The health of Aaron Rodgers is the focal point in an otherwise marquee matchup between the second-seeded Green Bay Packers and visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round. Rodgers is dealing with a slight tear in his left calf sustained in the regular-season finale and practiced on a limited basis Thursday. No. 3 seed Dallas, which beat Detroit in its playoff opener, is making its first postseason trip to Green Bay since the Ice Bowl in 1967.
Rodgers’ importance to the Packers cannot be overstated – he threw 25 touchdowns versus zero interceptions to help Green Bay finish 8-0 at Lambeau Field. “He’s obviously very important to our football team,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who estimated that Rodgers took 50 to 60 percent of the reps Thursday in his first practice since he was hurt. “We have a game plan. He did everything we asked of him today.” The Cowboys, who are in the postseason for the first time since 2009, are a perfect 8-0 away home, marking the third time in playoff history an unbeaten road team will take on an undefeated home squad.
TV: 1:05 p.m. ET, FOX.
LINE HISTORY: After opening at GB -6.5, sharp money quickly moved the line to -6. With reports of Aaron Rodgers supposed calf tear, the line dropped to -5.5. The total has dropped a full point from opening at 53 to 52.
INJURY REPORT: COWBOYS – T Doug Free (Doub-Ankle), LB Ronaldo McClain (Prob-Concussion), DE Jeremy Mincy (Prob-Concussion) PACKERS – QB Aaron Rodgers (Prob-Calf), CB Davon House (Prob-Shoulder)
WEATHER FORECAST: A mostly cloudy and frigid afternoon is expected at Lambeau with temperatures around 15-20°F. Winds are not expected to play a major factor, only blowing around 3 MPH.
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “Cowboys look to keep their undefeated skein away from home this season in tact today on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field, where the Packers were bounced in a one-and done here in the playoffs last year. Condition of QB Aaron Rodgers calf injury is key with Green Bay 6-0 SU and 5-0-1 ATS this season in games versus .600 or greater opponents. Also check the thermometer as this could be Dallas’ first game in sub freezing temperatures this season.” – Covers Expert Marc Lawrence
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “We’ve seen the gamut of gambling on this one, mostly due to the injury news with Rodgers. We knew we’d get a lot of Dallas wagers because we always do, but even before the news about the calf tear we got public and sharp money on the Cowboys. The dead number didn’t last long before Packers money started coming back in and pushing the spread back to -6. With the weather, and curiousness of how effective Rodgers can be this is a strange situation.” John Lester, Bookmaker.eu.
ABOUT THE COWBOYS (13-4 SU, 12-4 ATS, 9-6-1 O/U): A pair of controversial non-penalty calls took the luster off Dallas’ comeback from a 13-point, second-half deficit behind 293 yards and two touchdown passes from Tony Romo, who has 20 scoring passes versus two interceptions in the eight road games. DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher with 1,845 yards, ran for 75 on 19 carries a week ago and was instrumental in Dallas’ success away from home, reaching 100 yards in seven of the eight games. Dez Bryant led with NFL with 16 touchdowns and surpassed 1,200 yards for the third straight season and Terrance Williams had a pair of touchdown receptions last week. Murray’s ability to control the clock can help a defense that ranked 26th in the league, allowing 251.9 yards per game.
ABOUT THE PACKERS (12-4 SU, 12-4 ATS, 11-5 O/U): Rodgers had a spectacular season, throwing for 4,381 yards with 38 touchdowns versus only five interceptions while extending his NFL records of 418 pass attempts with being picked off at home – a span in which he has thrown 36 scoring passes. Jordy Nelson is Rodgers’ top target with 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns while fellow wideout Randall Cobb was equally as dangerous with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 scores. Second-year running back Eddie Lacy overcame a slow start to average 98.7 rushing yards for the season on his way to 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. Although Green Bay permitted an average of 119.9 yards on the ground, it nearly cut its total in half over the second half of the season.
*Cowboys are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 road games.
*Over is 7-1 in Packers last 8 home games.
*Packers are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 playoff games.
