NFL WILDCARD WEEKEND – MCB betting guide

The New York Jets flunked in their final game of the regular season and the Pittsburgh Steelers stole in through the back door. But can they take advantage of their good fortune?

After another winning season against the handicap, MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Wildcard weekend.

The odds are correct at the time of writing and are available on your club’s betting service.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

KANSAS CITY at HOUSTON

(+3.5, Total Points 41.5)

Houston won the AFC South almost by default with a 9-7 record, while Kansas City rode a 10-game winning streak, having started 1-5, to finish runner-up to Denver in the AFC West.

Travis Kelce.jpg
Big threat: TE Travis Kelce

The Chiefs’ sole win in their first six games came at Houston, as they built a big lead before holding off the Texans 27-20 in Week 1, with quarterback Alex Smith tossing three touchdowns in a 22-of-33, 243-yards afternoon.

That has been a theme of their season – getting out to big leads and grinding out victory on the ground with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

The pass rush – and the respective ability to protect the passer – is one of the more fascinating battles to keep an eye on. Houston have JJ Watt, while Kansas City may have Justin Houston back after missing the last five games with a knee injury.

While the Chiefs have relied, with great success it must be said, on a re-jigged offensive line, Houston has been weakened with the loss of left tackle Duane Brown, who tore a quad muscle in the regular-season finale.

The Chiefs should get plenty of joy on the ground, particularly running up the gut. West is an elusive runner who can get tough yards. Houston know they must do a better job of shoring up the middle of the line, where they are giving up 3.72 yards a carry, according to FootballOutsiders.com.

The Texans’ defense also does not match up well against quick-passing screen plays and slants, and that will play into Smith’s hands. He may not have a big arm, but he is careful with the ball and the Chiefs should have space on the perimeter.

Those looking for a cheeky anytime touchdown scorer at a big price might like to consider Chris Conley. The first-year receiver out of Georgia has one score in five starts, but had six catches for 63 yards and a score when the Chiefs snapped their five-game losing streak in a 23-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. While he is the future, tight end Travis Kelce looks a fair bet to score a touchdown. At 6ft 5in, the third-year man out of Cincinnati is a big target in the red zone.

We see the Chiefs continuing their winning streak and they should be able to cover the handicap.

VERDICT: KANSAS CITY 24 HOUSTON 16

BEST BET: KANSAS CITY -2.5 @ 1.67

SPORTING BET: UNDER 41.5 POINTS @ 1.75

PITTSBURGH at CINCINNATI

(+0.5, Total Points 46.5)

Pittsburgh were fortunate to make the playoff party but they are one of the most dangerous sides in the AFC, with arguably the most explosive offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers
Plenty on his shoulders: Ben Roethlisberger

While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s strengths are well documented, the Steelers, who have won eight of their last nine trips to the home of their NFC North rival, have a major problem with balance. It seems likely that veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who has filled in admirably for Le’Veon Bell since Week 8, will miss the game with a foot injury.

That means Mike Tomlin with build his gameplan around Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. The worry is that while Todman can provide protection in the passing game, he is not a patch on Williams, whose blocking skills are vastly underrated.

Cincinnati, who win the division with a 12-4 record, beat the Steelers 16-10 on the road in November, but lost their home tilt 33-20 on December 13, a game in which they lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton with a broke thumb.

Dalton has not played since but may well be available for the wildcard clash. However, it is expected that AJ McCarron, who has filled in adequately, will start. There is plenty on his shoulders, but what we like about this match-up is the Bengals’ ability to take advantage of the Steelers’ major weakness: defending tight ends.

In their first meeting, before Dalton’s injury, they spread the field, forced the Steelers to respect the deep ball and punished them for it over the middle. Tyler Eifert could have a big night if the Bengals can get AJ Green involved early and often.

However, bettors must be concerned if backing the Bengals, as McCarron does not inspire confidence – the Bengals have not looked the same early-season force since Dalton went down. They are also 0-6 in the playoffs since 1995 and have not won a post-season game since January 6, 1991.

Pittsburgh may be one-dimensional in attack, but as long as Roethlisberger is flinging he ball to receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers will always be in with a chance. Brown, with 136 catches and 1,834 yards has to be in the running for the League MVP award.

Still, despite their excellent record in the Queen City, without a running game, they may not be able to close out the game and the Bengals may make a few crucial stops and progress to the Divisional round.

VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 17 CINCINNATI 27

BEST BET: CINCINNATI +0.5 @ 2.15

SPORTING BET: CINCINNATI WIN BY 7-12 POINTS @ 7.00

SEATTLE at MINNESOTA

(+4.5, Total Points 40.5)

Minnesota won the last of the church raffle prizes by beating Green Bay to take the NFC North division.Their reward is a clash against the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who are the team nobody wanted to face. While the Vikings have a home game, the Packers appear to have the easier task when they travel to Washington.

Harrison Smith
Key component: Harrison Smith

Minnesota’s 20-13 win at Lambeau Field was their first in seven visits, their first since last winning the division in 2009.

Two years ago, Minnesota went 5-10-1, but they have been rejuvenated under first-year coach Mike Zimmer and have been aided by a stifling defense and a soft schedule – their win over the Packers was just their second in six games against teams with a winning record.

Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has won nine of his 11 starts at home, but the Vikings offense is all about running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. The running back sustained a lower back injury against the Packers, but is still expected to start.

They have also got great production out of receiver Stefon Diggs, who led NFC rookies with 720 receiving yards and ranked second with 52 catches.

Seattle have already gone to Minnesota and beaten them once this season, inflicting a 38-7 victory upon them on December 6.

The Seahawks made a statement last week at Arizona, winning 36-6, with quarterback Russell Wilson passing for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran in a score. They also got a boost from the running game with rookie Thomas Rawls rumbling for 101 yards and a TD.

The Seahawks aim to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season and have beaten the Vikings in their past three meetings, outscoring them 109-47.

The difference this time round is the Vikings are a lot healthier. This young team played with youth Joseph in the first meeting and lost two other key players, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr to injuries early on. Wilson finished 21-of-27 passing for 274 yards and three TDs. He has posted a 120-passer-rating in six of the last seven games (the exception coming against St Louis) and is looking just as effective within the pocket as he is scrambling outside of it.

Is revenge in the air? It is rare that a team which had lost by 30 points or more to a non-division opponent in the regular season served up a victory against that same team in the playoffs. The last time it happened was in 1993 – Kansas City lost 30-0 to Houston during the regular season and then beat them 28-20 in the playoffs.

