Look between the lines: Handicapping the divisional round
James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week.
All right, let’s get into it:
Seattle Seahawks (-8) over New Orleans Saints
If you are tempted to take the Saints and the points because you feel they have gotten over the mental hurdle of winning a road playoff game, proceed with caution.
The Seahawks won their regular-season matchup with the Saints 34-7, and they still have only lost one game at home during Russell Wilson’s career. Seattle has won four straight games against the spread at home versus opponents with a winning record and features a 12-3 against-the-spread record overall versus winning teams regardless of playing home or away.
By winning last weekend in Philly the Saints finally ended a streak of six straight against-the-spread losses away from the dome. New Orleans has struggled both home and away recently in the playoffs going just 5-11 ATS over their last 16 postseason contests. With the help of the 12th Man, look for another dominant home effort as the Seahawks cruise into the NFC Championship Game for the first time since Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck were running things in 2005.
New England Patriots/Indianapolis Colts over 52
This matchup features the only remaining playoff teams that did not match up in the regular season.
The Patriots absolutely mauled the Colts, 59-24, last year. Despite the Pats being 2-8 against the spread their last 10 home playoff games, they have scored early and often in the comforts of Foxborough. Averaging 30.3 points per game at home this season, the 2013 version of the Pats has continued to put points on the board despite the loss of Rob Gronkowski to a knee injury, Wes Welker to free agency and Aaron Hernandez for off-the-field troubles.
Tom Brady always finds a way to make it happen, going 17-7 in his charmed playoff career, which also includes three Lombardi trophies. The over, when New England plays on field turf, is an eye catching 44-18-1, which includes a 3-0-1 mark the last four times the Patriots have played in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Expect no lack of offense as Andrew Luck continues his march toward greatness and attempts to outduel the Golden Boy in his own house as both teams score early and often looking to punch their ticket to next weekend’s AFC Championship Game.
San Francisco 49ers (pick-em) over Carolina Panthers
On paper, this matchup appears as if it is the most even of the weekend.
Both teams are playing their best football as Carolina has gone 11-1 straight up and 8-3-1 against the spread.
The 49ers come into the game winners of seven straight. Despite the star appeal of the two signal-callers, this game is going to be dictated by two ferocious defensive units. As great as the Panthers defense has been, they are still unproven in the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco features a veteran defensive unit that is fresh off a Super Bowl run and knows how to navigate its way through choppy playoff waters.
Look for Jim Harbaugh to ride Frank Gore all day and allow Colin Kaepernick to find Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis downfield. Coming off the knee procedure it remains to be seen exactly what kind of impact Steve Smith will have and that will undoubtedly limit Cam Newton and the Panthers’ aerial attack.
Every point will be earned in this old-school NFL grudge match. When the dust settles it will be the Harbaugh-led 49ers moving on to a third consecutive NFC Championship Game.
San Diego Chargers (+10) over Denver Broncos
Hello destiny, allow me to introduce the San Diego Chargers.
Winners of five straight, the Bolts come into Denver playing with house money as they look to continue their improbable postseason run.
The pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Peyton Manning to produce his first playoff win in the Mile High City. Coming off a record-setting season that saw the Broncos score 606 points and average 37.9 points per game, Manning arguably has the most skilled set of offensive weapons in the NFL.
Both teams will look to control the clock and play keep-away so expect the running back matchup of Knowshon Moreno/Montee Ball against Ryan Mathews/Danny Woodhead to be key. As great a season as Manning has had, it’s Philip Rivers who comes into the game as the hotter quarterback. Recent history has seen hot quarterbacks take their teams the distance and in these playoffs, Rivers appears as if he can be that guy.
Ten points seems like way too much here so take the underdog and the points as San Diego hangs tough in a matchup of division rivals.