NFL Championship Game Free Picks
AFC Championship Game: Patriots vs. Broncos, 3:00PM ET
After the Broncos hung on to beat the Chargers last Sunday in the Divisional round, oddsmakers opened the line for the AFC title game at Denver -6.5, which immediately drew New England bettors. The line quickly dropped to Denver -4.5 but has since been bet back up to 5, indicating that books are receiving good two-way action on today’s game.
All of that aside, the Patriots have accomplished remarkable feats this year despite losing Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Tommy Kelly, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker since the start of the offseason. It’s a testament to Bill Belichick’s ability to plan around his strengths and attack opponents’ weaknesses that the Pats are once again back in the AFC title game. That said, the Patriots might finally face their end, ironically at the hands of Peyton Manning, whom they have bested plenty over the past decade.
If Denver can stop LeGarrette Blount, which is no easy task, especially since they too are depleted defensively due to injuries, and force Brady to work outside the numbers, then the Broncos could flip the script on Belichick. It sounds insane for Denver to put the ball in Brady’s hands but New England, in its latest rebirth, is a team that plays power football and uses play-action to stretch defenses vertically. Take away Brady’s ability to use the middle of the field to get the ball to Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola and the Broncos may turn this thing into a track meet.
Again, Belichick has done amazing things with his defenses, including using rookie Jamie Collins as a moveable chess piece in last week’s win over the Colts. But tight end Julius Thomas didn’t play in the first meeting between these two teams, which gives Belichick one more weapon to worry about. While it’s tempting to take the points with a red-hot Patriots team (if not the smart thing based on the value that the point spread offers), I like the Broncos.
FREE PICK: Broncos -5.
NFC Championship Game: 49ers vs. Seahawks, 6:30PM ET
Perhaps no team remaining in the playoff field is playing better than the Niners, whom have put together impressive back-to-back wins against the Packers and Panthers. This would be a perfect time to wax poetically about how difficult it is to win three-straight road games in the postseason but if any team is build to win on the road, it’s San Fran. First and foremost they play outstanding defense, their physical, they can pound the ball on the ground, and Colin Kaepernick’s ability to test the edge gives pause to even the most aggressive defensive coordinators.
But obviously San Francisco will meet its perfect match tonight in Seattle, which too plays outstanding defense, can run the ball and is just as physical is its counterpart – if not more physical. Pete Carroll’s hybrid front often gives opponents fits and nobody plays the Cover 3 better than the Hawks, who are tough to beat outside the numbers. Russell Wilson is also a versatile threat who forces defenses to adjust to his mobility.
So who offers the most value? Honestly, it’s the Niners, who are 3.5-point underdogs. One would expect this game to come down to a field goal based on how evenly matched these two teams are, although I don’t view the game that way.
I admit that this is more of a hunch than anything, but I believe Kaepernick will struggle today. Carolina gave him trouble for most of the first half last week in Carolina and Seattle will be even tougher on him today. The Panthers problem is that they couldn’t reach pay dirt twice in the first half when they had the ball at the goal line. And one thing that has separated Seattle and San Francisco in the previous three meetings is execution inside the red zone. The Hawks have made 11 trips inside the red zone versus San Francisco in the past three meetings, averaging 5.9 points in those three games. The Niners, meanwhile, averaged 2.6 points in 10 trips. Even though Wilson has struggled for nearly a month, I’ll take him in the red zone tonight over Kaepernick, who has had his fair share of issues in Seattle. While the Niners settle for field goals (much like they did a week ago in the first half against the Panthers), I expect the Hawks to eventually pull away with touchdowns.
FREE PICK: Seahawks -3.5.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: Bill Belichick, Colin Kaepernick, Denver Broncos, free picks, New England Patriots, nfl free picks, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tom Brady
Joe Montana explains the quarterback position
Here’s a quote from Joe Montana:
“The game is changing. Nobody wants to throw with pressure anymore. But the guys who can win in this league are the ones who can make throws from the pocket.”
You can read the article for more context, as Montana is discussing how he likes the game of Colin Kaepernick but sees room for improvement. Kapernick is part of the new wave of mobile quarterbacks, but give him and head coach Jim Harbaugh credit as they have tried to limit how often Kaepernick takes off and runs. He’s starting to look more like a young John Elway as opposed to a “running quarterback” like year one RG3.
But as Montana points out, the most important part of a quarterback’s game involves throwing in the pocket, and particularly the ability to make the right throw accurately under pressure. This is where many young quarterbacks struggle, but it can be even more difficult to develop this skill for mobile quarterbacks who take off running when the pressure gets too hot, as opposed to shifting in the pocket and making the big throw. Relying on scrambling will cause a quarterback to leave some big throws on the field, limiting some big plays.
We’ll see if Kaepernick or Russell Wilson can actually win a Super Bowl. One of them will be matched up against a classic pocket passer in either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And yes, the game is changing and we’re seeing more mobile quarterbacks. But Montana is pointing out a critical element for ultimate success in the NFL, and this gives us some perspective as we enjoy the rest of the NFL playoff season.
Sportsbooks set early odds for NFL Final Four
After a typical NFL season with all sorts of surprises and countless ups and downs, we end up with four teams left standing who many would list as the four best teams in the NFL. New England pounded Indianapolis with the running game as LeGarrette Blount ran wild for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns, giving the rest of the NFL the blessing of not having to listen to Jim Irsay any more this season. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and the Broncos took care of business against upstart San Diego last night to set up another Peyton Manning/Tom Brady matchup for a trip to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, on the NFC side, San Francisco took care of Cam Newton and the Panthers while Seattle won a slugfest against Drew Brees and the Saints.