The Seahawks have the propensity to throw in a bad game – usually against St Louis, who are their kryptonite – but we don’t see the Vikings having enough offensive pop to keep pace, especially with Peterson not 100 per cent and with top running back Marshawn Lynch returning for the Seahawks.

It could be much closer than anticipated, however, and the Vikings’ defense should be much better equipped to handle the occasion in what could be an unusually low-scoring encounter in very cold conditions.

VERDICT: SEATTLE 17 MINNESOTA 13

BEST BET: MINNESOTA +4.5 @ 1.83

SPORTING BET: SEATTLE TO WIN BY 1-6 POINTS @ 3.50

GREEN BAY at WASHINGTON

(-0.5, Total Points 45.5)

Marbles. We lost a few a while back. But Aaron Rodgers was only talking marbles when discussing the Green Bay Packers’ putrid offensive output over the last eight weeks.

eddie lacy2
Packers need to run: Eddie Lacy

The star quarterback, who has averaged under 300 yard passing in the last three weeks, said: “I have confidence in those guys and myself that, when it matters for all the marbles, we’re going to show up.”

The Packers, coming off a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings which cost them the NFC North title, may have decided it was better to face Washington’s 28th-ranked defense than to play a home game against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked defense in yards allowed (they are 1st in points allowed). That seems a sensible move.

The only time they could face the Seahawks would be in the NFC Championship game – and that would be at Lambeau.

The Packers’ ground game has been skittish, with Eddie Lacy and James Starks being given sporadic roles. The lack of direction and inconsistency is troubling, and had Rodgers and company been firing as they have in seasons past, they certainly would not be underdogs going to Washington.

Losing WR Jordy Nelson to injury means they have not been able to stretch the field and loading up against the run means opponents can make the Packers look one-dimensional, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fairness, their season has seen them win 10 games, lost four on the last play of the game and they have been beaten by the AFC’s No.1 seed Denver. It is worth noting that the last time the Packers’ defense outplayed its offense, they went on to win Super Bowl XLV.

The Redskins have played much better in the second half of the season than their fans could have imagined. The NFC East champions have run the ball effectively and, with Kirk Cousins tossing 19 TDs to two interceptions since Week 10, they are getting far more production out of the quarterback than they dared hope.

The Packers have won five of the last six meetings but have lost on five of their last six trips to Washington. On the flip side, the Redskins have played three teams with a winning record in 2015 and lost all three. They have been outscored 105-46 in those contests.

We think Washington’s tight end Jordan Reed is going to have a leading role to play. He has five TDS in the last four games. Still, if he and running back Alfred Morris, who had 107 yards against the Packers in their last meeting, can be limited, Rodgers may not lose his marbles and keep the Packers on track for the Divisional round.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 27 WASHINGTON 23

BEST BET: GREEN BAY +0.5 @ 1.85

SPORTING BET: OVER 46.5 POINTS

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NFL PICK SIX – Week 15 betting guide

Three weeks remain of the regular season. Carolina (13-0) is the lone unbeaten team after thrashing Atlanta 38-0 last weekend and has secured a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Entering 2015, seven teams started a season 13-0 during the Super Bowl era. Of those seven clubs, five advanced to the Super Bowl and three of those teams won the Super Bowl.

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 15 of the 2015/16 NFL season. In week 14, our handicap selections went 12-4.

The odds are correct at the time of writing and are available on your club’s betting site.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

TAMPA BAY at ST LOUIS

(-1, Total Points 41)

Tampa Bay (6-7) still have an outside shot at the playoffs despite losing at home to New Orleans last Sunday, while the St Louis Rams (5-8) are on the outside looking in, even though they downed Detroit at home.

Todd Gurley
Elite back: Todd Gurley

The Buccaneers have a terrible 1-7 record at the Rams, their sole road win coming in 2001. Realistically, their playoff hopes rest on winning their three remaining games and hoping that Seattle (8-5) or Minnesota (8-5) do not win another game.

The Rams snapped a four-game losing streak thanks in part to several big runs from first-round draft pick Todd Gurley, who gained 140 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-14 win over the Lions.  Gurley is a force and has eight TDs in his last eight games.

The Saints dressed the Buccaneers in a clown suit with a 24-17 win, keeping rookie QB Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin under control. Whether the Rams will be able to is open to argument.

Rams back-up passer Case Keenum, who has won three of his last four starts, will need to lean on Gurley and the running game if he is to help coach Jeff Fisher extend his 7-1 record against the Bucs.

From a punting perspective, this looks a game to leave alone. The Bucs should win, but their record at the Rams is off-putting.

VERDICT: TAMPA BAY 23 ST LOUIS 17

BEST BET: TAMPA BAY +1 @ 2.00

NEW YORK JETS at DALLAS

(+3, Total Points 42)

Although Miami’s defeat on Monday handed the AFC East to the New England Patriots, the New York Jets (8-5) can make it two teams from that division to make the playoffs, for they are in the wildcard hunt.

Matt Cassel 2
Another chance: Matt Cassel

However, they will feel they must win against Dallas on Saturday night to remain in possession of that playoff spot, as their last two games come against the Patriots and division rival Buffalo (6-7) who are still alive. Neither game is a ‘gimmie’.

Dallas (4-9) have to win out and hope that all three NFC East division rivals Washington Redskins (6-7), New York Giants (6-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) continue to slip up. Their only hope is to win the division and those hopes are hanging by a thread.

The Jets hold a 3-7 all-time record against the Cowboys, including a 1-2 record in Dallas, who have spiralled to their first losing season since 2010 without injured QB Tony Romo.

Since Romo broke his collarbone, the Cowboys have gone 1-8 with Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Cassel is likely the starter this week, even though the Cowboys have produced only eight touchdowns in seven games with him at the helm. He completed just 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards in a losing effort against the Green Bay Packers last weekend.

The Jets are on a three-game winning streak – their first since December 2011 – and have scored 91 points in that span. Those wins came against Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans, all of whom have losing records.

The outcome will be determined on whether or not the Cowboys actually fancy it. They have, realistically, little to play for. This is not a game we want to get too heavily involved in, but take the Jets to win a close one.

VERDICT: NY JETS 28 DALLAS 23

BEST BET: NY JETS -3 @ 1.91

ATLANTA at JACKSONVILLE

(-3, Total Points 49)

We looked at this as a potential handicapping ‘swing’ game.

The rule is simple: Team A wins handily one week and Team B loses heavily. If they face each other the following week, the best option is often to back the underdog with the points.

