The New England Patriots have been nearly invincible at home in the playoffs with Tom Brady at quarterback – unless the Baltimore Ravens are in town. The top-seeded Patriots begin their quest for a sixth Super Bowl appearance in 14 seasons when they host the No. 6 Ravens on Saturday in the AFC Divisional Round. New England owns a stellar 15-4 home record in the postseason, but two of those defeats have come at the hands of Baltimore since the 2009 season.
Brady, who has an NFL-record 18 playoff victories, dismissed talk that the Patriots were unfortunate to draw a nemesis as an opponent, despite the fact that the Ravens squeaked into the postseason on the final weekend. “In the playoffs, it’s the same for everybody – one loss and you go home,” Brady said. “We’ve got a great football team here, so we’ll see. We’ve got to go out there and earn it.” Baltimore, which won at New England en route to a Super Bowl title two years ago, kicked off its playoff run with a 30-17 victory at bitter rival Pittsburgh last week.
TV: 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE HISTORY: Oddsmakers opened the Patriots as 7.5-point favorites but that is down to -7. The total opened at 49, but is down to 47.5.
WEATHER: Temperatures will be in the mid-teens under clear skies and with wind blowing across the field at nine mph.
INJURY REPORT: Ravens – DT Timmy Jernigan (Questionable, foot). Patriots – DE Chandler Jones (Probable, hip), WR Julian Edelman (Questionable, head), CB Brandon Browner (Questionable, groin), RB Jonas Gray (Questionable, ankle), LB Dont’a Hightower (Questionable, shoulder), WR Brandon LaFell (Questionable, foot).
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “The Ravens came into the playoffs with an ‘us against the world’ mentality and proceeded to crush the Steelers in Pittsburgh last Saturday. Now the challenge gets a whole lot tougher as they head to Foxboro to face the Patriots. It’s going to be awfully tough for them to beat the Pats at Gillette Stadium for a third time in the postseason, but bettors do have some wiggle room with the line sitting around a touchdown. I’m thinking this is a lower-scoring contest than expected as both offenses become one-dimensional early on.” Covers Expert Sean Murphy
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “We opened Pats -7.5 and 49. Monday morning, got sharp play on Baltimore, so moved Pats to current number of -7 flat. We have juiced the dog to -120, so Patriots are now -7 (even). Monday afternoon got wiseguy bet on Under, so moved to current number of 47.5. Fifty-three percent of cash and 55 percent of bets on Ravens. As far as the total is concerned, 62 percent of cash and 65 percent of bets on the Over.” Michael Pierce, TopBet.eu.
ABOUT THE RAVENS (11-6 SU, 8-8-1 ATS, 7-9-1 O/U): Baltimore had never won a postseason game in Pittsburgh, but Joe Flacco threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes to earn his seventh road playoff victory – the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger. Flacco had a season-high 27 scoring passes and came up 14 yards shy of his first 4,000-yard campaign, but it’s his postseason numbers that can’t be ignored – 13 touchdown passes and zero interception in his last five playoff games. The Ravens feature a pair of big play wideouts in Steve Smith (79 catches, 1,065 yards) and Torrey Smith (11 TDs) along with a shifty running back in Justin Forsett, who rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. Linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs lead a defense that registered 49 sacks and allowed 15.4 points over the last five games.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS, 9-7 O/U): New England suffered its only home loss to Buffalo (17-9) in a meaningless regular-season finale and also struggled offensively in a 17-16 victory at the New York Jets on Dec. 21. Brady went over 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season and finished with 33 TDs and nine interceptions for an offense that finished fourth in the league in scoring (29.3) and averaging 39.6 points during a seven-game winning streak. Julian Edelman had 92 receptions and fellow wideout Brandon LaFell was a surprise with 74 catches and seven scores, but hulking tight end Rob Gronkowski is the top weapon after racking up 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 scores. The Patriots’ running game and pass rush have been spotty but cornerback Darrelle Revis will be tasked with shutting down one of the Smiths.
* Road team is 5-0-1 ATS in their last six meetings.
* Ravens are 5-0 ATS in their last five playoff road games.
