So for the first time since 2004 we have all four of the top seeds in the Conference Championship games, and the lines are very similar: giving the Broncos 2.5 at home against New England, and the Cardinals 2.5 on the road in Carolina.
You may have seen how the Steelers tired in the fourth quarter as Denver pounded in a touchdown after the game's only turnover went their way: Mile High may be the biggest home-field advantage in American sport, and with all the hype around the 17th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, as if quarterbacks were all that mattered, it should be noted that this is also their fifth meeting in the playoffs, and the previous four have all gone to the home team, whoops, I mean quarterback. And Tom Brady is 2-6 in Denver for his career. And the temperature will be above 40 degrees F, the point at which the lubricants freeze in Peyton's neck, back, shoulder and arm.
Meanwhile, the Panthers face another team just in from the coast (you noticed how sluggish Seattle looked last week in the first half) and it should be very cold after the massive snowfall predicted starting tonight blows through. My biggest worry here is the weakness of the Panthers' secondary, which Arizona is in better position to exploit than Seattle was, and it leads me to think both these games will register points, despite some good defenses (including the league's best in Denver) on display.
By the way, if you haven't noticed, Unibet has come on board with the podcast I do, Americarnage, and if you go check it out at americarnage.co.uk you'll see they have a special offer for new subscribers who come via Americarnage. Plus we're making a bet for charity each week, and you'll find that one below (it's an outside bet!)
BEST BET: OVER 44.5 NEW ENGLAND at DENVER: Pressure is the key to the Broncos' pass defense, and their pressure relies on quality edge-rushers protected by very good man-covering corners. Even if Chris Harris weren't to play (I firmly think he will) Bradley Roby would be a starter on most teams. But Brady copes pretty well with edge rush; it's coming up the middle that bothers him because it takes his eyes off downfield. The Broncos have already been lobbying the league for penalties against Gronk for pushing off, but I suspect the Pats find ways to get him the ball, and I suspect further they run the ball if the Broncos dare them to. Either way, Denver will get theirs, especially in the second half, so 45 seems a reasonable target.
VALUE BET: DENVER +2.5 AT 2.12 vs New England: I've picked the Pats straight up, but I believe it will be close, and I can see multiple scenarios where they lose. In fact, I was shocked the bookies picked them as favourites, though I can see where it generates more play. Giving Denver points at home, if you think they're good enough to win, and that it will be a close one, seems worth the play.
OUTSIDE BET: OWEN DANIELS TO SCORE A TD at 4.00: The Broncos haven't used their tight ends as much as you'd like this season, but Gary Kubiak takes Daniels with him from team to team like a lucky talisman, and Manning is one of the best at checking down to options. It's extremely likely to me that the Pats get spread out in the red zone and Daniels sneaks himself a TD. He's at 19.00 to get the first one, which is tempting.
THE AMERICARNAGE CHARITY BET is also an outside bet: DAVID JOHNSON UNDER 60.5 YARDS RUSHING AT 1.90: I see the Cardinals sharing the carries out more, and looking to David Johnson, someone I loved coming out of college and flagged as a potential draft steal, more as a receiver out of the backfield. Johnson does have the potential to break a big carry, but I see the Cards looking more to the air this week.