2014 NFL Combine
Fast-improving: Jaguars passer Blake Bortles

The theory is that Team B (in this case the Atlanta Falcons) are likely to work harder on the things they got wrong and use their embarrassment as a motivational tool, while Team A (Jacksonville, who ran up the score on Indianapolis last week) could take their rivals lightly.

It is surprising how often the swing system has paid off, with underdogs given eight points or more keeping within the handicap 66 per cent of the time in the past 17 years when their combined margin of victory and defeat was above 48 points.

With the Jaguars tonking Tennessee 51-16 last week, the margin of victory (35 points) and Falcons’ defeat (losing 38-0 to Carolina) totals 73 points. But the bookies have got wise to swing games and rather than having the Falcons as eight-points dogs, the Jags are just three-point favourites.

So you simply have to go against the basic principles of handicapping on this occasion. The Falcons really are not that bad and the Jaguars are not yet Super Bowl calibre.

Still, history says the Jaguars have the edge. They have won both meetings in Florida and, at 5-8, are just a game behind AFC South leaders Indianapolis (6-7).

With three games remaining against teams with a losing record, the Jaguars can keep their playoff hopes alive for another week at least. We worry about the handicap line, however. It should be bigger than it is.

VERDICT: ATLANTA 28 JACKSONVILLE 33

BEST BET: JACKSONVILLE -3 @ 1.92

TENNESSEE at NEW ENGLAND

(-13.5, Total Points 46.5)

New England has failed to cover lofty spreads on several occasions this season, but while they have won the AFC East, the Patriots are still in need of a first-round bye.

Marcus Mariota
Big numbers: Marcus Mariota

The Titans were burned on the ground for 183 yards by the Jets but there have been bright spots this season, notably from rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has already set franchise rookie records for pass attempts (364), completions (227), passing yards (2,786) and passing touchdowns (19). He could become the 10th QB in history to reach 20 touchdowns in history.

The Titans are 2-4 under interim head coach Mike Malarkey, who took control on November 3, but looked defensively dreadful against an ordinary Jets team.

New England, having clinched a seventh consecutive AFC East title, know the clock is ticking on Tom Brady’s career. In his 16th season, he has already become the fourth NFL player to reach 400 career touchdown passes and leads the NFL with 4,138 passing yards this season.

The Patriots are not in a position to rest key players. Ravaged by injuries, their running game suffered a massive blow when LeGarrette Blount was ruled out for the rest of the season in their win over the Texans. They also lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

Yet they are 12-0 when favoured by 15.5 points or more and the line has already climbed from an opening 12.5-points. This should be a routine win, but don’t expect them to run up the score and there is always a danger that a garbage time TD could blow the handicap.

VERDICT: NEW ENGLAND 31 TENNESSEE 16

BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND -13.5 @ 1.91

BUFFALO at WASHINGTON

(+1, Total Points 44)

With three regular-season games remaining, both teams have a shot at making the play-offs.

Buffalo (6-7) remain in contention for a wildcard in the AFC, although it could come down to their clash with the New York Jets (8-5) on the final day.

Washington’s (6-7) win in Chicago means they lead the NFC East, but they still have to face division rivals Dallas (4-9) and Philadelphia (6-7).

The Redskins have lost the last six against the Bills and we will rely on the Bills’ third-ranked running game to grind out a narrow win – as long as LeSean McCoy finds his was to the team plane in time.

VERDICT: BUFFALO 23 WASHINGTON 20

BEST BET: BUFFALO -1 @ 1.92

GREEN BAY at OAKLAND

(+3, Total Points 47)

The Green Bay Packers (9-4) top the NFC North thanks to a gritty 28-7 win over the Cowboys and are a game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings, whom they meet in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.

Mike McCarthy
In charge: Mike McCarthy offers diversity

That one could be for all the marbles, because the Pack face two tough road trips, going across country to Oakland before heading to Arizona.

The Packers have won the last six meetings, but this will be their first clash since 2011.

Oakland (6-7) did as we anticipated they would last week, coming away from Denver with an upset victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Yet they have won just two of their last six at home and Green Bay, while inconsistent at times this season – especially in the running game – received a boost last week when head coach Mike McCarthy resumed offensive play-calling duties. It is what many had been calling for after an unsuccessful period from offensive coordinator Tom Clements.

McCarthy can put quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a position to be successful, as his schemes are balanced and a little more diverse.

VERDICT: GREEN BAY 24 OAKLAND 20

BEST BET: GREEN BAY -3 @ 1.91

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS

KANSAS CITY -7.5 at Baltimore: Ravens (4-9) have a QB quandary. They could start back-up Matt Schaub, who suffered chest and shoulder injuries a week ago, or Jimmy Clausen, who could not get the ravens in the endzone against Seattle. Or they could even turn to ex-Houston back-up Ryan Mallett, whom they signed last week. It is not a pretty situation for a team that appears to have packed its bags for the season. The Chiefs have an excellent defense, but the Ravens have played a bunch of close games. This could be closer than anticipated, but we expect Alex Smith and the Chiefs to come through. Chiefs 23-14

HOUSTON +3.5 at Indianapolis: Both teams will start back-up quarterbacks for the latest in a series that Indianapolis has dominated, winning 23 of 27 all-time, including the last six. Houston had won four games in a row before dropping the last two, while Indianapolis had won three on the bounce before losing their last two. Colts are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games after consecutive losses but they have been outgained in nine of the last 10 games. Tough call but we favour the Texans to cover the spread. Colts 24-21

MINNESOTA -5.5 over Chicago: Bears have not lost three consecutive to the Vikings since 1999-2000 and they have won at hostile environments in Kansas City and Green Bay this season. Their last five losses came by three points or less, but what do they have to play for? The Vikings are in the hunt for the NFC North title but dropped a vital game in Arizona last week. They should ride Adrian Peterson and the ground game to victory. Vikings 21-10

NEW YORK GIANTS +5.5 over Carolina: This handicap line should be at least a TD, particularly given the Giants’ powder-puff defense. Yet the unbeaten Carolina Panthers have lost four of the last six meetings and two of the last three in New York. The Giants should not come close, even though they put up 31 points on Miami last Monday night. We don’t see this as a potential upset and the Panthers’ offensive line should open enough holes for the running game to be successful. Still, the line worries us and we are tentatively following the money. Panthers 24-20

