising given how consistently excellent this team is on the road in the playoffs. Now they find themselves on the road again in a tough spot - but one that is tougher for a lot of teams than for them. New England is yet again the class of their conference, but by now we are all too familiar with the narrative of their regular-season strength and postseason disappointment. It has also been a really long time since they played at full speed - they were off last week, gave themselves a virtual bye in a no-show against Buffalo in the finale, and only barely tried the week before against the Jets. Dec. 14 was their last true effort, so can they ratchet up the intensity when they need to? And do they have enough offensive tools to counter a deep-and-suddenly-very-confident Baltimore defense? Both teams have exceptional coaching, and it is the game that is mostly likely to deliver an excellent contest - one that is a challenge to handicap.
Indianapolis Colts (+7) at Denver Broncos: My interest in this game comes from one thing - the Broncos are such a massive public team, but they don't inspire any confidence in me right now. Peyton Manning in the playoffs is always scary to back, and now he is a long, long way from the top of his game. Can he shake off the struggles of the last several weeks and recapture his form? Or are his issues deeper than just the surface? The Colts are coming off a very impressive win in their playoff opener. They look to have some issues as a team that were exposed down the stretch, but Andrew Luck is a competitor, and you can be sure that he'd love nothing more than to beat the man he replaced. I'm drawn to games in which I can make a decent case for the underdog, and I certainly don't struggle to do that here. I don't think the Colts are a lock to win or even cover by any means, but they certainly are positioned to make this an interesting betting game.
Dallas Cowboys (+6) at Green Bay Packers: I'd be more intrigued by this one if the Cowboys had managed to get here without a major assist from the referees. Still, this sets up as a good game and an interesting handicapping test. Tony Romo has taken a lot of abuse over the years for collapsing when it matters most. His performance last week in the face of relentless pressure was particularly impressive, though, and the way he has played all year - and especially over the last month - has been unlike anything we have seen. Now he is stepping into the home of perhaps the best quarterback in the league, and it should be a good one. The only thing that keeps this one from rising higher on the list is the spread - it would be a more interesting game to handicap at a spread of a touchdown or more than it is at six points.
Carolina Panthers (+10.5) at Seattle Seahawks: I am a sucker for underdogs, so I would love to be able to make a case for the Panthers here. I just can't. Their win over the Cardinals was far from impressive - a good team would have been able to beat that mess of an Arizona squad far more convincingly than they did. They have more issues than you can count, and they just are not ready for primetime. They would be in trouble in any spot this weekend, but in Seattle against a team that is confident - the Seahawks have won six in a row and are ferocious on defense - is just a disaster. The only interesting thing about this game is seeing how unbalanced the betting action will be. Awful game.
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