As of Wednesday night, the Houston Texans sat as 15.5-point underdogs to the New England Patriots, a slight decrease from the 16-point peak at which the spread seemed to settle on Monday morning, and as if we needed more ways to quantify the complete lack of respect for the Texans as the clear outlier of the remaining eight teams, here are the latest Bovada odds on winning the Super Bowl:
New England Patriots — 9/5
Dallas Cowboys — 19/4
Green Bay Packers — 11/2
Pittsburgh Steelers — 7/1
Atlanta Falcons — 8/1
Kansas City Chiefs — 9/1
Seattle Seahawks — 9/1
Houston Texans — 50/1
Yep, FIFTY TO ONE.
It's one thing to be a 50-to-1 shot at the beginning of the season, with all of the sludge in the middle of the NFL's den of parity. It's quite another to be one of the final eight teams standing and have the drop-off from No. 7 to No. 8 go from 9/1 all the way to 50/1. Honestly, being 50 to 1 at this point in the postseason is akin to being invited to the Oscars and having your seats for the event be in your car on the roof of the parking lot. Fun, fun!
So let's get to the picks on these four games, including the Texans and their uphill (barefoot, in the snow, with a piano on their back) climb on Saturday night.
Seahawks +5 over ATLANTA
These two teams faced off in Week 6 of the regular season, with the Seahawks winning a close game with a controversial finish (a missed pass interference call on an attempted catch by Julio Jones). Now the rematch takes place in Atlanta, and we all know that Seattle is a different (read: worse) team on the road, going 3-4-1 and three of the four losses coming to non-playoff teams. Therein kind of lies the rub. Seattle, while a mediocre road team, is actually a decent road UNDERDOG, including an upset of New England in Foxborough in Week 10. Here's the other thing — Atlanta's Matt Ryan is not a good postseason quarterback, going 0-5 ATS in his five playoff starts. His only straight-up playoff win was over Seattle in 2012, a two-point victory while favored by three. We would take that one more time here.
Texans +15.5 over PATRIOTS
I'll have more extensive analysis on this game tomorrow in "Four Things To Watch For," but my taking the points here boils down to a few things. First, I am going to count on the Texans' not gifting the Patriots any points like they did when Charles James (remember him?) fumbled a first-quarter kickoff deep in Texans territory. (Sidebar — why in the blue hell was Charles James returning kicks?) Second, I am going to count on the Texans red zone defense holding the Patriots to threes in situations where the Pats are looking for seven. If the Texans can get to 13 points, I feel pretty good about the defense holding the Pats under 28.
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CHIEFS -1.5 over Steelers
The biggest variable on this game when the line was first set was the health of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. For some inexplicable reason, he was still in the game late against the Dolphins, up by three scores, throwing the football, a decision that put him squarely in harm's way and resulted in his getting blistered in the pocket and twisting his right leg badly underneath a Dolphin defender. The line eventually settled in where it is now, and while the Steelers have the most explosive big-name weapons (Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown), the Chiefs' do-everything gadget Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce give the Chiefs ample fire power. Alex Smith's underrated athletic ability will be a key in this one as the Steelers have done a much better job of getting after the opposing QB in the second half of the season. (Matt Moore found this out the hard way last week.) In the end, the difference is the home field and Andy Reid's record coming off of a bye week with extra time to prepare — 16-2 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs.
Packers +4.5 over COWBOYS
It's been a while since we've seen these two uniforms face off in the postseason, since 1995 to be exact. If you recall, the Cowboys' eliminating the Packers used to be an annual tradition from 1993 through 1995. Finally, in 1996, Brett Favre didn't have to deal with the Cowboys in the postseason and they broke through and won Favre's only world championship. Now, exactly 20 years after that Super Bowl season, the Packers continue to be the hottest team in football, winning six straight to close out the regular season and embarrassing the Giants in the wild card round last weekend. While the Packers deal with a rib injury to WR Jordy Nelson (status still up in the air), the Cowboys deal with having a rookie starting at quarterback. Yes, Dak Prescott has been outstanding all season, but rookie QBs starting in the playoffs has not been a recipe for success. Since 2011, they've gone 2-5, but that number is misleading as both wins came against fellow rookies (including T.J. Yates over Andy Dalton in 2011, Texans fans!). Aaron Rodgers is at the very opposite end of the spectrum from a rookie. He is the most valuable player in the NFL. He may not win the award for it this season, but he is the best player in the league right now. I'll take 4.5 points with him right now.
Last Week: 3-3
Season Record: 65-47-2
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.