With an action-packed and almost heart-stopping wild card round behind us, the NFL now moves on to the Divisional Round with the last eight remaining teams still in the hunt to win the Vince Lombardi.
Over in the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers booked their tickets to the divisional with contrasting wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, the two teams face tougher match-ups in the top two seeds of the conference, each of whom have quarterbacks – Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – that can make a case for being the best of all time.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-9; OVER/UNDER 53.5)
The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots have faced each other in the playoffs so many times its been tough to keep count. But this time, Tom Brady won’t be facing old nemesis Peyton Manning; it’s the latter’s successor in Indy, Andrew Luck, who will be tasked to lead his team to the AFC Championship game.
As it stands now, the Patriots are favored by 9 points over the Colts in a game that looks to be a lot closer than the spread suggests. Indy is coming to Foxborough on the heels of one of the most dramatic wild card games in recent memory, rallying from 28 points down to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots, though, are a different animal altogether. In place of Alex Smith and Andy Reid, the Colts now have the unenviable task of trying to put the clamps down on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, a far easier thing to say than to actually do.
Sportsbooks have responded in kind too, opening to that number as a sign of respect for New England’s undefeated home record this season and the fact that the team has had no problems at this stage of the playoffs in the past couple of years. Last year, it blasted the Houston Texans, 41-28 as 9.5-point favorites and before that, it pasted the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, 45-10, while giving up 14 points.
Andrew Luck has proven time and again that he’s more than capable of carrying the Colts to improbable win after improbable win and if you look at the health of both teams, there’s reason to believe that this game will be a lot closer than most people think. Don’t be shocked if the Colts over the spread, although winning the actual game is a far more daunting task in it of its own.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-10.5; 56)
These two teams already have a game against one another during the season and despite being 10-point underdogs then, the San Diego Chargers actually beat the Denver Broncos, 27-20, in the latter’s own backyard. Can San Diego replicate that same performance now that the stake are obviously much higher?
Popular belief isn’t on the side of the Chargers. The Broncos are still the Broncos and cold weather concerns surrounding Peyton Manning clearly hasn’t hampered books from opening the line at double digits. Then again, that appears to be what everyone wants you to think without remembering that San Diego is actually peaking at the right time and Philip Rivers is playing the best football of his career.
That should play well into the hands of the Chargers, not to mention the Broncos’ recent history of underperforming in the playoffs points to a close game that could go down the wire. 10.5 points is a lot to ask for a cover from the Broncos given its struggles playing a San Diego team that plays it as well as anybody.
Riding with the Broncos as double-digit favorites may be the popular play, but San Diego with the points just might be the smart play.