The Arizona Cardinals head into the Divisional round of the playoffs as the co-favourites to win Super Bowl 50 with My Club Betting.
The Cardinals are 4/1 with both the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. The Denver Broncos, the top seed in the AFC, are 5/1, followed by the reigning NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks at 6/1. The Kansas City Chiefs are next best at 10/1, followed by the Green Bay Packers at 14/1 and the Pittsburgh Steelers the outsiders at 16/1.
Some poor officiating in Cincinnati and a last-minute field goal from Pittsburgh prevented a perfect tipping performance ATS in last week’s wildcard round. After another winning season against the handicap/spread (ATS), 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 this weekend’s Divisional playoffs.
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 NEW ENGLAND
(-5.5, Total Points 43.5)
Here’s where it ends. It had a good life, after all. Time to mourn its passing. The Kansas City Chiefs won 11 games in succession and thumped Houston 30-0 in their own house to make it this far.
But now it stops. The Chiefs have a dreadful record in New England and have managed just one win in their last eight visits. They have lost their last five trips to Boston and while the hosts will be fearful, having lost 41-14 to them in last year’s Super Bowl-winning campaign, that defeat was on the road.
Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has had a week off and he’s been hurling platitudes towards to Chiefs in the media – a sure sign the Patriots are confident in their game plan. They just love to be condescending. It is in their DNA. So is winning.
Brady had more than one eye on the Chiefs’ win in Houston and is right when he admits: “I think Kansas City forced them into a lot of bad football, but that’s what Kansas City has done a great job of all year. They’ve forced teams, whoever they played down the stretch – they’ve won 11 straight – all of them, into making a lot of bad plays.”
The Chiefs have a great pass rush and their front seven is playing as well as any front seven has done this season.
But, like the Patriots, they have suffered some significant injuries. Center Mitch Morse missed Saturday’s game. They lost starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff to a concussion, as well as top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with a high ankle sprain in last week’s win. Maclin is a key component in the short-passing game that is predicated on giving the runners the opportunity to get yards after the catch.
Quarterback Alex Smith throws a lot of wide receiver screens to safety-blanket Maclin and Albert Wilson. He’ll also look for Charcandrick West on flat routes. But Maclin’s loss will be felt, even though rookie Chris Colney – whom we highlighted as a great bet to score a TD last week – is a polished receiver who has been biding his time and should make an impact. The Georgia product is going to be a star in this league before too long. Take that to the bank.
The loss of Maclin would also allow the Patriots to put pressure on TE Travis Kelce inside with a safety over the top.
Spencer Ware is punishing downhill runner and can gain tough yards. We expect him to see plenty of the ball.
But the Chiefs are not in great shape. Premier pass rusher Justin Houston not the force he was since missing five weeks with a knee injury (he lacked explosion off the edge against Houston), and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs’ other edge rusher playing only 15 snaps against the Texans. He has a broken thumb.
If either are limited, the onus will be on Dee Ford to make plays off the edge and rattle Brady.
The Patriots are in better shape now. They had unrecognisable starting units in Weeks 16 and 17 and rested key players. They also had the benefit of the bye week and should have mostly everyone – including perhaps their most important offensive cog outside of Brady, Julian Edelman, ready for the playoff game.
The Patriots will have Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones and Sebastian Vollmer available after they missed their season-ending defeat in Miami. That could be hugely significant and will allow them to execute a less vanilla game plan.
This should be a tight encounter. The Patriots have not played well in recent weeks but while their injuries have cleared up, the Chiefs are bruised. We feel the super Bowl Champions will make it to the AFC Championship game.
VERDICT: KANSAS CITY 17 NEW ENGLAND 31
BEST BET: NEW ENGLAND +5.5 @ 2.05
SPORTING BET: OVER 43.5 POINTS
GREEN BAY at ARIZONA
(-7.5, Total Points 49.5)
Rewind just three weeks ago. The Arizona Cardinals made a statement, beating the Green Bay Packers 38-8 behind nine sacks. It gave them the number two seen in the NFC and a week’s rest.
The key was pressure up front. The Cardinals feasted on a makeshift Packers offensive line, with Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell among six players all recording sacks on Aaron Rodgers.
