This is the weekend that I really believe fans of all four teams despise the most. They might not realize it now but they will. This weekend is unique because fans in Denver, New England and San Francisco have been here many, many times while fans in Seattle have not.
Getting here is a great accomplishment, but losing on the cusp of going to the Super Bowl really is the worst feeling a fan can have in my opinion. It’s even worse than losing the Super Bowl because at least you can say you’re team got there. Speaking of, let’s who I have getting there….
New England at Denver (-4) – After opening at -6.5, the line has gradually come down this week. A lot of bettors have been on the New England bandwagon and with good reason. Tom Brady and Bill Belches have had a great deal of success against Peyton Manning and now they have a running game that could keep Manning on the sidelines.
Whether you’re a fan or not, the one thing you have to admire about the Patriots is how they can morph into something different on a game-by-game or even season-by-season basis. Last week against Indianapolis they scored over 40 points yet Tom Brady didn’t have a single touchdown pass as the running game overwhelmed the Colts.
Brady and Company will be enticed to go back to throwing the ball a bit with Denver cornerback Chris Harris out for the season now with an ACL injury but it will be hard not to stick with what got them here which is pounding the football. The New England offensive line has been outstanding in the running game and if they have any weakness it comes in pass protection which leads me to believe they will be run-first on Sunday.
The Denver gameplan is simple. Use the weapons you have in Eric Decker, the Thomas’s and Wes Welker and force New England’s hand in terms of who it is they want to take away. Don’t discount the running game with Knowshon Moreno though either. Defensively, the Broncos must stop the run first and actually force Tom Brady to beat them with his arm.
I told you earlier this week that the over/under of 56.5 will go the way of the over and I’m sticking to that. Good weather is expected and I see lots of scoring. The Pats 4-4 record on the road this season worries me a bit and they are 4-11 against the spread in their last 15 games in Denver. The Broncos were 7-1 at home but they are just 1-6 ATS in their last seven games against the Pats.
As much as I’d like to take Denver I just can’t go against Brady and Belichick here. Take the Pats getting the 4.5.
San Francisco (+3) at Seattle – This game started at the same line you see here and I don’t see it changing. This will be an absolute war and I think calling it a ‘war of attrition’ is not wrong. Whoever comes out on top will need the extra week to recover in time for the Super Bowl.
The Niners enter as the hottest team in the league when you really think about it but the specter of what has happened to them in their last two visits to Seattle looms large. San Francisco was outscored 71-16 in their last two trips to the Pacific Northwest. Jim Harbaugh and his Wal-Mart pants will no doubt use this as motivation in an effort to strike early and get the crowd quieted down.
Both teams will push their running games on each other and each will find little success. That means the quarterbacks will have to win the game with their arms and legs. I look for more rushing yards from Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson on scrambles out of the pocket than I do on designed runs. Both men will also be forced to make plays down the field with the passing game and the opportunities must be taken when given the chance.
The over/under 39.5 is very tempting in terms of the over but I’m not biting. I see a 20-17 type game here which fits the under and that’s where I’m going. The 49ers are 0-5 against the spread in their last five trips to Seattle while the Seahawks are 4-1 straight up in their last five games against the Niners. The Seahawks have been a team destined to get to the Super Bowl all season but the recent struggles of Russell Wilson concern me.
I also think this the game Anquan Boldin was acquired for because no one catches the ball in tight coverage the way he does and the presence of Michael Crabtree can’t be overlooked either. Take the 49ers getting the three.