Opening Lines: Divisional Round Edition

The Patriots opened as 8.5-point favorites for their Divisional Round playoff game Sunday against the New York Jets. The last time these two teams met, the Jets tried to put their blowout loss behind them by burying the game ball. This time, Patriots fans are hopeful that Rex Ryan and Company will need to dig a deeper hole.

Forty-five to three. 45-3. Patriots 45, Jets 3. Patriots fans could write poetry about that fateful night just six weeks ago. In fact, I tried to do a little haiku of my own, but my wife (an award-winning poet in her own right) forbade me from sullying the family name here for all the world to see. She probably has a point.

This game will not be as lopsided as the Week 13 blowout. The Jets seem to have realized in recent weeks that they can’t put the game on Mark Sanchez’s shoulders, as he has thrown 6 interceptions with just 2 touchdowns in his last 5 starts. Those numbers aren’t just bad; they’re Chad Henne-esque. The Jets ran the ball 37 times against an accommodating Colts defense and dominated time of possession last week, and that figures to be their best chance against the Patriots as well. The only way they can win is by keeping Brady on the sideline.

The outcome of this game is going to rely heavily on New York’s ability to run the ball and keep Sanchez out of unmanageable situations. If the Jets can keep their down and distance manageable and convert on third down, they can keep it close. They did both of those things in their Week 2 win over New England and won by two scores, but they didn’t do either of those things in Week 13 and lost by a unit of measurement that may not have been discovered by modern science.

In games between two playoff-caliber division rivals that feature a large spread, the smart money often lies in taking the points. This game should be close enough to be decided by a score or less. I’ll take the Jets at +8.5, but I’m still confident that Bill Belichick will be greeting Rex Ryan at midfield with a game ball and a shovel.

What about the other games this weekend?

Ravens (+3) at Steelers

I will pick the Steelers in our weekly Foxboro Blog Pick ‘Em Challenge, but I’m taking the Ravens to cover the spread. That is my scientific way of saying that I have no earthly clue which team is going to win this game. Both teams have solid defenses against the run. Both teams have above-average running games. The Steelers have the edge at quarterback, but the Ravens have a deeper stable of weapons in the passing game. These teams are basically twins (from my vantage point in southcentral Pennsylvania, I should be able to see the plume from both mushroom clouds when Ravens and Steelers fans read that comment). The difference between these two teams is slight, so I’m reluctantly taking the points.

Packers (+2) vs. Falcons

The Packers have been in playoff mode for the past four weeks, and their results have been pretty good (three wins and a close loss to the Pats without Rodgers). The Falcons lost their only truly meaningful game in the past several weeks, at home, against a team that couldn’t handle the Seahawks last week. The Packers defense is playing better than any team in the league right now. I can’t find it in my gut to give up points against a team that features an elite defense and an elite QB.

Bears (-10) vs. Seahawks

I’ve beat up the Seahawks in this space several times this year, and I remain firm in my position that they are a truly awful football team. Not pretty good. Not mediocre. Truly awful. In the past two weeks, they’ve played to their fullest potential and earned a pair of hard-fought wins. A team this bad cannot possibly win three weeks in a row. And as we all know, when the Seahawks lose, they really lose (again, that’s nine losses this year, all by two scores or more). The Bears have one of the league’s top defenses, and Cutler and Forte have been good enough to put points on the board all season and avoid crippling mistakes. Not only do I think the Bears will win, I also think the Seahawks offense won’t find the end zone. If Matt Hasselbeck throws four more TDs in this one, I will gladly eat my hat. Stay tuned for the pictures on that one.

2010 Record ATS: 22-17-1 (regular season), 2-2 (playoffs)

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