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Using Sportsbook.com's “Betting Trends” as an indicator, it appears as if the betting public believes Super Bowl XLII will be a lot closer then the lines makers originally thought. Opening at New York +14 on Sunday evening, the line quickly moved to +12.5 by Monday morning thanks to all of the heavy action on red hot Giants. And the line hasn’t stopped heading south; thanks to the 82% of the bettors betting against the flawless Patriots, the line moved another ½ point to where it currently sits at the Giants +12.
To the casual observer this might seem unbelievable considering the Patriots are 18-0 and the rate at which they were pummeling their opponents early on. Through the first eight weeks of the season, the Patriots covered every game and won by an average of 25.5 points. Ever since, they covered just two of their last ten games with an average winning margin of 13.1 points.
The Patriots recent trend of failing to cover isn’t the only reason the betting public is on the underdogs. New York has been very generous to bettors this season; currently 13-6 ATS including 8-2 as an underdog and 9-2 away from home. Also, the G-Me, proved in Week 17 that they could go toe to toe with the seemingly invincible Pats. Despite being 13 point underdogs, the Giants had the Patriots on the ropes before finally losing by just 3 points.
“It’s early, but it is amazing how much the public is deviating from their normal betting behavior,” stated Sportsbook.com Spokesperson Dave Staley. “Usually you can count on the public backing the favorite especially when a double digit spread is involved. The Patriots made a lot of people a lot of money through the first half of the season but it looks as if the bettors are now on the Giants’ bandwagon. It will be interesting to see if and how much more this line moves.”
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NFL - San Diego @ Indianapolis (1:00 PM ET – CBS)
The defending champion Colts begin postseason defense of the title when they host the Chargers in an AFC Divisional Playoff. The Colts swept through four playoff games a year ago, both SU & ATS, and are an 8-1/2 point favorite against a San Diego team off its first postseason win since ’94 last week vs. Tennessee. HC Norv Turner’s Chargers are the hottest team in football, having won seven straight games outright & ATS. They’ve been far from dominant though, as the offense gained over 350 yards just once in that span and they’ve been the beneficiary of a 23:7 turnover ratio. Indy turned the ball over more than once on just two occasions in ’07, en route to a 13-3 SU & 9-7 ATS finish. Amazingly, San Diego is 5-2 SU & 6-1 ATS in its L7 trips to Indianapolis.
The Chargers have been a picture of inconsistency all season long, a trend that came to fruition once again in their Wild Card victory over the Tennessee Titans. The team’s prolific offensive leader, LaDainian Tomlinson, was rendered all but useless in the first half as the Bolts’ top receiving option, Antonio Gates, was lost to an undisclosed toe injury (his status for the coming week at the time of print is unknown). The entire offense, which has to be ranked as one of the major disappointments of the 2007 season (averaging just 315.3 total yards per game, 20th in the NFL), struggled to perform, somewhat understandable against the Tennessee defense, ranked 5th in the NFL, but a significant worry with Indianapolis (the NFL’s 3rd-ranked defense) laying in wait.
While the San Diego defense has certainly been a point of contention all season long, the players and ability to rise to the occasion are there. Hybrid LB Shawne Merriman is as talented as any pass rusher in the league and leads a unit that held opposing QBs to a paltry 70.0 Rating (1st in the NFL). However, they have yet to face a team as potent through the air as Indianapolis while stopping the run (allowing 107 rushing yards per game) has been a struggle.
How does a team, serving as the league’s defending champion, enjoy a level of success worthy of high praise that never comes? It may be the expectation for the Colts (or it may be the headline-hogging Patriots), but the work this team has done is as impressive as any this season. Indy has suffered through with troubling injuries throughout the year, namely to veteran WR Marvin Harrison and both offensive tackles. However, the leadership of QB Peyton Manning, the long-overdue explosion of WR Reggie Wayne, and various contributions from other key ingredients (including rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez and RB Joseph Addai) has put the Colts in the best position to battle with the mighty Patriots for league supremacy.
As is often the case, a team doesn’t reach this level of power without the contributions of a strong (and often undersold) defense. Indianapolis is no exception. This unit has held the opposition to just 279.7 total yards per game (3rd in the NFL). Safety Bob Sanders (97 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions) may be the league’s most influential defenseman, capable of turning any game in favor of the Colts and providing the lift this defense needs to achieve their full potential. However, it may be LB Gary Brackett (116 tackles, 4 interceptions) that truly puts this unit on the map. Those two players could put any opposing offense on their heels and in trouble.
Key Trend – Teams that scored 20 or less in the previous playoff win are 15-25-2 ATS in their next game.
