Wildcard weekend is upon us, and this is truly one of the best weekends of football the entire season. Every team in the playoffs believes that they can be the ones to make the run to the Super Bowl, despite their regular season record or seeding. Teams like the Chiefs and Seahawks will refer back to the Cardinals run from two years ago, or the Jets foray deep into the playoffs last year as an indication that anything can happen. Meanwhile, playoff stalwarts like the Ravens and Colts will be hoping their experience in the big ones will pay off this time round. The AFC features a sequel to last year’s AFC championship, as the Jets travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts. Rex Ryan is hoping his team can put its best foot forward (no pun intended), while Peyton Manning hopes to make amends for his interception in the Super Bowl last year that saw the Colts come up short of their end goal. The other AFC matchup pits the Ravens against the upstart Chiefs, who will be looking to prove that they belong in the same breath as the rest of the AFC elite. In the other conference, the NFC boasts, for my money, the most intriguing matchup of the weekend as the Packers meet the Eagles. Both of these teams have been mentioned as the possible representative of the NFC in the Super Bowl, but one will be packing up their lockers after Sunday. The other game is one many people are writing off already, as the defending champion Saints head to Seattle to face the first team in history to win the division and make the playoffs with a losing record. People need to remember that playing at Qwest Field is one of the toughest places to play in football before they totally write off the Seahawks. Let’s take a look at where the smart money is for each of the games this weekend.
Asher’s Wild Card Picks Against The Spread:
Pick = Colts -2.5 (-115) <– Click Here To Get Colts at -2.5 at Sportsbook.com ($250 1st Deposit Bonus)
Peyton Manning appears to have solved whatever issues were plaguing him during his mini mid-season slump, and now appears more in control and confident than ever. Despite missing a couple of key receivers, any time a quarterback can target Reggie Wayne, things aren’t all bad. Wayne had another solid season, and should be the go-to guy in this offense, although he may be forced to contend with a lot of Darrelle Revis throughout the game. If Wayne is otherwise preoccupied on Revis Island, Manning won’t be afraid to look the way of some of his younger talent, such as Pierre Garcon, Blair White and Jacob Tamme. Meanwhile, the return of a healthy Joseph Addai and the re-emergence of Dominic Rhodes should provide just enough of a run game for Manning to find some holes in the secondary when he does air it out. On the other side of the ball, Mark Sanchez proved he could play in high pressure games during last year’s improbable playoff run, but now he needs to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. While the Colts’ defense is not all that frightening, Sanchez has not done anything this season to inspire much confidence. capable of putting heavy pressure on Sanchez and forcing him to make mistakes. If the Colts can stake themselves to an early lead, that also eliminates the Jets’ running game to a degree. The Colts are 35-16-3 ATS after a straight up win, and have lost only 7 times ATS in their last 27 games against teams with winning records. Conversely, the Jets are 0-4 after an ATS win, and 1-4 on the road against teams with winning home records. Look for Manning and the Colts to send the Jets packing for the second straight year.
Pick = Saints -10 (-110) <– Click Here To Get Saints at -10 ONLY at 5Dimes ($520 1st Deposit Bonus)
It may seem crazy to put up a double digit line against the spread in the playoffs — especially against a home team. But such is the nature of the beast in the NFL this year, as an NFC West team had to make the playoffs and host a game, despite their top team owning a losing record. The Seahawks have drawn a very tough opponent in the defending champion Saints. New Orleans has a couple things working against them: they are playing on a short week and have to travel to the west coast, something that hurts a lot of teams. However, the main thing they have on their side is the fact that they are simply a much better team than Seattle. The Seahawks admittedly played well against St. Louis in the week 17 finale that allowed them entrance into the postseason, but their offense was far from spectacular, and that was against the Rams, a much friendlier defense than the Saints. New Orleans’ defense has allowed the 7th fewest points per game in the league, bad news for a team that averages under 20 points a game on offense. While the Saints are a little banged up, they have the sure-handed Drew Brees behind center, and he has a plethora of receiving options at his disposal. It also looks like Marques Colston will play after all, despite undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week. The one area the Saints are hurting the most is their run game, as running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas were placed on injured reserve one day after the other. This means that Reggie Bush will be expected to have an expanded role, after battling through an up and down, injury plagued season. Even without much depth in the backfield, Brees should have no trouble with the Seahawks defense, and this one looks to get out of hand early. The Saints are 17-5 ATS following a loss, and 5-2 ATS versus teams from the same conference. Meanwhile, Seattle is 1-5 ATS as an underdog, and 1-6 ATS following an ATS win. This is the only example from the weekend of a team who will just be happy to have made the playoffs, as the Saints coast to a victory.
