Room for improvement
Trying to line up winners
The four teams that hosted last year’s divisional round — the Colts, Chargers, Vikings, and Saints — are all finished this season.
The Seahawks, a 7-9 team in the regular season, advanced from the wild-card round despite giving up 36 points at home to the defending Super Bowl champions, the Saints.
Three teams hosting games this weekend — the Bears, Steelers, and Falcons — weren’t in the playoffs last year.
The notion of parity in the NFL is legitimate, which makes two of this weekend’s lines so jarring: New England and Chicago are laying more than a touchdown. With the Patriots, it’s understandable. They’ve been on a scoring tear. But the Bears, despite facing the Seahawks, were underdogs in nine games this season. And they’re 10-point favorites?
With eight teams remaining, we need to figure out which ones we can trust.
This week’s picks (home team in caps):
Green Bay (+2 1/2) over ATLANTA: As long as the Packers are getting points with Aaron Rodgers and that defense, I’m taking them. Risking $110 to win $100.
Baltimore (+3 1/2) over PITTSBURGH: When analyzing a Ravens-Steelers game, the word “toss-up’’ comes to mind. Their last five regular-season meetings have been decided by 3 points, and the game before that was decided by 4. The teams won at each other’s stadium this season, and both have rare talent at safety (Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu) that can change the course of a game. Baltimore upgraded its receiving personnel in the offseason for matchups such as this, so I’ll gladly take a modest head start with the points. Risking $110 to win $100.
CHICAGO (-10) over Seattle: The Bears weren’t favored by more than 6 in any game this season — and that spread came in a Week 1 home game against the Lions — and suddenly they’re favored by 10? It makes no sense, but it also doesn’t make sense that Seattle is a win away from the NFC Championship game. As long as Jay Cutler doesn’t try to show off his arm, the Bears should be able to establish themselves and then maintain a comfortable advantage behind their defense and special teams. Risking $110 to win $100.
New York Jets (+8 1/2) over NEW ENGLAND: I’m gambling that two things will happen: Rex Ryan won’t give the game away in the first quarter like he did last month in Foxborough, and the Patriots will continue their average season of covering the spread at home, where they are 4-3-1 against the number. Risking $110 to win $100.
Last week: 2-1, plus $85. Season: 39-28-1, plus $772.