Predicting winners in NFL playoff games is hard enough, but when you start to bring spreads into the mix things tend to get more complicated.
This week's divisional round games present interesting challenges when it comes to predicting spreads, covers and the over/under because you can make a strong case for all of these games getting out of hand for all eight teams involved.
That kind of parity, especially in the playoffs, is what drives the NFL. It is why we keep coming back year after year. Here is a full look at all the spreads for the four divisional round matchups in chronological order.
Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Spread: Denver (-8.5), Over/Under: 45
The Broncos just defeated the Ravens by 17 points in Baltimore four weeks ago. That was a close game until late in the second quarter, when Joe Flacco threw an interception near the goal line that was returned for a touchdown.
Moving this game to Denver gives the Broncos a decided advantage. They finished 7-1 at home and outscored their opponents there 260-131.
Peyton Manning has had a spotty record in the postseason, but an argument can be made that this is the best team, top to bottom, that he has played with coming into the playoffs. The Broncos defense finished in the top 10 in sacks, yards and points allowed.
The Ravens can't afford any of those patented Flacco turnovers in this game if they want to have a chance to win. Ray Lewis' emotional farewell to Baltimore last week was touching. Now comes the real test for this team.
If the Broncos are to win this game, it does feel like 8.5 points might be too much to give them. The Ravens always seem to find a way to keep games close, especially in the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Spread: San Francisco (-3), Over/Under: 45.5
It is a little surprising to see the 49ers as the favorite in this game. Even though they are playing at home, there are serious questions about the health and effectiveness of star defensive lineman Justin Smith.
We saw in the second half of the game against New England and the following week against Seattle that this is a different defense when Smith is not out there.
If that's not enough, the fact that Aaron Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games is also cause to like the Packers in this game.
Even though the Packers have had issues protecting Rodgers, Smith's presence and effectiveness will determine how good the 49ers' pass rush is in this game. Having him out there is one thing. Having him out there and eating blockers so Aldon Smith can make plays is another.
Then there is the fact that Colin Kaepernick has started to come back down to earth after a stellar debut. He is not playing badly, as he has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games, but there is plenty of tape for teams to study now and pick up on tendencies.
Ultimately, though, this game comes down to how much pressure the 49ers defense can put on Rodgers. If he has time to throw, the Packers will be marching toward the NFC Championship Game. If he doesn't, the 49ers will await the winner of Seattle-Atlanta.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Spread: Atlanta (-2), Over/Under: 44.5
Another game with a surprising spread. I do think the Falcons should be favored, with playing at home and Seattle losing sack leader Chris Clemons to a torn ACL (via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com) as two huge factors.
#Seahawks DE Chris Clemons does have a torn ACL & meniscus, I'm told. Appointment with Dr. James Andrews Monday. Swelling not bad at least— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 7, 2013
The Seahawks did show some cracks in that seemingly invincible armor last week against Washington. The Redskins defense held them in check for three quarters before falling apart, thanks in large part to their offense being unable to sustain a drive and giving them some rest.
Going up against Seattle's defense is a disadvantage for the Atlanta. The Falcons are an offense built on big plays with Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside.
The Seahawks have a big secondary, led by Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, that is so good at just sticking a hand up to disrupt a receiver's concentration.
Being able to run the ball, something they haven't done much of all year, will be critical for the Falcons to move the chains against Seattle's defense.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Spread: (-9), Over/Under: 48
As bad as it can make you look saying this now, it is hard to think of a scenario where the Texans are able to hang with the Patriots and cover that nine-point spread.
Houston's offense has looked dreadful the last three weeks. Matt Schaub throws for a lot of yards but doesn't get the ball into the end zone with regularity. He hasn't thrown a touchdown in four games.
Unless the Texans have a secret weapon up their sleeve that they have been saving for this game, something has to change on offense.
Even though the Patriots had some issues against San Francisco and Jacksonville, getting Rob Gronkowski back and integrated into the offense will make them that much more dangerous.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home in the postseason is already tough enough. When you are playing poor football, which the Texans are right now, you are asking for trouble. This game has blowout written all over it.
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