Ed Williams and Jeff Baldwin are going head-to-head during the NFL playoffs picking against the spread, and after the first round, Ed has jumped out to an early lead. Ed went 2-0 in the first day of games. It wasn't pretty, but the Texans were able to take advantage of a struggling Andy Dalton to cover the spread in the first game. Then, the Packers were able to slow down Adrian Peterson and take advantage of an inexperienced and overmatched Joe Webb at QB for a dominant win.
Jeff went the other way with his Saturday picks, but he rebounded with the Ravens' win over the Colts. Ed thought Andrew Luck could keep things within a touchdown, so Jeff regained some ground. And they both closed out the weekend with a Seattle win over the Redskins.
So, after four games in the books, Ed is 3-1 with 1,050 units, while Jeff is 2-2 with 950 units. Will Jeff be able to make up some more ground heading into the Conference championships? Or will Ed extend his lead?
Check out last week's column for the format they'll be following throughout the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-10)
Ed: This is more points than I want to give up, but it’s hard not to go with Peyton Manning against a struggling Ravens team. Baltimore did knock off the Colts 24-9 last week, but this still isn’t the same Ravens team you’re used to seeing. Even with Ray Lewis back, the defense isn’t what it used to be, and Manning will be able to pick them apart. The running game was a big concern once Willis McGahee went down, but Knowshon Moreno has been great in his absence. The Broncos should be able to score early and often and force the Ravens to throw the ball to keep up, which is a bad situation for Joe Flacco to be in. Flacco shows flashes of brilliance every once in a while, but with Von Miller in his face all day, I don’t see that happening.
Broncos -10: 25 units
Jeff: The Ravens visit the Broncos after defeating the Colts as they were able to get a win for LB Ray Lewis in his last home game of his career. They now look to avenge a Week 15 loss to the Broncos. The Broncos come off their bye week and are winners of 11 straight. QB Peyton Manning has this team clicking on all cylinders offensively. In addition, their defense has been tremendous against the pass and run. This unit is one of the lead leaders in the NFL in sacks with 52. The Ravens struggled offensively in their previous matchup this year as both CB Chris Harris and CB Champ Bailey were able to shut down WR Anquan Boldin and WR Torrey Smith, respectively. It's hard not to think they won't have similar success this weekend, especially since they will be well-rested coming off their bye. RB Ray Rice was also held in check as the Ravens had trouble generating any offense. Defensively for the Ravens, they are very susceptible to the pass. Look for QB Peyton Manning to exploit this weakness and make plays down the field to his favorite targets in WR Eric Decker and WR Demaryius Thomas. I'm expecting a big game from both wide receivers in what should be a very high scoring game. RB Knowshon Moreno has been solid filling for RB Willis McGahee. He rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown in Week 15. He should have another solid outing in this matchup. The Broncos will put a lot of pressure on QB Joe Flacco resulting in a few turnovers. In the end, the Broncos led by QB Peyton Manning and their stellar defense will prove they are the much better team as they will advance to the AFC Championship Game with a 34-17 victory.
Broncos -10: 25 units
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-3)
Ed: The 49ers have a great defense and will be enjoying home field advantage, but there’s no team in the league right now capable of shutting down the Packers’ offense. Aaron Rodgers has his full complement of receivers at his disposal now, so even though the 49ers are fourth in the league against the pass, trying to shut down Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley is just too tall of an order. The last time the 49ers faced a great passing attack, they gave up 34 points to the Patriots. Granted, they did win that game. But Green Bay’s defense is rounding into form. They got back Charles Woodson last week, which is a huge boost. They held Adrian Peterson under 100 yards, which doesn’t bode well for Frank Gore. That will put a lot of pressure on Colin Kaepernick, and it may be too much, too soon in his first career postseason start. The Packers are rolling, and it doesn’t look like anyone will get in their way on the road to New Orleans, so I’m taking the points.
Packers +3: 75 units
Jeff: The Packers head to San Francisco in a rematch of their Week 1 game in which the 49ers were victorious, 30-22. The 49ers come into this with one of their best defensive players DE Justin Smith injured. Smith has a partially torn triceps in his left arm which he injured in Week 15 against the Patriots. He will, however, suit up and play on Saturday night. The question is whether he can be effective. Smith is such a critical piece to the 49ers' defense that with him clearly not a 100% it will be even more difficult for the defense to contain the high powered Packers offense. If the 49ers don't put pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers, it could be a long day for their secondary. QB Aaron Rodgers will spread the ball around to all of his receiving weapons, but his focus will be WR Randall Cobb as he'll look to exploit his matchup against CB Carlos Rogers. Cobb had a solid outing in Week 1 with nine catches for 77 yards. I expect similar productivity in this game. The Packers got a huge boost last week on the defensive side of the ball with the return of safety Charles Woodson. He will play a key role in this matchup as well. QB Colin Kaepernick will make his first playoff start which always is a concern on how he handles the pressure. I can see him making some mistakes and the Packers defense taking advantage of them. The 49ers will not be able to overcome the impact of Justin Smith's injury and the inexperience at quarterback as QB Aaron Rodgers will be too much to handle as he'll lead the Packers to victory.
