Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
Start-time: Saturday 14 January, 21:35 GMT
TV: Live on Sky Sports
We kick-off the divisional round with perennial chokers the Atlanta Falcons hosting the tried and trusted Seattle Seahawks. The visiting team are also getting five points on the spread. Had you seen that point spread for this game without having watched the regular season play out, you'd be piling in on Seattle so let's look at why the NFC South champs are the significant favourites.
First of all they have a potent offense. Matt Ryan seems to be on the inside track to a surprising MVP award. Yet look at the raw numbers and you'd scrub out that word 'surprising' from the previous sentence. He's thrown for 4,944 yards, 38 TD and only seven picks. Only four times this season has his passer rating been below 100. He has had a terrific season, albeit largely unnoticed. The question is does he have the playoff bottle?
He has great help in the backfield where he can hand the ball off to not one, but two above average running backs. Neither is the alpha dog but both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman offer something and by rotating, they keep fresh. Ryan also has that man Julio Jones. We all know about his greatness, topped off by a 300 yard receiving game against Carolina earlier in the year but did you know he's only caught six TDs this season? That caught me off guard.
Seattle are the Raymond van Barneveld of the NFL world (google it, US readers). You know on any given night they could beat everyone else but also implode and lose to scrubs. Last week they had to wait until the fourth quarter to take down the Lions and had the visitors not lost the ability to catch the football, that would have been a close game.
On offense they go as far as QB Russell Wilson will take them. When he's on they fly but when he's a step below his usual high level of play then they really struggle. Thomas Rawls is another key man, they look so much better with him fully healthy and running through defenses. He ran for over 100 yards last Saturday night, he'll need to keep that going this week in the Georgia Dome.
The biggest factor though for me is that Earl Thomas will not be suiting up as the Free Safety (he is on injured reserve). This means the centre of the field may be available to attack and with the likes of the aforementioned Jones and Taylor Gabriel, the Falcons have the speed to fully expose this flaw.
If Seattle are going to win this game then they have to establish the running game early. This means that at 9/1, Thomas Rawls is probably a little bit longer than you'd expect so there is some value there. Over for Atlanta, Taylor Gabriel has the same amount of TDs as Julio Jones but they've all come in the past eight games so at 12/1 to bag the first score, I think it is well worth a point.
The line has been set at 51pts but I think that is low. Losing Earl Thomas is such a big blow to the Seahawks against a team like Atlanta, that I think they run slant routes to get their speedy guys in space in the middle of the field all game long. Seattle will be behind so will have to come out throwing. I think this game is a shoot out. You can get 11/5 at over 59.5pts on the Sportsbook and that is where I'd go for a big over play.
The spread is set at Atlanta -5pts and the pick all comes down to whether or not you trust Matty Ice is the playoffs? Atlanta have a plethora of offensive weapons to help him. They'll have a raucous home crowd and they play in a dome. No weather issues in this one and this just feels like a step too far for the travelling Seahawks. I'm taking Atlanta despite giving the five points.
3pt Back Atlanta to win -5pts points at Evens or better on the Exchange
3pt Back over 59.5pts at 11/5 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back over 274.5 passing yards for Matt Ryan at 5/6 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back over 72.5 receiving yards for Doug Baldwin at 5/6 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Thomas Rawls to score the first TD at 9/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Taylor Gabriel to score the first TD at 12/1 on the Sportsbook