Pats, Steelers, Falcons, Packers are picked
While all four teams coming off byes are favored, the Patriots (14-2) opened as a 13 -point choice against the Texans (10-7). The money started flowing in, and the line moved up to 15 .
The players and coaches have no interest in such things, of course, reasoning that betting lines have no impact on what happens on the field Saturday night.
They are right. Talent makes the difference, and there rarely has been such a mismatch in skill as in this one.
Not that the Texans, fresh off a rout of the injury-wrecked Raiders, will simply forfeit. They recognize the challenge and sound eager to face it.
"You have to make sure that, No. 1, that you do your job," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "That your players understand what their role in the game is and how they're supposed to perform on every single play.
"They're going to make their share of plays. I think one of the big things for us is we have to play good, sound, fundamental football. They're the type of team that if you make too many mistakes, they're going to bury you."
Let the romping begin.
New England has won its past four meetings with Houston at Gillette Stadium by a combined 150-49. It's tempting to pick that score, but we'll go with the average of those results.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 38-12
Pittsburgh (plus 2) at Kansas City, Sunday
That boot being worn by Ben Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh's win against Miami is very worrisome. But Roethlisberger tends to always show up in the playoffs and perform superbly much of the time.
The Steelers eased past the Chiefs on Oct. 2, but that was in Pittsburgh. Kansas City is better now than it was back then, although so are the Steelers.
If KC can get pressure on Big Ben and somewhat control Antonio Brown, the league's most dangerous receiver (and non-quarterback), and RB Le'Veon Bell, it can use its relatively conservative offense to its advantage. But will Andy Reid turn the reins loose a bit when the Chiefs have the ball?
A matchup we can't wait to see is Brown vs. All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.
The feeling is that only the Steelers could derail another trip to the Super Bowl for New England. Pro Picks would like to see if Pittsburgh can do that, so ...
UPSET SPECIAL: STEELERS, 23-21
Seattle (plus 4 ) at Atlanta, Saturday
Experience, coaching and swagger — they all are on the side of the visitors.
Seattle is as accomplished as any NFC playoff team, and many of the key contributors to its recent success remain on the scene: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin.
Now that Thomas Rawls seems healthy, there's a running game to complement Wilson, Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham.
But this is one of those prove-it games for Atlanta's All-Pros, quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones. Which opponent to better prove that your offense, and an improving defense, are capable of a long postseason run than against the big kid on the NFC block?
Falcons coach Dan Quinn gets the better of his mentor, Seattle's Pete Carroll, in a squeaker.
Green Bay (plus 4) at Dallas, Sunday
Who isn't in awe of Aaron Rodgers, the league's best quarterback over the past two months? Hey, the guy even connects regularly on desperation passes.
The big issue here is the health of Jordy Nelson, who got a helmet to the ribs from the Giants in the wild-card game and was sidelined. It's not likely he will be on the field Sunday, and even if he is, Nelson probably will be limited.
Still, the Packers will play loose and A-Rod will be dynamic. They figure to do their share of scoring against a Dallas defense that ranked 26th against the pass.
Then again, sensational rookies Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, operating behind the best line in the NFL and complemented by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, also should supply points.
In a shootout ...
Last Week: Against spread (1-3). Straight up: (3-1)
Season Totals: Against spread (125-124-8). Straight up: (159-99-2)
Best Bet: 11-7 against spread, 13-5 straight up.
Upset special: 6-11-1 against spread, 6-12 straight up
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