Divisional weekend

Didn’t do so well with the picks last week did I? Got them all wrong with only the fourfold bet coming in. It was still a canny weekend of football though – unless you’re a Texans fan, or a Vikings fan. Or a Bengals fan. It didn’t start well for Houston did it? Knile Davis returned the kickoff 106 yards for touchdown and gave Kansas what they love, an early lead they can protect. Hoyer was absolutely dreadful and looked like a rabbit in headlights as he turned the ball over 4 times in the first half with 3 interceptions and a fumble. Strangely he didn’t get benched for the 2nd half as the Texans fans filled the stadium with boos. Pittsburgh followed up with a strange victory over the Bengals who seem to be destined to be one-and-done playoff contenders forever more. Cincy clearly missed Dalton as the offence just couldn’t get moving. The defence was a little better but the game just deteriorated into a fight. Roethlisberger took a big sack and was taken out of the game before being brought back for a desperation drive with less than 2 minutes on the clock to drive down to get the winning field goal. The worst was the hit on Antonio Brown which puts him in jeopardy for this week with a concussion. Cincinnati should be ashamed of themselves, they had the game in the bag before more stupidity gave the game away and gave Vontaze Burfict a 3 game suspension for the start of next season. The lowest scoring game turned out to be the one I thought would be the easiest win with Seattle scraping by with a 10-9 victory in what was the 3rd coldest playoff game in NFL history. Minnesota built a 9-0 lead with 3 field goals in the poor conditions from Blair Walsh before Seattle rallied for the win. Russel Wilson played poorly in the first half but improved a lot in the second as he ducked and dived out the way of sacks and some great passes. Adrian Peterson had another performance to forget, getting only 45 yards from his 23 carries as Seattle loaded the line for him before the ball was ripped out of his hands on one of his two catches and gave Seattle the ball in Minnesota territory two plays after the only touchdown of the day. The Vikings drove down the field before Blair Walsh set up for a 27 yard field goal. Which he missed. It wasn’t blocked. It wasn’t deflected. He just flat out missed it and put his team out of the playoffs. The final game gave the home favourite, and unexpected playoff team, the Washington Redskins a chance to put Green Bay out. They started well with an early field goal and a safety on a sack before Green Bay started to play less conservatively and show their teeth. Green Bay know how playoff football works and showed their experience in the 35-18 win – Green Bay’s first game with 35 points since September. Rodgers moved to a lot of no-huddle plays and kept Washington from resetting the line or able to make substitutions. This gave Green Bay a pair of plays where they caught Washington with 12 men on the field and looked much more like the team everyone expects when Green Bay take the field. The offensive line looked better and Rodgers got better protection but it will still be a worry for the team. This week is nearly always a treat with all 8 teams in real contention for a title and quite often some classic matches. Remember the Ravens-Patriots game last year? Let’s get into the games for this weekend.

Saturday 9.35pm
Who is going to show up for New England? Is Edelman going to be back? Don’t’a Hightower? Danny Amendola? Chandler Jones? Can Tom Brady get rid of the ball fast enough and accurately enough against one of the best defences in the NFL? The highest scoring over the last 3 months. Cutting down on mistakes will be essential as Kansas have been capitalising on these and been confident enough to sit back and absorb the pressure and maybe force another one. They have Alex Smith who is one of the best mobile quarterbacks in the league. A lot of people forget just how good he can be. He had a huge gain negated by a holding call against Houston and is always prepared to take off and get the first down to keep a drive going. Their running game has improved since the loss of Charles, can they keep the pressure on New England with a strong ground game? Kansas might be missing Maclin so that will take some of the pressure off New England defensively. On offence they have Gronkowski who will always make plays. If they can welcome back Edelman too (looks good, he has been active at practice) then New England should be a much stronger opponent than we saw as they lost 4 of their last 6 regular season games. Belichick has admitted he is a little stumped as to how to approach the game as there isn’t much game footage of teams doing well against this KC team. Strange kick-offs aside, if anyone can find a way it’s Belichick! New England find themselves 5 point favourites at home with the weather potentially playing a part. I find myself siding with the defence here and leaning towards the Chiefs. Momentum can mean a lot come playoff time.

