NFL Divisional Round: Big guns arrive for Super Bowl 52 shootout

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Of the four Wildcard games that took place over Saturday and Sunday last weekend, it was the first two match-ups that provided shock results according to the bookmakers. Firm favourites, Kansas City blew a 21-3 lead at home to the Tennessee Titans, who scored 19 unanswered points to prevail 22-21.

The Atlanta Falcons, swaggered into the Super Bowl picture by dismantling the highly-touted Los Angeles Rams 26-13. The Falcons proved that postseason experience counts for plenty against the Rams, who were making their first playoff appearance in 13 years.

Sunday’s opening game saw the Jacksonville Jaguars overcome the Buffalo Bills in a defensive battle, by 10-3. A pair of field goals was the only offensive scoring in the first half, but Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles found second-string tight end, Ben Koyack late in the third quarter, which proved to be the decisive score.

The final offering of Wildcard weekend saw the Carolina Panthers fail in their comeback against the New Orleans Saints, 31-26. The Saints high-octane offense came to the fore as Carolina shut down the Saints’ running attack. Panthers QB, Cam Newton tried to mount a late charge for his team, but it was ultimately in vain.

This week sees the number one and two seeds from the AFC and NFC arrive into the postseason fight. Just eight teams now remain in the race for Super Bowl 52. Here we will look at the four games this weekend to try and point our readers towards some profitable selections.

NFC – Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles

Matt Ryan

Of the four games this weekend, this is the only contest that has the away team as the favourites with the bookmakers, and it is down to one key reason: quarterback. The Eagles claimed the number one seeding in the NFC with a 13-3 record, but star quarterback, Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14. Nick Foles will deputise for Wentz, but the drop-off in quality is likely to tell at this level.

The Falcons are the narrow favourites to advance to the NFC Championship game and can be backed at the best industry price of 67/100 with MarathonBet, while the Eagles can be taken at 7/5 with William Hill and Boylesports among others.

The Eagles on home soil will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack for the Falcons. Atlanta has one of the most destructive running games in the NFL, but Philadelphia has the second ranked defensive unit against the run. Ultimately, this game will come down to the ball in the hands of the respective quarterbacks – and in my opinion, Matt Ryan will get the job done for the Falcons in a tight contest.

Paddy Power’s offer of 2/1 on the Falcons winning by 1-10 points in the Winning Margin market is the bet here.

AFC – Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Tom Brady

Tennessee’s remarkable comeback in Kansas City last weekend will have boosted the Super Bowl belief of the Titans, but they face a daunting trip to New England on Saturday evening. Tennessee had to rally from the depths last week against the faltering Chiefs, but if Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady and his team has an 18-point lead over the Titans, it is nigh on impossible the Titans will comeback once more against the current Super Bowl champions.

From a handicap perspective, the Titans had an eight-point start against the Chiefs. Against the Patriots, the bookmakers are offering Tennessee with a 13-point lead at the generally available 10/11. The Patriots have injury concerns at running back in the build-up to this weekends’ game, but even if some of their backfield committee cannot suit-up for the Patriots, the Titans will have their hands full in stopping Brady and his quick release passing game.

I have thought long and hard over which side of the point spread is the best to be on, and I would slightly lean towards the Patriots, despite requiring to win the game by two touchdowns. However, what I consider to be more interesting is the offer of UNDER 47.5 total points to be scored at 11/13 with Unibet and 888sport. The Patriots will only be interested in winning – not covering any spreads, and can move on to the AFC Championship game with a routine victory here.

AFC – Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The early Sunday contest sees the Jaguars make the trip to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh after their narrow win over Buffalo last weekend. The Jaguars face a very difficult task in my opinion to advance to the Championship game for two key reasons: firstly, the weather conditions. Pittsburgh in January is a cold place, a whole world away from the balmy temperatures of the Florida peninsula. The early forecast is for a –7c (19f) temperature at around kick-off time – and that in itself is an advantage for the home side.

Secondly, if the Jaguars are to have any hopes of usurping the Steelers on their own patch, their offense must be more effective than last weekend. Ten points scored against Pittsburgh wouldn’t be enough to win half-of-a-game against the Steelers – who are a highly formidable offensive unit. The Jaguars have been mightily impressive on defense themselves this season – last week being a prime example, but my view is that Jacksonville will struggle in the cold conditions.

The point spread is the market of choice for my bet in this contest, with the 13/15 on offer with Unibet and 888sport for Pittsburgh to cover a –6.5 deficit. If the Steelers get in front early, it will be surprising to see them relinquish their lead.

NFC New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

This contest has similar storylines to the Jaguars / Steelers affair in the sense of an irresistible force up against an immovable object. The Saints have been in scintillating form offensively this season and that has culminated in New Orleans having the third-best offensive unit ranking-wise. What stands in their way on Sunday evening however, is the NFL’s number one ranked defense in Minnesota.

The Vikings will be desperate to reach the Super Bowl – especially considering it is in their home venue in early February, but sometimes things do not work out as hoped. Minnesota are the strong 1-2 favourites with Betfred and Stan James to prevail, while the Saints can be backed with 188BET at 57/29.

Vikings quarterback, Case Keenum has looked exemplary at times this season, but the playoffs is the real acid test. In Drew Brees, the Vikings will face a very stern test of their defensive credentials, and I just have a sneaky suspicion that the Saints can nick this one late in the contest at odds against.

Best Bets:

  • Atlanta to beat Philadelphia by 1-10 points at 2/1 in Winning Margin market with Paddy Power
  • Pittsburgh – 6.5 Point Spread market at 13/15 with Unibet
  • UNDER 47.5 points in New England/Tennessee game at 11/13 with 888sport
  • New Orleans to beat Minnesota at 57/29 with 188BET.