The NFL reaches the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday, with eight teams looking to advance to the conference championship round. Four of those teams will be in action Saturday.
With last week’s four wildcard fixtures all going with the bookies’ favorites, bettors will be looking for an underdog team to emerge from the pack this weekend. If an underdog is to run out winners, it’ll have to do so on the road as all four home sides are favored heading into play.
Casino Review takes a look at Saturday’s fixtures, starting with the No. 1 ranked team in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
4:30 PM ET
After a humiliating 34-17 defeat at home to the Broncos in Week 15, Baltimore (11-6, 4-4 road) will look to make a better showing of itself in this weekend’s divisional opener.
Denver (13-3, 7-1 home) meanwhile will look to extend an 11-game win streak – its’ longest since John Elway was slinging the ball on the way to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII – and move to within one game of this year’s Super Bowl. At 11/4 to lift the Lombardi trophy, odds makers certainly expect the Broncos to do just that.
The return of Ray Lewis last weekend certainly helped the Baltimore defense, which limited Indianapolis to just nine points. Whether that defense can handle Peyton Manning’s high-scoring offense remains to be seen.
At 30.1 points per game, Manning and the Broncos are second to New England in scoring this season. The Broncos are fourth in the league in total yards (397.9 YPG), something the Ravens can only dream of.
Baltimore has spluttered on offense this season, ranking mid table in most major offensive categories. A defense that has been littered with injuries has not been its usual savior either. Denver however has one of the very best defenses in the league, ranking in the league’s top four in opponents points, yards, passing yards, and rushing yards.
Baltimore faces added pressure from the location of this matchup. The Ravens, like so many other sides, have struggled in the Mile High City, recording a 1-3 record. It has been more than 11 years since the side won in Denver.
The Ravens will look to history for a booster though. As well as being 6-4 all-time against the Broncos, the Ravens won the only previous playoff meeting between these sides, a 21-3 win on Dec. 31, 2000. That season saw the Ravens win the Super Bowl.
The Ravens could get an assist from the weather also. With game time temperatures expected to be in the 20s, the Maryland side will hope that Manning continues his struggles in cold weather during the playoffs, where he is 0-3 in games with a -40 degree temperature. You can guarantee that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh has been quick to point out Peyton Manning’s 9-10 record in the postseason to his team.
Odds: Denver is an overwhelming favorite in this one. The spread opened at 9½ and has subsequently risen to 10. The total opened at 44½, but has bumped up a point to 45½.
Take: DENVER – Harbaugh can point out all of the deficiencies he likes but the simple truth is this is a Broncos side that doesn’t look like it can lose. With a 7-1 home record, the Broncos are winning games in the Mile High City by an average of 16 points. Manning looks rejuvenated and has a terrific supporting cast, whilst Baltimore barely looks to have it all together. That loss in December gives few people faith in the Ravens either. Denver (11-4-1 ATS) is the best team in the league at covering the spread, and even though 10 points is a sizeable amount, take the Broncos to cover. So far this postseason, the total has gone under in every game. This may be your best chance to take the over with the free-scoring Broncos.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
8:00 PM ET
Whilst much of the talk this week has focused on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning to Northern California and San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick making his first playoff start against the team he used to root for, something else has fallen by the wayside; this is the return of one of the best playoff rivalries in football.
The Packers and Niners met during four consecutive playoff runs between 1996 and 1999. Green Bay won the first three, including a 35-14 victory in 1997 on the way to winning Super Bowl XXXI. The two sides met again in 2002, with the Packers recording a fourth win in five meetings.
Now, the 2012 versions of these teams will look to put this rivalry back on the map.
Green Bay (12-5, 4-4 road) secured a relatively easy win over Minnesota last weekend, but there’ll be no such cakewalks this weekend. San Francisco (11-4-1, 6-1-1 home) has played tough all season, is well-rested, and comes into this game with bragging rights; the Niners defeated Green Bay 30-22 on opening day.
Much has changed for both sides since that late September meeting. Green Bay has found some stability, and has won 10 of its last 12. San Francisco is fielding a different quarterback, one that the Packers will not be able to get to as easy as Alex Smith.
The Packers – 34-27-1 all-time against the Niners – will be confident that San Francisco is there for the taking. The Niners struggled somewhat down the stretch, narrowly hanging onto the NFC West crown after outlasting a resurgent Seattle side. The Packers also have the motivation to make it to the NFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch against those very Seahawks. Retribution, and real refs, will be on the mind if that showdown takes place.
The Packers’ offense – which ranks fifth in the league in scoring – will square-off against a tough San Francisco defense, which gave up just 17.1 points per game this season. Only Seattle gave up fewer. The Niners also rank in the top four in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed.
Odds: San Francisco is a three-point favorite at home, a number that has remained constant since opening. The total stands at 45.
Take: GREEN BAY – Whilst many have had San Francisco earmarked as NFC champions for much of the season, Green Bay has the pedigree, not to mention experience, to win this won. The Packers had won 13 of their last 14 meetings with the Niners before this season’s loss, and that veteran defense will be only too happy to take its chances against an inexperienced Kaepernick. In addition to the upset win, take the total to go over. San Francisco has taken the total over 10 times this season, and Green Bay certainly has the firepower to add to those chances.