Divisional Weekend picks

0 Comments 📁 Slider 🕔10.January 2015
Divisional Weekend picks

Panthers at Seahawks – under 40

This matchup pits an emerging Panthers defense vs. one in the Seahawks that is knocking on the door of history. While not on the level of the defending champs, Carolina’s D nonetheless deserves to be in the conversation of the league’s top units. The Panthers are fresh off a Wild Card win over the Cardinals in which their defense held Arizona to playoff records of 78 total yards and 1.7 yards per play. A pair of turnovers resulting in ensuing touchdown drives of 30 and 17 yards, plus an intentional safety at the end of the game, gave way to an otherwise unbelievable 16 points allowed on the final tally for Carolina. But even that number is rock solid, and continued a trend that has seen the Panthers hold seven straight opponents to fewer than 20 points. They’ve also had success against Seattle in the Russell Wilson era, allowing 16, 12 and 13 points in a trio of close defeats. Their trick has been two-fold. First, they’ve used their speed – particularly at linebacker – to keep Wilson from breaking big plays with his feet, holding him to 3.4 yards per carry – a far cry from his career mark of 6.1. Second, they’ve made the Seahawks settle for field goals, allowing a total of three touchdowns, two of which came as a result of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.

The caveat is those three games were all played in Carolina, and Seattle is a far more efficient offensive team at home. Given that, it’s reasonable to assume the Seahawks will be able to do what no team since the Eagles in Week 10 has accomplished against Carolina – crack the 20-point plateau – but the CenturyLink Field advantage applies to Seattle’s defense as well. For a unit that has yielded a total of 39 points during a six-game winning streak while holding five of those opponents to seven points or fewer, it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario in which the Panthers find the end zone more than once after essentially taking up residence in Arizona territory last week – seven of their 14 drives started between their own 41 and the Cardinals’ 3 – and only coming away with 27 points. Those opportunities will be vastly reduced vs. the Seahawks, and so too will the Panthers’ scoring output.

Correlated parlay – Cowboys (+6) at Packers and over 52

All eyes are on Aaron Rodgers entering this divisional showdown between two of the NFL’s most public teams. Rodgers will be playing the game with a slight tear in his left calf, an injury that is sure to hinder his mobility – much like it did in the second half of the Packers’ Week 17 win over the Lions – and therefore Green Bay’s prospects of advancing. It shouldn’t, however, prevent the Packers from moving the ball and putting up points against a Dallas defense that clamped down when it counted last week but still allowed 20 points to a middling Lions offense. In that Wild Card victory, the Cowboys surrendered 397 total yards, 5.9 yards per play and 6.8 yards per pass, but helped their cause by forcing three turnovers. That was pretty much the identity of this defense throughout the regular season. They racked up 31 takeaways, second in the NFL, but otherwise had trouble slowing opposing offenses. They allowed 4.2 yards per rush (17th), 10.9 yards per completion (17th) and 5.8 yards per play (26th). Moreover, they consistently struggled to execute in situational phases of the game, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 60.78 percent of their red-zone opportunities (27th) while putting together an opponents’ third-down conversion rate of 43.26 percent (26th). Against a Green Bay offense that turned the ball over a league-low 13 times and averaged a league-high 30.4 points per game (including 39.8 at home), the Cowboys figure to struggle even against a limited Rodgers.

So while that’s a case for the over, why is Dallas the right side? First, the Rodgers injury certainly cannot be discounted, which right away makes laying nearly a touchdown with Green Bay a dicey proposition. But almost as important – if not equally – is the success the Cowboys have enjoyed on the road this season. In nine games at home (including playoffs), the Cowboys are 5-4 straight up and 3-6 against the number, whereas in seven true road games (they played one road contest in London, which is technically a neutral field), they have gone 7-0 straight up and 6-1 ATS. That is a marked home/road dichotomy, and one that was further substantiated by last week’s straight-up win/ATS loss vs. the Lions.

For whatever reason, the Cowboys have habitually put their best foot forward on the road. That’s especially true for Tony Romo and the offense, which averaged just 24 points per game at home, and 34.4 on the road – a full five points better than any other team. Romo’s numbers on the road are staggering: 17 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 70 percent completion rate. Romo shouldn’t have to do it all by himself against the Packers, either. After mustering just 73 rushing yards and 3.5 per carry against the top-ranked Lions rushing defense, Demarco Murray and the Dallas ground game are going to find the sledding a lot easier against what is undeniably the weak link of the Green Bay defense – its ability to stop the run. The Packers allowed 4.3 yards per carry (22nd) and 7.2 rushing first downs per game (30th) during the regular season. Extrapolated a bit more, in their four losses and five wins by one score or less, the Packers allowed seven of those nine opponents to rush for at least 100 yards and three to rush for over 145 while surrendering more than 4.4 yards per tote. Things only expect to get tougher against Murray. Whether that’s enough for Dallas to pull the outright win remains to be seen. Rodgers’ ability to play through the pain at a high level for 60 minutes will likely be the determining factor, but either way this is shaping up as the first true shootout of these playoffs and a tight game that should come down to the final few possessions.

Playoff parlays: 0-1
Playoff picks: 1-2-1
Overall picks: 28-22-3

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