Jeremy and Jeff both had a week they'd like to forget as they each dropped their side selections on last week's Wild Card games. Jeremy was able to hit his under selection in the Colts/Bengals matchup. Jeff fell short with his under selection in the Carolina/AZ game. Jeremy finished the week at minus 180 units, and Jeff minus 220 units. Jeremy has a 40 unit lead in our playoff-long contest as we head into the Divisional Round. Let's get to the picks for this weekend's games.
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Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-6.5)
Jeff: The Cowboys travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers after defeating the Lions in a game they were trailing by double digits at halftime. The matchup against the Lions was a tough challenge due to the Lions’ ability to slow down what the Cowboys do best which is run the football. This week the Cowboys will be in a better position when they go up against a Packers defense that can be run on. In order for the Cowboys to win this game, they need to run the ball effectively and control the clock. Keeping QB Aaron Rodgers off the field and limiting his possessions has to be a priority for the Cowboys. The Packers needed the bye week as Rodgers is nursing what it turns out to be a slight tear in his calf. This will no doubt force him not to be as mobile as he'd like due to the risk of re-aggravating it. The Packers should still have little trouble moving the football on this Cowboys defense. The Cowboys will need WR Dez Bryant to make some big plays in this matchup after coming off a disappointing three catch 48 yard receiving effort against the Lions. Weather can always be an issue in Green Bay especially this late in the year. However, other than it being in the late teens at kickoff, only light winds are expected so the weather shouldn't be much of a factor. Look for the Cowboys to keep this game close with the running of DeMarco Murray and timely plays in the passing game. I think the Packers find a way to pull this game out in the end with Rodgers making a big play late, but the Cowboys keep this game inside the number.
Pick: Cowboys +6.5, 75 units
Jeremy: Two of the most storied franchises in NFL history square off for the first time in the playoffs in nearly 50 years in Lambeau Field when Dallas travels to Green Bay to take on the Packers. The Cowboys eliminated the Detroit Lions last week 24-20 in a game they trailed heading into the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Dez Bryant or DeMarco Murray who led the team to the win but ultimately, it was Tony Romo and Terrance Williams who combined for two touchdowns. After ranking 2nd in rushing in the regular season, the Cowboys will look to Murray to control the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field as much as possible. Romo had a solid game against the tough Detroit defense passing for nearly 300 yards. He will face another difficult test against Green Bay who improved significantly against the pass after altering their defensive alignment in the second half of the year. Coming off a bye, Green Bay will look to get their high flying offense going early. Of major concern for the Packers is the health of Rodgers, who, it was revealed earlier this week, has a slight tear in his calf which will limit his mobility and most likely effectiveness. With Rodgers hurt, Eddie Lacy will have to step up and have a big game to keep the Dallas defense on their heels. The Cowboys went 8-0 on the road this year while the Packers were undefeated at home. I thought Dallas could hang with Green Bay before the severity of Aaron Rodgers’ injury came out and now I feel even more confident they can. Dallas is 10-7 ATS this year including a 7-1 mark on the road. I like that trend to continue Sunday afternoon in Green Bay.
Pick: Cowboys +6.5, 50 units
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
Jeff: The Panthers travel to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. The Panthers come off a victory against a Cardinals team who managed only 78 yards of total offense, but still managed to score two offensive touchdowns. The Panthers have now won five games in a row. The key piece to remember during this winning streak is four of the teams were under .500, and the only team above .500 was starting their third string QB. They now have to take on a team who is playing their best football of the season and is one of the favorites this year to win it all. The Seahawks will be ready to go after coming off a bye and getting some much needed rest. I'm expecting to see a lot of RB Marshawn Lynch in this contest as no one in the NFL runs the ball for more yards per game than the Seahawks. The Panthers’ rush defense is an area that can be exploited especially with DT Star Lotulelei out for the remainder of the playoffs after suffering a broken foot in the win over the Cardinals. The Seahawks defense is peaking at the right time. They have had great success containing QB Cam Newton in their previous matchups, I expect that trend to continue on Saturday night. I can see the Panthers keeping this game close early on, but look for the Seahawks to pull away in the second half as the Panthers offense will find it very difficult to move the football.
