Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NFL Playoffs -- Divisional Round

Another week, and yet again all anybody can talk about in the world of sports is Mr. Timothy Tebow. Man, you just cannot feel good going into a sudden-death, overtime type of situation against that guy, can you? The moment the Steelers lost the overtime coin toss and Denver elected to receive, pretty much everyone in that stadium -- the Steelers and Broncos players included -- knew the Broncs would be winning the game on that drive. Not sure we knew it would happen on the literal first play from scrimmage in overtime, but when you've got Tebow and just need one score to win, its ovah baybeee.

I'll tell you what -- anybody who saw value in the Pittsburgh Steelers this past weekend, giving nine points on the road at an upstart Denver team with something to prove, is out of their minds. Let alone, a Steelers team with a literally limping Ben Roethlisberger, and missing their top runningback, their center, and their leading tackler on defense? Giving nine points. On the road!

That had to have been the most obvious pick I've seen in the NFL playoffs in a few years. And this, from a guy who has had a long-standing rule never to bet against the fix-waiting-to-happen Pittsburgh Steelers. But with all those injuries, going on the road, and giving nine points in a game between two stingy defenses? That story just doesn't make any sense.

Denver's game this weekend at the Cheatriots is a different story, however. Unlike the Steelers, the Cheats are more or less totally healthy right now, and the full roster of key players on offense seem to be firing on all cylinders. New England is also at home this coming week, they have a much better offense than the Steelers even with both teams equally healthy, and Tim Tebow and the Broncos -- who just got beat pretty hard by the Cheatriots a few weeks back -- have that much less to prove this week after the home win against Pittsburgh last weekend. With the line on that game hovering right around two touchdowns, that one is a heck of a lot harder to pick than this past weekend's freest money around, but I'm thinking I would probably hold my knows and go with the Cheatriots as long as the number is under 14. I mean, they'll already know all of Denver's plays ahead of time by the time kickoff comes around next weekend, right?

Elsewhere in the NFL, there wasn't much surprise in the first round playoff games, as all four better seeds won in all four games, three of which (other than the Steelers) were favored by Vegas. The best game this weekend in my mind is the Saints playing at the 49ers, with the Saints installed as an early 5-point favorite on the road, across the country, at a team that was 13-3 in the regular season and which has the league's stingiest points-against defense. As much as I want to go with the home team and take the generous offer of five points, I'm just thinking that the Saints can find a way to eke out a touchdown or so margin of victory in this one.

Elsewhere, it's the Giants getting 8 points at the Packers, another line which intrigues me somewhat. I mean, didn't the Giants just take a late lead at Lambeau and end up losing in the final minutes by 3 points to these same Packers only a month ago thanks to a late Aaron Rodgers comeback drive? This same Giants team that today is clearly playing significantly better than it was a month ago, while the Packers have just as surely come back down to earth a little bit since losing the undefeated season to the Chiefs a couple of weeks later? I was expecting something a little smaller than 8 points, and I am inclined to think that the Giants are the better value on this pick as long as that number remains above a touchdown.

And in the final game of the conference semi-finals, it is the Houston Texans, in their first-ever playoff run as a franchise, traveling to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Houston is getting a lofty 8.5 points from the sharps in Vegas, and even though that is admittedly an awfully big number to give to a seemingly inconsistent team in the Ravens, something tells me that the Ravens will come through nicely at home, where they went 8-0 in the regular season. With Matt Schaub this could easily be an entirely different story, but me thinks that T. J. Yates is probably looking at his worst game as a starting quarterback in the NFL thus far for Houston. Given especially how poorly the Texans have performed against the spread this year, I'll take my chances and go with the Ravens and lay the 8.5 points in this one.

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2:43 PM  

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