Though the Packers rediscovered their mojo after a slow start in Washington to prevail 35-18, they are still heavy underdogs to prevent losing for their third consecutive visit to Arizona, a feat that has not occurred since 1948-49, when the Cardinals franchise was in Chicago.
The Cardinals’ offense is arguably the most explosive of all the playoff teams. They have a rookie running back in David Johnson, who is getting hot late in the season, a veteran head coach in Bruce Arians who has a chip on his shoulder after being overlooked for so long, a sure-handed, speedy and large receiving corps, led by an assured quarterback in Carson Palmer who has a point to prove. They should be favourites to win it all and are rightly heavy jollies over the pre-season Super Bowl favourite.
For handicap bettors, there is a little conundrum. The Cardinals are 1-5 ATS in their last six games at home, but their one cover came against the Packers. The Cheeseheads have won seven of the last 10 games against the Cardinals and are 3-1 outright and ATS in their last four games as an underdog against them.
The points total has gone under the Vegas line in 10 of the last 14 Packers’ games and also 5-2 in the last seven games between the Packers and Cardinals.
This game won’t be a case of déjà vu. In the first game, Green Bay committed four turnovers, including two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. The Packers were, at one point, playing without three starting offensive linemen and the game turned on a couple of turnovers in the second and third quarters.
The Cardinals’ gameplan will be to limit the Packers’ running game and make them one-dimensional, believing their secondary can overwhelm the Packers’ receivers.
And they are healthy. Defensive tackle Corey Redding is the only Arzona player who is expected to miss the game, with both outside linebacker Markus Golden and defensive tackle Josh Mauro both expected to return after missing the last two games.
Perhaps the x-factor is Palmer’s 0-2 playoff record. Yet he has a ton of experience since his last trip to the post-season in 2009 and far greater talent at his disposal.
One of the key matchups will be safety Deone Bucannon against Rodgers. Bucannon disguised the defensive coverages well and Rodgers was not given enough time to decipher what was coming. The Cardinals will expect Rodgers to target cornerback Justin Bethel, as has been the case in his four starts (three in relief of injured starter Jerraud Powers) – that is what happens when you have an elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson playing on the opposing side of the field.
We feel the Packers have papered over the cracks in Washington and Rodgers will turn this into a dogfight, yet ultimately the Cardinals will come away with the win. They are simply playing at a different level right now (their meaningless Week 17 defeat by Seattle aside).
VERDICT: GREEN BAY 24 ARIZONA 34
BEST BET: ARIZONA -7.5 @ 2.05
SPORTING BET: ARIZONA WIN BY 12 POINTS OR MORE @ 2.80
SEATTLE at CAROLINA
(-2.5, Total Points 44.5)
Seattle were manhandled by Carolina in their first meeting in Seattle in Week 6, with both the offensive and defensive lines dominating the trenches. And this game is likely to be one of the most physical you will encounter in the playoffs.
While Carolina lost just once in the regular season, Seattle had their struggles, particularly when running back Marshawn Lynch went down injured in Week 10, but he was not having a great season before undergoing surgery on his abdomen in any case.
The NFC champion Seahawks, who look to reach the Super Bowl for the third successive season, went 10-6 on the season, but were 2-4 before the bye and 6-2 after it, with improving St Louis and NFC favourites Arizona inflicting those two losses. This is the same team, but the psychology of this team is different to the one that lost by a one-score margin in Week 6.
Seattle got lucky in Minnesota, with Blair Walsh’s attempt at a last-minute, game-winning 27-yard field goal sailing wide left. Seattle played poorly in one of the coldest NFL games ever played.
The only think frosty in Carolina will be the reception they will receive from the Panthers fans who have suffered through seven losses to the Seahawks in the last nine meetings. Indeed, the Panthers have lost their last three home meetings.
Each of their five meetings in Charlotte was been a low-scoring duel and lovers of defense will be in their element again on Sunday, even though Carolina boasts the No.1 scoring offense, having scored 500 points this season.
No-one relies on a quarterback to run as much as Carolina does. Cam Newton has 10 rushing touchdowns this year and their diverse running attack will also be boosted by the return of Jonathan Stewart, who missed the last four weeks with a sprained foot.
