Trust the Seahawks this weekend in what could be a higher scoring game than expected. (Rod Mar/SI)
Championship Sunday is here. Time to place your bets.
Joe Fortenbaugh says to take: Patriots +5.5 at Broncos. You don’t bet the underdog because you think they can keep it close. You bet the underdog because you believe they can win. And in this case, I’ll be taking the points in addition to firing on the New England moneyline (+200). Sunday marks the 15th time that future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will go head-to-head, with Brady hold a 10-4 edge straight-up while going 8-5-1 against the number. Manning is just 2-3 SU and ATS at home against Brady and 3-4 SU and 2-5 ATS as a favorite versus the New England signal-caller. Additionally, five of the last six showdowns between these two have been decided by four or fewer points. In a matchup between the ultra-conservative John Fox and bound-for-Canton Bill Belichick, I’ll side with Wild Bill any day of the week. The hope here is that the betting public steams this line up to Denver -6 before kickoff, which is when I’ll make my move to the counter.
Tom Mantzouranis says to take: Patriots at Broncos, over 55.5. First off, let's just get out of the way immediately that the last time these two teams played, they shattered 55.5 points, and the past four meetings between the two have gone over. While the past isn't always an indicator of the future, it's not hard to see this instance being similar. Neither of these defenses have done much in the way of impressing (and the Broncos will be without Von Miller, who played in the last game against New England). Denver is also down corner Chris Harris, who left against the Chargers early in the third quarter and is out for the remainder of the Broncos' run. It's no coincidence his injury coincided with the Chargers' second-half comeback; Philip Rivers managed just 20 passing yards in the first half and 197 after the break.
The two offenses are on fire, with the Pats averaging 39.3 points and the Broncos 31.7. And even though this isn't really Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, Brady has posted a healthy a 96.6 rating and Manning an 85.6 against each other in 14 meetings (in the last four, they've gotten better, with Brady posting a 110.4 mark and Manning a 96.1). The Broncos will go to the air often against a secondary that's just getting its top player -- Aqib Talib -- back into full form, and though the Pats have been a run-first team lately, it makes sense, especially with Clark's injury, to go to the air against a porous Broncos' pass defense.
NFL Conference Championship Betting Odds
No. 5 49ers at No. 1 Seahawks
Fortenbaugh says to take: Seahawks -3.5 vs. 49ers. Seattle and San Francisco are tied in my power rankings, but I made the NFC Championship Game Seahawks -4 because I believe Seattle’s home-field advantage is worth more than a field goal. So when a few shops in Las Vegas opened this showdown last Sunday afternoon at -3, I got in the car and fired on Russell Wilson and the boys from the Pacific Northwest without blinking an eyelash. The line has since moved closer to where I think it should be. Colin Kaepernick’s last two trips to the Pacific Northwest have resulted in two blowout losses by the combined score of 71-16, with the San Francisco signal-caller producing a QB rating of just 47.1 with only one touchdown pass and four interceptions. In addition, Seattle’s defense has been extraordinary at CenturyLink Field this season, surrendering an average of just 13.8 points per game while forcing 22 turnovers and amassing 20 sacks in nine outings. Note that the Niners are 1-4 ATS over their last five trips to Seattle and 0-4 ATS over their last four outings against the Seahawks overall, while the home team in this series is 5-2 ATS over the last seven meetings.
Mantzouranis says to take: 49ers at Seahawks, over 38.5. The two teams have gone a combined 21-14 to the under this season, including six straight for the Seahawks and four out of the last five between the two teams. Still, it's tough for NFL games to come in under 40 points combined (33 percent of the games accomplished that this season, including the playoffs). If any teams can do it, it's these two, and yet I don't think it's going to happen. The Seahawks have averaged 35.5 points in the last two home games against the 49ers, and San Francisco is averaging a healthy 25.5 points since Michael Crabtree came back (including 23 last week against a great Panthers defense). They're also running better (up to 144 yards per game from 135.1) with Crabtree in the lineup, which is significant given that the Seahawks can be run on (one of the few things the Saints managed to do well against them). It's going to be partly cloudy, 51 degrees and with little chance of rain for Seattle Sunday, so the weather won't be a factor.
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