SEATTLE -14.5 over Cleveland: Despite having snapped a seven-game losing streak with an expected win over San Francisco, Cleveland face long road-trip with little to play for. The Seahawks have had issues at time with mobile quarterbacks and Johnny Manziel’s athleticism could cause a few problems. He does not have Brian Hartline as a target, following the receiver’s broken collarbone and they have had several issues running the ball. We see the NFC champions cruising. Seahawks 31-10

DENVER +6 at Pittsburgh: This is another handicap line that worries us. Denver may have lost to Oakland, but that was a statistical – and predictable – trend defeat. Along similar lines, the Steelers have not lost three on the trot to the Broncos since 1970-73 and are 9-0 against the spread in their last nine December games. They have lost five of the last seven at home to the Broncos, whose defense has carried them all season. We don’t see the Steelers putting up 30 or more points as they have in five straight games and if C.J. Anderson is healthy, the Broncos can take some pressure off of QB Brock Osweiler. Steelers 24-21

MIAMI +2 at San Diego: Dolphins have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Chargers, but have lost the last two in San Diego and have been done no favours with the schedule, travelling cross country off a short week. The Chargers could do nothing against a tough Chiefs defense in a 10-3 loss at Arrowhead but QB Philip Rivers should get plenty of change against a porous Dolphins secondary. Likewise, counterpart Ryan Tannehill might look like a viable passer if running back Lamar Miller can take advantage of the 27th-ranked run defense – providing he’s actually given the ball. Not a confident pick by any means, but we take the upset. Dolphins 23-17

SAN FRANCISCO +4.5 over Cincinnati: The Bengals are looking over their shoulders hoping history will not repeat itself. They can win the AFC North with a win but were pipped at the death last year and without injured QB Andy Dalton, there are fears that the same thing may happen. The 49ers were dreadful at Cleveland but are 11-3 all-time over the Bengals, who have been beaten on their last five visits. AJ McCarron was not bad in relief of Dalton against the Steelers last week and he has plenty of talent surrounding him. It is tough to put our faith in San Francisco back-up Blaine Gabbert, however. Yet the Niners are tough at home in December games, winning 15 of 16 and we take them to keep this close. Bengals 23-21

ARIZONA -3.5 at Philadelphia: Sunday’s late game might be worth staying up for. The Eagles have rebounded to 6-7 after winning at New England and outlasting Buffalo. They top the NFC East with three games to play, but the visiting Cardinals have a chance to wrap up the NFC West and take a big step to securing a first-round playoff bye. They have won five of the last seven meetings and with Green Bay and Seattle left to play, they will need this win as much as the desperate Eagles. Cardinals 34-27

DETROIT +3 at New Orleans: Not a Monday Night Football game to get enthused about, as neither has much to pay for, having been eliminated from playoff contention. The Saints (5-8) have lost three times at home this term but the Lions have failed to cover the handicap in their last nine road games in December. The points total, which has gone under the Vegas line in 13 of the last 16 Lions road games, is set at 50.5 and we think it is worth looking at the overs. There should be plenty of points and we chance a Lions win with nothing more than a bet for interest suggested. Lions 31-27

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NFL PICK SIX – Week 13 betting guide

Five weeks remain of the regular season. Carolina (11-0) is the lone unbeaten team and they can clinch the NFC South and a playoff spot with a win over New Orleans or an Atlanta loss.

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 13 of the 2015/16 NFL season. The odds are correct at the time of writing and are industry average.

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

GREEN BAY at DETROIT

Friday, 01:30

(+3, Total Points 46.5)

Detroit (4-7) seeks its first sweep of NFC North rival Green Bay (7-4) for the first time in 25 years on Thursday night.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Detroit Lions
Injury concern: Calvin Johnson

After starting this season 1-7, the Lions have won three straight, starting with Week 10’s 18-16 win over the Packers at Lambeau Field, their first win over them since 1991.

The Packers have won one of their last five games, having started 6-0 but are considered a field-goal favourite, largely because of several Detroit injuries on both sides of the ball.

Top receiver Calvin Johnson is hobbled with an ankle injury, as is safety Glover Quin, receiver Lance Moore, defensive tackle Caruan Reid, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and center Travis Swanson.

Several of those injuries, particularly to Quin and Johnson, are not considered serious and they are expected to play.

Green Bay lost 17-13 at home to Chicago last Thursday, while Detroit wacked Philadelphia 45-14, recording their third consecutive win since losing 45-10 to Kansas City in London.

Packers were dismal in their upset loss at 8.5-point favourites, going 3-for11 on third downs and QB Aaron Rodgers completed a season-low 51.2 percent of his passes for just 202 yards and one touchdown. He also tossed an interception.

The Packers, who also have injury concerns over star linebacker Julius Pepers, starting tackle Brian Bulaga, centre Corey Linsley and receiver Ty Montgomery, will be able to get back on track with a less-than-comprehensive win. It will be a battle but an ugly win is still a win.
VERDICT: DETROIT 21 GREEN BAY 28
BEST BET: GREEN BAY -3 @ 1.91

SEATTLE at MINNESOTA

Sunday, 18:00

(-1.5, Total Points 41.5)

Seattle has never lost on back-to-back trips to Minnesota and only once in 13 meetings has the points total gone below the current 41-point line. Nice trends, if they hold.

Russell Wilson
Leading the Seahawks: Russell Wilson

The Vikings have been a nice surprise this term in reaching a record of 8-3, but they are 2-2 against quality opponents (teams with a winning record). They are in pole position in the NFC North, a game ahead of Green Bay.

The Vikings have held seven opponents to 19 points or fewer and only Carolina run the ball more than Minnesota’s 51 percent of its plays.

NFC champion Seattle (6-5) are 1-4 against quality opponents, although three of those losses came by a one-score margin. They should make the playoffs via the wildcard route, as their run-in sees them facing the likes of Baltimore, Cleveland and St Louis, who have a combined 10-23 record.

Seattle ranks second in the NFL in rushing at 144.2 yards per game and are fifth in stopping the run (92.9 ypg). Minnesota boasts the top-rated rushing attack (146.4 ypg), with Adrian Peterson leading the way. However, they average just 21 points per game and their run defence ranks a lowly 20th (110.6 ypg).

The Vikings, 4-1 at home, are vulnerable and the Seahawks, who outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, are at an advantage playing outdoors. It should be a belting game, with Seattle fancied for the win.
VERDICT: MINNESOTA 16 SEATTLE 24
BEST BET: SEATTLE +1.5 @1.80

BALTIMORE at MIAMI

Sunday, 18:00

(-3.5, Total Points 43.5)

This could be the best bet of the week or the worst.

