Prescott, Cowboys touchdown favorite against Bucs for Sunday night

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A touchdown spread seems a trifle high since the Dallas Cowboys seem to be cooling off and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the hottest defense in the NFL.

The Cowboys are listed as seven-point favorites against the Buccaneers with a 46.5-point total for Sunday Night Football at sportsbooks monitored by the OddsShark.com. Dallas has not covered in any of its last three games, two of which were away from AT&T Stadium.

However, the Cowboys are 18-6 straight-up in their last 24 home games after consecutive road games.

The host Cowboys, who are 11-2 SU and 9-3-1 ATS, will likely try to set the tone for the night by relying on NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott to carry them while running behind the likes of RG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick and LT Tryon Smith. Tampa Bay is below-average at stopping the run, allowing 4.3 yards per attempt.

The passing phase could be problematic for Dallas. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has struggled of late, but conversely Tampa Bay leads the NFL in opponents’ quarterback rating since Week 10 and has a strong pass rush led by DE Robert Ayers.

The Buccaneers can match up a strong set of cornerbacks, Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, against WR Dez Bryant and WR Terrance Williams. They had three interceptions last week against New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who has been in the NFL since Prescott was in elementary school.

The Buccaneers are 8-5 SU and 8-5 ATS thanks to their five-game win streak. Quarterback Jameis Winston, WR Mike Evans and TE Cameron Brate have helped Tampa Bay make a vast improvement in the passing phase, which made a difference during their recent statement wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks.

Winston should be able to keep the first-down chains moving on Sunday, but how many points Tampa Bay puts up might vary depending on whether Dallas (five interceptions, 31st in the NFL) continues to struggle at causing turnovers and how well the Buccaneers do in the red zone.

Tampa Bay has the lowest yards per rush (3.5) of any team with at least 340 attempts, so Cowboys OLB Sean Lee should have plenty of chances to make big hits. The Buccaneers won’t win many games on the margin of their running game, but they certainly aren’t going to junk it and leave Winston in a one-dimensional scheme that’s easy to defend.

The total has gone over on the NFL betting lines at the sportsbooks in six of the Buccaneers’ last seven games at night.

Packers underdogs against the Falcons in NFC Championship game

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The best defense is an unstoppable offense, and Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons simply haven’t been stopped when they are a healthy favorite.

The Falcons are listed as five-point favorites against red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers with an eye-popping 60-point total on the NFL lines for the NFC Championship Game at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

It is the sixth time this season the Falcons have given between 3.5 and 6.0 points, and while they are 3-2 straight-up and against the spread in that scenario they scored at least 28 points every time.

While the Falcons have to turn around some negative trends – such as 1-6 SU in their last seven games against the NFC North, according to the OddsShark NFL Database – it’s doubtful any collapse would be attributable to their offense.

The Packers, who are 12-6 SU and 10-7-1 ATS, have relied on Rodgers and his stellar pass protection to shred opposing defenses during their eight-win streak. It seems the only way to contain Rodgers is to blitz him. Although OLB Vic Beasley had 15.5 sacks in the regular season, the Falcons play straight defense more frequently than the NFL average.

It’s possible the Packers could repeat the scenario of recent weeks, with Rodgers getting scads of time to wait for a receiver to get open. That is contingent on the health of those receivers. Leading receiver Jordy Nelson (ribs) is a remote shot to play while Davante Adams (ankle), Geronimo Allison (leg), Jeff Janis (quadriceps) are each banged up.

Both RB Ty Montgomery and TE Jared Cook have become reliable cogs for the Packers since their loss to the Falcons last week. Atlanta does not have an overly strong run defense.

The Falcons, who are 12-5 SU and 11-6 ATS, do have to be concerned with how many snaps WR Julio Jones (toe) will be able to play on Sunday. The true linchpins in Atlanta’s attack, though, are RB Tevin Coleman and RB Devonta Freeman, whose versatility as ball carriers and receivers has to be accounted for at all times.

The Falcons are very physical in the rushing phase and it will be interesting to see whether the Packers are up to it after so many do-or-done games, including last week’s instant classic against Dallas where they gave up 125 yards to the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.

Jones, WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Mohamed Sanu are facing a Packers pass defense that has struggled all season. Green Bay was among the NFL leaders in sacks, but the Falcons’ continuity along the offensive line (all five starters have been intact all season) should help them with making adjustments.

The favored team is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in the last three years in conference championship games.  The total has gone over in seven of the last 10 conference championship games.

Brady, Patriots betting favorites hosting Steelers in AFC Championship game

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The feeling that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have one creaky effort out of their system spurs the idea they can continue to be nearly automatic at home. The Patriots are listed as 5.5-point betting favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 50.5-point total for the AFC Championship Game, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Not only has New England long enjoyed the upper hand against the Steelers – 10-3-1 against the spread in their last 14 matchups – but they are also 9-2 ATS on the NFL betting lines in their last 11 home games at Gillette Stadium and 8-1 SU in their last nine home games against teams with winning records.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who are 13-5 SU and 11-6-1 ATS, are on a nine-win streak thanks to building their offense around shifty and tireless RB Le’Veon Bell. New England’s run defense is far stronger than what Pittsburgh has seen so far in the playoffs, but it’s doubtful Bell’s production will completely dry up since the Patriots are too smart to over-commit to stopping him.

While WR Antonio Brown can be nightmarish to cover, the Steelers’ lack of receiving threats beyond him might make it tough for Roethlisberger to pick apart the Patriots’ pass defense, although his offensive line should be able to give him time to throw.

Having success as an underdog in January is not a role in which the Steelers historically thrive; they are 3-10 SU in their last 13 playoff games as an underdog according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Patriots, who are 15-2 SU and 11-6 ATS, have only been stopped this season when Brady and the offense encounter a dominant pass rush. After a slow start in that phase, Pittsburgh has improved immensely due to the trio of OLB Bud Dupree, ageless OLB James Harrison and DE Stephon Tuitt, who will have to get by the strong pass protection of Patriots RT Marcus Cannon and LT Nate Solder.

The Steelers pass defenders have occasionally been beaten deep. Among the Patriots’ speed receivers, Chris Hogan (thigh) seems more likely to be 100 percent than Malcolm Mitchell (knee). Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman also offer the potential to spread the Steelers thin.

New England, the Super Bowl 51 betting favorites, used leading rusher LeGarrette Blount sparingly in the Divisional Round, which could have been a factor in the Patriots’ offense being sporadic. Blount has had a full week of practice this time.

The visiting team is 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS in the last three years in conference championship games. The total has gone under in the Patriots’ last six AFC Championship Game matchups. The total has gone under in nine of the Steelers’ last 11 games as an underdog.