Before the next round of the 2016 NFL playoffs kicks off, I thought we'd have some fun by looking at the spreads for this week's edition of Championship round games. Here are my suggestions when trying to beat the odds. You can find all of today's NFL betting lines and more at the SB Nation odds page via OddsShark. Click here for a complete schedule of this weekend's games. I have a record of 113-120-8 this season after going 0-3-1 against the spread last week. For what it's worth, I went 3-1 straight up once again so I'm 6-2 in the playoffs in that regard. Let's see if I can do better this week.
CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 2016
New England Patriots (-3.5) at Denver Broncos:
Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning. In the playoffs. For potentially the last time ever.
This quarterback duel doesn't have the allure it used to. It's painfully obvious that Manning isn't what he used to be. The soon-to-be-40-year-old has completed just 31 of his last 66 attempts (47%) for 326 yards (4.9 average), zero touchdowns, and four interceptions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand it's very hard for teams to win with that kind of quarterback play, especially in the playoffs.
There's hope for Denver, however, because their defense is just so good. The Broncos finished with the No. 1 overall rated defense by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. They allowed only 4.5 yards per play during the regular season, which was the best rate in the NFL. That defense is anchored by some dangerous pass rushers up front, such as Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to upset the Patriots earlier this season by hitting Brady early and often. The Broncos might be able to get him rattled as well.
Then again, this is Brady and Belichick we're talking about. You never want to really bet against those guys in the playoffs. The Patriots offense finally returned to health last week and their success was apparent. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski can be too much for opposing defenses to handle.
Still, I'm tempted to take the points in this game. Even if the Broncos don't win, which I think they will, it should be close. They have home field advantage and the defense should be able to hold on. I think Manning will be able to do enough to not be a giant liability, and that might be all Denver's defense needs to win.
Pick: Broncos +3.5
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3.5):
This should be a pretty good matchup. The Cardinals and Panthers are the top two seeds in the NFC. They were awesome in the regular season. Carolina nearly went undefeated while Arizona scored the second most points per game while crushing most of their opponents as well. Cam Newton and Carson Palmer are both legitimate NFL MVP candidates.
There was a time right before the end of the season when it looked like the Cardinals were the best team in the NFL. Then Arizona lost to the Seahawks by a final score of 36 to 6 in the regular season finale. It wasn't the biggest deal in the world because the Cardinals didn't even play their starters the whole game. But then the Cardinals struggled to get by a Packers team in overtime last week they had beaten at home 38-8 in late December. So I'm questioning them a little bit more now. Palmer had some rough stretches against Green Bay's defense. The Panthers' defense is going to be much more difficult to face, especially with the game taking place in Carolina.
The Panthers looked downright dominant early in their game against the Seahawks last week. The score was 31-0 at the half. Carolina didn't manage to score in the second half and ultimately only won by one touchdown, but they were never in serious jeopardy of losing the game. Originally I thought the Panthers might slip up in the playoffs a little bit, but that clearly wasn't the case. They're arguably the best team in the NFL right now and I don't want to bet against them. Dare I say this team feels like one of destiny?
Pick: Panthers -3.5
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