I was going to run my divisional picks the same way I did the wild card picks, but it turns out that Bill Barnwell at Grantland did essentially what I would have done, but in longer format. So I’ll just present a link to his piece(s) with my picks, maybe add a thought, and sit back and enjoy the weekend.
Saints at 49ers: Opinions here are pretty torn, I think; it basically comes down to if you think the 49ers defense can stop the Saints offense. A lot of people have also been pointing out how much lower-scoring the Saints are on the road. Obviously they played all their division rivals (the Falcons, Bucs, and Panthers) at both places, but here are their other home games: Chicago, Houston, Indy, Giants, Lions. Their away games: Green Bay, Jacksonville, Saint Louis, Tennessee, and Minnesota. The defense for those five home games finished 15th, 4th, 24th, 23rd, and 28th (respectively) in my rankings, while the five away teams were 27th, 9th, 26th, 8th, and 22nd. Those are about the same on average, but there were two top-ten defenses on the road versus one at home. Also, the Saints put up 62 against the Colts at home, which probably skews their record. So the home/away thing might not be about the Saints per se so much as who they happened to play at home and away.
At any rate, Luigi sees the Saints as 2.5 point favorites and about 60% to win. Bovada has the line at Saints -4, so I would pick the 49ers to cover. The moneyline is +155/-175, which Luigi thinks is worth a look at for the 49ers. The over/under is 47, and you might as well ignore Luigi’s opinion but he sees the over. The line has been pretty steady, so no special info there; it started at -3 and then moved toward the Saints (to -3.5), but then the juice has been moving back towards the 49ers (from -110 to more like -120). So this is a close-call game where we probably would have picked whoever the underdog happened to be.
Broncos at Patriots: Tebow! I have to say, I fully expect the Pats to win this one. I know the first game was flukey, etc, but whatever. Luigi has the Pats as 10 point favorites, winning 76.7% of the time. With the spread at -14, though, he would take the Broncos to cover. Bovada doesn’t list a moneyline here. The over/under is set to 50.5, which Luigi sees as too high. The lines have moved towards the Broncos, so that might be a good sign for Luigi’s pick.
Texans at Ravens: I already covered this one about as much as I care to. Luigi has the Ravens as less than 1 point favorites to win, but only 49.5% win probability (i.e., slightly favored to lose); this game is a complete toss-up. Bovada has the line at Ravens -9, so obviously we would take the Texans. Similarly, with the moneyline at -340/+270, it would jump all over the Texans to win outright. It would also take the over against 36.5. The lines in general have moved toward the Texans, so again that’s a good sign for Luigi; it also helps that Bovada seems to be holding tough at -9 whereas a lot of other places have moved to -7.5.
Giants at Packers: I think too many people are giving too much credence to the close game earlier in the year, particularly forgetting that it was in New York. Luigi has the Packers as 6.4 point favorites, winning 70.3% of the time. Against Bovada’s line of -9 it would take the Giants. With a moneyline of -350/+275, it would also take a look at the Giants. But keep in mind that doesn’t mean that it think they’ll win; it just means the payoff is good enough for the 30% of the time they should win. And Luigi would just barely take the under against 53. The line here has moved toward the Giants, so another good sign for Luigi.
Bill Simmons‘ picks: Bill is currently 4-0 against my 2-2, although I beat him up pretty good in the regular season. This weekend he has the 49ers (agree), the Patriots (disagree), the Ravens (disagree), and the Packers (disagree). So Bill has a good chance to put the playoffs away if his picks come through. And while it seems like a good idea to take the home team in divisional games (they’re the top two seeds, they just had a bye, etc), since the 2004 season the home team has only won 16 of their 28 games. TMQ notes that the home team has won more like 72% if you go back to 1990, but perhaps something has changed. Also, the home team is only 12-16 against the spread since 2004. They did better prior to that (I think 33-21-2 from 1990 to 2003), but the home team was also winning more then. I’m going to go with Luigi and more recent history here.