I caught a cold on Thursday that is proving very stubborn, so this will be a short post. Without ado:
BRONCOS +9.0 over Ravens
Bill Barnwell at Grantland did a good job explaining why this game may not be very similar to the Broncos 34-13 thrashing of the Ravens a few weeks ago. While I agree that it shouldn't be this close, they key when watching the game was that Denver dominated in the trenches. I know Baltimore has some guys back, and their defensive line was living in the Colts' backfield, but I believe Denver is playing at a very high level and the rest will help. The week after the Ravens win, the Broncos were able to put up 34 on at decent Browns defense; no thinking they should score less than 30 this time. The Baltimore offense will likely be better (Flacco's pick-11 was one of the worst throws in the world), but not enough to catch up. The line actually moved from Denver +9.5, which I can see given the big spread, but I'd take it. One final note: the high for tomorrow in Denver is 17 degrees F, which makes me slightly nervous about Peyton, but the Ravens have to adjust to that and the altitude, and Denver showed no signs of stopping in their last few cold home games.
49ERS +2.5 over Packers
I saw lines as high as 49ers +3.5 in this one. No doubt the Packers have improved since their week 1 shellacking by the 49ers, and the fact that they're seeing the defense for the second time helps. But I still don't believe in the Packers defense. I think Colin Kaepernick will be very effective against Green Bay, who gave up a big opening drive to the Vikings last week when the Vikes ran the ball constantly. If the 49ers are healthy offensively and stick to their roots by running the ball, I think the Pack may be in trouble. Also, Green Bay scored only 24 points against the Vikings last week; I know that they were trying to run clock in the second half, but the 49ers have a much more physical defense than Minnesota. I think Justin Smith will play, which will reverse the 49ers recent defensive slide, and I think the healthier team wins by 3.
Edit: I totally forgot about the history between the 49ers and Aaron Rodgers. Quick summary: Rodgers grew up in the Bay area loving the Montana/Young/Rice 49ers, went to Cal, and then in the 2005 NFL draft, the 49ers took Alex Smith 1st overall and Rodgers fell to 24th to the Packers despite being the most NFL-ready QB in that year's class. Rodgers intimated immediately following his selection that he would make the 49ers pay, and has consistently carried that torch through the years, a la Tom Brady (another QB the 49ers should have taken, but drafted Giovanni Carmazzi instead--Gio never made the roster). This game has huge Eff-You potential, as highlighted in Simmon's mailbag on Grantland. Screw it. I'm going with the Pack. Green Bay -2.5 over SAN FRANCISCO.
Seahawks -1.0 over FALCONS
This line moved down from Falcons +3, meaning there was heavy action on Seattle. I agree. First, Atlanta struggle running the ball and Seattle have not only a great red zone defense, but a great defense overall. I think a Falcons team built around the big play will have trouble. I think the physicality of the Seattle corners will give Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez issues, kind of like the Patriots used to beat on Colts receivers in the early Brady/Manning days. And while Chris Clemons, one of Seattle's best defensive players is out, I don't think John Abraham is healthy for the Falcons; ankle sprains can be a killer in the playoffs, just ask Rob Gronkowski. I think we're set for Seattle @ San Francisco next week for the NFC title.
PATRIOTS +9.5 over Texans
This line has stayed fairly constant. And speaking of Rob Gronkowski, he's back! I think he'll make an impact in this one, but mostly on blocking, and the Texans run defense (as covered last week) is not very good. I think the Patriots will have their way with the Texans in most phases of the game. One issue could be a backdoor cover; Houston has the ability to make big plays with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels (Daniels is probable). I also think New England has a decided coaching advantage; some of the conservative calls in last week's Texans/Bengals tilt made me want to tear my hair out. The only way I think Houston has a chance is if it rains (currently 20% chance for Sunday) and it turns into a running/kicking contest (Gostkowski will miss a big one this postseason).
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