Divisional Championships! – Saturday previews

After the most lopsided Wild Card Weekend in 3 decades, the real games begin this Saturday. It seems odd that the four losing teams last week genuinely didn’t stand a chance. Or maybe it wasn’t that they stood a chance, but they were just so damn bad that they didn’t deserve to win. Now the 1 and 2 seeds come to play, with home field advantage. In the NFL, home field advantage is everything. It’s why you slave away all year. It’s why you play to win each and every week to get the best record possible. The Patriots and Cowboys earned the distinction of the number 1 seeds and I will be covering those, leaving Jay with the opener and (now) the closer on the weekends action. In a week where 2 head coaching spots were filled and an entire team decided to move cities, we have an outstanding line up this week. Out. Standing. Well, except the Texans. No one can see them rolling out of New England victorious.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons – Falcons are 4.5pt favourites, the total is set at 51.5

The game of the birds! Best offense against one of the best defenses the league has seen in a long time. Except that there have been cracks in the Seahawks team this year, cracks in the defense, major cracks in the running game. On the other side of the dice, the Falcons have been on fire ALL year and it is hard pressed to find another offense that has been as dynamic and as versatile as the Falcons have been in 2016. Led by the best backfield duo in the league, the highest rated QB in the league and arguably the best wide receiver, it’s almost unfair playing them just based on just those guys alone. But then they have a full complement of supporting cast that step up each week whenever their numbers are called so it is virtually impossible to stop them week on week. Seattle have leaned on their own superstar QB Russell Wilson but they rely on his improvisational skills far too much and many of their losses have happened because they couldn’t overcome their flaws. Their leading running back left the team months ago and although they have been unlucky with injuries, the backbone of the team has been ripped out viciously and they have been struggling all year to find an identity. 18 different players have a carry in 2016 which highlights completely the struggles they have had. Oddly, they seemed to find a fix for it with Wilson linking up with star TE Jimmy Graham and it was working but for some reason, they haven’t been able to maintain the same connection and results. Graham still picked up just under 1000 yards but you would have thought he would be a top 5 TE but only 6 TD’s has him down in the pecking order. Russell Wilson himself had issues with injury and now seems to be back in to his usual post season form. Frustratingly you can never rule the Seahawks out while he is playing. Live by the sword die by the sword seems to be highly appropriate. They had great wins against the Falcons and Superbowl favourite Patriots but also lost against the Rams, Cardinals and Buccaneers. Their other Cardinals game was a tie for god’s sake.  Along with the lack of a running game (25th in the league) they rank just 19th in scoring at 22 a game. Their D, once formidable and honestly quite frightening to watch, has struggled with form and injuries. Several times this year you have seen their defensive players arguing and getting in each others faces. Don’t get me wrong they are top 10 in all major categories but there doesn’t seem to be the same bite. Earl Thomas out is going to be a massive issue as the Falcons have far too many weapons and having Thomas in there would help nullify the long balls and the crossing routes. With that in mind, I would expect Julio Jones to be big this week. Richard Sherman, one of the premier cornerbacks in the game, does not travel with the best WR, instead he stays on the same side of the field all game. Expect Julio to be