Keys to the Game
San Diego has gained a great deal of confidence in winning seven straight encounters, covering each and everyone. The Chargers have beaten Indianapolis already this season when Peyton Manning was playing short-handed with receivers and threw a season high six interceptions. Even then the Colts should have won the game with Adam Vinateri missing an easy field goal. Both teams are quite different from the last time they met with the Chargers more versatile on offense and defense and the Colts having most offensive weapons in place, and maybe slightly weaker on defense. San Diego has played often enough over the years at the RCA Dome and is 5-2 and 6-1 ATS in recent visits. Their speed off the edges is accentuated on the carpet and they now have corners that can really cover. The health of Antonio Gates will play big part in the outcome of this contest, though San Diego is 21-7 ATS in dome games. Tony Dungy has correctly picked his spots to prepare his club for this contest, playing them just hard enough. The Colts game plan has to include keeping the corners and safeties busy, throwing outside the numbers, with the idea of opening up the middle for tight end Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. If they can accomplish this and fluster Rivers, they should improve 13-3 ATS in home games revenging a same season loss against opponent in all games Dungy has coached.
StatFox Edge – UNDER
NFL - Jacksonville @ New England (8:00 PM ET – CBS)
The Patriots achieved something not accomplished since ’72, a perfect regular season. However, it will all be for not if they fail to win Super Bowl XLII in four weeks. With that pressure looming, New England will host upstart Jacksonville to open a postseason run. The Patriots were as dominant as any team ever in going 16-0 SU & 10-6 ATS, scoring the most points in NFL history at 36.8 PPG and outscoring teams by 19.7 PPG. Incredibly, they are 12-2 SU & 8-5 ATS in the playoffs under HC Bill Belichick. The Jaguars meanwhile, are on the list of foes teams were hoping to avoid in January, having gone 12-5 SU & 11-6 ATS so far in ’07-08, playing efficient, yet physical football. They are returning to the site of their last playoff loss, a 28-3 decision in 2006.
The Jags have fallen on hard times in the NFL, earning just one playoff appearance in the past seven years (that one visit resulting in a 25-point Wild Card loss to New England in 2005). This year’s break from the trend is led by David Garrard. The prolific passer finished the regular season as the 3rd-ranked quarterback in the game (102.2 QB Rating) and has been the catalyst for victory both over Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round and during the regular season. Of course, the rushing attack, bolstered by the fleet-of-foot QB as well as veteran rusher Fred Taylor and star-on-the-rise Maurice Jones Drew, is key. This team averaged 149.4 rushing yards per game during the regular season (2nd in the league) and will have to reproduce such gaudy returns if the Jags hope to advance.
However, as the Pittsburgh victory showed, there is reason for concern. The J’ville defense may have held Pittsburgh to 43 total rushing yards, but the Steelers were missing their leading rusher (Willie Parker), offered a patchwork offensive line, and QB Ben Roethlisberger nearly 70% of his pass attempts for 8.0 yards per attempt. During the regular season, this unit held opposing QBs to a respectable 76.1 QB Rating (7th in the NFL). If those numbers can’t be translated into the postseason, the Jags are all but destined for trouble.
If you don’t know, you don’t like football. The Patriots sit on the precipice of greatness, a clear and present danger to any and every team that has ever earned respect as a roster worthy of debate as the best to ever grace the fields of the NFL. Turn this playoff campaign into a Lombardi Trophy and another gaudy set of Super Bowl rings and a world of respect and admiration will become an undeniable fact. It would be a perfect season (clearly marking this Patriot team as, at the very least, one of the two best teams in the history of the game) and the Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl title in seven seasons (clearly marking this team as one of the most powerful dynasties in the history of sports).
Tom Brady makes the offense go, working to complete one of the most dominating single-season campaigns as quarterback has ever seen. Only his favorite target, veteran WR Randy Moss, might prove worthy of challenging for title of most potent offensive weapon in the NFL. Second-year RB Laurence Maroney has surged in recent weeks and brought the only questionable facet of this offense to prominence. The defense has followed suit, holding opponents under 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards per game.
Only three games stand between this team, perfection, and history.
Key Trend – Teams with the better straight-up record are 10-3 ATS the last three years in Conference semis.
Keys to the Game
This Saturday evening affair showcases the best team in football against the one nobody want to play. Jacksonville has many of the qualities teams that teams have had success against New England, in terms of moving the ball. The Jaguars unheralded offensive line has pushed around most teams this year in being second in the league in rushing yards. Maurice Jones-Drew is the perfect player to give New England fits both as a runner and receiver. David Garrard can beat you with his arm or legs and has played very calm. Jacksonville is 12-3 ATS after playing their last game on the road. For New England's players, in many ways the pressure is off until they get to Glendale. The perfect regular season has been accomplished and with two more wins, both at home, they arrive at there predetermined destination. As dangerous as the Jaguars appear, the fact Pittsburgh came back throwing the ball in both games in the second half, does not bode well against Brady, Moss and the rest of the pass catchers from New England. Look for Belichick to have his defensive backs lay the lumber to Jacksonville's ordinary receivers, with the hope of having them develop case of alligator arms. Pats are 22-9 ATS vs. good passing teams averaging seven or more passing yards per attempt in the second part of the season. Tough situation for the Jags playing their third straight road game.
