Each week we take a look at some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL in order to find hidden betting value. Here are four mismatches you may not have considered when capping the NFL Conference Championship games:
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (+3.5, 49)
Niners’ TE Vernon Davis vs. Falcons’ weakness to TEs
Everyone is pointing to the Falcons’ issues stopping the run this weekend but 49ers TE Vernon Davis could be the real killer. As pointed out by Mark Sandritter of The Falcoholic, Atlanta has struggled against tight ends this season. According to Sandritter, opposing tight ends averaged 85.7 yards in the Falcons’ three losses this season.
Seahawks TE Zach Miller finished with 142 yards and a TD versus the Falcons last week, and Saints athletic TE Jimmy Graham punished Atlanta for 146 yards and two scores in Week 10. Davis has been quiet since Week 11 but is one of the physically dominant TEs in the NFL and has shown up in the big games.
Falcons K Matt Bryant vs. Niners K David Akers
Matt Bryant is quickly becoming “the” clutch kicker in the NFL. His 49-yard field goal in the dying seconds of last weekend’s Divisional Round game resurrected Atlanta’s Super Bowl hopes after an embarrassing fourth-quarter collapse. Bryant has won five games for the Falcons in the fourth quarter over the past three seasons – more than any other kicker in the league.
David Akers entered the postseason not knowing if he would be the Niners’ kicker for the playoffs following a dismal regular season in which he connected on just 29 of his 42 field-goal attempts. San Francisco is sticking it out with Akers, who was called into duty once – a 36-yard FG – last weekend. The 49ers could find themselves going for it on fourth down rather than turning to the erratic Akers.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-9.5, 51)
Ravens’ passive possessions vs. Patriots’ clock-eating ability
We looked at a similar mismatch last week for the Ravens versus the Broncos, and Baltimore – despite winning – lost the time of possession battle 40:06 to 36:36 and held on to the ball for only 26:24 in regulation before hogging it in the two overtime periods. The Ravens rank 30th in the league in average TOP (27:38) and lost the TOP battle with the Pats in their Week 3 meeting, 31:03 to 28:57.
New England is 12th in the NFL in average TOP, holding on to the ball 30:33 per game despite running a no-huddle attack. The Patriots’ dink-and-dump offense can chew clock like a cheap steak if they want and will likely try to wear down an aging Ravens defensive corps playing its third postseason game. The emergence of the rushing attack will also help New England control the pace of the game.
Ravens’ emotion vs. Patriots’ lack of intimidation
The Patriots win most games before they even hit the field. New England has a psychological edge over the majority of opponents, especially when inside the chilly confines of Gillette Stadium. However, that leg-up doesn’t work with the Ravens, who fear no team – especially during Ray Lewis’ swan song.
Not only is Baltimore eating up the emotional push from their captain but they also ride a huge wave of momentum after stealing a win in double overtime from Peyton Manning and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. On top of that, the Ravens proved they could beat the Patriots in Week 3 and still want revenge for last year’s AFC Championship loss to New England. The Patriots had won 11 straight home playoff games before losing to the Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Round in 2009.