NFL Divisional Play-Offs
After an action packed Wild Card Weekend that finished with a climax as Tim Tebow through an 80 yard TD pass to send the Steelers crashing out, we move on to the Divisional Playoff round which marks the beginning of the playoffs for the seeds. Watch all the games live on Sky Sports.
New Orleans Saints (5/9) @ San Francisco 49ers (8/5) - Saturday 21:30 - Sky Sports 3
The Saints are facing a battle with history as well as the San Francisco 49ers as they have never won a playoff game away from New Orleans. If they wish to return to the Super Bowl that's a streak they have to snap.
There are few sides playing as well offensively as the Saints, marshalled by the ever impressive Drew Brees they have been piling up points which has fuelled their current 9 game streak including the come from behind victory over the Lions. Brees is just 1 game away from tying the record of 49 consecutive games with a TD pass and you'd have to fancy him getting at least one.
They went 5-3 away during the regular season although some of those victories were a struggle when they should've been anything but. When playing outdoors they also seem to struggle compared to playing in Dome's - their average points drops from a massive 38 to just 23. The Saints should be able to put up offense to get the win and justify being the only road team that's favourite. They should be as healthy as possible are worthy favourites
The 49ers have been resurgent of late and were fully worthy of their second seed in the NFC. Quarterback Alex Smith had his best season to date and is a huge part of their success. Running Back Frank Gore has also being putting up decent numbers and the 49ers will need them to be at their best to compete with the Saints offence. They are 3.5 outsiders on the spread but should cover that by pushing the Saints all the way.
The 49ers have the perfect defence to slow the Saints down but the question is can they slow them enough to win? Drew Brees is susceptible to interceptions, especially outdoors and if they can take full advantage then the Saints wait for an away playoff win will continue otherwise the Saints take one step closer to Lucas Oil Field.
Best Bet: 49ers +3.5 @ 10/11
Worth a Punt: Saints to win by 1-6 points @ 16/5
Denver Broncos (11/2) @ New England Patriots (1/8) - Sunday 01:00 - Sky Sports 3
The Broncos pulled off a shock to end Wild Card Weekend as they defeated the Steelers in OT, despite raising their game they will still have to go up another level to defeat the Patriots in their own place.
Tim Tebow showed he can mix it as a playoff quarter back, throwing for over 300 yards and adding a rushing TD for good measure. This looks like a step too far for the banged up Broncos though as they are struggling with key injuries with receiver Decker being the biggest loss on offense. The Patriots handled Tebow in the 41-23 home loss for the Broncos but after getting this far the Broncos have absolutely nothing to lose and will give the Patriots all they can.
The Broncos start as 13.5 point outsiders and they should be able to cover this, the Broncos defence has done a brilliant job of keeping the Broncos in games so a 10 point defeat seems the worst possible outcome. The Broncos have only had 6 day in between games and face a fresh Patriots side that have some inside information on the Broncos. The Patriots have exploited a loophole in the NFL laws to hire Josh McDaniels as an offensive assistant, the same McDaniels that drafted and build much of this Broncos side.
The Patriots should be able to win this at a canter but the Broncos defence won't allow it. In the regular season fixture they did a good job of shutting down the Pats main weapons of Wes Walker and Ron Granowski but forgot to watch the secondary of Aaron Hernandez who stepped up and helped carry the offence.
This time last year the Patriots were number one seed, as they are this year, before losing to the Jets and incredibly have gone nearly four years without a post season victory. They will look to end that streak and should do but if there's one thing we learned last week it's never write Tebow off.......
Best Bet: Broncos + 13.5 @ 10/11
Worth a Punt: Aaron Hernandez 1st TD @ 8/1
Houston Texans (11/4) @ Baltimore Ravens (2/7) - Sunday 18:00 - Sky Sports 2
The Texans got a big game from 3rd choice Quarterback T.J Yates to advance past the Cincinnati Bengals. The Rookie threw for 159 yards to lead his side to their first ever post season win at the franchise's first time of asking.
Heading in to this the Texans will know the importance of running the ball against a Ravens defence that has been rock solid and will take some wearing down but when they do the youthful Texans would be able to capitalise on the Ravens aging front 7. Houston have already made a trip to Baltimore this season during which they went down 29-14 and that was when they still had starting quarterback Matt Schaub fit.
They key for the Texans will be how the rookie quarterback Yates responds to playing in an intimidating atmosphere against a daunting Ravens defence that led the NFL in sacks with 48.
The Ravens have won their opening match of the playoffs for four straight seasons and this season they have a week rest after securing the AFC North in week 17. Looking at the numbers and things get better for the Ravens, they hold a 5-0 record against Houston, have won 10 straight at home and have allowed an average of just 15 points at home.
On paper the Ravens look like they are ready to have a good crack at winning the Super Bowl and should take a big step forward with a comfortable victory over Houston.
Best Bet: Baltimore - 7.5 @ 10/11
Worth a punt: Texans to have the fewest offensive yards @ 3/1
New York Giants (14/5) @ Green Bay Packers (5/18) - Sunday 21:30 - Sky Sports 2
The weekend finishes with the Giants head to Lambeau Field to take on the 15-1 Packers and I can smell an upset on the card to end the festivities just like last week.
The New York Giants put up an incredible defensive display against the Falcons limiting them to just 2 points - which came from a sack. The Giants have been wanting a rematch with the Packers following their close 38-35 loss during the regular season and have their wish if they can win the defensive battle then they will come out on top.
The Giants have been led superbly by Eli Manning, the Pro Bowl quarterback threw 3 TD's against the Packers when they met earlier in the season. They have both the offence and defence to compete with the Packers and have hit their stride at the right time to make a game of it. Victor Cruz has been electric and is a good bet to be bagging the first touchdown against a creaky Packers defence.
The Packers come into the playoffs after an awesome season in which they oh so nearly managed to rack up a perfect record. The defeat in Kansas City showed that this seasons Packers are beatable and that MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers can be stopped. The Packers are however on a 13 game home winning run but haven't played at home in the playoffs for 4 years and the atmosphere will be incredible.
The Packers will get a huge boost from the return of Greg Jennings who after enjoying the prolonged rest can return from his 3 game layoff fully fit. They will be tested severly by the New York Giants passing attack and this could come down as a shootout or even roll into OT.
It also marks the first time that Manning and Rodgers go head-to-head in the playoffs and that should be a guarantee of points - the over 52.5 points is at 10/11 and quite possibly the best bet of the weekend!
Best Bet: over 52.5 points @ 10/11
Worth a punt: New York Giants @ 14/5