The last time Miami made a coaching change, they scored 90 points in the two-week span. The Dolphins lost their fourth game in five weeks when swept by the New York Jets last weekend, prompting the dismissal of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and the promotion of quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor.

Ryan Tannehill 4
Simplified playbook: Ryan Tannehill

Baltimore won their last two games but lost QB Joe Flacco for the season. In his first game since 2013, Matt Schaub threw two touchdown passes to lead the Ravens to a 34-27 win at Cleveland on Monday night.

The Ravens have won six of the last seven meetings with the Dolphins, including the last four meetings in Miami, scoring at least 26 points in the process, yet this a down year. The Ravens have won the same number of games as the Dolphins (four) and both look well adrift in the race for a wildcard spot.

There is little riding on this and it won’t be a game on everyone’s radar. But Miami have homefield advantage and if Ryan Tannehill can be made to feel more comfortable in terms of play-calling – the pressure will be off him, as the fins attempt to find a running game – they hosts can win for a change, blowing a better chance to get a higher draft pick. How typically Dolphins-like would that be?
VERDICT: BALTIMORE 13 MIAMI 23
BEST BET: MIAMI -3.5 @ 1.92

NY JETS at NY GIANTS

Sunday, 18:00

(+2.5, Total Points 43.5)

They share Met Life Stadium but the Giants will be the host for a rare regular-season match-up. The Jets have lost the last five meetings, although this will be the first serious clash between the two since 2011.

Eli Manning
Eli Manning: Home comfort

Jets come into this having swept the Miami Dolphins with a 38-20 win last weekend in an AFC East clash that was never much of a contest from the outset.

The Giants dropped to 5-6 for the season after a 20-14 defeat at Washington, but still share the lead in the NFC East with the Redskins.

The Jets had been spiralling before picking on easy prey Miami and, with just five games remaining, we do not feel as though they should be considered 2.5-point favourites for this pivotal match-up.

Giants need this to remain in contention for the division title and a play-off place, as their record will not be good enough to secure a wild-card. The Jets’ only way to the post-season is via wildcard in a crowded AFC.

We do not feel the Jets’ passing game is good enough to keep pace with the sixth-ranked Giants’ attack.
VERDICT: NY JETS 23 NY GIANTS 27
BEST BET: NY GIANTS +2.5 @ 1.80

DENVER at SAN DIEGO

Sunday, 21:05

(+4, Total Points 43)

Denver, fresh from ending the New England Patriots’ unbeaten record, hope to create another piece of history on Sunday when they travel to San Diego.

Philip Rivers
Good season: Philip Rivers

The Broncos have won an NFL-record 14 consecutive division road games dating back to 2011.

Yet for all their recent success against the Chargers – they have won seven of the last eight meetings – the Broncos have never won five consecutive games at San Diego.

The Broncos are coming off an emotion-charged win over the Patriots and a let-down is possible. Despite the fact that the Chargers have a 4-7 record, QB Philip Rivers is having one of his best seasons.

He threw for 300 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jaguars last week. He trails only Tom Brady in passing yards and he’s second to Drew Brees in competition percentage.

Remarkably, Rivers has played behind a makeshift offensive line, and the Chargers were down to just two offensive linemen against Jacksonville, with left tackle King Dunlap and right guard D.J. Fluker sitting out with injuries.

The biggest problem with the Chargers is their defense. Opponents average 27.9 points per game against them this season.

Denver is in transition at the quarterback position. They seem in no hurry to decide whether veteran Peyton Manning or fourth-year man Brock Osweiler will be the long-term solution.

Osweiler has led the Broncos to victories in each of his two career starts, but he is still effectively a rookie at this level.

The real battle will be between Rivers and Denver’s excellent defense, and it may be worth taking a chance that the host Chargers can raise their game against a team who may well have an emotional dip.

San Diego could be catching their AFC West division rival at exactly the right time.
VERDICT: DENVER 28 SAN DIEGO 33
BET BET: SAN DIEGO +4 @ 2.00

DALLAS at WASHINGTON

Tuesday, 01:30

(+4.5, Total Points 42)

We fully expected Dallas to lose to unbeaten Carolina last week in their Thanksgiving Day match-up – and they duly did, with Tony Romo having one of his worst halves of his career helping the Panthers to an easy 33-14 win.

Matt Cassel
Matt Cassel: Taking the reins

That defeat, to any team outside the NFC East, would have been a killer blow to their playoff chances. However, that division is the worst in football, with no team having as many wins as losses.

The Cowboys own a 3-8 record, while the Washington Redskins head the division with a 5-6 record. There is still a lot of football still to play.

Washington is 5-1 at home this season – their sole loss coming to Miami at home in Week 1 – and part of the reason for their success is quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown 173 consecutive passes at home without an interception in those five successive victories. He is averaging 272 yards passing per home tilt.

The Redskins have been able to utilise Cousins as a game-manager rather than game winner, thanks to an imposing a successful  running game by committee approach with Matt Jones (351 yards), Alfred Morris (1,613 yards) and Chris Thompson (191 yards).

The last time Washington had a 5-1 home record, they went to the playoffs (1992), and having beaten the New York Giants 20-14 last week, they have beaten NFC East foes back-to-back. The last time they did that, they went to the playoffs (2012).

But while the Cowboys’ playoff hopes will still be mathematically alive even if they lose to Washington, their chances have greatly decreased after QB Tony Romo suffered his second collarbone fracture since September in the Carolina loss. Back-up Matt Cassel is 0-4 as starter in relief.

Bettors must decide what the Cowboys’ mind-set will be. They still have a big chance of making the playoff party but, equally, they could tank and increase their chance of taking a top QB prospect in the draft. We are taking a chance with the ‘Boys to keep their season alive with a narrow win.
VERDICT: DALLAS 23 WASHINGTON 21
BEST BET: DALLAS +4.5 @ 1.91

OTHER HANDICAP PREDICTIONS 

BUFFALO -3 over Houston: Houston is riding a four-game winning streak and the Bills’ lauded defense is not getting pressure up front. The Texans have won the last three in the series, but the Bills return home after three road games (they are also on the road the next two weeks) and we fancy their running game to pay dividends. Bills 27-23

ST LOUIS +5.5 over Arizona: Tough call. Not a game we’d get too involved in. The Rams are at home and have game-breaking speed in some skill areas, plus an elite back in Todd Gurley. The Cardinals are in charge of the NFC West and are flat-out better in all areas. They have also won eight of the last 10 meetings in St Louis. Take the points and pray. Cardinals 27-23

