Your NFL Lines for the Upcoming Weekend


Calvin Johnson will need some big plays if the Lions are to end their streak of losses in Green Bay.

I’ll spend less time on the non-playoff games for obvious reasons.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay (O/U 48) – This one is simple; the winner gets the division and a first-round bye at worst. The loser will end up as the fifth or sixth seed and will head out on the road. The suspension of Lions’ center Dominic Raiola will be a huge story in this game. I think the Lions’ defense will keep this close but the Packers pull away and win. Take GB to cover.

Jacksonville (+10) at Houston (O/U 40) – Another audition for Case Keenum and a final shot to see J.J. Watt in 2014. The Texans cover.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The winner wins the AFC North and at best gets a three-seed which means they’ll open the playoffs at home but won’t have a bye week. The Steelers blitzed the Bengals with a 25-point fourth quarter four weeks ago but I see this one much closer with so much on the line. Take the Steelers to cover with a late score.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee (O/U 46.5) - The Colts need to right their ship because they aren’t playing well with the playoffs approaching. They need a Cincinnati win over the Steelers coupled with a win of their own in order to grab the three seed. Look for Andrew Luck to get things going early before taking a seat in the second half. I like the Titans here because the Colts will empty the bench in the second half.

Cleveland (+9) at Baltimore (O/U 41.5) – Do we have any idea who is playing quarterback for Cleveland? No Manziel and no Hoyer means rookie Connor Shaw gets the start. The Ravens still have an outside shot at the playoffs but they need lots of help. My gut feeling here is that Joe Flacco bounces back from a horrible game and plays well. Take the Ravens to cover.

Buffalo (+5) at New England (O/U 44) – By virtue of Denver’s loss Monday night, New England has home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. That means Bill Belichick will get his starters out quickly after a couple of series. Take the Bills who have slim playoff hopes as well.

NY Jets (+6) at Miami (O/U 42) – Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross says Joe Philbin will return. Let’s see how his team plays knowing that. Take the Jets.


A loss pretty much ends the tenure of Mike Smith in Atlanta. Of course a win might not help him much either.

Carolina (+4) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – The battle for the NFC South will boil down to a simple question; whose defense can make the most stops? We know Atlanta can score and we know the Panthers play good defense but what about the other scenario? The Falcons defense is really bad but I have a feeling based on the last few weeks that they make enough plays. Take the Falcons to cover.

Chicago (+6.5) at Minnesota (O/U 44) – Gimme the Vikings to cover.

San Diego (+3) at Kansas City (O/U 42) – Both teams have playoff hopes especially the Bolts who just need to win. A loss brings KC and Houston into play. Can the Chiefs generate enough offense and can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Take the Chargers and the points.

Philadelphia (+3) at NY Giants (O/U 52) – I predict lots of scoring. Giants to cover.

Dallas (-6) at Washington (O/U 49) – The Redskins will not roll over in this game especially after a nice win last week over Philly. The Cowboys can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with a win so I believe it will be all hands on deck. They’ll ride the offense to a big win. Take Dallas to cover.

New Orleans (-4) at Tampa Bay (O/U 47) – Saints to cover.

St. Louis (+13) at Seattle (O/U 41) – The Seahawks look to wrap up at the very least a first round bye with a win. Should Dallas stumble then they get home-field advantage. I think the Rams will fight valiantly but I like the hawks to cover.

Arizona (+6) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – All signs point to this being the final game for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. The Cardinals are hoping for losses by Dallas and Seattle but I don’t think it will matter with their current quarterback situation. Take the Cards getting the points in this one.

Oakland (+14) at Denver (O/U 48) - I’ll be surprised if Peyton Manning doesn’t sit a bit here as poor as he’s looked recently. I like the Raiders getting the points.



A Little Bit of Everything for Saturday Morning


Kobe Bryant will return tomorrow and I look for Kobe to be 100% and more.

We know when Kobe will be back. Northern Illinois took an unexpected tumble creating an opening in the BCS and Gary Kubiak became the first NFL coaching casualty. Let’s get it started.

The Los Angeles Lakers have confirmed that Kobe Bryant will return to the court tomorrow when the Lakers host Toronto at Staples Center. Bryant’s return comes on the heels of him becoming the highest paid player in the NBA after he signed a two-year extension two weeks ago.