everywhere this week and to be targeted a lot. I would be very surprised if he didn’t get at least 100 yards and a touchdown or 2. Anyone else in the passing game is hard to call when/if Jones gets shut out. Sanu, Gabriel, Hardy, Robinson etc etc etc have all played great. Gabriel would be the x-factor for me as he can break out for a big gain at literally any time. I like his chances this week. It really is unfair because all those guys are quick and they know their role within the offense. Haven’t even got to Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman who between them have over 800 receiving yards, 1500 rushing yards and a stunning 24 touchdowns. They are so versatile that they are lined up everywhere on the field and I love watching them play. Freeman would be the obvious play for a touchdown or two but I think Coleman will be unleashed and should get a lot of action. Matt Ryan should orchestrate the whole offense like he has all year. I don’t know if they get their league leading 33 points a game but they scored 24 against Seattle in Seattle and only lost by 2. Flip the location and the Falcons have been even more deadly and prolific. 7 players had 3 or more touchdowns this year which again is incredible. The Seahawks have one heck of a challenge in front of them but if they were to play against a defense, you would be happy with playing against Atlanta and their relatively poor unit who rank in the high 20’s for scoring D and yards allowed. That being said, when your offense gains over 400 yards a game you can overcome such weaknesses. They have had their moments and do cause turnovers in crucial spots but only have 34 sacks and 12 interceptions on the year. Vic Beasley on D will be the one to watch for as he had a league leading 15.5 of those sacks and was a game changer for most of the year. Lining up in the back field for Seattle will be Thomas Rawls, who has flashed brilliance and power within the numbers but hasn’t really been able to stay healthy long enough to make a long standing difference. Alex Collins is the current backup but only because because CJ Prosise got injured so a mix of those two will probably get deployed. On the outside, Doug Baldwin will continue his mind meld with Russell Wilson and is likely to get a whole bunch of targets thrown his way. Paul Richardson had the best under 50 yard game in history but given last weeks performance you can bet they will continue to throw passes his way. For them to have any kind of chance of keeping up with the Falcons then they will have to get Jimmy Graham going as well. The running game has struggled in spots as mentioned, they even struggled against the 49ers which tells you everything you need to know. I have preached this as one of my basic understandings of football, in that a great defense beats a great offense. This year however couldn’t be more different. ‘Great’ defenses have all been exploited and destroyed this year and it seems that offenses are just able to tear those teams apart (see Seahawks lose against the Packers, Ravens get beat down by the Patriots as just two examples) With that in mind, the Falcons behind MVP candidate Matt Ryans 4944 yards, 69.9% completion percentage and 38 TD’s are just too good and the only way I see them losing is if they have some kind of weird bye week relapse and turn the ball over. Which by the way the Seahawks haven’t really done to opposing teams this year which has played in to their up and down play all season. I don’t believe the early season loss will play in to anything this week at all. Number 1 offense at home? I don’t see a blowout but as long as the Atlanta D can cause a turnover or two, they could easily rack up 30+ points. Seattle would need everything to go their way and an incredible defensive game plan to keep the Falcons in check but the key for them will be their offensive line, if they can grind some rushing lanes and protect Wilson, they might just have a shot.

