NFL Weekend set to get Wild
After 17 weeks of NFL action we're in to the business end of the season as the playoffs get underway as eight sides battle it out to claim a place in the Division playoff round. Catch all the action live on Sky Sports 2.
Cincinnati Bengals (31/20) @ Houston Texans (5/9) - Saturday at 21:30
The last time these sides met in week 14 the Houston Texans fought back for a come-from-behind victory which earned the young franchise its first AFC South title and consequentially its first playoff appearance. However the Texans haven't won since, so after defeats against Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee the Texans enter the playoffs on a three game skid.
The Texans have a good chance of recording a first playoff victory too despite the run of losses. They have the 4rd best defence against the rush and the 3rd best pass defence and so the Bengals will have to pull out something special to beat them. The Texans are 3 point favourites on the spread and look a good bet at 5/6 despite their lengthy injury list. The injuries have cost them their top 2 quarterbacks amongst others but they were able to leave out some of their stars in week 17 and they should be raring to go.
The Bengals have probably the most talked about wide receiver at the moment in Jerome Simpson following his forward somersault into the end zone against Arizona. Cincinnati only just scraped in following defeats for Denver and the Jets and will want to take full advantage of the life line they have been given and secure their first post season win in 21 years. Their game will hinge on the play of quarterback Andy Dalton and his favourite Target AJ Green. If they can get it together then an upset may be on the cards.
This should be a tight defensive game with few points so have a look at the points spread, currently 38.5 and the under seems a safe bet at 10/11. The Bengals can challenge but in the end the superior Texans defence should see them through - covering the spread in the process. Houston won in Cincinnati in regular season play despite giving up 4 picks and couple that with the Bengals struggles against winning record teams (1-6) and the Texans should be going through.
Best Bet: Under 38.5 points @ 10/11
Worth a Punt: Houston to win by 7-12 points @ 5/1
Detroit Lions (4/1) @ New Orleans Saints (1/6) - Sunday 01:00
The Saints come roaring into the postseason and find themselves unlucky not to be receiving a bye and watching this week on TV. They managed to rank up 13 wins during the regular season, the same as the 2009 Super Bowl winning side, and should go close to matching that effort.
The Saints star quarterback Drew Brees has absolutely ripped up the record books this season and the Lions D will have a tougher than tough task to stop him, especially in the Dome. The Saints head into this undefeated at home in 2011 and averaging a whopping 42 points over that span. Detroit came into the Superdome in week 13 and got comfortably beat and the Saints should be able to do the same sort of job again. With Brees in such form the Saints to score 5 or more touchdowns at 6/5 is a good bet
The Lions are tasting playoff football for the first time in 12 years and that is thanks to Matthew Stafford who enjoyed a breakout 2011 and is set to be an NFL star for years to come. The Lions path is mirroring that of the Saints who we're woeful before drafting Brees and then improving to win a Super Bowl. The Lions face the toughest task of the weekend and will struggle to cover the 10.5 spread let alone get the better of the Saints. They have been given a huge boost though as star receiver Calvin Johnson is back in training and he could be a good bet for first touchdown scorer at 7/1 against a Saints defence that do give up points.
On the whole while the Lions will be buoyed by a playoff spot their joy will be short lived, the Saints are riding an 8 game streak and are formidable at home. The Saints should easily cover the spread and the over 58.5 points at 10/11 looks a great price with two hot quarterbacks running the show. We have some cross match specials such as teams to get most offensive yards and team to score most touchdowns and the Saints, at 4/6 and 5/6 respectively, look bankers.
Best Bet: Saints -10.5 @ 10/11
Worth a Punt: Saints to score in all quarters @ 21/20
Atlanta Falcons (13/10) @ New York Giants (4/6) - Sunday 18:00
The Giants came good at the end of the season to finish 3-1 and edge out the Cowboys for the NFC Crown. They will be a dangerous foe in the postseason lead by Eli Manning who had another stellar season and there are many similarities between this year and their 2007 Super Bowl run.
New York will be full of confidence for the first ever playoff game at the MetLife Stadium but they have been somewhat below par at home going just 4-4. They have a strong passing game with Manning and the emergence of wide receiver Victor Cruz who has been dominant but have the league's worst rushing game which can leave them a little 1 dimensional at times. They will also have to improve on defence in order to progress against a lethal Falcons offense.
The Falcons will return to the postseason with a 10-6 mark, 1 year removed from entering as number 1 seed only to be humbled by eventual champions Green Bay. They have a more balanced attack than they Giants but will have to have a huge task to stop the Giants passing game, if their defence plays like it has done as the 29th ranked in the league then Eli Manning will be able to pick off the passes and run up the score.
Atlanta have the ability to cause an upset, especially if Matt Ryan can find Roddy White and Julio Jones with the consistency he did during the regular season. The Falcons are 3 point outsiders on the spread but have the ability to beat the Giants defence. The difference maker should be Manning, the Pro Bowl quarterback showed just how dangerous he can be pulling apart the Cowboys and he should lead the Giants through in a high scoring battle. The over 47 points looks a good bet at 10/11 and also for the game to be the highest scoring of the weekend at 2/1 looks a possibility too.
Best Bet: 1st scoring play - New York Giants touchdown @ 13/8
Worth a Punt: Victor Cruz first touchdown @ 7/1
Pittsburgh Steelers (1/4) @ Denver Broncos (3/1) - Sunday 21:30
The final game of the weekend sees the patched up Pittsburgh Steelers head to Sports Authority at Mile High to take on the Broncos in what should be a close defensive encounter. The Broncos come in to the playoffs in terrible form having lost the last 3 and look like one of the worst NFL playoff teams ever but due to the Steelers mounting injuries they can't be written off.
The Broncos have the most talked about quarterback in the NFL, despite his poor performances and low passing percentage rate, Tim Tebow has become the topic of debate from coast to coast. After bending to pressure to play Tebow the Broncos recovered from a 1-4 start to finish 8-8 and scrape into the post season dance. They enter in terrible form and more worryingly for them it appears their opponents have figured out how to beat them.
The Broncos fantastic midseason run was build on the defence holding tight and allowing Tebow, an instinctive 4th quarter player, to earn the win. Over the last few games though the defence has struggled as much as the offense but the atmosphere surrounding their first playoff appearance since 2006 should see them push the Steelers close and cover the +9 spread on offer at 5/6.
The Steelers will be thankful of the so called easy route to the Super Bowl due to their injury problems. The loss of Rashad Mendenhall is a huge blow but what is worse for them is Big Ben Roethlisberger's ongoing high ankle sprain. The star quarterback will have extra work to do in the absence of Mendenhall and there are big question marks over whether it holds up. If the Broncos defence get at him they will have a chance.
Pittsburgh will also be without safety Ryan Clark who can't physically play at the high altitude but even without him the Steelers defence should hold firm. The under points is 33.5 at 10/11 (also 10/11 over) and looks a safe bet along with the Broncos to score the fewest offensive yards of the weekend @ 11/10. The Broncos should cover the spread but that appears to be the best they can hope for.
Best Bet: Broncos to have fewest offensive yards of the weekend @ 11/10
Worth a Punt: Total Broncos turnovers: 4 or more @ 15/4