AFC Divisional Round
January 9, 2013
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Eight teams are left with a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in a few weeks and in the AFC the same four teams that were here a year ago are left. Granted a few things have changed, primarily with Peyton Manning leading the Broncos and not Tim Tebow, but Denver, New England, Baltimore and Houston were the final four last year and are again this season. The seeding is a bit different, but with both games this weekend being rematches from earlier this year; we can expect all four combatants will know their opponents extremely well.
Baltimore (+9) vs. Denver (-9); Total set at 46
These two met in Baltimore back in Week 15 and it was the Broncos who dominated from start to finish with a 34-17 win. However, those who watched this game remember that at the end of the first half, Baltimore was down 10-0 and drove the ball inside the 10. QB Joe Flacco threw an interception that DB Chris Harris took it all the way to the house to put Denver up 17-0 at the break. That 14-point swing basically sealed the deal for Denver as 14 of Baltimore's 17 points came during garbage time in the 4th quarter.
For Baltimore to have success in this game Flacco will have to avoid mistakes like that because Denver's 2nd ranked defense will tear the Ravens apart if he makes bad throws. The Broncos only allowed 18.1 points per game this year and were one of two teams in the entire league to keep opponents under 200 yards passing on average. They led the league in sacks with 52 and got 3 of those vs. Flacco last time out. Baltimore has been average away from home this year (4-4 SU) and really had a tough time scoring away from home. If they can't find a way to put up 20+ points on this Broncos team, chances are Ray Lewis' career will end this week and Baltimore will back to the drawing board for one more year.
Denver finished the year winning 11 straight games that started with their phenomenal 2nd half comeback @ San Diego. They were down 24-0 at the half in that game and rallied to win 35-24 in a season-changing win that they haven't looked back from. Only twice in that stretch did they fail to put up 30 or more points and they finished the year holding five of their last six opponents to 17 or less. However, only Baltimore finished with a winning record of those teams as Denver really benefitted from a very soft schedule down the stretch. Still, scoring that many points per game really puts the pressure on their opponents and even with the likes of Suggs and Lewis back for Baltimore's defense this time around, Manning and company should be able to put up at least 24 again. That has me believing that the first game of the Divisional round will be the first time in the 2012-13 playoffs that bettors can cash an "over" ticket.
Houston (+9) vs. New England (-9); Total set at 47.5
This is the final game of the weekend and Houston has to love the opportunity they have to redeem themselves after a brutal 42-14 loss in Foxboro in early December. The Texans didn't look overly impressing in beating the Bengals last week but their defense came around again and played like they had for the first few months of the season. Familiarity with knowing exactly how the Patriots would prefer to attack them this time around will help Houston slow down Tom Brady and Co.
But for Houston to move on, it will be all about their offense and if they can put up points and sustain long drives. The Pats aren't as invincible at home in the playoffs as they once were as teams like Baltimore have knocked them off in recent years by running the ball effectively and controlling the clock. Houston's Arian Foster is more than capable of doing that in this one but the Texans have to make a concerted effort to go to him early and often. They basically had to abandon the running game after falling behind 28-0 early in the 3rd last time around, so if they can get some early stops and have a couple of long drives with Foster running well, 9 points is way too many to give them in this spot.