The obvious question fans and pundits will have is “What can we expect to see from Bryant?”

The Lakers are claiming you will see a ‘dominant’ Kobe Bryant and while that could just be posturing and advertising to some, I think there is some truth in it too. Unlike many players in many sports who come back too soon, I believe Bryant’s attitude and ego have kept him from doing so. Typically we see guys return and have limited minutes and only a set number of options available to them offensively but that won’t happen with Bryant.

I’ll be very surprised if Bryant doesn’t log at least 35 minutes. This is just how Bryant is and the Lakers know that. If he can’t come back and be “Kobe” then he wouldn’t come back at all.


Bowling Green and head coach Dave Clawson won the MAC title by knocking off unbeaten Northern Illinois.

A BCS Hiccup

The BCS bowl games were looking quite neat and tidy heading into this weekend. Then a rather unexpected thing happened in Detroit last night. Northern Illinois entered the MAC Title game against 9-3 Bowling Green unbeaten and fully expecting to go to a second-straight BCS game. This is obviously why they actually play the games as the Falcons ripped the Huskies 47-27.

Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch looked fairly pedestrian as he threw two interceptions and ran for just 126 yards which is certainly lower than he usually rushes. So what exactly does this mean for the BCS?

Chances are that the door swings open for either Baylor, Clemson or Oregon. The Bears can make it a moot point if Oklahoma State loses today and they defeat Texas. They would get the automatic bid for the Big 12. Should they win, but so does Oklahoma State, they would look very enticing with just one loss and a high-octane offense.

If not them, a one-loss Clemson or a two-loss Oregon could get the bid. As you know, the fan base is a huge factor in who gets chosen because BCS game like to make money believe it or not. That’s where Baylor could be hurt. The small private university does not have a large base or a national following. Both the Ducks and Tigers would be far more intriguing so keep that in mind.

Kubiak Fired

The Houston Texans parted ways with head coach Gary Kubiak yesterday in the midst of the team’s 11-game losing streak. The head coach since 2006, Kubiak amassed a record of 61-64 with two playoff wins in four attempts but this was supposed to be “the season.” Owner Bob McNair believed the team had put together its’ most talented roster but injuries and poor play made that a moot point.

Kubiak will more than likely return to the NFL in an offensive coordinator capacity. Talk of him being a head coach again has been relatively sparse. If I’m the Texans, I’m putting in calls to Lovie Smith, Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and possibly Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio who has done a great job running the Broncos in John Fox’s absence.

Job number one for whoever gets the job will be to find a quarterback. Case Keenum will get the first shot while Matt Schaub will be on the way out.

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Two Major Issues Hanging on the NFL


I think it's very likely Richie Incognito never plays in the NFL again.

While I read an argument recently that suggested Major League Baseball was back as America’s Pastime I couldn’t help but think of just how wrong that sentiment was. Baseball loyalists are tough nuts to crack.

They have a hard time admitting their own games’ faults like Pete Rose’s gambling and the steroid era but have no trouble pointing out the problems that plague the country’s true pastime which is the National Football League.

To be fair and honest, the NFL does a decent enough job of keeping itself in the headlines with any number of negative stories so with all due respect to the baseball people, the NFL can make its own messes.

First and foremost is the situation in Miami.

Last week prior to their Thursday night win over Cincinnati, Dolphins’ tackle Jonathan Martin walked out of a team meal and chose not to return. He cited a culture of bullying that he was no longer able to take.

We now know the ringleader of this bullying is Dolphins’ center Richie Incognito and this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given his history at Nebraska and then his conduct while playing in St. Louis. You can read the excerpts of Incognito’s phone and text messages to Martin here because I’m not going into them in depth.

To me, there are three things at issue here. First and foremost, Incognito is a disturbed individual who obviously has issues that he never dealt with from his childhood. In recent hours it was discovered his father has been bashing Martin on message boards so apparently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Secondly, Martin could have handled this a lot better too and maybe he attempted to but based on what we know I would say he reacted poorly. Why did he not go to the team’s union representative? Why not go to the position coach or head coach? Again, maybe he did but Joe Philbin doesn’t sound like a guy who would tolerate this stuff.

Lastly, where in the hell were Martin’s teammates? I have a hard time believing that none of the other offensive linemen knew what was going on? Is Incognito such a bully that they were afraid of him too? I have a really hard time believing that.