TAMPA BAY -1 over Atlanta: Falcons have won back-to-back games in Atlanta just once since 1995 and have won one of their last five. The Buccaneers have won three of their last five and as long as QB Jameis Winston limits his mistakes, they can get right back into the wildcard race with a win. Buccaneers 31-24

CLEVELAND +9.5 over Cincinnati: Cleveland finds new and interesting ways to lose on almost a weekly basis. Their heart-breaking blocked-field-goal-returned-for-a-touchdown as time expired last week against the Ravens summed this franchise up perfectly. The Bengals will take this clown of a franchise lightly and a garbage-time TD might blow the handicap. Bengals 27-19

TENNESSEE -2.5 over Jacksonville: Since 2006, the Jaguars have gone LWLLWLLWL in trips to Tennessee. So, by that written-in-Crayola-by-a-five-year-old statistic, the Jaguars are due to lose again. You can tell we are none too enamoured by this game. Titans’ defense will stiffen when it matters most. Titans 22-17

CHICAGO -6.5 over San Francisco: The Bears shocked Green Bay on Thanksgiving to make themselves relevant in the NFC playoff chase at 5-6. Their pass rush is good enough to keep the 49ers – who have a poor historical record at Soldier Field – from keeping pace with Jay Cutler. Yes. We actually wrote that. Bears 31-17

KANSAS CITY -3 at Oakland: The Raiders and Chiefs are very much in the mix for a wildcard in the AFC but win for the Chiefs can give them the inside track. Their offensive line issues, so problematic early in the season, appear to have been addressed and they are on a five-game winning streak. Their record at Oakland since 2009 reads: WLWLWL – again, it is a silly trend to follow that they should win again, but we’ll following it anyway. Stupid is as stupid does, right? Chiefs 33-24

NEW ORLEANS +7 over Carolina: Then there was one. Carolina is the sole remaining unbeaten team in the NFL after man-handling Dallas. New Orleans is going nowhere at 4-7 and their playoff hopes will be extinguished should they lose. They have won three of five at home and the Panthers have often struggled in the Superdome. Still, we don’t see them losing. The line is about right and either Carolina will win in a blowout or play below their true level. We take a chance on the latter. Panthers 28-23

NEW ENGLAND -9.5 over Philadelphia: Given that New England has been pole-axed by injuries to its receiving corps, we are not too sure why the line is so big, even given Philadelphia’s tail-spin. Still, you wouldn’t want to face Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on a good day, never mind in an ornery mood. You think losing their shot at a perfect season hasn’t wounded them? If you think an ego their size hasn’t been bruised, you’d be sorely wrong. Patriots 38-14

PITTSBURGH -6.6 over Indianapolis: The Steelers limped home after their 39-30 loss to Seattle and face a Colts team that has won their last three on the arm of a 40-year-old back-up QB Matt Hasselbeck. Both teams are 6-5 and in the hunt for a playoff place. Colts have lost nine of their last 10 trips to Steeltown and we see plenty of unexpected promise in the Pittsburgh defense. Steelers 31 Colts 20

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SUPER BOWL XLIX – MCB PREVIEW

Super Bowl XLIXNEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
(11:30pm, Sunday, Feb 1)

Britain’s No.1 American Football handicapper and Lindy’s Sports columnist Simon Milham ties down the trends, stares at the stats and offers some cool, calculated analysis for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX, which takes place at the University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle SeahawksTOP TRENDS

Underdogs have been a great Super Bowl bet in the last 13 seasons, going 13-3 Against The Handicap/Spread (ATS). Underdogs have won outright in the past three Super Bowls and in five of the last seven. Seattle was a 1.5-point dog last year and defeated Denver 43-8.

Seattle has won five straight postseason games and is seeking to become the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champion.

Teams that allowed fewer points in the regular season are 30-17 in the Super Bowl (in 2004 the Patriots and Eagles allowed the same number of points). The Seattle Seahawks conceded 254 points to New England’s 313.

Since 1995, the higher-seeded team has covered the handicap just twice in the last 17 Super Bowls. This is only the third time in 21 seasons that the number one seed from each Conference will meet in the final.

The team whose metropolitan area boasts the lower jobless rate has won 22 of the past 27 Super Bowls. Through November 2014, the unemployment rate for the Seattle metropolitan area was 5.3 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for the Boston metropolitan area.

The New England Patriots have covered the handicap just once in their previous seven Super Bowl appearances (1-5-1 ATS).

Ben Kerns PhotographyThe NFC owns a 26-22 edge over the AFC in the first 48 Super Bowl matchups. Seattle represent the NFC, Denver the AFC.

New England is 5-10 ATS in the last 15 playoff appearances, although they easily covered the spread in a 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.

The Patriots are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games against NFC West opponents.

Seattle is 4-2-1 ATS in the last seven playoff games, but failed to cover the handicap in a 28-22 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

Backing the Underdog on the handicap and backing Over on the points total was a successful formula in the last two Super Bowls. However, that combination has never been successful in three straight season finales.

Favourites have a 33-15 record in the Super Bowl but are just 26-18-2 against the handicap. There have only been six instances where the favourite won the game but failed to cover the handicap. Those outcomes occurred in 1976, 1989, 1996, 2004, 2005 and 2009. So if you fancy the favourite, the trends favour also backing them to beat the handicap.

New Orleans Saints v New England PatriotsThe Seahawks hold a 6-2 edge ATS in their last eight games with the Patriots and they are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against teams from the AFC East division.

The NFC Champion Seahawks hope to extend a 6-1 ATS run for NFC teams in the Super Bowl.

The Points Total has gone Over the Vegas line in the last three games between the Seahawks and the Patriots.

The points total went Over the Vegas line five times in New England’s last six games against teams from the NFC West division.

Favourites have lost the last three straight Super Bowls and five of the last seven overall. If the line stays as it is (with New England +1.5 points), it will be the just the third time since 1980 that the Super Bowl spread was that small. It was Denver -2 vs. Seattle last year, and New England -2.5 vs. the New York Giants three years ago. The underdogs won both those games.

The points total has gone under the Vegas line in six of the last eight Super Bowls when the line was set at 47 points or higher.

In Super Bowl history, the points total has gone over the Vegas line 24 times, and gone under 24 times 

The Seahawks have lost by more than a touchdown just once since the middle of the 2011 season – a 30-21 defeat at San Diego in Week 2 this season.

