The scarcity of games on these NFL playoff weekends is a huge reason why wagering in the postseason can be a death trap of second-guessing for me. Fewer games on the board means there's way more time to focus (and, frankly, OVER-focus if there is such a thing) on the scant few games being played.
It doesn't help that this week, you can make a great case for all four underdogs to cover, and three of them winning outright (sorry, Denver), because inherently with underdogs you feel like you're going in with "lesser team." I've spent more time this week talking myself into and out of my picks than any week I can remember in the last couple years.
Let's see what the weekend has in store, shall we?
Saints -3 over 49ERS Classic example of the waffling I just mentioned -- I had been thinking that the 49ers were the perfect team to upset the Saints even before the Saints -3 1/2 spread came out. The Niners with their stout defense, solid running game, and playing at home all seemed to add up to the perfect mix to knock off Drew Brees and company. Then I had more and more people getting in my ear about Drew Brees looking unstoppable lately (granted, he is at his most unstoppable at home; this game is in San Francisco), and, more importantly, the Saints have the ability to run the ball with Ivory, Thomas and Sproles. In short, the Saints have evolved from a "dome team" into a "team that happens to play in a dome," if that makes sense. I'll probably buy the half point so the number is a field goal, but for Best Bet purposes I'll still lay the 3 1/2.
Broncos +13 1/2 over PATRIOTS You are judged as a player and coach (and frankly, as a wagerer) on the final score, so the 41-23 final score the first time these teams played is what it is. But in handicapping, you have to look at reasons why things happened. The fact of the matter is that the Broncos were leading that game 16-7 before a six-minute period of unforced errors in the second quarter gave Tom Brady a few too many chances to take control of the game. Next thing you knew, the Pats had the lead and the Broncos had to get out of their game plan.
The Broncos can run the ball against the Patriots, this we know. (They averaged 8.1 yards per carry in the first game.) If the Broncos can protect the football this time around, then they can stay on schedule long enough to keep the Patriots offense on the sideline and, yes, cover the 13 1/2. Can they win outright? Well, I don't know if Tim Tebow's fire is burning in me that strong....
....but it's burning strong enough for me to take the over as well! (If the Broncos get to 19 points, you'll win one of the two bets, side or total.)
Texans +7 over RAVENS I'll likely have more on this game in a post before the week is out, but let's just say I think the Texans keep it close. The question we've been batting around all week on our show on 1560 The Game -- are you better equipped to beat the Ravens on the road with Matt Schaub and no Andre Johnson (as the Texans were in Week 6) or with T.J. Yates and a healthy Andre Johnson? It's a debate that some of the experts we talked to were split down the middle on. The teams are real mirror images of each other, and if you're forecasting mistakes from T.J. Yates in this game, don't think the Texans can't force Joe Flacco into similar slip-ups, which makes me think....
Texans/RAVENS over 35 1/2 ....that a lot of short fields could lead to more points than the experts think. Thirty-five and a half feels way too low to me.
Giants +7 1/2 over PACKERS Of the three games that are rematches from the regular season, I think this game will most closely mirror its predecessor. If you recall, in Week 13 the Giants gave the Packers everything they could handle in a 38-35 barnburner in New Jersey. Now, the Giants are actually playing better football and (wait for it....I'm about to pin my hopes on Eli Manning) Eli Manning has been in this spot before. In January 2008, the Giants went through Green Bay to win the NFC title in Brett Favre's final game as a Packer. And I feel slimy for even bringing it up as a variable affecting the outcome of a sporting event, but the tragic death of Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son Michael has to affect the Packers' preparation. I think the Giants pull off the outright upset, 31-28.
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Last week: 4-2 Season record: 65-48-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.