Betting against the spread continues to be an adventure in misery. Arizona, who struggled for so long, finally looked like they had a push for me until Aaron Rodgers decided he would turn into a human cannon again. The Broncos were going to squeak out a cover but then decided to allow Pittsburgh an easy drive for a field goal. At least Carolina managed to put away the Seahawks, but even that turned into something of a nail-biter. This week sees the top seeds in each Conference square off for the first time since 2004, which is rather amazing – incidentally New England were the road team and defending champs then as well… The teams are very well matched against each other with Denver’s excellent pass defense going against Tom Brady’s army of short completions and yards after the catch while the great coverage unit in Carolina gets to go against the vertical passing attack of Arizona. So let’s take a look at the lines and examine things a bit closer. As always the lines are from William Hill and the home teams are in capitals.
DENVER BRONCOS (+3.5) over New England Patriots
Fact: The Patriots haven’t won either of their last 2 trips to Denver. Fact: The only team Tom Brady has a losing record against is the Denver Broncos. Obviously those aren’t the only reasons I’m taking Denver this weekend but they make fairly compelling reading. While last Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh was an exhibition in awfulness I seriously doubt the Broncos will be that bad again on offense and they have the ability on defense to stifle New England. Their front seven should overwhelm the Patriots shaky offensive line against both run and pass, and they have the talent at corner to press and harass the Patriots receivers off the line of scrimmage. While the Patriots are much healthier than they were when they went to Denver during the regular season, and the weather shouldn’t be as bad, they lack the big play ability of Denver’s offense which is what I think will come back to haunt them. Obviously the story everywhere is about “Manning-Brady XVII” but really it’s about Brady against Wade Phillips and Manning against Matt Patricia. Phillips has had good success slowing Brady down before while Patricia is inexperienced in the chess game that is playing Peyton Manning, and the on-field general Jerod Mayo was just placed on IR. I think this will be a low scoring, tight affair and in those situations I want the home dog.
Arizona Cardinals (+3.5) over CAROLINA PANTHERS
Yep, I’m taking the points again. These two play terrific defense, particularly up front on the defensive line so both offenses should have trouble moving the ball, although they both have good deep ball threats in Ted Ginn Jr and John Brown. The question really is how Arizona’s defense handles Cam Newton’s running ability. They have good edge play but tend to be blitz-heavy and dependent on man coverage, that can hurt you against a good scrambler who is tough to bring down like Cam. They have experience against option football from years of dueling Russell Wilson but Newton is a bull who will run through you while Wilson is a chicken running away from Rocky. Honestly this game might come down to how healthy Carson Palmer’s thumb is. It was taped up on saturday against the Packers and was clearly affecting his throws. If he can’t be as accurate as he was during the regular season the game will swing Carolina’s way. Last Week: 1-3-0 (0-1-0) Playoffs: 4-4-0 (0-2-0) Regular Season: 130-117-9 (26-24-1)