*Cowboys are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 meetings in Green Bay.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 53.54 percent of Covers users are backing the Packers -5.5, with 60.8 percent on the over.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-7, 53.5)
The careers of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck will forever be linked after the Indianapolis Colts let the five-time MVP go in order to select Luck with the top pick in the 2012 draft. The Colts hit the jackpot with Luck, who will face a daunting task when he leads Indianapolis into Denver to face Manning and the No. 2-seeded Broncos in Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round. Manning is 1-1 against his former team, including a 31-24 victory in Week 1.
Much like he did with the Colts, Manning has re-established a standard of excellence with the Broncos and is looking to make a return trip to the Super Bowl after getting demolished by Seattle last season. Manning guided Denver to an 8-0 record at home this season and is 22-2 at Mile High since joining the Broncos prior to the 2012 season. “We’re excited and looking forward to the postseason,” Manning said. “This is why you work so hard all season to get this opportunity. Playoff football takes on different twists and turns. You’re going to play some really good football teams.”
TV: 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS.
LINE HISTORY: The opening line of DEN -7 has not shifted all week. The total opened at 53 with books quickly jumping to 54, but has been bet down to 53.5.
INJURY REPORT: COLTS – CB Greg Toler (Prob-Knee), C Jonotthan HArrison (Prob-Concussion), LB Jerrell Freeman (Prob-Abdominal), LB Erik Walden (Prob-Knee) BRONCOS – S T.J. Ward (Prob-Neck), G Orlando Franklin (Prob-Concussion), LB Brandon Marshall (Ques-Foot)
WEATHER FORECAST: As the game goes on there will be a low 15 percent chance of snow with temperatures falling from 42°F at kickoff to 33°F by the fourth quarter. Winds are expected to blow around 3 MPH.
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “Battle of two teams that each own Top 10 ranked offenses and defenses finds the Colts in quest of back-to-back playoff victories for the first time since Peyton Manning was their quarterback back in 2009. To do so QB Andrew Luck will need to improve on his dismal 3-8 SU and 2-9 ATS NFL career mark in away games versus winning opponents. On the flip side Manning is just 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS with rest during the postseason. One last note: Colts own a death-grip on this series of late, going 6-1 SU and 7-0 ATS – albeit largely with Manning at the helm.” – Covers Expert Marc Lawrence
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “We felt very good setting this line initially and it hasn’t budged, which means we’ve done our job. Personally, I’m still in the camp that the Colts can keep this one close, and even pull off the upset. It will all depend on the protection Luck gets. Has Denver’s uptick in defense of late been a product of poor opponents or is it really clicking? That’s a big factor to handicap.” John Lester, Bookmaker.eu.
ABOUT THE COLTS (12-5 SU, 11-5 ATS, 9-7 O/U): Indianapolis, the fourth seed after winning the AFC South title, opened the playoffs with a 26-10 home victory over Cincinnati as Luck threw for 376 yards and a touchdown. Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes while throwing for 4,761 yards and will continue to look for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had six catches for 103 yards last week and has amassed 496 receiving yards in his first four postseason games – the second-highest total in league history (Larry Fitzgerald, 546). Daniel Herron rushed for 56 yards and caught 10 passes for 85 yards, but also committed a pair of fumbles. Indy limited the Bengals to 254 total yards but permitted at least 31 points in half its eight road games.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (12-4 SU, 12-4 ATS, 10-6 O/U): Unlike last season, when Manning threw a record-setting 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, the Broncos have relied on the legs of C.J. Anderson down the stretch. Anderson took over the starter midway through the season and finished with 849 yards while scoring an NFL-best seven touchdowns in December, giving Denver a complement to a high-powered passing game featuring Demaryius Thomas (1,619 yards, 11 TDs) and Emmanuel Sanders (1,404, nine TDs), who combined for 212 catches. Manning still put up stellar numbers, throwing for 4,727 yards with 39 TDs and 15 interceptions, but he had twice as many picks (six) as scoring passes (four) over the final four games. The Broncos ranked second in the league, permitting 79.8 yards rushing per game.
*Broncos are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games following a ATS win.
*Under is 5-0 in Colts last 5 games overall.
*Over is 13-3 in Broncos last 16 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
*Colts are 7-0 ATS in their last 7 meetings.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 50.70 percent of Covers users are taking the Broncos -7, with 67.8 percent on the over.