So here we are. It’s game day in the NFL and by the time Sunday rolls into Monday we’ll know the two teams going to New Orleans in two weeks to battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Whilst this weekend won’t feature a Denver Broncos side many expected to win it all just one week ago, nor will it feature a big do-over matchup between Green Bay and Seattle – whose Week 3 matchup still sits on the NFL’s results page like an ugly blot – it will feature two very intriguing matchups. That’s two matchups that look easy to pick on the surface, but root around and you’ll find it’s anything but.
Read on to find out how Casino Review will be betting this week, and then take our picks straight to your bookie.
San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons
3:00 PM ET
The ongoing indifference to Atlanta (14-3, 8-1 home) has continued this week with bettors and experts alike shirking the Falcons in favor of a more popular side. The Falcons won an opening postseason game for the first time in four attempts last week, knocking off a fan-favorite Seattle side.
San Francisco (12-4-1, 5-3 road) provided an offensive display to rival any that came before it, handing the Green Bay Packers a heavy defeat, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick winning his first ever playoff start. The Niners will look to replicate that result and head to the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1994 season.
Lost in the haze of the Atlanta bashing that has gone on this season is the advantage the historical Falcons take into the game.
Atlanta won the only postseason meeting between the two sides, a 20-18 affair in Jan. 1999. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year. Atlanta also owns a 19-18-1 advantage in the head-to-head series when playing in the Georgia city. Granted, one game is not much of an advantage, but this far into the season, any advantage is sought out regardless of how slim it might be.
The Falcons have won two straight against the Niners in Atlanta, with San Francisco’s last win coming on Oct. 14, 2001.
Whilst Atlanta has gone 1-1 in conference championship games, San Francisco has con 5-7. Granted, all five wins have preceded a Super Bowl victory, but that’s still a losing record. Additionally, the Niners are 1-3 in conference championship games played on the road. Only a 1989 win over Chicago saw the side victorious. The win in Chicago was actually the Niners’ last road playoff win; the team has gone 0-5 since.
In the regular season the Falcons had higher averages in points scored, total yards, and passing yards than the Niners. Yes, San Francisco’s bully defense ranked higher, but Atlanta was still excellent when it came to preventing teams scoring, allowing just 18.7 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league.
So, those people that thing Atlanta is out of this one before it even starts might want to reconsider.
Now, will Atlanta win?
The Falcons will be up against a San Francisco side that has been on fire of late. The team has won two straight and four of the last five, and the move at quarterback – with Kaepernick replacing Alex Smith – has sparked a more offensive-minded team; an offensive-minded team that happens to be a beast defensively. Well, except last week, and that’s where San Francisco might come unstuck.
We all know the Packers can score, but Atlanta was right behind Green Bay in points scored this season, so the Niners should beware.
Atlanta however has not fared well against dual threat quarterbacks, with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson having solid outings against the Falcons this side. Injury may have been the only thing stopping Robert Griffin III from having a big day also.
Odds: San Francisco opened as a three-point favorite on the road this weekend, but bettors like the Niners and that number has risen to five. The over/under has risen also, increasing from 47½ at opening to 49½ on game day.
Take: SAN FRANCISCO – The Niners came so close to a Super Bowl appearance last year, and this year, the team is better. More versatile than the 2011 side, expect the Niners to give Atlanta a heavy dose of the running game, something the Falcons were not great against this season. While The Falcons showed a rare glimpse of a running game last weekend, expect the Niners to quash any such attempt this week. This game is likely to be close, but take the Niners to cover the spread by the end of the game, with the total going over.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
6:30 PM ET
In a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, Baltimore (12-6, 5-4 road) makes the trip north to New England (13-4, 7-2 home).
The Patriots made short work of the Texans last week, covering a 10-point spread. Bettors pounded that action, with the hapless Houston side entering the game more like a victim than a contender. Whilst the spread has risen to an identical number, bettors are less sure that New England can handle the Ravens in a similar manner.
Baltimore may have crawled to the end of the regular season with four losses from five, but a revitalized side that features Ray Lewis has taken care of business this postseason. Last week’s shock upset in Denver has many wondering if this Ravens side is destined for a Super Bowl win. Of course, destiny plays no part in sports betting.
During this postseason, Baltimore has improved on most of its offensive stats, including points scored, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. Believe it or not, the Ravens average more offensive yards per game than the Patriots this postseason.
But the Ravens will be up against history.
New England is 7-1 in conference championship games. That one loss came against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 21, 2007.
Conversely, Baltimore is 1-2 in conference championship games, defeating Oakland on the way to Super Bowl XXXV, and losing to Pittsburgh and New England.
New England is 4-0 in conference games played at home.
Both sides have scored one victory against the other in the postseason.
Odds: New England opened as 7½-point favorites, but that number has risen to 10. The over/under is 52, up from 51 at opening.
Take: NEW ENGLAND – Whilst there is undeniably an urge to go with Baltimore in this one, at the end of the day, New England should get out alive. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 on Sep. 23, but this New England side has found form since then. Take the Ravens to cover the spread, as they have done in both postseason games against the Patriots. Take the total to go over, as has been the trend for both these sides this season.