Gambler's Corner: Picks & Analysis of the NFL Playoff Championship Matches

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Last week

4-1 (+4.4 units)

1 live play at the under for a middle shot in DEN/BAL (0-1 -0.55 units)

Overall: 4-2 +3.85 units


San Francisco (-4) @ Atlanta (+4), o/u 48.5

This line opened at SF -3 and moved to SF -4.5 by Monday night (spoiler alert, I took some ATL +4.5).  Since then, some resistance came and it has settled back 4.  If you read the column last week, you know that I was as high on the 49ers as anyone.  So why the hell am I taking Atlanta in this one, while the whole world knows that San Francisco is going to run through them on Sunday afternoon?

First, I want to look at the line itself.  San Francisco had a home playoff game in which they were favored by only 2.5 points over Green Bay.  Fair enough.  Green Bay is a popular team that’s often bet heavily by the public (as was the case last week).  But now San Francisco goes from a 2.5 point home favorite to a 4 point road favorite in the NFC Championship game?  Seeing them pretty much throttle a popular Green Bay team instills a lot of confidence into people that they can easily cover a 4-point spread on the road.  Conversely, Atlanta is the opposite of a popular team.  People have talked all year about how they’re overrated and it’s still very real in our minds watching them choke in the playoffs the last few years.

San Francisco looked outstanding last week.  They busted out a fresh new read-option package that was pretty much unseen prior to last week.  Green Bay was completely unprepared and failed to make adjustments.  Atlanta gets a whole week to prepare for this look, which is really a matter of staying disciplined and hanging on to your assignments, even if the play is going the other way.  Of course, it’s all a matter of executing.  It’s worth noting that running quarterbacks have had some success versus Atlanta though:

  • Newton: 18car/202yds/2TDs in 2 games
  • Vick: 7car/42yds
  • Wilson: 7car/60yds/1TD

So that is slightly concerning.  I think what goes unnoticed though is that Atlanta’s secondary is very underrated.  Opposing quarterbacks have a 77.1 QB rating against them and they allowed 14 pass TDs vs 20 INTs in the regular season.  Atlanta also doesn’t generate a lot of pressure (29 sacks this year), so I see a team that is capable of just rushing 4 and sitting back in coverage, w/ one guy having his eyes on the quarterback at all times.  Constrast that w/ the man-to-man looks Green Bay threw at San Francisco, leaving the whole middle of the field open for Kaepernick to run at will.

Kaepernick is slightly worse on the road as a passer, completing 59.3% (67% at home) and a 6:3 TD:INT ratio (6:1) at home. 

As far as Atlanta, I seriously doubt they are able to run the ball.  Turner looked as good as ever last week, but they frequently attacked the undersized Bruce Irvin, who has some severe limitations against the run.  I see Atlanta's advantage being their biggest strength though, and that is obviously the passing game and the elite receiving threats they have in Julio, Roddy, and Tony G.  San Francisco is also no slouch against the pass, but we said the same thing about Seattle last week.  This is the biggest challenge San Francisco will see from a passing attack all year, so I think that Atlanta will have some success moving the ball.  San Francisco must generate pressure, but that’s something they’ve not had much success doing with a banged up Justin Smith.

One more thing that could prove to be huge is Matt Bryant vs. David Akers.  I think the Falcons have a very big advantage at this position.

I don’t like to rely on trends because you can find one for anything, but I do put some weight into them.  Relevant this week:

  • Teams that score 40+ in the playoffs are 3-20 ATS the following week since 1996 (courtesy of Walter Football)
  • Matt Ryan is 24-14 ATS at home all-time.
  • The 49ers put up 40 points 2 other times this year.  Their games following those they scored 3 and 13.
  • Under is 4-0 in the 49ers last 4 as a road favorite of 3.5-10.
  • Falcons on the over/under are  1-7 in favor of the under at home this year.

I think this is really a 50/50 game.  I would not be surprised if San Francisco won by a touchdown, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta did the same.  Give me the home team getting 4 points.

SF wins 24-23

Plays: ATL +4 (1 unit), ATL ML (+175, 0.25 units)

Lean: Under 48.5…I may play this if it gets to 49, but nothing as of now.


Baltimore (+8) @ New England (-8), o/u51

I really don’t have as much to say about this one.  Both teams are extremely well coached, and based on that alone I fully expect this to be a closer game than the 8-point spread indicates.  What has changed since week 3 when Baltimore handed New England a loss? 

First of all, the home field advantage flips in favor of the Patriots.  The Patriots also upgraded their secondary with the addition of CB Aqib Talib and have been much better on paper back there.  But since the addition of Talib, they’ve faced these teams: Colts, Jets, Dolphins x2, Texans x2, 49ers, and Jaguars…not exactly passing juggernauts (though Kaep pretty much had his way with them).  Flacco threw for 382 yards and 3 TDs against the Patriots in week 3. 

These two teams have met 5 times under their current coaches.  The last 3 meetings were decided by a field goal or less.  Another was decided by 6 points.  The lone “blowout” was a 33-14 Baltimore win in 2010.  Overall, I think the 8-point spread is a little bit high.  Even Houston, who was dominated last week, had a chance late for a backdoor cover.

Baltimore has done a decent job against Brady.  In their last 2 meetings, Brady’s completed 64.7% of his passes and averages 314 yards, but only has 2 TDs against 2 INTs.  But the Patriots have been a much more run happy team this year, as they’re 2nd in the league in attempts.  Baltimore will be able to somewhat contain the Pats’ offense (averaging 35.2 ppg at home) like they did Manning last week, but the Pats are still going to put up points.

If the Ravens are going to have any chance, they need to feed Ray Rice to keep the Patriots offense off the field (duh).  The good news is that Rice has had some success against New England, averaging just over 140 all-purpose yards per game in 3 meetings.  Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell called Rice’s name 30 times last week against Denver.  And of course, Flacco also has to play out of his mind again.  I think he’ll play good enough in this one to cover the 8 points (103.0 QB rating in 3 games vs. NE).

Pats win 28-24

Play BAL +8 (2 units), BAL ML (+325, 0.25 units)

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