The Divisional playoff round is upon us and if it plays true to form almost any result could be possible. Historically speaking the favorites have dominated in recent years winning 10 of the previous twelve games, but peel back the history just a little bit further and you see that two out of four home teams lost in 2007 and 2010, and in 2008, three of the home teams lost on divisional playoff weekend.
Are there any underdogs likely to win this weekend?
In truth all of the dogs other than the Panthers have a legit chance. The Ravens simply play much better in the playoffs than in the regular season and are to some degree, a decent match for New England (a duel threat offense with a defense that features strength in the middle and the ability to push from the edges as well disturbing the pocket-a major issue for Brady), the Cowboys have the running game to keep the Packers offense off the field, and Rodgers is hobbled, at least to some extent, and the Broncos have not been impressive at all in recent weeks, particularly in the passing game. So what can we expect?
Baltimore @ New England
A year ago with the playoffs on the line the Patriots crushed the Ravens in Baltimore, 41-7. A year later and the Patriots are a much better side while Baltimore is only improved minutely, and on the offensive rather than the defensive end. Brady should be able to obliterate the Ravens secondary so long as his interior line can hold up and they can keep Suggs in check. The Ravens will likely struggle to consistently move the ball against the Patriots, relying more on a short passing game and Forsett, Steve Smith appears to be stuck on Revis Island, something Steve’s ego at least can handle, so Torey should have some opportunities. I see the Patriots winning this far more comfortably than mediots suggest. They’re simply the better team and at home.
Patriots 31 Ravens 20
Carolina @ Seattle
There isn’t much reason to spend a lot of time on this game. In recent years the contests between these foes have been tight, but Carolina has been unable to move the ball. They’ve been low scoring defensive battles remiscent of the Ravens-Steelers games of that 2004-2012 era. This is the playoffs, however and Seattle will be able to make life miserable for a Panthers offense that has looked putrid whenever it’s had to attack quality defenses. Newton was particularly awful last week and the fact that the Panthers struggled to put away a Cardinals team completely lacking in offensive weapons last week is not a good sign. Seattle shouldn’t have much trouble locking down the Panthers passing attack, the main issue will be in locking up their rushing attack, which could exploit a soft Seattle middle.
Wilson and Lynch will work to soften up the panthers D, and by the second half, shouldn’t have much trouble putting an exhausted defense away, the 11 points appear to be a rough number to take on, but this is the sort of game that historically has proven to be a blow out in the playoffs, and historically, .500 or worse teams that pulled off an upset in the wild card round have lost every single divisional playoff game they’ve ever played.
Seattle 31 Carolina 10
Dallas @ Green Bay
A rematch of the 1967 Ice Bowl forty-seven years later, it won’t be nearly so cold on Sunday morning. The Cowboys have been quite lucky as the weather fairy delivered snow in the run up to the game, but expectations are for relatively clear skies and a wind chill temperature of 7 degrees. Quite cold but nowhere near how cold it was for the Ice Bowl.
Rodgers will man up and play through pain on sunday, but the expectation is that both Green Bay and Dallas will try to utilize the run considering injuries on the one hand, and the cold on the other.
Betters have pushed the line down a full 1.5 points since the Rodgers injury news hit the wire, and for those keen on playing the dog, the time was several days ago. If you like Green Bay you should be able to wait until sunday morning when you may be able to grab a 4.5 point line.
Expectation? This game is entirely contingent on Rodgers health and turnovers. If Rodgers can play relatively well despite the injury and not suffer any setbacks during the game the Packers should win this and cover. If Murray has fumbling issues, the Packers should also win this assuming Rodgers is good to go.
Green Bay 34 Dallas 24
Andrew Luck @ Denver
This is the game of games to avoid. On the one hand the Colts are basically Luck, and not much else, while Denver has seen Manning turn into a pumpkin as the year came to an end. Seems a safe bet to assume Denver can simply rely on CJ Anderson, and limiting Manning’s drop backs, while exploiting the one dimensional nature of the Colts. One wrinkle in this is that people continue to assert that the Colts have no running game, a fact clearly contradicted by the performance of Boom Herron during the closing month of the season. Herron could be the x-factor in this game if Manning goes “Pumpkin” again, as he would remove provide Luck with a much needed duel threat to occupy Denver defenders and open up opportunities for Moncrief, Hilton, Fleener, and Allen.
However Denver has a strong defense, if not an elite one and should be able to go slow down a Luck whom historically is no better than 2 games above .500 on the road, while Anderson should open up opportunities for Manning to play solid ball, especially considering the weather will be unseasonably warm for a January game.
Denver 31 Indianapolis 17
New England -7
Green Bay vs Dallas Under (52)-
I wouldn’t consider this until we know more on sunday morning, but a O/U of 52 in sub-freezing temperatures seems incredibly ambitious, especially when you consider both sides will be relying heavily on their run games, and that Murray has begun to slow down as his carry total for the year approaches 400.
A lot of people will be tempted to play the dogs in this, particularly Baltimore, and Dallas because they’re fancied, and Carolina for the sheer obscene scale of the number Seattle must cover. The problem here is that New England is a vastly superior team to Baltimore, Carolina is a horrible team that has beaten nobody of consequence during this run, and Dallas will need Rodgers to be totally ineffective in order to pull off the upset. You’d have to go back to 2010 to find the dogs pulling off major upsets, and if you recall, last year, the dogs went 0 for 4 on the divisional playoff weekend. I think we may see a dog pull out a win this time around, but I find it highly unlikely we’ll see something analogous to 2007 and 2010, and there’s zero chance of a replay of the shocking divisional round from 2008.