Pick = Ravens -3 (-110) <– Click Here To Get Ravens -3 at BetED ($250 1st Deposit Bonus)
The Chiefs are the Rodney Dangerfield of football this year: no respect. They won the AFC West, yet more people are saying that the Chargers lost it than the Chiefs won it. This is not fair, as the Chiefs certainly proved they deserved to win their division and be in the playoffs. Matt Cassel is probably the most improved player in the league this year, and Jamaal Charles had an absolutely insane year, despite being stuck in a timeshare with Thomas Jones for much of the season. They were also undefeated at home until the final game of the season. With all that being said, they are simply not ready to play a team like the Ravens in such a high-pressure environment, Cassel is unproven in the playoffs, and did not look good last week against the Raiders. While the Ravens are certainly not a perfect team, their defense is still dangerous enough to capitalize against an inexperienced quarterback with only one real receiving threat in Dwayne Bowe. While the Chiefs will be looking to drain the clock by running Charles and Jones incessantly, the Ravens can counter pretty well with Ray Rice, who is a solid runner in his own right. While this game will be closer than many pundits are saying, the Chiefs are still probably a year or two away from having all the pieces needed to make a sustained run at the big one. The Ravens are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 Wildcard games, and 7-3 in their last 10 playoff games played on the road. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 playoff games, and 1-6 in their last 7 against the AFC. With all due respect to the Chiefs, the Ravens should escape Kansas with a win.
Pick = Packers +2.5 (+100) <– Click Here To Get Packers +2.5 at 5Dimes ($520 1st Deposit Bonus)
For my money, this is the marquee matchup of Wildcard weekend. Two teams that nobody else in the playoffs would want to face in the first round. The good news for those teams is that one will be eliminated, the bad news of course that the other will be going up against either the Bears or Falcons in round two. It has been a roller coaster of a season for both teams, amid quarterback injuries, the Michael Vick explosion, and close brushes with missing the playoffs altogether. Now, the stage is set, and you can bet both teams will be ready to dance. The big question going into this one is the health of Michael Vick. He is reportedly not at 100% health, but will definitely be starting. The question is if he can hold up against a bruising Packers defense led by Clay Matthews, especially given Vick’s style in which he endures many big hits thanks to his ability to run the football. Even if Vick remains healthy, the Packers will be far better prepared to stop him than they were in the first week of the season. The last few weeks, opposing defensive coordinators have slowly figured out how to at least contain Vick, although not stop him altogether. The Packers quarterback is no slouch either, as Aaron Rodgers has proved as he has guided his team into the playoffs by the skin of the teeth, needing wins against the Giants and Bears to close the season in order to make it into the postseason. With Rodgers now fully healthy, the Packers will look to exploit an Eagles secondary that has given up a ton of points this season. Look for Greg Jennings to be joined by James Jones, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson as Rodgers spreads the ball around to keep the Philly defense guessing. While Vick will certainly have a few tricks of his own, the Pack are better on both sides of the ball. Green Bay is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 as a road underdog, and 6-2 ATS when they are underdogs of a field goal or less. In addition, the Eagles are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games against other teams from the NFC, and 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in January. Green Bay will win a hard fought game and move on to fight another day.
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