NFL Divisional Round Playoffs Handicapping: Biggest Keys to Success
by Trevor Whenham - 1/12/2017
The concept here is pretty straightforward. This weekend, which is often the best weekend of the NFL season, we are promised three really competitive interesting games (the fourth is obviously Houston, which I expect to be a special kind of humiliated). We're going to look at all four of the matchups to determine what the biggest key for success in the game is and what the biggest distraction is for bettors. So, let's get to it ( lines for the games are from BetOnline ):
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Seattle (+5) at Atlanta, Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET
Key: The team that you trust more mentally is the team that you should bet here, because that's what is going to win this game. Atlanta is in the midst of a strong year, but they have been far from a clutch team in recent years, and regular-season success has not translated to playoff glory under Matt Ryan. Until they prove things are different this time, I find it hard to believe they are tough enough mentally. They also have a late, embarrassing collapse to the Seahawks earlier this year hanging over them. Seattle, though, is not exactly the toughest they have ever been mentally, either. They had no-shows at disturbing times this year and haven't given off the vibe of invincibility they have in recent years. It's clichÃ© to say, but the team that wants this one more is going to take it.
Distraction: The Richard Sherman-Julio Jones showdown is getting far too much attention. Jones had a big day when the teams last met and Sherman pouted against it. Because Sherman is such a big personality, the rematch is touted as a big deal. It isn't. One will have a better day than the other, but both guys will do their parts - as they always do. The game will be decided elsewhere.
Houston (+15) at New England, Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET
Key: To have any chance at all, Houston needs to get strong QB play, which is unlikely. They also need to win the turnover battle. The Patriots, of course, just don't fumble the ball at home and have thrown two interceptions all year. In other words, and to put it bluntly, the Texans are really screwed here.
Distraction: I have seen some talk that the Patriots could be caught looking past this one. I have rarely heard anything so dumb. In the last five years the Pats have had a first round bye every year and are 4-1 in these games. They know how to win this round, and they are hungrier and angrier than ever this time around. Teams led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady don't take anything lightly, and they of all teams know that you have to be ready to win every game you play. Taking their opponent too lightly would be a concern for some teams but not this one.
Pittsburgh (+1.5) at Kansas City, Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET
Key: This is the Le'veon Bell show. If the Chiefs can't slow him down they are going to lose. The running game is going to play a key role in this one because the weather is set to be garbage. Weather aside, though, the Steelers have made a big shift this year. They used to be a pass-first offense that changed pace on the ground. This year, though, they have moved progressively to a run-obsessed team that passes primarily on play action. They live or die on the ground - and why wouldn't you with this line and with a back like Bell?
Distraction: The weather. We mentioned it before, but people are going to make a bigger deal out of it than it deserves if the expected forecast - temperatures around freezing with long bouts of freezing rain - materializes. It's not like either of these teams are precious, finesse squads that need ideal conditions. They both play outdoors in oft-inhospitable climates, so this is nothing new to them. And they both have veteran QBs who can adapt and adjust.
Green Bay (+4.5) at Dallas, Sunday 4:40 p.m. ET
Key: Dak Prescott. He has had a whale of a season, but rookie quarterbacks have not had success in winning a Super Bowl - ever. He doesn't always play like a rookie, he has a strong team around him, and he'll be comfortable at home. Still, Green Bay has plenty of experience, and they are red hot. If Prescott looks more like a rookie than he has in most games this year then the Cowboys will be in trouble.
Distraction: Green Bay's streak. The Packers have now won seven straight and played themselves from obscurity into the postseason down the stretch. A lot of people are talking about this momentum. I could care less. Momentum doesn't impress me even slightly heading into the playoffs. Dallas has not played a team nearly this good over that streak, and their three road victories have been a lot less impressive than they will need to be in this one. Hot streaks don't matter because every team at this point in the playoffs (except, circumstantially, the Texans this year) are excellent teams playing well or they wouldn't be here.
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