Pick: Seahawks -10.5, 50 units
Jeremy: After squeaking into the playoffs with a sub .500 record and then knocking off an 11-5 team who was starting their third string QB, things get serious real fast for the Carolina Panthers as they head to the Pacific Northwest to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. Carolina advanced against Arizona thanks to a combination of a well balanced offense and a solid effort by their defense against an inept opponent. Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns while Jonathan Stewart rushed for 123 yards. That marks the third time in the last five games that Stewart has broken the 100 yard barrier. The Panthers held Arizona to 109 TOTAL yards while intercepting Ryan Lindley twice. They will face a stiffer test on both sides of the ball with Seattle. Their defense is well known and universally respected as one of if not the best in the league. Their tenacity gets ratcheted up even higher at home where they gave up a measly 15 YDS/G. Over their last six games, Seattle gave up 39 points total. Offensively, the Seahawks rely heavily on the run led by Marshawn Lynch who rushed for more than 1,300 yards along with 13 TD’s. Lynch is complemented by the versatility of QB Russell Wilson who ran for 850 yards and six touchdowns on his own while throwing for nearly 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. These teams met in Week 8 with Seattle pulling out a 13-9 victory in Carolina. Both teams have improved significantly since then but I still see a game that will be closer than the line suggests. This will be a game decided on the ground by field position and time of possession. Carolina won’t overcome the crowd noise or the Seahawks defense but they will keep it within the number and lose by a touchdown.
Pick: Panthers +10.5, 40 units
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-7.5)
Jeff: The Colts defeated the Bengals last week which now sets up a rematch from Week 1 of this season when the Broncos defeated the Colts 31-24. In that game, the Broncos jumped out to an early 24-0 lead only to hold on late to get the win. The Colts will need to be at their best on both sides of the ball if they are to have any chance of winning in Denver. The Broncos finished the season at 12-4, and are a team that no one is talking about due to QB Peyton Manning's struggles late in the regular season. It is crazy to think they are currently 7-1 to win the Super Bowl. I believe this is still a dangerous team especially with the success they have had running the football with RB C.J. Anderson. In addition, RB Ronnie Hillman returned to action in Week 17 which will only help this offense. I think the game plan for the Broncos will be just that as they'll run the ball a lot against a Colts defense that struggles stopping the run. The Broncos will control the clock and keep QB Andrew Luck off the field. I think the Broncos defense will come up with a big effort here as they'll look to pressure Luck preventing him from getting into any type of rhythm with his receivers in the passing game. The Broncos may get LB Brandon Marshall back on the field after he missed Weeks 16 & 17. If he suits up, this will be a huge spark for the Broncos defense. QB Peyton Manning will be solid here as he'll pick his spots in the passing game. The success of the running game will open up the passing game as WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will make big plays down the field. The Broncos win this game by double digits as they'll head back to the AFC Championship game.
Pick: Broncos -7.5, 50 units
Jeremy: One week after knocking the Cincinnati Bengals out of the playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts head to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Denver is coming off a first round bye which they needed desperately with many of their key players injured. Peyton Manning, who missed both practices last week before returning Monday, has been battling a thigh injury. While there is no doubt he will play, just how effective he will be remains a question. In his last four games, Manning has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns while dealing with injuries and illness. The Broncos offense has still managed to average over 30 points during those games thanks in large part to running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson has totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage in his last three games and scored seven touchdowns in his last four. He will be leaned upon heavily in this one against a Colts run defense that ranked 18th in the league during the regular season while giving up 4.3 YDS/carry. The Colts will counter with Andrew Luck and lots of him. I anticipate Luck, who has thrown for 360 YDS/G in his four playoff starts, to throw the ball over 50 times thanks to a limited running game. RB Dan Herron was a major factor in their victory over the Bengals as he had 141 total yards along with a rushing touchdown. He will again be a key to the Colts winning this one as they use play action and screen passes to take pressure off Luck from the Broncos front seven. The weather forecast for Denver is for temps in the 20’s with a slight chance of snow. It doesn’t appear there will be much wind to affect the passing games of either team. I see this as being a very entertaining and high scoring game. While both teams have impressive air attacks, I like Denver in this game due to their superior defense and running game combined with home field advantage. Take Denver -7.5, 34-24.