My gut feeling is that Incognito will be suspended for the season. He is a free agent at the end of the year and I’ll be shocked if anyone touches him. He’s a bully plain and simple but this is just the tip of the iceberg I fear.


The health of coaches like Gary Kubiak may become a bigger issue in years to come.

Another issue you’ll hear more and more about is the health of NFL coaches. Within a matter of hours, Denver’s John Fox, who was out golfing during the team’s bye week no less, and Houston coach Gary Kubiak both suffered health scares.

Kubiak of course collapsed while walking off the field during halftime of Sunday night’s game. Fox will miss a few weeks and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will be the interim. For Kubiak, we have heard positive things from the Texans, but as far as his status we don’t yet know.

These two incidents will no doubt shed a light on the incredible hours these guys put in each week as NFL head coaches. Personally, I don’t see any way you can limit what these guys do. Even if you tell them they can’t be at the office they’ll find somewhere to keep working.

Let’s hope both men are fine and that these are isolated incidents.

Either way, the NFL has no problem attracting attention whether people think it’s the national pastime or not.


Broncos, Niners Favorites for Super Bowl XLVIII

San Francisco may have fallen at the final hurdle on Sunday night, but bookmakers have installed the team as joint favorites (with Denver) to win next year's Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.

San Francisco may have fallen at the final hurdle on Sunday night, but bookmakers have installed the team as joint favorites (with Denver) to win next year's Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.

Before the dust has even settled on the spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVII, bookmakers have released odds relating to Super Bowl XLVIII, to be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Feb. 2, 2014.

Sunday night’s game in New Orleans proved to be something special. From the opening anthems – including a poignant performance by the Sandy Hook Elementary School Choir – through Beyonce’s love it/hate it halftime performance, from a 34-minute power outage to the confetti raining down on the champions, this was a Super Bowl that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

San Francisco and Baltimore put on one heck of a display, with the Ravens jumping out to a 28-6 lead on the first play of the second half, before San Francisco mounted another unthinkable comeback. It came down to the last seconds of the game, with the Ravens managing to hold off the Niners, ultimately going on to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

But football betting is fickle, and before the Ravens can even enjoy the sweet taste of victory, bookmakers are putting a new spin on things and offering odds on next year’s super event.

As it stands, Denver and San Francisco have been installed as the favorites to follow in Baltimore footsteps next season.

After a long and tough season, San Francisco almost made good on 9/1 preseason odds this season. The Northern California side advanced to the Super Bowl – and came within touching distance of a win – having been eliminated at the conference championship stage last season.

Odds makers believe Jim Harbaugh’s side will do even better next year, assigning the team 7/1 odds of winning Super Bowl XLVIII. The Niners will again be in search of Super Bowl victory No. 6, tying that record achieved by Pittsburgh.

The Niners are not alone though. Denver has also been assigned 7/1 odds of winning it all next season.

After a season that showed Peyton Manning – the eventual runner up in MVP voting – still has it and that the Broncos are stacked with talent, bookmakers like the Mile High City side to improve on this year’s conference championship appearance. A win would secure Denver’s third Super Bowl championship.

Third on the bookies’ list is perennial Super Bowl favorite, New England. By the time Super Bowl XLVIII rolls around, it will have been nine years since the Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi trophy aloft, but Brady and Co. are still expected to make noise this coming season.

New England is 15/2 to win next season’s Super Bowl, which puts the side marginally behind the odds (11/2) assigned to the team ahead of this past season.

Another perennial favorite takes the number four spot on the NFL Futures list. Green Bay is considered 10/1 to win the championship. The Packers were not as dominant as some expected this season, but with Aaron Rodgers under center there are few that wouldn’t expect the Wisconsin side to contend at the very least. Another Packers-Niners playoff clash wouldn’t go amiss either.

The top five is rounded out by a pair of sides with 12/1 odds: Baltimore and Seattle.

Baltimore may have won it all on Sunday night but bookmakers believe that the “Team of Destiny” used up most of its luck during the 34-31 victory over San Francisco. But then again, the bookies took a big hit thanks to Baltimore’s horrendous play ahead of the post season that saw the team 28/1 to win the Super Bowl after Week 15. There’s no way the bookies want the Ravens to win again.

