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.

Pederson remembers coaching start before Super Bowl

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Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson hasn’t forgotten where his journey began: High school.

Following his playing career with the Dolphins, Packers, Browns and Eagles, Pederson bypassed professional coaching jobs. Instead, he joined Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, L.A., and quickly added an NFL-caliber playbook to the second-year program.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

This is where he learned that he loved to coach the game. He embraced his role at the school, where he would help in the cafeteria and line the field before games. “I just enjoyed that part of it,” he says. Ten seasons later, he will coach on the biggest stage in the world.

Super Bowl LII Prop Bets

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Oddsmakers have Super Bowl LII covered from every angle, and that includes the halftime show. There is all manner of betting speculation around Justin Timberlake being the featured halftime show performer, 14 years after the infamous “Nipplegate” incident with Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XVIII.

With the game in Minneapolis, hometown of Prince, it seems obvious that JT will cover a song by the Twin Cities’ favorite son, which pays out at -140 on the Super Bowl LII props at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The total on Janet Jackson references is 1.5, with the over at even money; it’s hard to think Al Michaels could resist one mention.

The Philadelphia Eagles, with Nick Foles, are the first team in 27 years to reach the Super Bowl after losing their starting quarterback in December. It’s -150 on injured Carson Wentz being mentioned more than 3.5 times.

But oddsmakers also clearly expect the announcers to build a storyline around the New England Patriots, as it’s -130 for separate props on whether owner Robert Kraft or coach Bill Belichick will be mentioned or shown on-screen before their Eagles counterparts, Jeff Lurie and Doug Pederson respectively. Belichick is -125 to wear a blue shirt at kickoff time, since he wore that color during New England’s past two Super Bowl shows.

More than half of Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks and Tom Brady is a -110 favorite while Nick Foles comes back at +350. It would probably take something on order of a three-touchdown day to wrest the honor from the winning QB, so both the Patriots’ Dion Lewis (+1800) and Eagles’ Jay Ajayi (+1800) are worthy darkhorse picks.

History is not on the side of Rob Gronkowski (+900) since a tight end has never been the game MVP, but Gronk does offer immense value at +400 to score the first Patriots touchdown.

It is +300 on any quarterback passing for 400 or more yards. The strength of the Eagles defense and the run-pass balance of Philadelphia’s offense makes that result look far-fetched.

There was no Gatorade bath for Belichick after Super Bowl LI, which the Patriots won in overtime, but he was doused with orange Gatorade after Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. It is +225 that the liquid poured on the winning coach will be either green, lime or yellow, with +250 for orange, +275 for red and +275 for clear/water.

Clear and orange have been the result four times apiece in the last 15 occurrences and red has not come up. Purple (+1000) has also been used four of the last 15 times and it would be ironic if it happens again, since that is the color of the host Vikings.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.