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Fade Material: NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for a lost of six yards in the second quarter at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. UPI/Archie Carpenter

My predictions for the college football regular season were 31-23-2 against the spread and my picks for the NFL regular season were 33-32-3 ATS after a 3-1 effort in Week 17.

Is that enough intro foreplay for you? Good – let’s get to the Wildcard Weekend predictions.

Bengals @ Texans, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
Andy Dalton has officially hit the rookie wall. As I noted in my Wildcard playoff preview, he’s topped 200 yards passing in just one of his final five games and he missed practice earlier this week after being hospitalized with the flu. He should play but how effective he’ll be after spending the week with his face presumably hovering over a toilet bowl instead of the Bengals’ playbook remains to be seen. I fully expect Wade Phillips to throw a few wrinkles at the rookie and for Houston’s defense to take over this game from the start. The Texans can worry about the fact that T.J. Yates is their starting quarterback next week when they travel to Baltimore.
THE PICK: TEXANS –3

Lions @ Saints, 8:00PM ET
I truly believe that the Lions have a shot at upsetting the Saints this weekend in New Orleans. They have a legit quarterback in Matthew Stafford, one of the best players in the game in Calvin Johnson, and a pass rush that can get after Drew Brees. But betting against the Saints at home is the equivalent of sticking your hand in a circular saw and expecting there not to be blood. (Too much?) Thus, I’m taking the easy way out and going with the over. New Orleans’ defense is a much better unit at home than on the road, but Detroit’s passing game is explosive. Points won’t be an issue in this game but both teams will probably have to get into the 30s for the over to hit. No problem – I’ll take that bet.
THE PICK: OVER 58.5

Falcons @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
A lot of people are expecting a shootout for this game but I just don’t see it. Both teams have a tendency of playing things close to the vest and conservative in big games, which is why the under is an attractive play. Even though striking a balance offensively should be their main goal, Atlanta will likely lean on Michael Turner in attempts to avoid New York’s nasty pass rush. On the flip side, the Giants haven’t been able to run the ball much this year but that doesn’t mean they can’t. The Falcons will be without starting strong-side linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee), who is one of their better run defenders. In his place will be 2009 sixth round pick Spencer Adkins, who has mainly been a special teams contributor throughout his short career. Those, look for the Giants to pound the rock as well in what should be a close game throughout.
THE PICK: UNDER 47

Steelers @ Broncos, 4:30PM ET
The total is sitting really low but I’m not going to over-think this one. Tim Tebow is going to have a hell of a time figuring out Pittsburgh’s defense and Denver’s D is good enough to slow down a Steelers’ offense that has been in a major funk the past couple of weeks. Without Rashard Mendenhall (season-ending knee injury), the Steelers will rely on Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game, which is worrisome seeing as how Big Ben is dealing with an injury of his own. If Pittsburgh was at full strength I wouldn’t hesitate to lay the nine points but at this point the under is the safer bet.
THE PICK: UNDER 34

Check out the most current NFL Betting Lines.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2012 NFL Playoffs: Wildcard Weekend Preview

New York Giants Eli Manning gets set to pass in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks in week 5 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 9, 2011. UPI /John Angelillo

Bengals @ Texans, Saturday, 4:30PM ET
The biggest concern for the Bengals right now might be the fact that rookie Andy Dalton has hit a wall. He’s topped 200 yards passing in just one of his final five games and he missed practice on Wednesday after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. In his Week 14 matchup against Houston, he went 16-of-28 for 189 yards and one touchdown, which wasn’t enough as the Texans rallied for a 20-19 victory. For all the talk surrounding Houston’s quarterback situation this week, Dalton may be the key to this game. The Texans’ pass rush is one of the best in the league and their run defense has been stout as well. Cedric Benson was limited on Wednesday because of a foot injury and he’s also been dealing with a back issue. If the Bengals can’t get their running game going, Dalton will become the focus. Wade Phillips will surely throw a few wrinkles at the rookie in his first postseason game, so it’ll be interesting to see how Dalton responds to his biggest test as a pro. Win or lose, Dalton has had a great year and performed well beyond expectations. But for the Bengals to advance to the Divisional round, he’ll have to raise the level of his play.

Lions @ Saints, Saturday, 8:00PM ET, Saturday
The key to this game isn’t Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson or Detroit’s secondary. Believe it or not, it isn’t Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham or Sean Patyon either. The key to this game is Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and the rest of the Lions’ defensive line. You don’t beat an elite quarterback by blitzing him on every play. You beat him by dropping defenders into coverage and rushing him with your front four. Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady – they’re all the same. They can beat a blitz because they know their respective offenses like the back of their hand and they know exactly where to go with the football to burn a defense. But like any quarterback, they struggle the most when under pressure. Granted, it’s easier said than done to only bring four down linemen on a given play. If Suh and Co. don’t reach Brees, he’ll have plenty of time to wait until his receivers get open before delivering those accurate passes of his. Plus, a big reason why Brees is so good is because his offensive line has been excellent in pass blocking this season. Opponents try to overload with blitzes because Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod and Jahri Evans have been immovable objects up front. But it’s gut-check time for the Lions. They certainly have enough offensive weapons to match Brees and Payton, but if they can’t bring heat using their front four then they’ll be dead upon arrival.

