Last weekend all four away teams won their wild card games, something that had never happened before. This week, the advantage turns to the home teams. They are, by definition, the 'better' ones (at least if you believe you are what your record says you are). They are playing at home, with the advantage that provides (exaggerated if you get wintry weather in New England or Denver, and always exaggerated by the altitude in Denver), and they are playing with a week's rest. Now that isn't always as much of an advantage as you'd think, as teams coming off the bye sometimes seem to have accumulated cobwebs, and some of the road warriors from last week will be feeling the confidence boost of 'momentum' whatever that is. (I'm convinced that most of what we call momentum is really based on outcome bias: it's momentum because something good has happened; the thing that happened didn't happen because of momentum.
I've picked all four home teams straight up this week, though I don't think lightning strikes twice. Call it momentum...
BEST BET: ARIZONA (-6.5 AT 1.87) VS GREEN BAY: This is the only game where you look at the rosters and say one team is definitely better than the other. Forget the 38-8 drubbing the Cards gave the Pack a few weeks ago; turnovers gave Arizona 14 points, and Green Bay playing catchup with Don Barclay at left tackle was always going to be a disaster. It will be closer, especially if the Pack's line can help establish the run and get a little bit of defensive hesitation from the Packers linebackers to let Aaron Rodgers manufacture some points out of nothing. But those points literally must come out of nothing most of the time; they are as dependent on Rodgers creating points in break down as the Seahawks or Panthers are with Wilson or Newton. The biggest thing leaning me to Arizona is the simple fact they aren't Washington: they're much better defensively and they don't require scheming to make their offense work: Carson Palmer will stand in against rush and his multiple receiving threats will stretch the Packers secondary. One touchdown seems a reasonable margin to hope for here.
OUTSIDE BET: SEATTLE AT CAROLINA OVER (43.5 AT 1.88): Sometimes when two top defenses meet, the offenses make a few plays, and sometimes the defenses do. Sometimes both happen at the same time. In any scenario, I see this one being closer to the 27-23 result in Seattle this season than the series of 16-12, 12-7, and 13-9 games (see below). I think there will be some points scored here, in better weather conditions than Seattle faced last week, and that will be a way to cover yourself in the toughest of the weekend's matches to pick straight up.
VALUE BET: CAROLINA (-1.5 AT 1.96) VS SEATTLE (+1.5 AT 1.88) : This is the bet if you don't believe in momentum. The teams have met five times with Russell Wilson and Cam Newton at QB, and apart from last year's playoff matchup in Seattle, they have all been four or five point margins (and Carolina's win this season in Seattle was Cam's first). The Vikings shut Seattle down last week, and Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same, though they're less dependent on pressure, and that is the weak point, as long as you keep Wilson in the pocket. Carolina's receivers will be severely challenged to beat Seattle's secondary, and the wild card factor here is the return of running backs Marshawn Lynch for Seattle and Jonathan Stewart for Carolina.