* Patriots are 4-1 ATS in their last five home games.
* Underdog is 4-1-1 ATS in their last six meetings.
COVERS CONSENSUS: According to Covers Consensus, 57 percent of bettors are backing the Ravens.
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5, 39.5)
The Seattle Seahawks are in the pole position as they prepare to defend their Super Bowl title with a matchup against the visiting Carolina Panthers on Saturday night. The Seahawks closed the regular season with a six-game winning streak to earn the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row. “We’re exactly where we want to be,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “To be going into the playoffs, have a first-round bye and be the No. 1 team in the NFC, that’s what you want.”
The Panthers are the only team to advance to the playoffs with a losing record, but the NFC South champions are also on a roll with five consecutive victories after dispatching Arizona 27-16 last week in the wild card round. While Seattle features the league’s top-ranked defense, Carolina has been a close second during the late-season sprint – not allowing more than 17 points during the five-game run. The Seahawks are 4-0 against the Panthers since 2010, including victories at Carolina in each of the past three seasons by an average margin of 4.3 points.
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, FOX.
LINE HISTORY: Oddsmakers opened the Seahawks as 11-point home faves and that’s come down to -10.5.
WEATHER: Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the mid-40s with a 21 percent chance of rain.
INJURY REPORT: Panthers – LB A.J. Klein (Questionable, knee), G Amini Silatolu (Questionable, knee), S Thomas DeCoud (Questionable, hamstring). Seahawks – C Max Unger (Probable, ankle), WR Jermaine Kearse (Probable, hamstring), TE Tony Moeaki (Questionable, calf), TE Cooper Helfet (Questionable, ribs).
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “No one expects the Panthers to pull off the upset in Seattle on Saturday, that much is clear. While it’s going to be an uphill battle, Carolina can weather the storm if it can put some points on the board early. Cam Newton didn’t look 100% healthy last Saturday – or anywhere close. If he can pull off a heroic performance in hostile territory, the Panthers could keep things interesting. Their defense will need to come up big and take away Russell Wilson’s ability to create big plays with his legs, as well as his arm.” Covers Expert Sean Murphy
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “No sharp action on this game, we just followed the market from Seattle -11 to the present number of -10.5. We did get sharp bet on Under 41 on Monday morning so moved to 40. Since then about 70 percent of cash was on the Under. Wednesday morning we made another move down to current number of 39.5. Fifty-two percent of cash and 56 percent of bets on Carolina. For the total, 68 percent of cash and 71 percent of bets on the Under.” Michael Pierce, TopBet.eu.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (8-8-1 SU, 9-8 ATS, 9-8 O/U): Carolina set a postseason record by limiting the Cardinals to 78 total yards last week, but suffered a huge blow when starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei fractured his foot in Tuesday’s practice and is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. Cam Newton, who was held to 171 passing yards and an interception in a 13-9 loss to Seattle in Week 8, has seven touchdowns versus two interceptions over the past four games while running back Jonathan Stewart has rushed for at least 122 yards on three occasions during the winning streak. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen each had over 1,000 yards while linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFL’s top tackler, leads a defense that has allowed 12.8 points over the past five contests.
ABOUT THE SEAHAWKS (12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS, 8-8 O/U): Seattle leads the league in allowed points (15.9), total yards (267.1) and passing yards (185.6), but has raised its game to another level over the final six weeks, yielding an average of a scant 6.5 points and holding four opponents without a touchdown. Wilson, called an MVP candidate by Panthers coach Ron Rivera, threw a 23-yard touchdown pass in the last minute to beat Carolina in October and rushed for over 100 yards on three occasions to add a dangerous dimension to a ground game powered by Marshawn Lynch. Coming off his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, Lynch ran for a career-best 13 touchdowns and gets back a key blocker in Pro Bowl center Max Unger, who has been sidelined since suffering a high-ankle sprain at Kansas City on Nov. 16.
* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Panthers are 5-1 ATS in their last six playoff road games.
* Over is 6-1 in Panthers last seven road games.
* Seahawks are 4-1 ATS in their last five playoff games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: According to Covers Consensus, 51 percent of bettors are backing the Panthers.