After kicking off with a resounding thud on Wild Card Weekend, the real fun is about to begin in the NFL playoffs. With four games on tap featuring the league's seven best teams and the Texans, the divisional round is here to remind us why it's widely considered the best football weekend of the year.
The home teams come in fresh off of first-round byes. The visiting teams come in confident, with playoff wins already under their belts. And as an added bonus this time around, juicy regular-season rematches are in store across the board.
With that, the stage is set for 12-plus hours of football at its highest level and, as always, the opportunity to put some edges in play.
Seahawks/Falcons Under 3.5 Field Goals
With the stakes this high and only four games on the board, recreational and pro bettors alike are watching the lines like hawks. As a result, the point spreads are about as tight as they come. But bigger games also mean bigger prop menus, and this time of year that's often when bigger value can come into play.
A lot of points stand to be scored when the high-flying Seahawks and Falcons square off in Atlanta, but that doesn't necessarily mean a lot of field goals. Seattle's renewed commitment to the run, as demonstrated in last week's win over the Lions, and the Falcons' balanced passing attack starring Julio Jones and multiple pass-catching threats out of the backfield, indicate both offenses will be efficient when it comes to moving the chains and finishing drives. And Atlanta's weak rush defense, coupled with the Seahawks' more exploitable secondary in the absence of Earl Thomas, increases the likelihood of each offense finding the end zone when within striking distance.
The coaching matchup may also lead to fewer field goal attempts than we'd normally see. A Pete Carroll disciple, Dan Quinn witnessed firsthand during his time in Seattle how going for it on fourth down can pay off, as the analytics support. And Carroll's aggression hasn't gone anywhere since Quinn left - Seattle's head coach continues to show why he's still affectionately known as "Big Balls Pete" within the USC Trojan Family.
Ezekiel Elliott Over 102 Rush Yards
When the Cowboys and Packers met in Week 6 at Lambeau Field, Elliott torched Green Bay to the tune of 157 yards on 28 carries. It's difficult to make a case against him being similarly effective, or receiving a similar workload, in the rematch.
First and foremost, Dallas' dominant offensive line manhandled the Packers the first time around. Nothing has changed since then to suggest a significant shift in balance of power in the trenches, especially with the Cowboys now playing at home. And if a running game is a QB's best friend, it might not be possible to overstate the importance of an effective Elliott in fellow rookie Dak Prescott's playoff debut - turning to the ground game early and often can position the entire offense for success.
Lastly, for all the accolades Green Bay deserves for its seven-game winning streak, the Packers have needed each game desperately after a four-game losing streak left them at 4-6. A team can only empty the tank so many times in the name of keeping its season alive before insurmountable mental and physical fatigue set in. At this level, just a fraction of a second slow in processing a play, or a fraction of a step slow in closing a gap, can make all the difference.
Green Bay defenders will undoubtedly be on the lookout for No. 21 all day, but whether they can do anything to contain him is the question as he feasts his eyes on the ultimate prize.
Pick of the Week: Teaser - Steelers +7.5 at Chiefs, Texans/Patriots Under 50.5
Basic strategy teasers that cross through the key numbers of 3 and 7 are consistently among the best bets on any NFL board. As slight underdogs in Kansas City, the Steelers represent the lone basic strategy option on this weekend's slate, and there's enough to like about them keeping it competitive if not winning outright in what looks to be the biggest toss-up of the divisional round. That the Chiefs are favored by less than their home-field advantage tells us Pittsburgh is the better team. In wintry conditions - Sunday's kickoff has even been pushed back by seven hours due to "weather concerns" - the advantage often goes to the best running back on the field, giving the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell a decided edge. And while Kansas City has a good chance to win largely because Andy Reid teams tend not to beat themselves, especially off a bye, the Chiefs' conservative nature lends itself to close games.
Instead of tying the Steelers to another point spread, the second leg this time goes to the total in New England. Despite the billing as a showdown between a Texans defense that allowed the fewest yards in the league vs. a Patriots defense that allowed the fewest points, neither defense taking the field in Foxborough is elite. But the poor logic behind the "two great defenses" narrative might not prove to be misleading when it comes to playing on the Under, for one of the simplest possible reasons: It's difficult to anticipate a high total when you can only see one team scoring. After a Jacoby Brissett-led New England team shut out Houston in Week 3, there's a non-zero chance that the Patriots score seven touchdowns and this one still stays under 50.
The Texans were gifted a matchup against a third-string QB making his first career start last weekend, as demonstrated by the fact they were able to score 10 points before picking up a first down. It won't be nearly as easy this time for Bill O'Brien and his team, meaning heads will be hanging on the Houston sideline.
Last Week: 1-2
Picks of the Week: 10-8