It’s hard to imagine Baltimore won’t get a deal done that keeps Joe Flacco under center, but without Ray Lewis – and perhaps Ed Reed (retirement?) – the side will have a few spots to bolster if it’s to make a push.

Meanwhile, Seattle is a surprise entrant in the top five (which is actually a top six). Behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks were certainly one of the surprise packages this season, but most will be questioning whether Pete Carroll’s side can repeat this season’s success. Odds makers apparently believe they can.

The NFL Futures’ Top 10 is rounded out by Houston (14/1), Atlanta (18/1), New Orleans (18/1), and Pittsburgh (18/1).

Elsewhere on the Futures list, bookmakers expect Kansas City – this season’s worst team – to improve under the tutelage of Andy Reid. The Chiefs are considered 50/1 to win Super Bowl XLVIII, which makes them tied for 22nd place on the list.

Jacksonville is expected to be the league’s worst team next season. The Jaguars have odds of 150/1 to win it all. Buffalo and Oakland are second worst on the list, with odds of 100/1.


Odds to Win Super Bowl XLVIII

Denver Broncos 7/1

San Francisco 49ers 7/1

New England Patriots 15/2

Green Bay Packers 10/1

Baltimore Ravens 12/1

Seattle Seahawks 12/1

Houston Texans 14//1

Atlanta Falcons 18/1

New Orleans Saints 18/1

Pittsburgh Steelers 18/1

Chicago Bears 20/1

New York Giants 20/1

Dallas Cowboys 25/1

Washington Redskins 30/1

Indianapolis Colts 33/1

Cincinnati Bengals 35/1

Detroit Lions 35/1

Minnesota Vikings 35/1

Philadelphia Eagles 35/1

San Diego Chargers 35/1

New York Jets 40/1

Carolina Panthers 50/1

Kansas City Chiefs 50/1

Miami Dolphins 50/1

St. Louis Rams 50/1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 50/1

Arizona Cardinals 66/1

Cleveland Browns 66/1

Tennessee Titans 66/1

Buffalo Bills 100/1

Oakland Raiders 100/1

Jacksonville Jaguars 150/1

Odds supplied by Bovada


NFL Divisional Playoffs: Sunday Preview

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will look to put the brakes on a three-game playoff losing streak with a win over Seattle on Sunday.

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will look to put a halt to a three-game playoff losing streak with a win over Seattle on Sunday.

The NFL playoffs just got interesting.

After a tepid wild-card weekend, the divisional round of the postseason got off to a bang thanks to a 70-yard Joe Flacco bomb. That monster strike would set up a double overtime Baltimore (12-6) victory, as the side upset a heavily-favored Denver (13-4) team 38-35.

If that wasn’t enough, San Francisco (12-4-1) took a slight edge on the book and rammed it down Green Bay’s (12-6) gullet. The 49ers, behind a magnificent Colin Kaepernick, took down the Packers 45-31, advancing to the NFC championship game next Sunday (3PM ET).

Today, fans will be looking for the same level of excitement as the divisional round of the playoffs comes to a close with a pair of intriguing matchups.


Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons


The prospect of a mouthwatering NFC championship matchup between division rivals San Francisco and Seattle (12-5, 4-5 road) could be just 60 minutes of football away.

The resurgent Seahawks will travel east for the second weekend in a row, looking to hand the No. 1 seeded Falcons another playoff defeat. Atlanta (13-3, 7-1 home) will be looking to silence the naysayers convinced the team is incapable of winning in the postseason.

The Falcons have lost their last three playoff matchups. Two of those games came in the wild-card round, with the other coming in a divisional matchup with Green Bay following the 2010 season. The Georgia side was a No. 1 ranked team that year also.

With a win, the Falcons can follow Seattle’s own example. Ahead of last weekend’s wild-card game in Washington, the Seahawks had been winless in road playoff games since 1983. Pete Carroll’s side exorcised that trend in one fell swoop. Bucking trends is something very much on the Falcon’s agenda.

Speaking of trends, Seattle has only won two postseason games twice in franchise history. Following the 2005 season, the AFC West-winning Seahawks went to the Super Bowl. In 1983, the AFC wild-card Seahawks were successful in the wild-card and divisional rounds, before falling to the Raiders in the AFC championship game.

