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Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3)
What to make of the Panthers? Carolina was driving a Ferrari in the first half against the Seahawks, but came out in the third period behind the wheel of a VW Beetle. It got just a little bit dicey in the late going as the Panthers went into a four-corner Dean Smith-type offense in the second half. Expected league MVP Cam Newton wound up throwing the ball only 22 times as the Panthers burned clock after going up big early.
The Panthers are unlikely to have their way in the late game against a Cardinals team that is ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL against the run, against the pass and overall. Books figure that this game is a push, giving the field goal to Arizona as the road team. There appear to be no major injuries or other factors that could alter that line, though early money is on Carolina to cover.
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New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (+3)
The Patriots are now paying the price for that debacle at Miami in the final game of the season in which they played much of the game to protect the health of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. A win over the pathetic Dolphins would have likely meant that the AFC title game would be played in Gillette Stadium (though the divisional round matchup would have been different), and New England would have been a solid touchdown favorite.
As it is, the Patriots are giving the three, based on New England’s bounce-back effort against white-hot Kansas City last week. New England’s defense is a notch better than Pittsburgh and no one can occupy Peyton Manning’s skull more effectively than Bill Belichick can. Bettors like New England two to one in the early going, but bear in mind that the Patriots and Brady have not ever fared well in Denver since the teams started going at it back in the 1960s.
Totals to watch
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (47)
Both the Cardinals (9-7) and the Panthers (10-5-1) have been Over teams this season, led by MVP-candidate quarterbacks. More importantly, both teams have coaches who are now afraid to let the ball fly – even with the stakes so high.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (44.5)
Interesting number, considering that when the teams played in late November, they put 48 points on the board in regulation. The Patriots offense is healthier now than it was two months ago and the Broncos have turned back to Manning, even though they had 433 total yards behind Osweiler in November.