Sunday 1.15pm
A rematch of that embarrassing 38-8 loss from just 3 weeks ago. Green Bay didn’t move the ball that day and Aaron Rodgers got smashed around by the Cardinals pass rush. They looked better at protecting Rodgers last week against Washington but when Rodgers sped the game up the offence immediately looked more hooked up. Arizona would probably quite like a faster paced game, especially if they can force a few punts and keep the ball for themselves for more of the game. Time of possession should make a lot of difference in this one as both teams are good at putting up a lot of points when the offence is working together. Arizona has one of the best receiving groups in the NFL and when Palmer is having an average game they can look unstoppable. If he has a great game this one could be out of reach of Green Bay by halftime. A lot will depend on what kind of production they can get out of Lacy who hasn’t had the best of seasons so far, especially if Green Bay are without Davante Adams who has a suspected MCL sprain. Arizona are 7 point favourites. Seven! They certainly beat that a few weeks ago but this is Green Bay in the playoffs.

Sunday 6.05pm
I think this one could be the best game of the weekend (so cue one team going on to win 32-6!) as Seattle travel to Carolina to face the 15-1 Panthers. Carolina have had a week off to rest and prepare for a Seattle team that struggled to get any form of game going in Minnesota last week. The ground game never really got going for Seattle in the cold and without Marshawn Lynch – who ruled himself out of the game last week – the team is missing it’s engine room. Russell Wilson has picked up a lot of the slack in his absence and is playing the best football of his career. Forget last week when it was recorded to be -21C with wind-chill, he has been on a roll recently and in warmer conditions I think he’ll be back to his best. Carolina have had a couple of injuries in the defence which Wilson can potentially exploit so a lot of the pressure will rest again on Cam Newton. Can he live up to his current reputation as the man expected to win regular season MVP and lead his team through the Seattle defence and take the fight to Seattle. Remember Carolina only played 4 teams in the regular season with a winning record (Houston, Seattle, Green Bay and Washington) with the last of them being in November. This will be a real test for Carolina who always play Seattle hard, I think I’m tempted to take the road team here, especially if Marshawn decides he’s ready to play again. Carolina are 3 point home favourites – as close as to mean no line.

Sunday 9.40pm
I guess we’re going to see Peyton Manning back in the starting line-up for Denver this week after the benching of Osweiler a fortnight ago and the apparent return of Manning. Forgetting that he only threw the ball 9 times (for 5 completions) for a total of 69 yards in his time on the field because most of the yardage was from the ground game there are still questions surrounding his health and durability. We all know he was injured but we also know he wasn’t adapting to the offensive system in place in Denver and the early season games were generally won because of the defence, which has been mighty all season long. Pittsburgh are in a similar predicament as Roethlisberger is beat up. He has torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder which probably contributed to the overthrown pass that lead to Antonio Brown getting knocked out of the Bengals game with a concussion. He still needs to pass the protocol to be allowed to play here and DeAngelo Williams is also an unknown with his injury. We might see a rather weak Pittsburgh team fielded as injuries take their toll at just the wrong time of the year. Can the defence have another good week and force Manning into the turnovers he was benched for or will the Sheriff come back and lead the Broncos to a huge one-sided victory and the AFC Championship game they should have played in last year? Normally I’d say this is an easy win for Denver but it does have a lot of unknowns that could swing the game and makes it harder to call. The Broncos were made early favourites by 6.5 points and with the uncertainty around Manning it’s tempting to go with Pittsburgh on that spread. But can an injured Roethlisberger do enough or will the Steelers need to go back to Landry Jones? Is he ready for the playoffs?

ATS: Chiefs +5, Cardinals -7, Seahawks +3, Steelers +6.5
To win: Chiefs, Cardinals, Seahawks, Broncos

Seen some fourfold specials but I don’t like the look of them. If you fancy 4/1 for all favourites load up. I’ve gone for a 9/2 double of Chiefs and Seahawks to win. Usually one upset on divisional weekend and I don’t see it being the Packers or Steelers this year. Good luck, enjoy the games. Anyone want to pick a Super Bowl winner?



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