There’s a sense of familiarity in the NFL Divisional Round, with three of the four playoff matchups having already taken place during the regular season.
We talk to some of Covers Experts’ sharpest minds to see what bettors should take away from those recent meetings and what they should leave behind when preparing to bet this weekend’s postseason games.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-9.5, 46)
Recent meeting: Denver won 34-17 as a 3-point road favorite in Week 15
What to take: Broncos’ success running the ball
Denver totaled 163 yards on 45 carries in that Week 15 meeting, the bulk of those touches going to RB Knowshon Moreno. He rumbled for 118 yards on 18 attempts and has been a steady threat on the ground since returning from injury in Week 12. Baltimore was bullied for 152 yards on the ground and lost the time of possession battle – 37:32 to 22:28 – in last weekend’s win over Indianapolis.
“Knowshon Moreno averaged 5.5 yards per attempt,” says Covers Expert Jesse Schule. “Look for that trend to continue this weekend, as Baltimore doesn't look great defending the run.”
What to leave: Flacco’s poor performance
Ravens QB Joe Flacco struggled out of the gate with the offense going three-and-out in its first five drives in Week 15. Flacco threw an interception at the end of the second quarter that was returned 98 yards for a score, turning a possible 10-7 outcome into a 17-point halftime hole. He finished the game with a dismal 0.4 QB rating. However, Flacco has played his best ball in the postseason, like last weekend’s 282-yard, two-TD performance versus the Colts.
“Given Flacco’s outstanding postseason track record, I’d have to expect that rating to improve significantly here,” says Covers Expert Teddy Covers.
Covers Expert Steve Merril also mentions that the Week 15 game came on the heels of the firing of Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, leaving then-QB coach Jim Caldwell to call the plays versus the Broncos' stingy defense.
"Difficult spot and it showed," says Merril.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 44.5)
Recent meeting: San Francisco won 30-22 as a 6-point road underdog in Week 1
What to take: QB pressure
Both teams love to pressure the quarterback but both also give up quite a few sacks. Green Bay and San Francisco combined for seven sacks in their Week 1 meeting. While the Packers ranked fourth with 47 sacks of their own, they also allowed Aaron Rodgers to go down 51 times – second most in the league. San Francisco finished with 38 sacks but allowed opponents to sack its QBs 41 times – ninth most in the NFL.
“The one thing we can take from the game is the pressure applied to the quarterback,” says Covers Expert Matt Fargo. “The Packers were sacked three times while San Francisco was sacked four times and that carried on throughout the season.”
What to leave: Packers’ poor running game
Green Bay ran the ball only 14 times during Week 1’s contest with San Francisco, totaling 45 yards on those limited efforts. The Packers’ RB depth chart was shallow with Cedric Benson rushing for 18 yards on nine carries and the rest of those gains coming from a scrambling Rodgers, who tacked on 27 yards on five attempts. Green Bay’s ground game has come a long way since the season opener. It rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries in Week 17 and ran the ball 31 times for 76 yards in last weekend’s Wild Card win.
“Green Bay showed a renewed commitment to its ground game in last week's win over the Vikings, and I don't think the Pack want to bomb away with Rodgers the way they did in their first meeting with the Niners,” says Covers Expert Sean Murphy.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-9.5, 47.5)
Recent meeting: New England won 42-14 as a 5.5-point home favorite in Week 14
What to take: Brady’s big day
No matter how good your defense can be, Brady will break you. The Patriots' stud QB did just that versus Houston in Week 14, passing for 296 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout win. The Texans defense was able to contain a second-year passer in Andy Dalton last week, limiting Cincinnati to 127 yards on 14-for-30 passing with one interception. But we’re talking ‘bout Tommy here.
“When he’s on, he’s tough to beat,” Fargo says of Brady. “It was one of nine games this season that he had a passer rating of 100 or better and the playoffs are usually his time to shine.”
What to leave: Foster’s limited load
Texans star RB Arian Foster touched the ball just 15 times for 46 yards and a score in that Week 14 loss on Monday Night Football. With Houston playing from behind, the offensive shifted to the passing game. Foster had a monster day versus the Bengals, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown, and is Houston’s rock with QB Matt Schaub running out of steam down the stretch. Schaub has just one TD pass to five interceptions in his last four outings, so prepare for a big day from No. 23.
“Gary Kubiak has his share of critics, but he's not a dumb coach,” says Murphy. “He knows he can't have a struggling Matt Schaub dropping back and throwing the football 30-plus times if the Texans are going to win this game.”