Place your bets on Saints, Patriots, Texans and Giants

Posted: January 13, 2012

Saints (-3) over 49ERS: Give Jim Harbaugh credit for taking San Francisco from 6-10 to 13-3 in his first season. But sit down while we put the Niners season under the microscope. They won the NFC West, the worst division in the NFL. Big Deal! Beating the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals is not impressing me. OK, the 49ers have a solid running game, an OK quarterback in Alex Smith, and a very, very good defense. Lemme go back to the QB slot. Smith has had big problems in three games against New Orleans. His passer rating was an anemic 65.0, with three TDs against five interceptions. No such problems for the visitors. Nothing can stop this New Orleans machine . . . Nothing! Last week, when we used the Saints as our Best Bet, it was pretty much based on Drew Brees. Same deal here. He's just too good, too often. And the Saints come in scorching hot, on a 9-0 run straight up and against the spread. That makes this the Best Bet.

PATRIOTS (-13) over Broncos: New England put a lid on Tebowmania for a little while after beating Denver, 41-23, in mid-December, but it has flared up again. The country is going nuts for the "Mile High Messiah," but Double V is not bowing down. Yeah, Tebow was OK Sunday against the Steelers, but we're talking about a Pittsburgh team that was an emtpy shell. The Steelers played with a one-legged Ben Roethlisberger, no All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, and Rashard Mendenhall was out as well. On defense, it was way worse. They had to bench superb safety Ryan Clark, the team's leading tackler, because of a blood disorder, then lost Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton during the game. No such luck at New England. The Patriots come in on a mission, and the mission is to erase the sour taste of last season's playoff loss at home to the Jets. We know the Pats are gonna win, and it should be a dozen and a half, just like last time.

Texans (+7) over RAVENS: Houston crashed the playoffs for the first time in its history, and the opening act was a huge success, rolling to a 31-10 victory over Cincinnati. Act 2 is gonna be a little more difficult, but these Texans have everything they need to at least make it interesting. Running back Arian Foster missed three games, yet still rumbled for an amazing total of 1,224 yards. The defense, third best in the AFC, is young, but hungry. And the Texans have been brilliant against the spread, covering nine of the last 11. Baltimore will be a tough out, but their home field has been problematic in the playoffs. The Ravens have not won a playoff game at home since 2000, and Joe Flacco has had the postseason heebie-jeebies. In seven playoff games, Flacco has thrown seven interceptions and only four TDs, and has fumbled twice. Ray Lewis & Co. move on, but only by a skinny, little three-point margin.

Giants (+7) over PACKERS: It's not often that a loss can turn your season around, but that's exactly what happened to the New Yorkers after coming up three points short against Green Bay, 38-35, at MetLife Stadium. From that point on, the Giants have won four of five and look like a legit handful. And it's the defense that has really keyed the run, with a relentless pass rush led by All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul (with 16 sacks), as well as Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Very few teams can bring that kind of pressure, certainly not the Packers, whose D is dead last in the NFL. Gotta give the edge at QB to Aaron Rodgers, but don't sleep on Eli Manning. The bigger the game, the better he plays. Note the win at Green Bay in the playoffs following the 2007 season, when Eli put Brett Farve on the golf course, and then the Super Bowl, where he dispatched the perfect 18-0 Tom Bradys. Feeling a W for the Pack, but New York wins the spread war.

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