Since 1978, seven defending champions have returned to the Super Bowl the following year. Those teams went 5-2 straight-up and 4-3 against-the-spread

vince lombardi trophy
Vince Lombardi Trophy

Teams playing in consecutive Super Bowls as an underdog are 0-5 SU & ATS.

Patriots are 1-4 ATS against Top 10 run defences and 1-6 ATS versus Top 10 run offenses this season.

Seattle’s defence ranked first in the NFL in fewest points allowed (254) and their offense was tied at first in rushing yards (2,762).

Favourites of 3 or fewer points are just 3-8 ATS in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots are 1-9 ATS in their last 10 games on natural grass. The Seahawks are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on the real stuff.

Overall, the best team (as measured by regular season record) has won 25 and lost 15 Super Bowls. The other eight games involved teams with identical regular season records. Both Seattle and New England boast identical 12-4 records.

New England’s Tom Brady already owns a number of postseason records and can join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories. Brady has thrown a record 49 scoring passes in the postseason and is two shy of tying Montana (11) for the most Super Bowl TD passes.

In the last 19 Super Bowls, on only three occasions has the favoured team won and the points total gone over the Vegas line (Denver 1999, Baltimore 2000 and Green Bay 2012).

Designated away teams have won 28 of 48 Super Bowls to date. White-shirted teams have won 30 of 48 Super Bowls to date. New England is the designated ‘away’ team this time and they will also wear white jerseys.

Since 2000, the Patriots are 11-4 in season openers and 11-4 off a bye week in the regular season. They are 10-3 after a week’s rest in the playoffs.

Sleepless in Seattle? Rest is not so beneficial to the Seahawks. Since 1990, Seattle is 11-14 in season openers and 10-21 coming off their bye week in the regular season or after a week’s rest in the playoffs.

Tom Brady 2NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE v
SEATTLE DEFENCE

New England’s attack begins and ends on the arm of 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances.

He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn’t had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.

TOP TIP: New England Win Race to 10 Points @ 1.91

Seattle ended the 2014 regular season with six consecutive victories, all coming by at least 10 points, and they topped the Carolina Panthers by 14 points in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The 22 points scored by Green Bay in the NFC Championship game were the most Seattle allowed in a game since Week 11. They have not conceded more than 30 points in any game this season.

Led by the “Legion of Boom,” the Seahawks’ defence has been the most dominant unit in all of football. They surrendered the fewest total points in the regular season.

However they have a few injury concerns, in particular to cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated a shoulder against the Packers. That is a serious issue when faced with one of the purest passers in history.

TOP TIP: Gronkowski to Score a Touchdown @ 1.76

The key for Seattle is to take away the short and intermediate underneath passing routes and force Brady to air the ball out, because if Julian Edelman gets on a roll, that opens up the seams for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Take a look at the MVP markets, because if Kam Chancellor has a big night shackling Gronk, Seattle will win.

Edge: Seahawks

Marshawn lynch2NEW ENGLAND DEFENCE v
SEATTLE OFFENSE

Seattle’s top-ranked ground attack, spearheaded by ‘Beast Mode’ Marshawn Lynch, takes on a New England defence that ranked 13th overall (344.1 yards per game) and ninth against the run (104.3 yards per game) during the regular season.

In nine career postseason games, Lynch has gained 100 or more yards five times and scored eight touchdowns.

TOP TIP: Marshawn Lynch to Score a Touchdown @ 1.63

Finding a way of bottling him up is the Patriots’ biggest key to slowing Seattle’s attack, because he actually leads the team with four touchdown receptions. Nine other Seahawks have caught a touchdown this season, but leading receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined for just 1,362 yards and four touchdowns. Their attack is hardly prolific.

And the Patriots’ defence is better than advertised. They’ve allowed 17 points and 327.4 yards in the last nine games, winning all but two. They also have the best man coverage in football and that is a massive problem for the Seahawks, who rely heavily on wheel routes, which the Patriots are very capable of nullifying.

TOP TIP: Seattle Under 2.5 Touchdowns @ 1.91

Patriots will attack Seattle’s right tackle with their pass rush. Alvin Bailey or Justin Britt, neither of whom are great pass defenders when in isolation, will be faced with plenty of twists and stunts which worked effectively in the AFC Championship game.

TOP TIP: New England to record Most QB sacks @ 2.26

The Patriots’ defence forced just 25 turnovers in the regular season (including eight forced fumbles and nine interceptions) and another five in playoff games against Baltimore and Indianapolis.

Seattle’s offensive line is not that brilliant. Russell Wilson has a great awareness and instinctiveness, an uncanny ability to know where his receivers are. The Seahawks were third in the NFL with 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, and Wilson led all quarterbacks with 849 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

TOP TIP: New England to record First QB Sack @ 1.75

Yet he may well be scrambling for his life, even against a tepid New England pass rush. Wilson is more aggressive with his legs when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter or in overtime, and with the Patriots generally utilising a four-man pass-rush, you can be siure Bill Belichick worries about a running lane for the quarterback.

New England’s linebacking corps of Rob Ninkovic, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower could have a big say in the outcome.

Even so, if there is a bet for multiple sacks on Wilson, take a good look.

Edge: Patriots

GostkowskiSPECIAL TEAMS

New England’s Stephen Gostkowski (35-of-37 FG attempts) almost never misses, while Julian Edelman is a superb punt returner. Seattle recovered an onside kick and won in overtime against the Packers.

TOP TIP: Seattle to make Longest Punt @ 1.90

TOP TIP: Seattle to make Most Punts @ 1.96

Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka made just 9-of-13 FG attempts from 40-to-49 yards this season and their return game has slipped a notch from last year.

Edge: Patriots

VARIABLES

Betting Market – There has been quite a swing since the opening lines were announced two weeks ago. Seattle were initially as big as 2.5-point favourites, but the money has since come for the Patriots, who are currently one-point favourites. That’s the equivalent of a field-goal swing, which is a significant move, particularly in a game of this magnitude.

The Stadium – It seems a little ridiculous that Wembley can sell over 83,000 tickets for three regular-season NFL games each year, yet for the big game itself, only 63,400 people will be inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. The NFL says it plans to keep the retractable roof open at the stadium, which goes against the grain. The Cardinals, who play their home games in the stadium, did not play a single game with the roof open this season. The Super Bowl host stadium has not only a retractable roof but a movable field – the only one of its kind in the US. The field slides inside and outside on a set of rails, motors and wheels. The natural grass field is frequently voted by players around the league as their favourite playing surface.

deflatedThe Footballs – No advantage for New England, who have faced accusations that they cheated by using deflated footballs in the AFC Championship game. No doubt Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Sami Sosa, Ben Johnson and Mark Maguire will issue a joint statement defending Bill Belichick and Tom Brady shortly.

