NFL Betting: Ravens to keep it tight against New England

The two conference championship games ought to simplify your betting prospects, but as you might expect, the permutations are endless. In the wildcard weekend all four games went under the over/under, which was somewhat predictable, and last week in the divisional round all four games went over, which wasn't. The Harbaugh brothers each find themselves one game away from a Super Bowl match-up. Jim, the San Francisco coach, leads his team into Atlanta as favourites, despite Atlanta having the better record, and the time-zone factor which saw Seattle take more than half of their game in the Bubba (sorry, Georgia) Dome to wake up. They pose many of the same questions of the Falcons that the Seahawks did, with Colin Kaepernick playing the Russell Wilson role and Frank Gore much fitter than Marshawn Lynch was. Their defence will also be tougher, as the Seahawks were without Chris Clemons, and the Niners' Justin Smith is getting fitter every week.

John Harbaugh, who came to Baltimore from a post as special teams coach in Philadelphia, saw his special teams hand Denver two touchdowns on kick returns. But the Ravens still won, behind the long-bomb passing of Joe Flacco and some very hard-hitting defence. They may have been helped by the fact that Peyton Manning did not appear able to throw the longer passes himself, and Denver's best running back, Knowshon Moreno(who was already an injury replacement for Willis McGahee), went out injured. The Patriots lost Rob Gronkowksi and Danny Woodhead to injury in the early moments of their game against Houston; Gronk is out for the year but Woodhead is likely to be back. They've played most of the year without a fully-fit Gronk, so they should be able to cope. The Pats are solid favourites at home, but, as we shall see, that may be optimistic.

Sure thing: New England v Baltimore (+8) at 1.87

Nothing from these two match-ups is sure, but I can't see either team running away with this game; the Ravens' D is too good to let the Pats get far ahead and their offence will get conservative if they hold the lead. In fact, I'm surprised about that spread, because even one touchdown seems generous given that the Ravens beat New England this year, should've beat them in the playoffs in Foxborough last season, and ran all over them not so long ago. It's a young Patriots team, and they could be vulnerable to the very physical Ravens, led by Ray Lewis at his most inspirational.

Value bet: Over 24.5 points at half-time in Atlanta v San Francisco at 2.00

This sets you up for a 14-14, 14-13 type score line, which I think is pretty reasonable, especially if you think of this as another long odds, short wager bet. Of course 14-10 kills you, but I see some points coming on the board before the teams adjust.

Outside bet: Atlanta (+3.5) v San Francisco at 1.95

The Niners aren't really built to run away from people, and Atlanta, like Green Bay last week, have the offensive weapons to keep it close. The difference may be that the Falcons can also play enough defence to hold the Niners' scoring down. The Packers seemed to approach Kaepernick without any special game-planning last week, but I'd expect the Falcons to spy him, with Kroy Bierman or maybe even Stephen Nicholas. Either way, this may seem strange having taken the half-time over, but I'm seeing turnovers in their futures too.

One to avoid: Over/under 51 points in New England v Baltimore

If you asked me to pick a score for the Pats-Ravens game, I'd probably say 27-24 and look where that gets you. Based on last week's action, and their first meeting, the over may look tempting, but I would worry about reversion to the Raven norm, and a 21-17 type scoreline. Check the conditions; if the weather is as kind as it was last week, you might like the over, but if it's what you'd expect from nightime in Boston in January, beware.

Click here to bet on the NFL conference championship games.