Anyone looking forward to next week already can check out the early NFL odds at online sportsbooks as Denver is a 5-point favorite at home versus New England and Seattle is a 3.5-point favorite at home versus San Francisco. Not only do we have 4 excellent teams, but we have some serious rivalries as well which makes these games even more interesting and also complicated to pick. We have the Manning/Brady matchup, though now Manning is wearing Denver orange. Can Tom Brady and the Pats take another championship run away from Manning in a season where Manning shattered the record books? Does New England’s new-found running game alter the analysis here?
Also, with Seattle and San Francisco we have one of the more physical and bitter rivalries in the NFL, with a deeper rivalry between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as well that’s been going on since their Stanford/USC days. Seattle has owned the 49ers in Seattle and has frankly overpowered them. But San Francisco has improved dramatically from early in the season with Colin Kaepernick playing much better. Also, Russell Wilson hasn’t been playing quite as well, and look for the 49ers to stack the box and dare Wilson to throw deep. We’ll see which young quaterback emerges this week.
Regardless of the results next week, we should have an epic Super Bowl on our hands with contrasting styles, as the AFC has two traditional teams with classic drop-back passers while the NFC teams feature younger, more mobile quarterbacks. This should be fun!
NFL Divisional Round Free Picks
Saints vs. Seahawks, 4:35PM ET
The forecast for Saturday’s Divisional round game in Seattle is calling for a 70-perent chance of rain throughout and high winds ranging between 28 and 30 miles per hour. Considering Seattle already has the toughest defense in the NFL and has struggled offensively in recent weeks, the under seemingly holds more value than the side in this matchup. The Saints also went with a power run approach last Saturday in Philadelphia and may have to employ a similar tactic if they can’t stretch the ball vertically. The Seahawks also did a great job of limiting New Orleans’ screen and short area game in the first matchup, so offense could be at a premium for the Saints this weekend. The under is 5-0 in the Saints’ last five road games, 7-1 in their last eight games overall and 5-0 in the Seahawks’ last five games.
FREE PICK: UNDER 44
Colts vs. Patriots, 8:15PM ET
Andrew Luck and the Colts staged one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history last week when they knocked off the Chiefs, 45-44. But they also received some help along the way. Kansas City lost six starters throughout the game, including running back Jamaal Charles. Bob Sutton also failed to adjust to T.Y. Hilton’s ability to run free in his secondary in the second half and the Colts turned the ball over a whopping four times. Too many things went right for Indianapolis to bank on more fireworks Saturday night in Foxboro. (I’ll save everyone the “Luck” puns.) This is usually the time of year when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady make their money and Belichick won’t make the same mistakes that Sutton and Andy Reid did a week ago.
FREE PICK: PATRIOTS -7
49ers vs. Panthers, 1:05PM ET
This truly is a coin flip of a matchup. The Panthers beat the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco back in November of this year but the Niners were without Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith, and only had Vernon Davis for the first half before he injured himself. Colin Kaepernick has also been a different quarterback with Crabtree back in the starting lineup and the Niners are one of the hottest teams in the league. While Carolina plays outstanding defense at home, this will be Cam Newton’s first playoff game and his inexperience could shine through. With this game expected to be tight throughout, look for the Niners to hold onto victory in the end.
FREE PICK: 49ERS PICK’EM
Chargers vs. Broncos, 4:40PM ET
The Broncos were held under 30 points only three times this season and the Chargers were able to do it twice. In their current five-game winning streak, San Diego has rushed at least 36 times per contest and gained over 143 yards in every game. Running the ball and stealing time of possessions away from Peyton Manning will be the key to their success but whether or not they can do it will be another story. Manning realizes that his window to win another Super Bowl is slamming shut and despite his issues in his first playoff games, the cold weather or Denver’s defense, I don’t think Manning will be outdone this weekend by a scrappy San Diego team. It’s too tempting to take the 10 points with the Chargers after they were able to dismantle an underrated Cincinnati team a week ago but I’m going to do it anyway. I think this is Manning’s year to at least get back to the Super Bowl and I see a rout in the final game of Divisional week.
FREE PICK: BRONCOS -10
Posted in: NFL
Tags: Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, free picks, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, nfl free picks, NFL Playoffs, Peyton Manning, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tom Brady
Chiefs run into reality
The Kansas City Chiefs have had a great season so far, but as many predicted they’re not quite as good as their record. The hard truth is that there’s a ridiculous amount of parity in the NFL these days, and a couple of breaks through the season can dramatically impact a team’s record. That’s been the case with the Chiefs, a much-improved team with an excellent defense and a risk-averse quarterback. But a 9-0 record built on weak opponents, timely turnovers and cautious quarterback play doesn’t help that much when you’re facing Peyton Manning. For example, KC was leading the league in sacks as they teed off on NFL backups, but they didn’t sack Peyton Manning once. Also, an offense led by Alex Smith suddenly looked like a liability when the Chiefs were down by several scores. You can’t dink and dunk your way to a comeback that often.
This doesn’t mean we should completely count out the Chiefs. Again, they’re good enough to win a lot of games if some breaks go their way. But let’s not pretend they have the same margin of error as Peyton Manning and the Broncos.