Pick: Broncos -7.5, 50 units
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7.5)
Jeff: The Ravens head to Foxboro after continuing their post season magic as they defeated the Steelers 30-17. QB Joe Flacco did enough to get the win as he finished with 259 yards passing and two touchdowns. The Patriots come off their bye week most likely not thrilled with this opponent. I think if they played either the Colts or Bengals they'd walk to the AFC Championship game. The Ravens are a team that doesn't fear the Patriots, and has had success against them in their building. The main difference here from years past is the Patriots defense is a lot better. I think that will be key as the Ravens will struggle moving the football on offense. The Patriots will look to put a lot of pressure on Flacco, and make him force throws. The Ravens are facing a defense that only allows 104 yards a game on the ground which ranked them ninth in the league during the regular season. As for the Patriots offense, look for QB Tom Brady to exploit the Ravens primary weakness on defense which is their secondary. The Ravens are one of the best in the league in stopping the run so expect to see more of RB Shane Vereen out of the backfield in the short passing game. Look for WR Julian Edelman to have a solid game here as he should be a target monster in this matchup. In a game that will be close throughout, look for a touchdown pass late to be the difference as the Patriots win this game by ten points.
Pick: Patriots -7.5, 25 units
Jeremy: The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots renew their heated rivalry Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. This will mark the fourth time in the last six years these two teams have met in the playoffs with Baltimore taking two of the previous three meetings. Each team looks significantly different than the last time they met in the playoffs. Highlights for the Patriots are the addition of CB Darrelle Revis along with a healthy Rob Gronkowski. Revis’ presence allows the Patriots to leave him alone on Steve Smith freeing up the rest of the secondary to deal with the other Ravens receivers. This will force QB Joe Flacco, who is 10-4 in the playoffs, to rely on WR Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. The Baltimore defense has changed significantly since 2012 when these teams last met, specifically the secondary which is a weakness for them. The front seven is scary and quietly ranked second in the league in sacks behind Buffalo. How the Patriots offensive line handles Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who combined for 29 sacks, will determine who wins this game. LT Nate Solder has struggled most of the year and will require extra help to contain Suggs, whose dislike for the Patriots and Tom Brady is well publicized. Tom Brady has a history of struggling when pressured and is now 8-8 in his last 16 playoff games. Despite his recent playoff mediocrity, I expect him to lead the Patriots to a win and move on in what might be his last best chance at his fourth Super Bowl title. This will be a hard fought testy battle between two teams that sincerely don’t like each other. The Patriots win 24-21.
Pick: Ravens +7.5, 60 units
Colts at Broncos (Total: 54.5 points)
Jeff: I don't see this game being as high scoring as the first time they met this year when they accounted for 55 total points. The Broncos were a very pass heavy offense to start the season, but have since turned into a running team. Given the Colts’ inability to stop the run and clear superiority at defending the pass, I don't see the Broncos changing this up at all as they'll have a lot of success on the ground. The Broncos will eat up clock running the football which bodes well for the under. The Colts offense still didn't look like the offense from the beginning of the season. Their execution still seems to be off a bit as dropped balls are still a major concern. They now face a solid Broncos defense that can put pressure on QB Andrew Luck and disrupt their passing game. The Broncos have been solid all season against the pass giving up only 225 yards through the air per game. I think this total is inflated as a shootout is expected, but I don't see it being that type of game. Look for this game's total to finish in the upper 40's.
Pick: Under 54.5 points, 20 units
Cowboys at Packers (Total: 53.5 points)
Jeremy: With Dallas travelling to Green Bay on Sunday afternoon, it has all the makings of an offensive shootout. The Packers are loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball with Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy. For the Cowboys, they have a stable of talent themselves with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. Both teams averaged around 30 PTS/G in the regular season with the Packers averaging nearly 40 PTS/G at home. However, I don’t see either team performing at quite the same level in this game as they did during the regular season. Both teams have improved defensively throughout the season and will jack up their intensity with a trip to the NFC Championship game on the line. The Packers go as Aaron Rodgers goes and unfortunately for them, Rodgers is battling a calf injury that will severely limit his mobility and could very easily worsen with the extreme cold expected on Sunday and knock him from the game. Dallas has been impressive of late offensively but will struggle this week on the road against the Packers defense that has given up less than 20 PTS/G in their last eight games. While snow and wind won’t be a factor, I do see the cold weather affecting both teams slightly negatively. Combined with Rodgers’ injury and Romo’s historic penchant for performing poorly in the biggest games, I see this game going under the posted total of 53.5.
Pick: Under 53.5 points, 20 units