Each week, Jason Logan breaks down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches for the NFL Divisional Round:
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (-8, 46.5)
Saints’ commitment to run vs. Seahawks’ rushing defense
The Saints got the road-woe monkey off their backs with a win at Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round, thanks in part to their commitment to the running game. New Orleans, despite missing RB Pierre Thomas, handed the ball off 36 times to Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Darren Sproles, marching for 185 yards on the ground. That cut down on turnovers and chewed up 34:53 worth of clock, keeping the Eagles’ explosive offense off the field.
The Seahawks' stingy defense is a much tougher test than Philadelphia’s porous stop unit. But, if Seattle does have one weakness, it’s against the run. The Seahawks were pushed around by opposing rushing attacks in their three losses this season. They allowed the Colts to put up 109 rushing yards and a score, watched San Francisco rumble for 163 yards, and gave up 139 yards rushing in the loss to Arizona. The Saints fell behind quickly in their Week 13 loss to Seattle and ran the ball just 17 times, so it won’t be hard to improve on those numbers.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-7.5, 51.5)
Colts’ comebacks vs. Patriots’ fourth quarter defense
The Colts are becoming as predictable as a Rocky movie. Scene 1: Indianapolis gets its head beat in for two quarters. Scene 2: Bell rings for halftime, head coach Chuck Pagano does his best Mickey impersonation before a pump-up montage to awesome 80’s cock rock. Scene 3: Colts come out swinging and rip victory from the clutches of defeat. Cue credits and Survivor. Indianapolis did just that versus Kansas City Saturday, scoring 35 points in the second half. That’s kind of been the calling card of the Andrew Luck era in Indy.
The Patriots enjoyed a bye week and hopefully figured out a way to get through the fourth quarter without needing a pile of points. New England’s offense has masked a serious issue, with the defense unable to close out games by itself. The Pats have given up 31 total points in the final frame over their last three outings – offsetting that by answering with 49 points of their own. However, those fourth-quarter lapses could come back to bite New England hard if the Colts get on the comeback trail.
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers (Pick, 41)
Niners’ momentum vs. Panthers’ bye week blues
As past playoff pushes have shown us, it’s the hot team – not the higher seed – that has the edge. And no team in football is hotter than the 49ers. Not even the icy temps at Lambeau Field could slow down San Francisco, which has won seven in a row (4-3 ATS). The 49ers are coming off a massive victory over Green Bay on a last-second field goal and are out to avenge a loss to Carolina earlier this season.
The Panthers built up a lot of momentum in the final weeks of the season, winning three straight and 11 of their final 12 games to grab the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. But many are asking if Carolina has peaked and whether taking a week off will cool the Panthers’ play. Carolina is no fan of the bye week – playoff or regular season. The Panthers are 0-3 SU and ATS coming off the bye week under coach Ron Rivera and were knocked out of the playoffs in 2008 after a 12-4 season earned them a first-round break, losing 33-13 as 9.5-point favorites to Arizona in the Divisional Round.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-10, 54)
Chargers’ third-down success vs. Broncos’ third-down defense
The Bolts have already laid the blueprint for beating the Broncos, knocking off Denver 27-20 as 10-point road underdogs in Week 15. San Diego controlled the tempo and dominated time of possession in that game, burning up 38:49 to Denver’s 21:11. A big part of that win – and the Chargers’ overall success – is the team’s ability to keep the chains moving on third down. San Diego ranks tops in the NFL in third-down conversion rate, picking up the first 48.17 percent of the time, and went 6 for 12 on third downs in the win over Denver.
The Broncos defense has been the elephant in the room all season. Denver’s stop unit has been burned for big numbers and is missing one of its key cogs in LB Von Miller, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Broncos were in the middle of the road in terms of third-down defense, limiting opponents to a 38.07 conversion percentage (16th), but can’t afford to keep the Bolts on the field Sunday. San Diego did a great job holding on to the ball and removing Peyton Manning and the Denver offense from the equation in Week 15.