Stewart scored two TDs and ran for 78 yards in the 27-23 win over the Seahawks in Week 6. The ground and pound will be in full force, particularly since WR Ted Ginn will be able to stretch the field and hinder the Seahawks’ ability to stack the box against the run.
While Lynch may see some game-time this week (he was a full participant in practise on Wednesday), the Seahawks may well rely heavily on Christine Michael, who managed 71 yards on 20 carries against the Vikings in their 10-9 win last weekend.
While Carolina may be almost at full strength – and rested – it is perhaps worth noting that Carolina lost cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere to season-ending injuries since their first meeting, with veterans Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain filling in. It does not appear to have slowed them.
Seattle tend to like close encounters where the playoffs are concerned. Their last drama-free post-season game came with the 31-17 win over Carolina in last year’s Divisional round. Indeed, they have held a lead at some point in the fourth quarter in all bar one of their last 17 games.
Factor in Seattle’s playoff experience and momentum (seven wins in their last eight games), we should expect the battle-tested Seahawks to keep this close.
One of the biggest issues will be with how well Seattle’s offensive line holds up. Even with his knack for great escapes, elusive QB Russell Wilson was sacked 45 times in the regular season, tied for third most in the NFL. And in their first meeting, two of the Panthers’ top pass rushers Jared Allen and Charles Johnson missed the game through injury.
Seattle outplayed Carolina for three quarters of their first meeting. Their defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in their last seven road games, will invariably give Wilson enough opportunities to win every game. They can stop the run (Adrian Peterson had just 45 yards on 23 carries last week) and the pass (they held the prolific Cardinals to six points in Week 17, with Carson Palmer completing just 12 of 25 passes and Drew Stanton just 8 of 18).
This game should be a real scrap and we think the Seahawks will be more like the team that beat Arizona than the one who escaped against Minnesota.
VERDICT: SEATTLE 23 CAROLINA 17
BEST BET: SEATTLE +2.5 @ 1.85
SPORTING BET: UNDER 44.5 POINTS
PITTSBURGH at DENVER
(-6.5, Total Points 40.5)
The most obvious line of thinking has Peyton Manning and the AFC top seed Denver Broncos riding their defense to victory over a banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers and advancing to the AFC Championship game.
Pittsburgh got into the playoffs by the back door thanks to the New York Jets losing in Buffalo and somehow got past Cincinnati 18-16, thanks to a big turnover and two costly Bengals’ penalties in the closing moments of their Wildcard game.
That came at a cost, however, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder injury and wide receiver Antonion Brown suffered a concussion. Along with running back DeAngelo Williams, they are listed as day-to-day for the trip to Denver, where they have won on three of their last 11 visits.
The Broncos got the Steelers’ best shot on December 20 in Pittsburgh. The hosts prevailed 34-27 but the Broncos have not lost consecutive games to the Steelers since 1979 (a span of 20 games).
It is unlikely that this will come down to how well Manning performs. The veteran passer returned from a foot injury to deputise for struggling Brock Osweiler in the Week 17 win over San Diego. This will be about how dominant the Broncos’ front seven is going to be in shutting down Pittsburgh’s attack. If Brown does not play, they will stack the box to limit the run and force Roethlisberger to beat them deep. With a sprained AC joint (commonly known as a separated shoulder) – plus a few torn ligaments in his right shoulder – pain and accuracy are going to pay a part.
If he is not fit – and Big Ben is 4-0 in Divisional playoff games – Landry Jones will be under center.
Brown is more likely to start, providing he gets through the concussion protocol. He was almost unplayable in their first meeting, catching 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 comeback win.
Williams, the AFC’s fourth-leading rusher, is expected to miss out, meaning the majority of handoffs will be split between Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman.
You can easily envisage the Broncos, who do have nagging have concerns at left tackle and have struggled with injuries at guard, winning this via a couple of turnovers.
The Steelers are not big in stature at the cornerback position, so we expect WR Demaryius Thomas will exploit that weakness in fade routes to the corner of the endzone and he may draw double coverage. That may allow TE Owen Daniels to find room elsewhere and he is a big target to cover. We see him a viable candidate to score a TD at any time.
VERDICT: PITTSBURGH 17 DENVER 21
BEST BET: PITTSBURGH +6.5 @ 1.91
SPORTING BET: DENVER TO WIN BY 1-6 POINTS @ 4.00
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