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.

O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing draws ‘hundreds of letters’ regarding case

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O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing in Nevada on Thursday drew nationwide attention, and the Board of Parole Commissioners demonstrated that by showing the “hundreds of letters of support and opposition” for Simpson.

The commissioner noted that a majority of the opposition letters asked the board to consider Simpson’s 1995 acquittal in the murder case of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman and the subsequent civil case that ordered Simpson to pay $25 million to the victims’ families. But the letters were not considered in the case, in which the board paroled the former football star after he was sentenced to nine years in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping in 2007 when he attempted to retrieve memorabilia that he claimed belonged to him.

The commissioner displayed what appeared to be five stacks of letters and said that the board “always encourages public opinion.” The parole hearing received widespread public attention, broadcast live nationally and drawing hundreds of reporters.

Simpson could be released as early as October.

Parole commissioner makes awkward-yet-hilarious slip up in O.J. Simpson’s hearing

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O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing Thursday captured moments of remorse and regret from the former Heisman running back but also a moment that was awkward, embarrassing and, frankly, comedic.

When the chairman of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, Connie Bisbee, was verifying Simpson’s information, she made an unfortunate slip.

“We have that you are currently — well very recently you turned 90 years old,” Bisbee said to Simpson. After she realized she added a full 20 years to the 70-year-old Simpson’s actual age, Bisbee quickly apologized and corrected herself.

Laughing, Simpson responded “I feel like it, though.” The courtroom burst out laughing in a short moment of comedic relief.

It was announced shortly after the hearing that Simpson’s parole had been granted. Simpson is on track to be a freed man this year.