The first round of the NFL playoffs is here. Time to place your bets.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Bengals -7 vs. Chargers. San Diego is a gritty football team with a first-year head coach in Mike McCoy who squeezed every ounce of talent imaginable out of a roster that was predicted back in August to come nowhere near the postseason. But this is a bad matchup for the Bolts, who fell 17-10 at home to this same Cincinnati squad back on December 1. The Bengals were the league’s best home team during the regular season, going 8-0 both straight-up and against the spread at Paul Brown Stadium while winning by an average of 17.6 points per game. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton is the big question mark as it relates to the Bengals’ Super Bowl chances, but you couldn’t ask for a better first-round matchup for the third-year quarterback than this one, as the Chargers rank 23rd in the NFL in total defense (366.5 yds/gm). Be advised that this is an early start time for a San Diego team that will be making its fifth trip across the country this season. In addition, note that the Bolts are just 1-5 ATS over their last six games on turf, while Cincinnati is 10-1 ATS over their last 11 games played on an artificial surface.
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Tom Mantzouranis: 49ers -2.5 at Packers. I clearly see this game differently from my esteemed colleague. While I understand the concerns about the weather (and it's a little puzzling that the 49ers are admittedly practicing in 60-degree temps instead of trying to acclimate to the cold early), I don't think it matters much because, even with the addition of Eddie Lacy, the 49ers are more of a cold-weather team, stylistically, than the Packers are. Not only do they have a running game that can equal the Packers' and a defense that far surpasses Green Bay's (and with Clay Matthews out, that becomes even more of a mismatch), but they have Anquan Boldin, who we learned last year knows how to play a little playoff football. He's built for postseason play, and with the bitter cold and whipping winds at Lambeau, the 49ers will be better off having his reliable hands and ability to catch tough balls in the short range (as well as absorb the hits that come with those receptions). The 49ers like to play very physically, especially in January, and I can't see the Packers withstanding that for 60 minutes. Oh, in two career starts against the Packers, Kaepernick has a passer rating or 112.5 and 203 rushing yards.
NFL Wild-Card Weekend Betting Odds
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Fortenbaugh: 49ers -2.5 at Packers. San Francisco is the better football team and has won and covered in each of their last three meetings against the Packers dating back to Week 1 of the 2012 season. But I’m not interested in laying points on a northern California road team that will be headed into sub-zero temperatures to face one of the league’s premier quarterbacks. I’m also not exactly champing at the bit to back a Clay Matthews-less Green Bay defense that has surrendered 26 or more points in nine of their last ten outings.
Mantzouranis: Eagles -2.5 vs. Saints. But, but, the Saints never win on the road, so this is an easy one, right? Eh. There are real concerns about New Orleans' ability to play outside of the Superdome, but they've become a narrative with a life of its own. In reality, the Saints beat the Bears in Chicago this year, and played very good games on the road against the Patriots and Panthers, losing each on a last-minute touchdown drive. And despite the improvement of the Eagles' defense, there are still matchup advantages for Drew Brees to exploit. Add that to Nick Foles' first taste of postseason play, and this game's a lot more of a toss-up than it appears.
Best Of The Rest
Fortenbaugh: Colts -1.5 vs. Chiefs. Kansas City dropped five of their final seven contests to close out the regular season and now heads to Indianapolis on Saturday for the team’s first dome game of the season. The Colts are 13-3 straight-up and 12-4 ATS at home since drafting Andrew Luck back in 2012, with a 2013 Lucas Oil Stadium resume that includes victories over Super Bowl favorites Seattle and Denver.
Eagles -2.5 vs. Saints. Philadelphia’s Week 15 embarrassment at Minnesota re-focused an organization that was getting a bit too high off their own press clippings and paved the way for a 54-11 throttling of the Chicago Bears (Week 16) and 24-22 win-and-in victory at Dallas last Sunday. The Eagles have now won seven of their last eight contests, while New Orleans is 1-4 ATS over their last five road playoff games and 0-6 ATS over their last six road outings overall. Note that the Saints are -37 in point differential and -6 in turnover differential away from the Superdome this season.
Mantzouranis: Bengals -7 vs. Chargers. If you believe in the whole team of destiny thing, it's hard to argue with all the good fortune that befell the Chargers last week, allowing them to make it to this game in the first place. But I don't believe in destiny, and the truth is the Bengals have been dominant at home this year, having scored an average of 41.6 points in their last five games at Paul Brown.
Colts -1.5 vs. Chiefs