Packers +3: 50 units
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)
Ed: Everyone seems to be on the Seahawks’ bandwagon right now. And after they rebounded from a 14-0 deficit and completely shut down RGIII and Alfred Morris, it makes sense. And I’ve been one of those guys who haven’t given the Falcons much respect all season. Call it a hunch, but I think the Falcons are going to come out ready for this matchup. The Falcons play great at home and have had an extra week to rest up and prepare. The Seahawks do have some great cornerbacks, but losing defensive end Chris Clemons is a major blow. Matt Ryan will have more time to let plays develop, and I expect Julio Jones to get open deep a few times in this one. They’ll likely pay a lot of attention to Roddy White as well, which could open things up for the veteran Tony Gonzalez to have a big game. Plus, no one believes in the Falcons, and you can bet that will provide some added motivation as well. Since it’s less than a field goal, I’ll lay the points.
Falcons -2.5: 25 units
Jeff: The Falcons take on the surging Seahawks as they look to win their first playoff game with QB Matt Ryan under center. It is not very often you see a No. 1 seed only favored by 2.5 points when hosting a No. 5 seed. The line is begging you to take the Falcons. I think this is a bad matchup for them. There are two areas that the Seahawks excel in that will give the Falcons a hard time. The first is they will be able to run the ball very effectively with Marshawn Lynch as he goes up against a rush defense ranked 29th in the league, allowing a little under 5 yards per carry. The Seahawks ranked third in the regular season, rushing for 161 yards/game. They will be able to control the clock and wear down the Falcons' defense. Secondly, the Seahawks' secondary defend the pass very well and are very physical. This will be key as they face top receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Falcons don't run the ball well as they finished near the bottom in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. If the Falcons struggle in the passing game, I'm not sure how they will generate enough offense to win. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons in this game as their fans are getting frustrated with having solid regular seasons, while only coming up short in the post season. I don't see this as the game the Falcons break that playoff losing streak. The Seahawks continue their strong play as they'll overcome the loss of DE Chris Clemons and get the outright victory in the Georgia Dome Sunday and advance to the NFC Championship game.
Seahawks +2.5: 100 units
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-9.5)
Ed: Any time Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are coming off a bye week, the opposition should be very afraid. To make matters worse, the Texans just don’t look like the same team that started out 11-1. They beat the Bengals last week, but they didn’t look impressive in doing so. Schaub failed to throw a touchdown and added in a pick that was returned for a touchdown. The Bengals’ offense looked inept at times, and you know that won’t happen with the Pats. Brady will spread the ball around to Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and Steven Ridley provides a dangerous presence in the running game that has to be respected. The Texans’ only hope is to ride Arian Foster to victory, but I think the Pats will jump out to an early lead, which will negate much of Houston’s running game. If Schaub is forced to get into a shootout, he’ll surely make some mistakes, and the Pats will make him pay.
Patriots -9.5: 75 units
Jeff: The Texans travel to New England after holding off the Bengals in their Wild Card game last week. The Texans will be looking to put together a better effort then their last visit in Week 14 when they were blown out by the Patriots, 42-14. Even with their victory over the Bengals, the Texans left a lot of points on the field while settling for field goals. Against the Patriots, they'll need to score touchdowns if they have any hope in keeping this one close. RB Arian Foster was the lone bright spot for the Texans on offense as QB Matt Schaub's struggles continue. The Patriots come off their bye and are trying to prevent a letdown against a team they soundly defeated. Look for QB Tom Brady to squash any chance for this to happen. I expect tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Wes Welker to have great games as the Texans will have trouble defending them. Gronkowski didn't play in their previous matchup because of injury, which is a scary thought considering how easily the Patriots were able to move the ball and score. The Patriots' defense will focus on containing RB Arian Foster as they know full well that he makes their offense go. This defense is very opportunistic and has a propensity to create turnovers. I expect them to force QB Matt Schaub to throw a few interceptions on Sunday. I can see the Texans playing inspired football in the first half, but in the end, look for the Patriots to pull away in the second half as they win this one 34-13 setting up a showdown with the Broncos.
Patriots -9.5: 25 units
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