San Francisco 49ers -4.5 @ Atlanta Falcons +4.5
NFLbetting.org Pick: Atlanta Falcons +4.5
You won’t find a line like this very often. The top-seeded Atlanta Falcons, who have been great at home throughout Mike Smith’s tenure, are getting more than a field goal in the Georgia Dome. There may be some worry about the way Atlanta squeaked out a victory after blowing a lead. More likely, there is a huge infatuation with Colin Kaepernick’s ability that was on display in San Francisco last week. Regardless, the points are too good to pass up in this one.
The Green Bay Packers played Colin Kaepernick about as poorly as a defense could. The Packers looked downright lost trying to contain the zone-read and failed to keep track of Kaepernick on passing plays, which turned out to be the source of huge portion of his rushing yards. Kaepernick wasn’t making people miss; he was simply using his speed in the open field, and the Packers gave him plenty of open field. The story of the game will be whether the Atlanta Falcons can stay disciplined in the zone-read and take away open running lanes on his drop backs. Kaepernick has shown tremendous accuracy at times, but the Falcons need to take away his easy yards on the ground. Atlanta will be better prepared for Kaepernick, who should have a tougher day on the road than he did last week.
The Atlanta offense met the task last week, putting up 30 points on a very good Seattle defense. After rushing for 167 yards last week, the Falcons should get back to their strong suit: passing the ball. Julio Jones and Roddy White impressively posted big numbers against the physical cornerback duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. The Falcons will take on a better front-seven this week, but the passing game should still have success. If Atlanta can keep Matt Ryan upright against the likes of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, his receivers can find some free room in the secondary.
This game doesn’t appear to have a particularly strong leaning in either direction, but the Falcons are the clear value in this, despite most people taking the 49ers. At home with four and a half points, Atlanta is the smart money to cover.
Baltimore Ravens +9 @ New England Patriots -9
NFL betting website Pick: Baltimore Ravens +9
Last week, the Baltimore Ravens were getting nine and a half points against Denver. Everyone can agree that Baltimore was being underrated in hindsight, but the sportsbook line seems to be repeating its mistake again this week. Make no mistake, New England is the better team and, with home field advantage, should be expected to win Sunday, but nine points is too many to pass up in what should be a competitive game.
In last year’s AFC Championship, also in Foxboro, Baltimore lost 20-23 to the New England Patriots that included a dropped touchdown and missed field goal for the Ravens in the final drive of the game. The Ravens also beat New England in week three of this year 31-30 on a last second field goal. While the Ravens’ defense may be waning compared to previous seasons, they are still capable of making Tom Brady struggle (at least by his standards), as he historically has against Baltimore. In the teams’ three games since 2010, Brady has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions. The constant variation of blitzes and coverages that the Ravens mix should continue that trend. Belichick will try to get after the Ravens with their quick-track offense, but expect Baltimore to be more prepared than Houston was. Aaron Hernandez appeared back to form, but Rob Gronkowski’s absence should take the stress of the Baltimore defense.
Joe Flacco, at times the detriment of Baltimore’s offense, has played phenomenal this postseason. Flacco has posted a passer rating of 120 (5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) over the last two games and has shown excellent precision. The praise for the passing game isn’t restricted to Flacco, though. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have given him two reliable targets, and the Baltimore offense has become an overall dangerous unit. They don’t have the firepower of New England, but Baltimore should be able to keep pace for most of Sunday’s game.
As was the case last week, Baltimore has a chance. Expect New England to win, but the Ravens to make it close.
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