Turnovers – Out of 48 Super Bowl champions, only four of them lost the turnover battle in the big game. That’s just 8.3% of all Super Bowl winners: The 2005 Steelers lost it by one, the 1988 49ers lost it by one, the 1979 Steelers lost it by two, and the 1970 Baltimore Colts lost it by three.

TOP TIP: Seattle to record First Fumble @ 1.82

Only eight of the 48 Super Bowl winners ended up tying the turnover battle, so overall, 75% of the teams that won the Super Bowl also won the turnover battle. The Patriots are currently +3 in the playoffs, having won the turnover battle in each of their two games. They were +12 in the regular season. The Seahawks are currently 0 in the playoffs, but are +10 in the regular season.

ANALYSIS

The Patriots’ aggressive run defence, which features linebacker blitzes is a boom-or-bust intangible. There is no guarantee it will work against a zone-blocking team like Seattle, who will patiently stick with the run even if they trail. One cut from Lynch and that run defence could give up a chunk of yards.

Injuries to Sherman and Thomas are significant hits for Seattle to overcome, especially against a well-oiled attack led by arguably the greatest quarterback in history. Still, if they play anywhere near the level they did last year against an equally talented Denver attack, then the Seahawks may repeat.

We will go with the favourite – whoever that may be on the day. We suspect New England.

VERDICT: New England 24 Seattle 20

 

All odds quoted from SHOREHAM FC’s betting service shorehamfc.myclubbetting.co.uk

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NFL: AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – MCB betting preview

Who will reach the Super Bowl? We take an in-depth look at the last of the two ‘semi-finals’ and try to pinpoint the best bets…

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Sunday, 11:40pm at Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sky Sports: TV Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Tom Brady
Making history: Tom Brady

An old AFC East rivalry is rekindled as the Colts aim to break a span of five successive defeats to the Patriots, who have won 12 of the last 17 meetings dating back to 2001.

The last time the Colts won in Foxboro was on November 5, 2006. They have lost all four subsequent trips to face the Tom Brady-led Patriots.

New England have already had the measure of the Colts once this term inflicting a 42-20 defeat upon them in their own house in Week 11.

The Patriots have outscored the Colts 144-66 in their last three clashes and odds-makers have the Patriots as 6.5-point favourites. You can back them giving up those points at odds of 1.94.

Bill Belichick’s team are considered 1.38 favourites, with the Colts 3.25 underdogs.

You can back the Colts in receipt of 6.5-points at 1.94.

New England survived two 14-point deficits to run out 35-31 winners over Baltimore last week, but their running game, which has mashed the Colts in their last two encounters, was given the night off after 1:13 of the second quarter, as they ran into a wall of purple.

It meant heavy reliance on Brady, who threw for 367 yards, tossed three touchdown passes and he ran in another himself.

Brandon Lafell
Big threat: Brandon LaFell

The go-ahead touchdown, a deft, lofted pass over Baltimore cornerback Rashaan Melvin, fell into the arms of Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell with just over five minutes left. It was Brady’s 46th post-season scoring pass – breaking the record set by Joe Montana. And it was a thing of beauty.

Brady is 37 and in the autumn of his glittering career. This could be his last shot at collecting a Super Bowl ring to add to those he won before the Spygate era. He is playing in his 28th playoff game, looking to become the first player to win 20 post-season tilts.

While his deep ball is not what it was, he can still pick apart the tightest defence and the Colts front four know that if they can’t stop the run, the passing lanes will be opened up frequently.

Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck represents the future. The former No.1 pick has shown expected progression since entering the league in 2012 and has led the Colts to three playoff appearances and two division titles.

Andrew Luck2
Time is money: Andrew Luck

The knock on Luck, if there is one, is that he does not release the ball as quickly as many quarterbacks. But the New England pass rush is not noted for its ferociousness and Luck, who has thrown six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the last three games with the Patriots, is making much better decisions this season.

Patriots are very relaxed group, more so than in past seasons. The biggest test they would face in the playoffs would come from Baltimore (whom they beat) or Seattle (in the finale).

This Colts team did not really impress against a wounded Denver outfit and the worry is they acted like they had won the Super Bowl afterwards. They were just happy to be in the Conference Championship.

The Colts have run-stuffing defensive lineman Art Jones back in the line-up and they are a much more confident group than when they last met the Patriots. They have allowed cornerbacks Vontae Davis and unsung Greg Toler to man receivers one-on-one on the outside, allowing linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D’Quell Jackson to offer more support against the run.

But Brady has some great weapons. Few teams have had an answer on how to defend tight end Rob Gronkowski and LaFell is developing as an elite NFL receiver.

Coby Fleener
Exploiting weakness: Coby Fleener

On the other side of the ball, the Colts may look to take advantage of a knee injury to Patriots’ starting cornerback Brandon Browner, who didn’t finish the game against the Ravens. The depth in the secondary will be tested with slot receiver T. Y. Hilton – who had his worst game of the season against the Pats with three catches for 24 yards – Reggie Wayne and emerging rookie Donte Moncrief.

And then there is a player who has struck at the heart of the Patriots’ defence before. Receiver Hakeem Nicks has 444 yards and four touchdowns during the 2011 playoffs with the New York Giants – and had 10 catches for 109 yards when the Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He could be the X-factor.

Patriots are 16-4 all-time at home in the post-season and have the look of Super Bowl contenders.

They also appear to have the Colts’ number. In their last five meetings they have averaged 41.2 points per game.

So plenty points to a home win and hopefully a clash against Seattle in two weeks.

KEY MATCH-UP: The focus will be on Rob Gronkowski vs. the Colts’ defence, but the Patriots have had issues with tight-ends themselves. They gave up the third-most receiving yards to tight ends this season and this stems directly from their lack of depth at the linebacker position. If Luck can hit a deep ball early, then expect the middle to open up for Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The points total – currently set at 53.5 – went over the line in the last six meetings between the two and the last four meetings in New England. The underdog is 14-5-2 against the handicap in the last 21 meetings, but the Patriots have covered the handicap in eight of the last nine meetings against a team with a winning record.

KEY HOODOO:  All of the Patriots’ eight post-season losses under Bill Belichick were a rematch from that regular season.

VERDICT: Indianapolis 24 New England 37

BEST BET: New England -6.5 @ 1.94

 

All odds quoted from whyteleafe.myclubbetting.co.uk

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