Dec 10, 2012; Foxborough, MA USA; New England Patriots offense lines up against the Houston Texans defense during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots, Broncos big favorites, NFC top seeds not so much

If the Houston Texans were to put any stock at all into the “Expert” predictions, they may as well save themselves the trouble of flying to Boston and just go ahead and hit the Bahamas.

The 9 1/2 point underdog tomato cans are getting zero love from the prognosticators, as the New England Patriots are the unanimous choice from the experts from major online sports sites to win their match up against the Texans on Sunday evening.  Straight up, and to cover.

That’s no love at all for the AFC South Champions.

Just five short weeks ago, the Texans marched into Foxboro with a full head of steam and a heart full of hate for a Monday Night showdown with the Patriots, and left Gillette Stadium with a rash of fresh bite marks, spilling blood into the water that marked a vulnerability that the Texans couldn’t escape -sloshing to a 1-3 finish and losing their #1 Seed to the Broncos, whom they had beaten earlier in the season, and losing a first round bye altogether to the Patriots on the head to head tiebreaker.

They limped through the Wildcard round against a Cincinnati team that would have won the game had Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton connected on his near misses and the Bengals braintrust not abandoned their running game.  Dalton’s inaccuracy and his receivers slippery fingers had more to do with Houston headed to Foxboro than the Texans did, though Houstons’ pass rush did give Dalton fits.

The other three games on Divisional Round weekend are a mixed bag.  Denver, Seattle and Green Bay are getting huge props as the majority of the experts have chosen them to advance to the Conference Championship round, but the field is by no means a collective mandate.

The Seattle Seahawks are the trendy – and trending – pick as their street thug defense and circus sideshow offense are being built up as a virtual Sherman’s Army, employing a scorched earth policy as part of an Atlanta Campaign – burning crops, consuming supplies, etc…the Atlanta Falcons will have something to say about that, but they have to be wondering why, as a #1 seed in the conference, they are receiving almost no respect from the odds makers.

Considering that home field accounts for a standard three points in projecting odds, the Falcons sit as just a 2 1/2 point favorite or, in other words, not really a favorite at all.

For an answer, all they have to do is look at their cupcake schedule.  The Falcons, as a result of playing in the NFC South, faced only 2 teams all year that eventually made the playoffs, beating both Denver in week 2 and Washington in week 5, and both by slender margins.

Their foes in that division, Tampa Bay, Carolina and New Orleans all represent the Falcons’ 3 losses…so the experts are looking towards Seattle as being more battle tested and big-game ready.

The Baltimore Ravens are receiving some sentimental support due to Ray Lewis and his impending retirement, but not much – especially since I may be the only writer in history to combine the word sentimental with the name Ray Lewis in the same sentence.

The meager amount of support that Baltimore is getting in the media reflects their overall chances of actually beating the Denver Broncos – but that sliver of hope for the Ravens would be an entire plank if Joe Flacco’s game were not so violently bi-polar…if he shows up with his A game – which he didn’t in the loss to the Broncos a few weeks back – the Ravens have a shot.

Most experts apparently don’t see that happening, but they do have the afore mentioned meagerness.

They also have the fact that Denver Quarterback Peyton Manning has a history of dropping the ball, metaphorically speaking, in post-season cold weather games – a combined 0-3 with 7 interceptions and just one touchdown pass when the temperatures dip below 40 degrees.

And, you guessed it, the temperature in Denver on Saturday will struggle to get out of the teens and Manning will be wearing a glove on his throwing hand, something that he has been experimenting with as he has admitted that the ball doesn’t feel the same in his hand after his neck injury.

The San Francisco 49ers are an enigma, and their win over the Patriots is a perfect example as to why.  In fact, the game against the Patriots, despite the 49ers coming out on top, ruined them.

Racing out to a 31-3 lead, the visiting 49ers relinquished 28 strait points in the space of 14 minutes on the rain soaked turf before barely pulling out the win…but in those 14 minutes was a season’s worth of intelligence on how to attack the 49ers defense, a blueprint if you will, and they haven’t been the same since.

Now they have to face a Green Bay Packers team that is motivated to do one thing:  Beat the living 12th Man out of a Seattle Seahawks team that they feel cheated them out of a road win earlier in the season.  Of course, the replacement Refs had a big hand in that decision – and it was that decision that ultimately had the regular Refs and NFL conceding every point of contention to each other in order to save the integrity of the officiating.

As a 3 1/2 point favorite, the odds makers are not very high on the 49ers coming out of this game with anything other than golf clubs – such is the value of motivation multiplied by dead reckoning.

So if the experts are correct, Championship Sunday will see the Seattle Seahawks visiting the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field for the NFC Title while the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots for the AFC Crown and a ticket to New Orleans.


Tags: Atlanta Falcons Baltimore Ravens Denver Broncos Green Bay Packers Houston Texans New England Patriots San Francisco 49ers Seattle Seahawks

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