StatFox Edge – Patriots cover
NFL - Seattle @ Green Bay (4:30 PM ET – FOX)
Green Bay was one of the surprise stories of the NFL season in 2007. Looking to continue the magical run, the Packers will host Seattle in the divisional playoff round on Saturday. Ironically, the Seahawks were the opponent in Green Bay’s last home playoff win, after the ’03 season. HC Mike McCarthy’s team was 7-1 SU & 6-1-1 ATS at home this year, allowing just 14.4 PPG. At 13-3 SU & 12-3-1 ATS, they were also the league’s best pointspread covering team overall. Here they are an 8-point favorite against a Seattle team that has struggled on the road, going just 3-5 SU & ATS in ’07 and 11-22 ATS in its L33. For McCarthy, this is a first ever playoff game, for Holmgren, a 24th. The former Packer head man is 4-5 SU & 5-3 ATS in the postseason with Seattle.
Give Seattle coach Mike Holmgren full credit. He is nothing if not consistent and efficient, for the Seahawks have advanced through the Wild Card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season (the team’s fifth consecutive year of postseason eligibility), yet this time the deed was achieved through an offense of complete imbalance. As has been the case for much of the year, Shaun Alexander was entirely ineffective as the team’s primary rusher (averaging just 3.1 yards/carry against Washington, 0.4 yards/carry less than he posted through the regular season).
To get to this matchup with Holmgren’s former employer, the Seahawks relied on one of the most potent defensive efforts they have seen this season. Through the regular season, Seattle had allowed an average of 219.1 passing yards per game (19th in the NFL) but held opposing QBs to a paltry 73.0 QB Rating (2nd in the NFL). It was the defensive backfield, returning two interceptions for TDs, that brought the anvil to Washington’s playoff hopes in the Wild Card round, and it is that unit, along with a powerful group of linebackers led by Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson, that will be charged with halting one of the most powerful offensive units in the game if the Seahawks hope to advance to the Conference Championships.
With one of the greatest field generals the game has ever known at the wheel, the Packers enter the playoffs with hopes of shocking the world. The offensive charge has been nothing short of phenomenal, ranking #2 among all NFL franchises, averaging a whopping 370.7 total yards per game. Put the blame on future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre, leading the Packers rank as the 2nd-best passing offense in the land (270.9 yards). Contributions from rushers Ryan Grant, rookie Brandon Jackson, and Vernand Morency have solidified offensive balance. The entire effort is pushed by one of the best offensive lines in the game, giving the Packers a unit that could compete with any team in the land.
The defense may not garner the attention or headlines, but their efforts should not be overlooked. The defensive backfield may be the most undervalued compilation of players in the league, led by veteran corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris, but secretly bolstered by the outstanding efforts of strong safety Atari Bigby. Nick Barnett may be the best playmaking linebacker few fans of the game recognize, wrecking havoc all over the field and supporting a defensive line the pressures the passer as well as any line in the game. If the Packers are going to advance deep in the playoffs, this defense will be the reason for that success.
Key Trend – In the divisional playoff round, the larger favorite in an NFC contest is 17-5-1 ATS.
Keys to the Game
Seattle comes into this contest feeling very confident with the ball in the hands of Matt Hasselbeck. The former Packer backup quarterback has a chance for redemption from the famous 2004 overtime coin toss in which he essentially guaranteed a win and ended up throwing game-ending interception. Hasselbeck might not the best names in the business to throw to of the eight remaining teams; however they have formed into a cohesive unit since Coach Holmgren gave the green light on pass first offense. The Seahawks receivers against the physical Packers corners will be REALLY interesting to watch. How the Packers safeties attack the deep in-route Hasselbeck like to throw, especially to Bobby Engram, is another fascinating aspect. Green Bay was 7-1 and 6-1-1 ATS at Lambeau Field, showing some of the old frozen tundra magic. This will be the fastest defense outside of Chicago the Packers have faced and they lost both of those games to the Bears. For Green Bay, it's a matter of running the slants they prefer inside the corners and setting up double moves by wide receivers to throw over the top of corners and in front of safeties. If Favre can create success in splitting safeties, this opens up Greg Jennings for the deep ball on the post.
StatFox Edge – Packers cover