Where to place your money this weekend:
Seattle Seahawks atAtlanta Falcons (-5)
The Seahawks stifled the Lions in Seattle last week, but the going gets tougher as they travel to Atlanta. However, they’ll be a tough out for the Falcons, even at the Georgia Dome.
Seattle is a mediocre 3-4-1 on the road this year (3-5 ATS), but Atlanta hasn’t blown away anyone at home this season (5-3 SU but only 3-5 ATS). Though Matt Ryan and company average 35 PPG at home, their defense has offered little resistance to opposing units all season (25th in YPG, 27th in PPG). Points have been hard to come by for Seattle on the road (15.88 PPG), but Russell Wilson should have an easier time than usual marching his team down the field against the Falcons’ leaky defense.
It’s a tired cliché, but defense wins championships. And it’s been a while since Ryan and Devonta Freeman have faced such resilient stoppers. Richard Sherman and company should carry the Seahawks past an untested Atlanta squad.
The pick: Seahawks +5
Houston Texans atNew England Patriots (-15.5)
This is the biggest point spread for a playoff game in quite some time (even Tim Tebow’s Broncos got more respect against New England in 2012), and while the Texans face a tall order in this clash, they can keep it close.
Houston emerged with the league’s best defense at season’s end, allowing just over 300 YPG. Though their offense has mustered fewer than 18 PPG, they play “keep away” just as well as anyone, ranking fourth in time of possession. That’s thanks mainly to Lamar Miller, who the Texans called on to run 31 times in their dismantling of the Raiders last week.
Tom Brady may struggle to move the chains in this one, but the Texans’ offense is so lackluster that it seems unlikely they’ll be able to match scores with the Patriots once Brady gets into a rhythm. Take the Texans to cover in what should be a low-scoring tilt.
The pick: Texans +15.5
Pittsburgh Steelers atKansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
Conflicting trends cloud this prediction, but when looking at the matchups it seems the Steelers will emerge with a road victory.
Andy Reid-coached teams are 16-2 SU (13-5 ATS) after a bye during the regular season and 3-0 SU (2-1 ATS) after a playoff bye. The Chiefs also ended the year strong, covering the number in five of their last six tilts. However, they’re 1-9 SU and ATS in their last ten playoff contests and 3-7 ATS in their last ten home games. They’ll face a Pittsburgh squad that’s won eight straight (6-1-1 ATS) and holds several statistical edges over them.
Ben Roethlisberger’s offense was seventh in football this season and faces the league’s 24th-ranked defense. Conversely, Alex Smith will be hard-pressed to keep his 20th-ranked offense in the game against the league’s 12th-ranked defense.
Look for Le’Veon Bell to pile up yards on the ground as the Steelers graduate to yet another AFC Championship game.
The pick: Steelers +1.5
Green Bay Packers atDallas Cowboys (-4.5)
Sensational Cowboy rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott showed poise beyond their years when they went into Green Bay and emerged with a 30-16 victory in Week 6. Prescott threw for 247 yards and 3 TD that day while Elliott added 157 yards on the ground.
Green Bay wasn’t on the roll they’re on now (they’ve won seven straight, 6-1 ATS), so perhaps Aaron Rodgers will have a bit more success against the Dallas defense this time around (though Jordy Nelson’s availability is in question due to a rib injury). Rodgers will need to deliver a fantastic game to overcome the Cowboys’ scorers, as even during their winning streak Green Bay’s defense has been less than impressive (374 YPG allowed).
Expect Dallas to emerge victorious in a shootout for the ages.
The pick: Cowboys -4.5