Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: AFC Conference Championship

I’ve gone back and forth on this one. On one hand, some of the reasons I didn’t like the Patriots last week are still true. They’re still a terrible post-season spread team, going 2-7 ATS in their last 9 post-season games and 4-8 ATS all-time as favorites of more than 4 in the post-season. Last year, they were favored by a similar amount in a similar situation here against Baltimore and they failed to cover.

These two teams always play close. They’ve met 6 times since 2007 and only one game was decided by more than 6 points and that was in the Ravens’ favor. The Ravens have endured 4 losses by exactly a field goal to the Patriots in that time period, while the Patriots lost by 1 earlier this year. Joe Flacco matches up perfectly with a New England secondary that can’t defend the deep pass as Flacco goes deep more than any quarterback in the NFL. The Patriots also may be overconfident after scoring so many points last week. Teams are 3-14 ATS since 2002 off a post-season game in which they score 38 or more, though the Ravens did the same thing last week, albeit in less convincing fashion.

On the other hand, Joe Flacco has put together two straight good post-season games, but he’s incredibly inconsistent and might not be able to come through a 3rd time. He’s actually 7-4 in the post-season in his career, but he only completes about 53% of his passes as he’s always relied on a strong defense until this year. This year, he doesn’t have a strong defense, but he’s stepped up. He’ll have to do it again this week if the Ravens are going to compete. Tom Brady will get his and if Flacco doesn’t play well, they won’t have much of a chance. Flacco generally struggles on the road, where he’s just 4-6 SU (4-6 ATS) in his career off a road win.

They may also be exhausted after last week’s double overtime marathon. Teams are just 1-7 since 2002 on normal rest in the post-season off an overtime game when their opponent is not coming off an overtime game. Meanwhile, the Patriots play very well in same-season revenge games, going 11-3 ATS in this spot under Bill Belichick, though 9-0 ATS in the regular season inside their crappy division and just 2-3 ATS in the post-season.

Finally, the Ravens are a publicly backed underdog. Publicly backed underdogs rarely cover because it creates a slighted favorite. The Patriots might not be getting their true respect this week and have plenty of bulletin board material. Besides, something fishy may be going on with publicly backed teams this post-season, as both the Broncos and Patriots had several borderline calls go against them last week. The odds makers didn’t do as well as they normally do this season, so a conspiracy theorist might say they are trying to make up for it this post-season.

At the end of the day, I’m taking the Patriots. You’ve heard the old adage, when in doubt, take the points. In the post-season, I prefer, when in doubt, take the better quarterback. I especially like that when it means fading a publicly backed underdog. I’m definitely not confident about this one though. I’m just looking forward to a great game.

New England Patriots 31 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against spread: New England -8 (-110) 1 unit


San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons: NFC Conference Championship

I’m going to do New England/Baltimore later in the week, but I had to lock this one in now because this line is ridiculous. Atlanta is 5 point home underdogs. Being a home underdog in the Conference Championship isn’t unheard of. Even being a home underdog as a #1 seed in the Conference Championship isn’t unheard of. But I can’t find a single case where a team was a home underdog by more than 4 points (a key number), regardless of seed (home dogs of 4+ are 7-3 ATS in the playoffs since 1989).

This is the 2nd largest home underdog Matt Ryan has ever been. He was a 6 point home dog last year against the Packers. That Packer team went on to go 15-1. The Falcons were 2.5 point home favorites last week for the Seahawks and won by 2. By the logic of this line, the 49ers are 7 points better than the Seahawks. Uh…didn’t the Seahawks blow the 49ers out a few weeks ago?

I know that was in Seattle and the 49ers didn’t have Justin Smith, but when these teams met midseason in San Francisco and the 49ers were healthy, they were 7.5 point home favorites and won by 7, which suggests that the 49ers are only 5 points better than the Falcons on a neutral field (and this game is in Atlanta). I know the 49ers are an improved team since then, but I think the Seahawks are an even more improved team since then.

I think on a neutral field, the 49ers are about 3 points better than the Seahawks (which would make this a pick em). The odds makers seemed to agree as the Seattle/San Francisco contest hovered around a pick em that week (2.5 point home field adjustment). And now the 49ers are 7 points better than the Seahawks? 3 weeks after getting blown out by them? What? They were barely even 7 points better than them in San Francisco 3 months ago.

I don’t think the odds makers are dumb. In fact, quite the opposite. They know exactly what they’re doing. All the action is on San Francisco this week and I think this line could go even higher and that would be the case. No one is giving the Falcons a chance. The odds makers are setting themselves up for a big payday. They may or may not even help that happen. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but both the Patriots and Broncos had the majority of the borderline calls go against them last week and those were the two most heavily picked teams of the weekend. The odds makers actually had a rough year by their standards. Again, no conspiracy theorist, just stating some facts.

I actually give the Falcons plenty of chance to win. Colin Kaepernick had an amazing game last week, but he won’t have that type of game again. For one thing, I don’t know if anyone will ever have that type of game again. He was posting video game stats. But as well as he played, he was definitely helped by the Packers looking completely confused on defense all game. The 49ers purposely ran very little of the pistol in the final 2 weeks of the season to throw people off the scent for the playoffs and it worked like a charm.

At least last week it did. The Falcons will be better prepared, especially after having just faced a similar style offense the week before. They’ve also faced Cam Newton twice and Robert Griffin once this year. They’ll be as prepared as can be for Kaepernick. Having the personnel to get the job done is a bit of a question, but they won’t be unprepared. And their run defense has been better of late.

You also have to remember that this is still Kaepernick’s first year as a starter. He won last week at home in huge fashion, but now he has to go on the road and play a quarterback that is now 33-6 at home in his career. That’s tough. He may also be a little overconfident after last week. Teams are 3-14 ATS since 2002 after scoring 38 points or more in a postseason game. That includes plenty of veteran quarterbacks. It certainly doesn’t help that Kaepernick is this young.

I don’t love the Falcons to win or anything. But as long as this line is past both the key points of 3 and 4, I’m taking the points for a big play. It’s just not that easy and I mean that in two ways. Playoff football is not as easy as Kaepernick made it look last week and picking games against the spread is not as easy as this game makes it look to a lot of people. This is definitely a trap line. Think of some other playoff games where the public was so convinced one team would win that they put all their money on that team even as the line kept climbing to ridiculous heights. Super Bowl 42 comes to mind, as does Seattle/New Orleans a few years ago.

Atlanta Falcons 24 San Francisco 49ers 23 Upset Pick +185

Pick against spread: Atlanta +5 (-110) 5 units