The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is here. Time to place your bets.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Chargers +9 at Broncos. Despite the variety of excuses for Peyton Manning’s 9-11 career mark during the postseason (9-11 against the spread), the bottom line is that after 15 years in the National Football League, it’s become increasingly difficult to back the future Hall of Famer come playoff time. The most dangerous team in football at the moment, San Diego held Manning and the high-powered Denver offense to under 400 total yards in each of their two regular season encounters in 2013, the only team in the business to accomplish such a feat. The Chargers are riding a five-game winning streak (4-1 ATS) and are surrendering an average of just 16.3 points per game over their last six outings. Take note that San Diego is 8-3-1 ATS over its last 12 road games, while quarterback Philip Rivers is 2-0 both straight-up and ATS when facing Manning in the playoffs. I’ll take the points in addition to backing San Diego on the moneyline at +350.
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Tom Mantzouranis: 49ers -1 at Panthers. A lot of people are pointing to Carolina's 10-9 win over in San Francisco in November as some proof that the Panthers have a shot at winning this game. That ignores three factors: Aldon Smith, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Smith appeared in that game, but wasn't much of a factor in his first showing post-rehab. Davis suffered a concussion in the second quarter and left after just one catch. And Crabtree was still out recovering from his Achilles tear. Crabtree's addition has opened up the 49ers offense considerably; watching the 49ers' win over Green Bay made plain how reliant Colin Kaepernick is on his trusty receiver. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be playing with a less-than-healthy Steve Smith. Forget the road angle; if 49ers can win in -273-degree Green Bay, I think they can handle whatever Carolina and its crowd has for them. The 49ers just have that look. They're peaking at the right time, and I trust them more than a Panthers team that has underwhelmed in two straight games.
NFL Divisional Round Betting Odds
Stay Away From
Fortenbaugh: Patriots -7 vs. Colts. Push me into a corner, and I’ll tell you that New England covers the number in this one, but I’m not interested in backing that gut feeling with cash at a Las Vegas sports book. With Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski in the lineup this season, the Patriots averaged 32.0 points and 417.7 total yards of offense per game. Without Gronk on the gridiron, the offense slowed to just 24.4 points and 358.6 total yards per contest . Also worth mentioning is that New England is a shocking 2-8 ATS over its last 10 home playoff games.
Mantzouranis: Patriots -7 vs. Colts. Both teams feature leaky defenses and strong offenses, and when that's the case there are just too many variables to feel good on either side. A fluke turnover or injury to either team could swing this game from a three-point nail-biter to a 17-point blowout.
Best Of The Rest
Fortenbaugh: Saints +8 at Seattle. I cringe at the notion of fading the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, but this is just too many points to lay on a team that has averaged only 19.25 points and 263.0 total yards of offense per game over its last four outings. The Saints got the monkey off their back with last week’s outdoor road victory at Philadelphia, and I find it hard to believe that there is a team in the league capable of blasting the playoff-savvy duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton twice in the same season. Be advised that Seattle is 3-4 ATS over its last seven games when favored by seven or more points.
49ers -1 at Panthers. I’ll have to hold my nose playing against the league’s second-ranked defense, which just so happens to own an 11-1 straight-up and 8-3-1 ATS record over its last 12 outings. But I believe the playoff experience of Jim Harbaugh (seventh playoff game) and Colin Kaepernick (fifth) will be the deciding factor against the first-time postseason tandem of Ron Rivera and Cam Newton. Note that the 49ers are 18-7-1 ATS over their last 26 road outings.
Mantzouranis: Patriots vs. Colts, under 51.5. Despite what you read above about the leaky defenses and strong offenses, I don't anticipate this being as high-scoring an affair as it appears. For starters, let me just get this out of the way: Three of the four games last week came in at the under. Beyond that, as Joe notes, the Patriots' offense hasn't been as prolific sans Gronk, and I think the Colts expended a lot of energy, and mojo, in the second half against the Chiefs (especially when you consider that they really only have one true top-notch weapon in T.Y. Hilton (sorry, Donald Brown). The winds are supposed to be whipping in Foxboro this weekend, so I can see the total coming in at something like 48.
Saints +8 at Seahawks. Seattle was 4-0 in games nine through 12 this season, averaging almost 34 points a game. In the final four contests, it went 2-2, averaging a little over 19 per game. In those two time periods, Russell Wilson's rating went from 128.0 to 79.1. Granted, one of those games in the Seahawks' monster stretch came against the Saints, but even if Seattle wins again, I wouldn't expect it to be as one-sided. The Saints showed last week that they can play the way they're going to need to play this week -- with their running game and defense leading the way -- and Sean Payton knows how to motivate his team when it's being counted out. I think he'll push the right buttons again this week.