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Kaepernick, Niners Underdogs vs. Chargers as NFL Preseason Concludes

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Colin Kaepernick, who has been the most talked about athlete in America after his sitdown protest during the national anthem, will be in at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers when the NFL preseason ends on Thursday.

From a talent standpoint, Week 4 is the least exciting stage of the preseason, as most teams will rest stars and take a last look at players on the bubble ahead of final cuts. The 49ers haven’t decided on a starting QB between Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, and have confirmed that Kaepernick will play in their game against the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers are listed as three-point favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with a total of 39 points. The 49ers are 6-4 both straight up and against the spread in their last 10 preseason games as road underdogs. Six of those games have gone under the posted total. San Diego, which will count on backup QB Kellen Clemens, is 4-0-1 ATS in its last five tuneup games at Qualcomm Stadium according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

With Tony Romo injured, the Dallas Cowboys have a dilemma over whether to risk injury with rookie QB Dak Prescott or get him more experience by playing on Thursday. The Cowboys are one-point underdogs against the Houston Texans, with a total of 39. Dallas already plans to sit out their entire offensive line. Houston has an all-time 5-3 ATS record in preseason games against the Cowboys. Dallas is 4-12 SU and 6-10 ATS in the preseason since 2013.

The Philadelphia Eagles are listed as four-point favorites against the New York Jets, with a total of 39. It appears unlikely that the Eagles will use rookie Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick, and might in fact sit every starter except LB Mychal Kendricks.

The Jets have not ruled out playing backup QB Geno Smith, a former starter who could be sought out by a team in need of a seasoned second-stringer. The Eagles are 6-1 SU and ATS since 2013 in the preseason. New York is 3-6 SU and 3-6 ATS on the road over the last five preseasons.

The New England Patriots-New York Giants matchup will mark the last time that Tom Brady can play before serving his four-game Deflategate suspension. Still, the Patriots, who are listed as 2.5-point underdogs, don’t need Brady to prove anything, and nor do the projected winners of the AFC East need to get temporary starter Jimmy Garoppolo injured.

New England is 3-7 SU and 3-5-2 ATS versus the Giants in their annual preseason meeting. Six of those games went under the posted total. The Giants have a seasoned backup QB, Ryan Nassib, and WR Victor Cruz will likely get a lot of run as he returns from the knee injury that has cost him the last two seasons.

Veteran backup Matt Schaub has had a strong preseason, and his – well, Matt Ryan’s – Atlanta Falcons are listed at 3.5-point favorites against the Jacksonville Jaguars for Thursday night. The total is 40. Atlanta is on a 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS run at home in the preseason. Over the last five preseasons, the Jaguars are 3-6 SU and 5-4 ATS while on the road

Sunday Divisional Round Matchups: Cowboys, Chiefs Both Favorites

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The dynamics for a team with a red-hot quarterback often change when they go on the road, which is why Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are a solid favorite against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Cowboys are listed as 4.5-point favorites against the Packers with a 51.5-point total, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Dallas is 7-0 straight-up and 5-2 against the spread in its last seven home games, but the fact that the Packers are 6-1 ATS in their last seven playoff games as a road underdog will no doubt give bettors pause.

The Packers, who are 11-6 SU and 9-7-1 ATS, need QB Aaron Rodgers to stay in peak form to have a shot at taking down Dallas, which does happen to be 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS in its last four divisional round games.

That doesn’t leave the Packers with much margin for error, especially since WR Jordy Nelson (ribs) may not play and the Cowboys will be able to pay more attention to WR Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Running the ball against OLB Sean Lee and Co. could also be tough for Green Bay.

The Cowboys, 13-3 SU and 10-5-1 ATS, have one of the NFL’s most balanced offenses outside of New England with the combo of Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. Provided LT Tryon Smith is healthy and handles OLB Clay Matthews, Dallas is capable of setting the pace. The Packers’ pass defense is spotty and as a team that is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games after bye weeks, Dallas surely will have used the extra prep time to develop schemes to use WR Dez Bryant (seven TD in his last nine games).

