Ed Williams and Jeff Baldwin are going head-to-head during the NFL playoffs picking against the spread, and they both got off to a good start in the Wild Card round. Jeff kicked things off with a big Texans win, gaining 100 units. He lost with the Lions, but that was his only misstep of the weekend. He gained 50 units in the Giants' win and another 25 with the Broncos' upset. Ed had a rough Saturday losing 50 units on the Benglas and another 25 on the Lions, but he bounced back Sunday, gaining 75 units on the Giants and 50 on the Broncos.
So, after one week, Jeff is at 1,150 units with a 3-1 record, while Ed is 2-2 with 1,050 units. Can they both stick to their winning ways? Can Ed trim Jeff's 100-unit lead?
Check out last week's column for the format they'll be following throughout the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (+4)
Ed: It’s no secret that the Saints are a different team on the road out in the elements than they are at home in the friendly confines of the Superdome – it’s pretty much the first thing anyone says when discussing this matchup. There’s no reason to think that will change now. A big reason Drew Brees has been able to put up record-breaking numbers is because he has a great running game. The 49ers should be able to neutralize that and put more pressure on Brees. The 49ers should have a shot at a couple of interceptions, and unlike the Lions, they won’t let those opportunities slip through their hands. And the fact that the No. 2 seed is a 4-point underdog on its home turf gives Jim Harbaugh plenty of material to get his team fired up. Look for Alex Smith to do just enough to keep this one close and for San Francisco to be very solid in the field position battle. I’m not sure the 49ers will end up winning this one, but with San Francisco’s great special teams, it should be a field goal game at the very least, so take the points.
49ers +4, 25 units
Jeff: Drew Brees and the Saints head to San Francisco in this great battle between contrasting styles. The Saints’ powerful offense goes up against the vaunted SF defense. The Saints are a different team on the road, which is evident by their points per game average decreasing by 14 points. Look for San Francisco to run the ball all day with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. They need to do this effectively to control the clock and keep Drew Brees off the field. I do expect Alex Smith to make some key plays in the passing game to both Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. The San Francisco defense has a big challenge on its hands slowing down the Saints offense, but I think it will be up for it. Jim Harbaugh has been preparing for the Saints for two weeks, so look for him to have his team motivated and ready to play on Saturday afternoon. The 49ers win this game outright.
49ers +4, 25 units
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (-13.5)
Ed: Tebowmania is back and better than ever, right? I’m not buying it. The Steelers looked like a different team ever since Ben Roethlisberger injured his ankle, and the defense was severly hurt by the absence of Ryan Clark last week. I’m not taking anything away from what Tebow did – he made the big throws when they were there – but going on the road to play Tom Brady is a whole different animal than facing a depleted Steelers team at home. The Patriots already beat the Broncos 41-23 in Denver just a few weeks ago. New England’s defense is still a glaring weakness, but with a week off and with the urgency of the playoffs, look for an improvement Saturday night. The Patriots have lost their last two playoff games at Gilette Stadium, and they should be chomping at the bit to defend their turf and prove they’re still a legit Super Bowl contender. Those loses probably hurt Brady more than anyone, and he’ll be ready to sling it. Even if Champ Bailey can keep Wes Welker in check, the Broncos won’t have an answer for Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez. This is a lot of points to lay down, but the magic has run out for Tebow. The Patriots just have too much motivation and talent to be caught off guard in this one.
Patriots -13.5, 100 units
Jeff: Tim Tebow and the Broncos travel to Foxboro looking for another playoff upset win. The Patriots are looking to snap their playoff home losing streak. In their Week 15 game, Tom Brady threw for 320 yards and two TDs as the Pats had their way with the Broncos’ defense, 41-23. I expect a similar outcome in this game. The Patriots’ defense does worry me laying this high a spread, but as long as they get a few stops, New England should cover. They were able to sack Tebow four times in their last matchup. I still don't think the Broncos have the type of offense that plays well from behind. Plus, the Patriots’ offense always looks to score regardless of how much they are up, which is key when laying this big number. Patriots win this one, 41-21.
Patriots -13.5, 25 units
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
Ed: This was the hardest game of the weekend to pick for me because the Ravens have been all over the place this season. The Ravens are a much better team at home, but just a few weeks ago they barely beat the Browns on their own turf. Baltimore hasn’t lost at home all season, and I’m not suggesting they’ll lose this game, but they have to lay more than a touchdown, which is just too much for such an inconsistent team. The Texans are coming off their first playoff win in franchise history and are playing with house money, so they have no pressure on them whatsoever. No one is expecting QB T.J. Yates to do anything this game, which is exactly what will make him dangerous. With nothing to lose, he should try to attack Baltimore deep with Andre Johnson. In their meeting earlier this season, Baltimore was able to keep Arian Foster in check. While Foster may not run wild, Houston has arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, and the running game won’t be shut down. Houston will focus on containing Ray Rice and force Joe Flacco to beat them, which is a scary scenario for Ravens fans. The Ravens should pull this one out in the end, thanks to their home field advantage, but it will be much closer than most are expecting.
Texans +7.5, 25 units
Jeff: The Texans travel to Baltimore in a rematch of their Week 6 matchup where the Ravens won 29-14. The Ravens held Arian Foster to 49 yards rushing, and that was with a healthy Matt Schaub at QB. This is a bad matchup for the Texans. They need to run the ball extremely well to have any chance in this game, but going up against the secondnd best rush defense in the NFL will make it very difficult. The Ravens’ defense will also put a ton of pressure on T.J. Yates in the passing game, which will lead to some sacks and a couple of interceptions. The Ravens will lean heavily on Ray Rice, as they have all season, to move the ball both on the ground and through the air. The Ravens finally get a home playoff game, and don't disappoint their fans as they win this game in convincing fashion.
Ravens -7.5, 100 units
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-7.5)
Ed: The Giants are peaking at the right time. They looked downright dominant against the Falcons at times last week, and the defense is playing at a very high level. The Packers laid an egg against the Chiefs in Week 15, but bounced back with a win over the Bears and then beat the Lions with their backups. There’s a good chance that at least one of the home teams will be hurt by the bye week. It seems like every year at least one team comes out flat. The fact that a lot of starters also sat out the finale makes this doubly worrisome. While the Giants have been fine-tuning, the Packers have been resting and possibly getting rusty. The Giants definitely have at least a puncher’s chance to win this one outright, which makes a spread of more than a touchdown to juicy to pass up. The big play ability of Hakeem Nicks and Victory Cruz, and the reemergence of Brandon Jacobs, should be enough for the Giants to keep this one close. I expect the Packers to start out slowly before finally hitting their stride in the second half and winning this one late, but it won’t be by more than a touchdown.
Giants +7.5, 50 units
Jeff: The Giants head to Green Bay looking to continue their strong play against the potent Packers offense. This is another rematch from earlier in the year in which the Packers were able to squeeze out a 3-point victory on the road. The Giants are healthier now than they were in that Week 13 game. Look for the Giants to establish the run and control the clock to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as possible. When not running the football, Eli Manning will exploit the Packers’ vulnerable secondary with his explosive receivers. The Giants’ defense needs to get some pressure on Rodgers to slow him down. I expect Greg Jennings to be a little rusty after not playing since Week 14 due to injury. This game will be decided by three or four points either way.
Giants +7.5, 50 units