There are some really interesting numbers related to this week's 2 vs 6 matchups in both conferences, especially when you consider the Superbowl implications as well. The first thing that caught my eye was reading that if the Jets beat the Steelers this weekend, Mark Sanchez will set the record for most road playoff wins in NFL history by a quarterback. It's quite an amazing statistic, especially since it is only his second season. Some will use it to argue that Sanchez "steps it up" in the postseason, while I will argue that he still sucks, and that it's his team that "steps it up" in the postseason.
With the heavily favored New England Patriots out of the picture, the Superbowl line has moved from AFC-4 to a pick'em. In fact, the Packers are favored to win it all, opening the week at 8-5 and coming down to about 6-5. Here's an interesting article on what the LVSC thinks it might send out for each of the four Superbowl matchups. It was clear from the start of this week that all the love was on Green Bay, and I think the lines were certainly shaded that way to begin with. As the money keeps pouring in on Green Bay from both the public and the sharps, I see very little value there. In fact, I think the value play is to take the AFC right now if you can get it at a pick'em. If we're to believe the LVSC lines, then even if Green Bay wins as expected, you'd be very slightly ahead if the Steelers also won, and slightly behind if the Jets won. As the proposed Jets-Packers line doesn't cross the key number of 3, it's not too much of a loss in value. Whereas if Chicago won, you rate to be ahead by a lot. It feels to me like most people tend to think that it's more likely that the Jets will upset the Steelers than the Bears upsetting the Packers, even though the lines for both games are the same.
GB@CHI Line: GB by 3.5, o/u 43.5
Even though this is a historic football rivalry, these two teams haven't played each other in the playoffs in 60 years. The way their regular season games went, it's almost like they haven't played each other yet this season either. In the first one, Green Bay had 18 penalties for 152 yards, while the Bears had nothing to play for in the second one. During Bill Simmons' podcast this week, he mentioned a theory that sounded really interesting to me. What if Green Bay, like most high powered offenses, is actually a dome team? What if the Green Bay offense doesn't get on a roll in cold and windy Chicago? We certainly saw Seattle's receivers having problems last week. In the end, Green Bay is still only a .500 team on the road, even including their last two wins. In my mind, the value must be on the team that hasn't gotten much respect all year against the public favorite.
Pick: CHI +3.5 (you might even get to see 4 by game time), Over 43.5
NYJ@PIT Line: PIT by 3.5, o/u 38.5
This seems almost like the exact same game as last week's BAL@PIT game. Both the Ravens and the Jets are good defensive teams carrying middling QBs (Flacco is tied with Sanchez in that road playoff wins stat). The Steelers might have had a physically tough game against Baltimore, but they also had a bye week, so that evens out. To me, this game will once again come down to turnovers and QB play. When the Jets won the regular season meeting, it was one of those rare games where the Steelers couldn't generate any turnovers. But the Jets also can't rely as heavily on their running game to keep Sanchez out of trouble like they did the last two weeks with LdT and Greene combining for 35 then 27 rushes in each game. Running over and over against the Pittsburgh defense has been proven to not be a very successful tactic. To me, this is the game where Sanchez really will have to step up, and that means playing at a high level the whole game, not just a good throw here and there while maintaining his 55% completion percentage.
Pick: PIT-3.5, Under 38.5