Falcons @ Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
While most of the national focus this week is on the explosive battle in New Orleans and whether or not Tim Tebow has any magic left in that inaccurate left arm of his, this Falcons-Giants matchup might be the most even of the four Wildcard games. Both teams are built to run the football and therefore, fans may be treated to a heavy dose of Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But it’s been the play of Matt Ryan and Eli Manning that has gotten the Falcons and Giants as far as they are. Ryan’s 92.2 QB rating is his best in four seasons as a pro and in his last four games he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10:0. Manning, meanwhile, has compiled a QB rating of 92.9 this year, which is only bested by his 93.1 mark in 2009. He also set franchise records for passing yards (4,933), attempts (589) and completions (359), and has set an NFL record by throwing 15 of his 29 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He’s one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason, that the Giants have five wins this season in which they erased fourth-quarter deficits. While Atlanta’s ability to slow New York’s pass rush will be a huge factor this weekend, this game will likely come down to the basics: penalties, turnovers, and execution (or lack thereof).

Steelers @ Broncos, 4:30PM, Sunday
With how pitiful Tim Tebow and the Denver offense looked last week at home versus Kansas City, there are plenty of NFL observers who envision a blowout this Sunday at Sports Authority Field. But as I wrote earlier this week in my “Five Questions…” piece, the Steelers aren’t exactly steamrolling into the playoffs. In their last four games Pittsburgh is averaging just over 14 points per game, which includes a 27-0 win over the hapless Rams in Week 16. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers’ offense started to struggle when Ben Roethlisberger hurt his ankle in a Week 14 victory over the Browns. But even two weeks prior to that when Big Ben was healthy, the Steelers managed just 13 points in a 13-9 win over the Chiefs. For as bad as Tebow has looked the past two weeks, Denver’s defense certainly has the capability of keeping things close, especially if the Steelers can’t run the ball without Rashard Mendenhall (season-ending knee injury). Granted, the Broncos aren’t going to win if they only manage a field goal like they did last Sunday, but this might not be the rout that many people expect.

2012 NFL Wildcard Round Playoff Odds

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the team out to warm up before the start of the Steelers-Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on October 23,2011. UPI/Art Foxall

Bengals +3 @ Texans, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
Before I looked at the point spreads for this week, I wrote down what I thought the line would be for each game. While I nailed both of the NFC games, I was off considerably for each AFC contest. For this matchup in particular, I had the Bengals as 1-point underdogs given the quarterback situation for the Texans. I thought Jake Delhomme would start because all indications out of Houston on Sunday were that T.J. Yates wouldn’t play. But now that Yates is expected to start, the line makes sense. While Houston enters postseason play as the most injury-riddled team in the tournament, the Texans still have an excellent shot of advancing because of their running game and Wade Phillips. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are a matchup problem for most teams, even those that can stop the run. And Phillips will surely throw in a few wrinkles to confuse quarterback Andy Dalton, who is playing in his first career playoff game. Laying any amount of points on the Texans seems risky but the Bengals aren’t exactly steamrolling into the postseason.

Lions +10.5 @ Saints, 8:00PM ET, Saturday
Attaching the hook to this game was a smart move by oddsmakers, who had to do something to give Saints-backers a moment of pause. There are probably plenty of bettors in Vegas who are laying the wood with New Orleans considering how dominant it’s been at home. But the Lions have already made a trip to the Superdome this year and thus, there will be no surprises. At 10, bettors may be apt to lay the points in hopes that, at the very least, they’ll get a push. But at 10.5 the Lions become a more attractive play. Detroit will also have Ndamukong Suh (who was suspended the first time these two teams met) for this contest, as well as a healthy Louis Delmas and Chris Houston (who were banged up in the first meeting). I’m not suggesting the Saints can’t or won’t cover: they certainly can. They’ve been an unstoppable force at home this season and Drew Brees looks ridiculously comfortable running Sean Payton’s offense on the Superdome turf. But 10.5 points is a lot for a playoff game, especially when you consider how good Detroit’s passing game is thanks to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. NFL fans may get the shootout that they’re hoping for.

Falcons +3 @ Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
If the roles were reversed and this game was being played in Atlanta, I’d fully expect the Falcons to be favored by 3. That’s because these two teams draw plenty of similarities to each other and thus, home field advantage is what sets the line. (On a neutral field I would almost expect the game to be set as a pick’em.) There will be plenty of New York backers for this one, especially when you factor in the Giants’ fierce pass rush, Matt Ryan’s 0-2 record in the postseason, and the Falcons’ lackluster play on the road this year. But while Atlanta is 4-4 on the road, New York is 4-4 at home so again, this is a pretty even matchup on paper. That said, if you’re a trends bettor then you have to love Atlanta. The Falcons are 5-0 against the spread in their last five road games versus the Giants and the road team is 8-0 against the number in the last eight meetings. The under is also 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings so if you’re looking for an edge when it comes to the total, under 47 might be a solid play.

Steelers –9 @ Broncos, 4:30PM ET, Sunday
I was way off when predicting the line for this game. You knew Denver was going to be an underdog given its brutal performance the past two weeks and the fact that Pittsburgh was coming to town, but I figured the spread would be around 5.5 or 6. Nine seems way too high, even when you consider how brutal Tim Tebow could look against Dick LeBeau’s defense. But the Steelers’ offense isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now. In their last four games, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. have scored 14, 3, 27 and 13 points, respectively. And that 27-point barrage came against a hapless St. Louis team that couldn’t move the ball in Week 16. Considering Big Ben has a bad ankle and Rashard Mendenhall is done for the season because of a knee injury, this game may be closer than people think. Remember, the Broncos are playing excellent defense right now so this may turn out to be a field goal-fest. (And if that’s the case, then maybe the under is the best play on the board, even though its sitting at 34.5.)

2012 NFL Wildcard Weekend Odds

Bengals +3 (38)
Texans –3

Lions +10.5 (58.5)
Saints –10.5

Falcons +3 (47)
Giants –3

Steelers –9 (34.5)
Broncos +9

Check out more odds at TopBet online sportsbook for the NFL playoffs and other sports.

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