Atlanta has the edge on the offensive side of the football. The Falcons ranked seventh in the league in scoring (26.2 PPG) and sixth in passing yards (281.8 YPG). Seattle however has a huge advantage in the run game, averaging 161.2 yards per game (3rd) compared to Atlanta’s 87.3 yards per game (29th).

Seattle will also have a decisive advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Seahawks had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league this season, giving up just 15.3 points per game. The side ranked in the top 10 in opponents’ total yards (306.2 YPG), passing yards (203.1 YPG), and rushing yards (103.1 YPG). The Falcons meanwhile fell outside of the top 20 in those categories, although Mike Smith’s side was particularly stingy in the points department, giving up just 18.7 per game (5th).

Seattle leads the all-time head-to-head series 8-5, although that record is 3-3 since the side moved across to the NFC in 2002. Atlanta has won three straight in the series.

The ‘experts’ all seem to think that Seattle – winners of eight of the last nine – will emerge victorious from the Georgia Dome. Odds makers however give Atlanta a three-point edge at home.

Seattle (12-5-0 ATS) has fared much better than Atlanta (9-6-1 ATS) this season, thanks in part to a series of upset victories, including those over Green Bay, New England, Chicago, and San Francisco.

The total opened at 45 and has subsequently risen to 46. Both teams have shown prevalence for the total going under, with nine Seattle games and 11 Atlanta games falling below the set marker.

After a wild-card weekend that saw all four totals go under, the divisional round began with both Saturday games going (well) over, something worth pondering.


Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

4:30 PM ET

If ever a team could be buoyed by Baltimore’s performance on Saturday, it’s Houston (13-4, 6-2 road).

Heading into Sunday’s matchup with New England (12-4, 6-2 home), the Texans have been all but written off by pundits, fans, and bookmakers alike. The slumping Texans lost three of the last four regular season games before fending off Cincinnati in a lackluster wild-card encounter last weekend.

Add to this a debilitating 42-14 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 10 – which kick-started those three losses in four games – and you have a team with no chance. Except, as Baltimore showed, every team has a chance at this point in the season.

Believe it or not, New England’s last Super Bowl-winning campaign came following the 2004 season. The perennial title hopeful Patriots have actually come up short in the last six attempts, including three times in the divisional round or before, a fact Houston should latch onto.

New England outranks the Texans in most facets of the offensive games, including points scored, a category in which the Patriots led the league (34.8 PPG). Houston however is the superior defensive side, although both teams conceded an equal 20.7 points per game during the regular season. The Texan defense had been more prolific until New England handed the side that lopsided loss.

New England leads the all-time head-to-head series 3-1. Houston has not won in two tries at Gillette Stadium.

Bookmakers set the opening spread at 9½, a number that has since risen to 10. New England will need to avoid complacency though, as they are the same numbers offered in favor of Denver on Saturday.

New England (9-6-1 ATS) matched the Texans’ output against the spread during the regular season, although Houston (10-6-1 ATS) fell off pace towards the end of the season, failing to cover in five of the last seven games. The Texans did manage to cover the spread in last weekend’s game against the Bengals.

The total opened at 48 and has since increased to 49. New England’s high-scoring offense saw the total go over in 11 games this season, while a more defensive-minded Houston side was only involved in seven games that went over. Last weekend’s wild-card fixture saw the total go under.

The previous two meetings between the sides (2010, 2012) have both gone over the 49-point marker, with this season’s 56-point matchup topping the 51½ total at kickoff.


The winner of the Seattle-Atlanta game will face San Francisco in the NFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (3 PM ET).

The winner of the Houston-New England game will host Baltimore in the AFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (6:30 PM ET).


Denver Remains Atop NFL Futures

Bookmakers currently expect Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to replicate John Elway's success in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.

Bookmakers currently expect Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to replicate John Elway's success in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII.

Ahead of this weekend’s divisional round of playoffs, the Denver Broncos remain favorites with bookmakers to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy on Feb. 3.

Having enjoyed a bye week during the wild-card round of playoffs, Denver (13-3) has been given odds of 11/4 to win Super Bowl XLVII, marking the fourth straight week the side has seen its odds shorten.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are considered 11/10 to win the AFC, something they can achieve by defeating Baltimore this weekend and the winner of New England-Houston next weekend.

New England (12-4) is nipping at the Broncos’ heels on the NFL Futures list.

