January is a bleak reminder for how quickly football fades. Three months spent in an unreasonable fury of the sport give way with the new year. You received one good weekend of an NFL slate and the straggling college bowl games (albeit an unbelievably thrilling Rose Bowl) to start you off right, but then the funnel tightens. The Wild Card round narrows the field, the college championship the Monday after... And now here we are. Four games are all that are in sight for this weekend. Next week, two; the week after you might prefer the Pro Bowl or a couple of senior games, but we’re all waiting for the last kibosh at that point.
I’m looking forward to spending time with basketball, and perhaps the return of baseball at a later date. But there aren’t many more opportunities to gamble on football. Let’s set the lines straight on Saturday’s games and I’ll see you back here tomorrow for Sunday.
Seattle +5 at Atlanta
The numbers between a touchdown and a field goal are always tricky, and money coming in shows a number of bettors are split on this line as it is. The lean here among many I see is towards Atlanta, built on the Falcons offense and home field advantage. However, the Falcons defense is pretty bad and Thomas Rawls could end up running over another team. I think Atlanta has enough in them to pull this out with Matt Ryan, but it’s going to be a proper scare and the hooks will be in, yanking at nerves and tendons. The sharps pounded this line for Atlanta at 3.5 and 4, but now everyone is split at 5 or 5.5. Personally, I’m taking the points even though I hope for an Atlanta victory.
Ultimately, I have to ask myself if I can see Seattle winning this game, or if I can see Atlanta losing it (very different things, I can assure you). The answer to both is “yeah, absolutely.” Not even in small, outside probabilities but as very real scenarios. And that’s awful. Atlanta, the city and its people, deserves better things than what they’ve gotten in the past from their sports teams. Unfortunately, the Falcons defense is a canister of ass, which means this rather fun team is probably going to burn out at some point in the playoffs.
Houston +16 at New England
There’s reason to pause touching this line when the Patriots walloped the Texans early in the season (with Jacoby Brissett at the helm no less) for a 27-point shutout. It’s also hard to get the taste of last year’s Texans playoff game out of my mouth, where they got the door slammed on them by the Chiefs. So why jump back in here with a 16 point handicap? Why pick up the Texans? Call it a thrill of adventure. Call it the hunt for the mythical beast, the eternal quest for golden cities, or a good game out of a top defense when there’s not so much help from the offense; whatever your fantasy may be. Either way you don’t see point spreads north of two touchdowns in the playoffs every day, so it’s hard to pass up.
I should thank the NFL for how this game has been placed on the schedule. If this game ends up sucking (great possibility) it is at least mercifully in the late slot—freeing you up to find better things to do on a Saturday night—and it sucks up the unbearable CBS broadcast and Phil Simms’ empty commentary.