A tough one to call betting wise. I think we’ve got to go for the overs, despite it being above 50, which I don’t usually like. Believe it or not i’m actually struggling to pick a TD scorer, there’s just too many to choose from!

  • Over 51.5 – 10/11 – 3pts
  • Freeman and Baldwin – 10/3 (Skybet) 2pts

That leaves me with the write up for the Texans, who visit Foxborough to get beaten by the Patriots. The Patriots are a frankly ridiculous 15 point favourites, and Vegas is expecting around 45 points for this one. Now i’ll admit, I haven’t looked into the history of handicaps, but I think I can confidentially say that this must be in the top 3 biggest handicaps in history for a team who has already won a game in the playoffs. The worst thing about it is, that’s it’s probably about right, if anything it should be bigger!

I’ll start with the Texans, it shouldn’t take long. They beat a shell shocked Connor Cook led Raiders team last week by stopping the run game, and forcing Cook to throw the ball, he was a dismal 18 from 45 attempts with 1 TD and 3 INTs. To say Brock led the team to the win would be a huge overstatement, they scored 10 points in the first 10 mins with a combined 12 yards of offence. He hit on over 50% of his passes at least, 14 from 25 with 1 TD, and it seems he’s finally realised that DeAndre Hopkins may actually be quite good, he finished with the TD and 67 yards from 5 receptions. The Tight ends as usual got a lot of action, combining for 5 for 64. The Texans obviously tried to keep the ball away from the QBs as much as possible, the oppositions, and their own, by running the ball, a lot. Miller had 31 rush attempts, for a miserable 73 yards. That’s not efficient, although once the Texans took a 10-0 lead, that was essentially game over as it allowed them to do this and keep the ball. They had 44 rush attempts in total compared to 25 passing plays, so nearly 66% rushing. That won’t happen this week as they’ll be chasing the game a lot. Which means, lucky us, we’ll get to see Oswieler throwing a lot more… against the leagues no.1 scoring defence. The Patriots destroyed the Texans earlier in the season without Tom Brady, 0-27. The game previous to that, they lost 6-27, the Texans are 0-4 lifetime in New England, with a combined points margin of 101 points. You can’t pick a single player on the Houston offence. If anything look for a high line on someone and go under. The other side of the ball, the Texans are one of the many teams who are apparently a number one defence. Whitney Mercilus has lived up to his name and shown very little mercy (see what I did there) on the opposition, he and Jadeveon Clowney have had cracking seasons rushing the passer, they will have to reproduce the performances they put in last week vs the Raiders to have even the slightest chance here, they have to put Brady under pressure. You’ve got to remember that JJ Watt isn’t here, that’s a worrying thought for teams next season should JJ get back to full fitness (not a guarantee)

Now on to the Patriots, finally an offence to talk about, LeGarrette Blount has been great for them this year, carrying the load, and unsurprisingly having himself the best year of his career, finishing the regular season with 18 rushing TDs on the year, a fantastic return for a team renowned for it’s ability to pass the ball. So much so with Brady under center, that the running backs rarely get a mention. He’s done all that work mainly due to Dion Lewis missing the majority of the season, he returned with 5 games left and has been eased back into play so far, the last couple of matches were blow outs so it’s tough to see what he’s done so far, however, there’s been increasing chatter and speculation that they’ve been saving him for now, for January and the playoffs, and his ability to catch out of the backfield could be vital in this game should the Texans pass rush be as effective as I think it should be. Lewis could be in for a lot of the work load. James White the poor mans Lewis, and has done a bit this year too, but I think that Lewis should own that role by now. Where do I start with the passing game? This teams is meant to be average without Rob Gronkowski in it. They’re definitely not supposed to win as many as they have done without him, but in free agency they picked up the Black Unicorn, Martellus Bennett, who has struggled with an injury for large amounts of the season, but looked good last game, and has had this week to recover, he’ll be a big (literally) red zone threat for the Pats, as well as been a fearsome blocker. Julian Edelman has done what he does, played in the slot, caught a lot, ran a lot, but hasn’t scored many TDs, his yards are set quite high tomorrow, so i’ll leave it at that. They picked up Michael Floyd after his release from the Cardinals for a huge DUI, and every other team in the league ignored him… He scored in their last game and got huge praise from Brady on how quickly he’s picked up the playbook, although with Mitchell ruled out, Floyd could get more action, although Danny Amendola is expected back, Chris Hogan providing a deep threat and you’ve got a tool for every situation. The Patriots will likely away with this game, and I think they’ll get at least 4 TDs. Who will get them? Well that’s harder to call. Blount and Bennett will get the bulk of the redzone targets, but as a result are short odds, although Bennett at 2/1 is tempting. You can however get 4/1 on Dion Lewis still (Thanks Paddy) which is what i’ll be taking. May also be worth looking at his combined yards set to around 60 depending where you look (60.5 on Ladbrokes, 62.5 on 365)

Personally I’ve take, and therefore will tip… –

  • 17/4 on Lewis anytime (4pts) and 55/1 on him 2 or more (1pt) at 365. (That price has now gone, but the 4/1 on PP is nearly there, and 40/1 for 2+ on there too)
  • Bennett and Lewis both to score – 10/1 (Skybet) – 1pt
  • Patriots to win every quarter – 11/2 (365) – 1pt

If you don’t fancy Lewis to score, then I would advise taking Lewis o62.5 at 5/6 on 365. 

Both players to score double – 46/1 – 1pt

After last weeks performance from me i’m trying to limit things a little this week, but still a healthy 13 points outlay on the night.

Thanks for reading, and good luck if you follow anything

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