The total has gone over in five of the Packers’ last six games on the road, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

In Sunday’s other game, the Kansas City Chiefs are listed as the 1.5-point favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 44-point total.

The Steelers, 12-5 SU and 10-6-1 ATS, with QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, are experts in staying explosive even in the type of cold weather forecast for Kansas City on Sunday.

However, thanks to FS Eric Berry, the Chiefs excel at limiting long completions, and their defense, thanks to the return and/or emergence of DE Chris Jones, OLB Justin Houston and ILB Ramik Wilson, is much improved since that embarrassing defeat.

The Chiefs, 12-4 SU and 9-7 ATS, are the more likely team to come out ahead in the all-important turnover battle. Kansas City’s M.O. offensively is misdirection and the Steelers defense, which has had a steady diet of mediocre matchups over the last two months, are prone to missing tackles.

Having to account for speedster Tyreek Hill may create some big openings for RB Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Quarterback Alex Smith and his offensive line have also improved at providing ball security as the season has progressed.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 3-0 SU in divisional round games after a bye. The total has gone under in the Chiefs’ last six games after consecutive wins.

Last year all four home teams won in the divisional round. In the last three years the visiting team is 7-3-2 ATS in the divisional round.

Saturday Divisional Round Matchups: Falcons, Patriots set as Favorites

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Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons nearly won at Seattle during the regular season, which is partially why they are a significant favorite against the Seahawks this week despite a poor playoff track record.

The Falcons are listed as five-point favorites against the Seahawks and Russell Wilson, with a 51.5-point total in their NFC Divisional Round matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Atlanta, which had a bye last weekend, is 7-2 straight-up and 6-3 against the spread in games following a bye week during Ryan’s career. However, Atlanta is just 1-5 SU and 0-6 ATS in its last six playoff games according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Seahawks, who are 11-5-1 SU and 8-8-1 ATS, seemed to get their running game untracked during their wild card win against the Detroit Lions. Thomas Rawls figures to have an opportunity for a big day since the Falcons allow 4.5 yards per rush, the worst of any playoff team.

Wilson will not be facing an imposing pass rush, and Atlanta’s ability to cover WR Doug Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham could be affected without CB Desmond Trufant (chest). That said, Seattle has never won a playoff game on the road as the underdog, going 0-8 SU.

The Falcons, who are 11-5 SU and 10-6 ATS, may be capable of capitalizing on Seattle’s diminished deep pass coverage now that FS Steven Terrell is replacing injured All-Pro Earl Thomas. The Seahawks’ best chance of stopping Atlanta is through blitzing Ryan with DE Cliff Avril and MLB Bobby Wagner. Star WR Julio Jones will have a tough matchup against Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, but if Ryan has protection, there should be opportunities for playmakers such as RB Devonta Freeman and WR Taylor Gabriel.

The total has gone over in the Falcons’ last six games.

On Saturday night, the New England Patriots are 15-point betting favorites against the Houston Texans, with a 44.5-point total in the AFC Divisional Round matchup. The spread is the largest in the playoffs since 1998.

The Texans, who are 10-7 SU and 7-9-1 ATS, are going from facing Oakland Raiders rookie QB Connor Cook last week to facing Tom Brady in New England. The Texans rely on a  defense which has allowed the fewest yards in the league, with CB Johnathan Joseph and CB Kareem Jackson doing a stellar job of containing the short-range passes that are Brady’s specialty.

The Patriots, who are 14-2 SU and 13-3 ATS, already defeated Houston once this season, without Brady. New England, which is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against Houston, should be able to keep a run/pass balance thanks to RB LeGarrette Blount. Houston has struggled at covering running backs on pass plays and Brady, with Dion Lewis and James White, should be able to exploit that weakness.

The total has gone over in six of the last eight games between the Texans and the Patriots. In the last two years the favored team is 2-4-2 ATS in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Last year all four home teams won in the Divisional Round.