The Divisional Weekend of the NFL Playoffs is probably the biggest betting lock in football.
Home teams win in this round basically 75 per cent of the team, meaning the odds are that three of the four home teams, all of whom are favourites, will win. The key is picking which of the road dogs might win, and playing that against the spreads (remember that in general home-field advantage is worth about three points anyway).
The real focus is on Dallas at Green Bay, for a couple of reasons. It's an unusual meeting of a team unbeaten at home against a team unbeaten on the road, which ought to help reduce the advantage you'd naturally give the Packers. But more importantly, this is the first time these teams have met in the playoffs since the 1967 NFL championship (or what would today be the Conference championship), which of course was the infamous Ice Bowl.
The temperature was minus 15 Fahrenheit at kickoff, and by game's end they were saying the wind-chill was minus 47. Just so you know, I've walked through downtown Montreal on a day with a deeper wind chill than that, and it was not fun. To make things better, the undersoil heating system at Lambeau Field (hey, Premier League, this was 1967! They had undersoil heating!) froze. It may be because the Packers had bought it from a guy who was the nephew and namesake of Chicago Bears' owner/coach George Halas, and it was designed to fail, or it may be that Packers' coach Vince Lombardi turned it down, though I doubt the latter.
The cleared snow and frost on the grass froze immediately, above what was called the 'frozen tundra' on the day, and has remained a part of NFL Lore ever since. That meant the playing surface was hard as concrete and slippery as a skating rink. In the announce booth Frank Gifford told the audience he'd just 'taken a bite of my coffee'. On the field, the game's big play was a halfback option pass from Dallas' Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel, and Dallas sacked Packers' QB Bart Starr eight times. But in the last five minutes Starr engineered a 78 yard drive, completing five of five passes for 69 of the yards, and then on third and goal with just 16 seconds left, scored the winning TD on a quarterback sneak. Which was called as a fullback dive, but Starr always intended to keep the ball; fullback Chuck Mercein, surprised, went flying over him as he scored.
The Packers went on to win the second Super Bowl and cement their legacy of greatness. Dallas would eventually shed the label of chokers that the media now is back laying on Tony Romo. And the Cowboy who was double-team blocked out of the way for Starr's score, Jethro Pugh, died Thursday. I think he would've liked to see the Cowboys get revenge.
BEST BET & BEST VALUE BET: DENVER (-7.5 at 1.92) vs Indianapolis.
The Colts' need a huge game from Andrew Luck to win this, which is not impossible, but the Broncos' D is better than the Bengals' was last week, and the Broncos' offense, despite questions about Peyton Mannings' arm-strength this year, gets tight end Julius Thomas back healthy, which ought to stretch the Colts' D, which depends on scheming and some great play by their corners, to the limit. If you insist on Denver as a value bet, you might take Baltimore +7 at 1.83 at New England. The Ravens keep games tight and can win ugly, plus they have big-play capability. But that's why I like them better as...
OUTSIDE BET: BALTIMORE TO WIN (3.40) at New England.
I might look at Dallas - 3.15 - at Green Bay as another way, and use the two as a lay-off. I've picked all the homers this weekend to win straight up, but I see both the Ravens and Cowboys as having real chances to win, and I'd like the Cowboys with seven more than I do the Ravens with seven.
ONE TO AVOID: Carolina at Seattle.
The Seahawks ought to cover 10.5, but Carolina is a good defensive team and the Seahawks offense is prone to misfire, and not build to run away with games. The over/under is 39.5 here, so to make a 10.5 spread, you're probably looking at either challenging that spread, or Seattle's D completely shutting the Panthers down.
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