Having also enjoyed a bye last weekend, the Patriots have been given 7/2 odds of winning the Super Bowl. The number represents the team’s shortest odds since topping the list at 3/1 following Week 14.

The Patriots are considered 7/5 to represent the AFC in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

With Denver and New England topping the list, it is left to Baltimore (11-6) and Houston (13-4) to prop up the NFL Futures, where odds makers have little faith in the two sides.

Both the Ravens and Texans have been handed 18/1 odds of lifting the Lombardi trophy, and 9/1 odds of even making the big game.

What’s more, both opened as 9½-point underdogs ahead of this weekend’s divisional playoffs. The spread in both games has risen to 10 as bettors come down in favor of the home sides.

Over in the NFC, both Green Bay (12-5) and San Francisco (11-4-1) find themselves with 6/1 odds to win the Super Bowl.

Bookmakers prefer the 49ers chances this weekend though, giving Jim Harbaugh’s side a three-point edge heading into the two meeting on Saturday at Candlestick Park.

This advantage on the lines has translated to a marginal advantage on the NFC Futures list. San Francisco has odds of 11/5 to win the NFC, whilst Green Bay is considered 3/1.

This weekend’s other NFC clash features Seattle (12-5) and Atlanta (13-3), two teams that have been assigned 7/1 odds of winning the Super Bowl.

Atlanta opened as a three-point favorite on the game line, with 12/5 odds (second in the conference) of winning the NFC. Pundits haven’t exactly been silent in their support of the underdog Seahawks in this one, but Bovada is reporting that bettors are showing a slight lean in favor of the Falcons.

Bovada has also put together odds of the exact matchup that will take place in New Orleans.

Currently, based on Futures standings, the favorite Super Bowl matchup is Denver vs. San Francisco (11/2), a rematch of Super Bowl XXIV held in 1990 at the Super Dome in New Orleans. For the record, the Niners took that game 55-10.

Next on the list is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIII, pitting Denver against Atlanta. Odds of this particular matchup currently stand at 6/1.

Other potential Super Bowl rematches include: Denver vs. Green Bay (Super Bowl XXXII), which sits at 7/1; and New England vs. Green Bay (Super Bowl XXXI), another game that took place in the Big Easy. That one ended 35-21 in favor of the Packers. Odds of this latter matchup currently stand at 8/1.

For a full list of odds on each potential matchup, see below.


Odds to Win Super Bowl XXXVII

Denver Broncos (11/4)

New England Patriots (7/2)

Green Bay Packers (6/1)

San Francisco 49ers (6/1)

Atlanta Falcons (7/1)

Seattle Seahawks (7/1)

Baltimore Ravens (18/1)

Houston Texans (18/1)


Odds to win the 2013 AFC Championship   

Denver Broncos (11/10)

New England Patriots (7/5)

Houston Texans (9/1)

Baltimore Ravens (9/1)


Odds to win the 2013 NFC Championship   

San Francisco 49ers (11/5)

Atlanta Falcons (12/5)

Green Bay Packers (3/1)

Seattle Seahawks (13/4)


2013 Super Bowl XLVII Matchup     

Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers (11/2)

Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons (6/1)

New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers (13/2)

Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers (7/1)

New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (7/1)

Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks (15/2)

New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers (8/1)

New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks (9/1)

Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers (30/1)

Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons (30/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs.  San Francisco 49ers (30/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons (30/1)

Houston Texans vs. Green Bay Packers (35/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers (35/1)

Houston Texans vs. Seattle Seahawks (40/1)

Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks (40/1)


Season of Upsets to Filter Through to Playoffs?

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are one of four wild-card teams looking to knock-off higher-ranked opposition this weekend, a task in which bookmakers expect Seattle to succeed.

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are one of four wild-card teams looking to knock-off higher-ranked opposition this weekend, a task in which bookmakers expect Seattle to succeed.

After 17 weeks of physical play, shocking results, unexpected storylines, and some true battles of attrition, we’re just hours away from the start of the NFL playoffs, and this year, we’re in for something special.

The 2012 NFL season relished in unexpected victories and the emergence of some unlikely contenders. Think, San Francisco’s Week 1 upset win in Green Bay; Seattle’s wins over New England, San Francisco, and Green Bay, with the assist going to the replacement referees in the latter; surprising playoffs runs by the Colts and Vikings; and the Washington Redskins fending off the entire NFC East behind rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

In a season that specialized in dealing out surprise win after surprise win, we have a playoff bracket loaded and waiting for more of the same, and it all starts with this weekend’s wild-card fixtures.

Upsets in the wild-card round of the playoffs are nothing new. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams for the 2002 season, only two seasons have seen the No. 3 and No. 4 seed from both the AFC and NFC advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.

That feat happened following the 2007 season and again last year. In each of the other eight seasons, at least one lower seed has advanced. In fact, more often than not, more than one lower seed has advanced, and in three instances (following the 2010, 2005, and 2004 seasons) three lower seeds have moved on. There has yet to be a season in which all four lower seeds advanced. In total, 17 (out of 40) lower seeded sides has advanced in a decade of play.

One of the reasons that might explain this trend of lower seeds advancing is the structure of the playoffs. With the current setup, a winner of a weak division will be seeded higher than a team with a better record that finished second in its division. Seattle and Indianapolis are both examples of this as we enter this weekend’s playoffs. Both finished with a better record but seeded lower than Washington and Baltimore respectively, and both will be on the road to start the playoffs.

But this explanation would generally relate to the No. 5 seed beating the No. 4 seed. Very rarely (if ever) would you see a No. 6 seed that had a superior record to a No. 3 seed, yet in nine instances the No. 6 seed has defeated the No. 3 seed, most recently following the 2010 season when Green Bay upset Philadelphia and the New York Jets upset Indianapolis. That’s more times than the No. 5 seed has beaten the No. 4 seed (eight), which means there’s more to it than simply who has the better record.

We all know that there are extenuating circumstances that can be identified as helping or hindering a playoff run: the pressure of a playoff game (the 2006 Dallas Cowboys); a team getting hot at the right time (the 2007 New York Giants); or even sheer good luck (the 2009 ‘Music City Miracle’). What we also know is that it’s all but impossible to predict when such upsets and playoff runs will happen.

So, will we see upsets this weekend?

In the ‘Season of Upsets’, its seems nobody is really expecting the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in both conferences to be playing next weekend.

For starters, Seattle (11-5, 3-5 road) is favored over Washington (10-6, 5-3 home) going into Sunday’s clash at FedEx Field. Granted, oddsmakers have only been so bold as to make the Seahawks a one-point favorite, but that still suggests the Pacific Northwest side should come out of the game with a win, and, in all honesty, you’d be hard-pushed to find somebody that would consider such a result a surprise.

But it’s not only the Redskins that need to be on guard. A slumping Baltimore (10-6, 6-2 home) will host a surging Indianapolis (11-5, 4-4 road) on Sunday in what could easily be an upset. Baltimore may be the favorite (-6½) heading in, but the Ravens have lost four of five while the Colts have won nine of 11. It’s not hard to envisage another No. 5 seed upsetting a No. 4 seed.

Before we get to Sunday’s games, Houston (12-4, 6-2 home) finds itself in the same predicament as Baltimore. The Texans have slumped at the wrong time, losing three of four, while Cincinnati (10-6, 6-2 road) is on a charge, winning seven of eight, with that one loss coming by just one-point. There are a lot of big name pundits already backing the Bengals over the Texans.

Which brings us to the Saturday night game at Lambeau Field. Green Bay (11-5, 7-1 home) and Minnesota (10-6, 3-5 road) clash for the third time this season, and the second time in two weeks. As you’d expect, Green Bay is favored (-9½) in this one and you’d be forgiven for passing this off as a dead cert. After all, the Packers have won 10 of 14 against the Vikings and the game is in cold Wisconsin. Except…

Except, last week’s game between the two sides – a 37-34 win for the Vikings – has left some wondering if the Packers can stop Peterson and Co. Add to this the fact that Green Bay is 1-3 in its last four home playoff games, a streak that started with a 31-17 loss to, yes, the Minnesota Vikings in Jan. 2005, and you have enough doubt to feel compelled to wonder whether we have another upset on our hands.

Could this be the first season in which all four lower seeds advance to divisional play? The way things have gone this year, it’s not the most far-flung idea out there.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Houston, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Washington all came out this weekend and did exactly what is needed to win. That would certainly set-up some intriguing matchups next week.

One thing we can count on though is that this season still has a sting in its tail, which makes for a fantastic ride for all of us.