How to pull off the upset

Over the last ten years, home teams have gone 26-14 (.650) in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

Yep, winning on the road during the second round of the postseason isn’t easy.

The good news for fans of the Ravens, Packers, Seahawks and Jets is that this is professional football, where any team can win at any time.

All four road dogs have a legitimate shot of advancing to the next round of the playoffs. The key will be whether or not these four teams can exploit their opponent’s weaknesses while overcoming their own regular season shortcomings.

Here’s how they do it…


Saturday, January 15, 2011

BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-4, 6-3 road) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4, 5-3 home)

Time: 4:30pm eastern
Opening Line: Steelers -3/36.5
Current Line: Steelers -3/37
Public Action: 62% on Baltimore, 54% on the OVER

The good news for Baltimore: They’ve covered the spread in four of their last five games and are 6-2-1 ATS on the road this season. In addition, the road team is 3-0-1 ATS in the last four meetings between these two teams.

Joe FlaccoICONThe Ravens are going to need a solid performance from Joe Flacco this weekend.

The bad news for Baltimore: In three NFL seasons, quarterback Joe Flacco is 2-5 lifetime against the Steelers and 1-3 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. In those seven contests, the Ravens are 0-4 when amassing less than 300 yards of offense. Keep in mind that Baltimore is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six games vs. Pittsburgh.

How Baltimore shocks the world: Win the turnover battle, convert on third down and roll up 300+ yards of offense. The Ravens finished the regular season ranked ninth in the NFL in turnover differential (+7), but were -4 in their four losses. In addition, Baltimore has converted 40.1% of their third down opportunities in 17 games this year, but that number drops to 34.5% in their four defeats. Completing these tasks is no small order against a Pittsburgh team that ranked second in the NFL in turnover differential this season (+17), third in third down defense (33.5%) and second in total defense (276.8 yds/gm).

GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-6, 4-5 road) at ATLANTA FALCONS (13-3, 7-1 home)

Time: 8:00pm eastern
Opening Line: Falcons -2/45.5
Current Line: Falcons -2.5/44.5
Public Action: 50% on Atlanta, 64% on the OVER

The good news for Green Bay: They’re 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games and have scored 21 or more points in three of their last four contests. More importantly, they enter the Divisional Round with the NFL’s fifth-ranked total defense (309.1 yds/gm).

Michael TurnerICONSlowing down Michael Turner is one of the big keys to stopping Atlanta.

The bad news for Green Bay: They went 4-5 on the road this season and travel to Atlanta on Saturday to take on a quarterback who is 20-2 career at home. Keep in mind that the Packers are 1-5 ATS in their last six games vs. Atlanta, who just so happens to be 7-1 ATS in their last eight games overall.

How Green Bay shocks the world: Stop Michael Turner and win the sack battle. Atlanta’s workhorse running back finished the regular season ranked third in rushing yards (1,371), which earned him a trip to Hawaii for this year’s Pro Bowl. In Atlanta’s 13 wins this season, Turner averaged 4.4 yards per carry, scored 12 touchdowns and rushed for 100+ yards seven times. Those numbers take a big hit in the Falcons’ three losses, where Turner was held to under 50 rushing yards each time while scoring zero touchdowns and averaging 2.6 yards per carry. In addition, the Packers are going to need a positive sack differential if they want to advance to next week’s NFC Championship game:

Green Bay’s 11 wins: +14 sack differential

Green Bay’s 6 losses: -4 sack differential

Atlanta’s 13 wins: +9 sack differential

Atlanta’s 3 losses: -4 sack differential

Sunday, January 16, 2011

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-9, 2-6 road) at CHICAGO BEARS (11-5, 5-3 home)

Time: 1:00pm eastern
Opening Line: Bears -10/40
Current Line: Bears -10/41
Public Action: 66% on Seattle, 74% on the OVER

The good news for Seattle: The Bears aren’t invincible at home. Chicago went 5-3 at Soldier Field this season, with four of those wins coming by five or fewer points. Additionally, Chicago is 1-4 ATS in their last five home playoff games.

Matt HasselbeckICONThe road has not been a friendly place for Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks.

The bad news for Seattle: They stink on the road. After upsetting the Bears 23-20 in Chicago on October 17, the Seahawks went on to lose four of their next five road contests by an average of 21.8 points per game. Seattle finished the season 2-6 on the road with a turnover differential of -10.

How Seattle shocks the world: Control the clock and pressure Jay Cutler. Many people believe that time of possession is a meaningless stat, but keep in mind that the Bears held the ball for an average of just 26:48 in their five losses this season, as opposed to an impressive 30:45 in their 11 wins. On the other side of the ball, Seattle held the rock for an average of 31:16 in their eight wins (postseason included), but that number dropped to just 24:17 in their nine losses. I wouldn’t consider those statistics “meaningless.” In addition, Seattle has to find a way to pressure quarterback Jay Cutler and keep him from getting into a rhythm. The Windy City signal-caller had a QB rating of 84.3 against the blitz in 2010, which ranked 18th in the NFL among quarterbacks who attempted at least 100 passes. Keep in mind that in Chicago’s 11 wins, Jay-Cut completed 63.9% of his passes, had a 22:7 touchdown to interception ratio and posted a QB rating of 106.5. In the Bears’ five losses, Cutler completed just 54.2% of his passes, had a touchdown to interception ratio of 1:9 and posted a QB rating of 50.3.

Bonus stat: Get after the quarterback! Cutler was sacked an average of 5.4 times per game in Chicago’s five losses and just 2.5 times per game in their 11 wins.

NEW YORK JETS (12-5, 7-2 road) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-2, 8-0 home)

Time: 4:30pm eastern
Opening Line: Patriots -9/45.4
Current Line: Patriots -9/45.5
Public Action: 62% on New England, 72% on the OVER

The good news for New York: The Jets are 2-2 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since Rex Ryan took over as head coach for Eric Mangini in 2009. In addition, New York is 14-6 on the road (including the postseason) over the last two years and 3-1 on the road in the p layoffs.

LaDainian TomlinsonA big day from Tomlinson could go a long way in New England.

The bad news for New York: How’s this for intimidating: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a career 14-4 in the postseason, with an 8-1 record at home.

How New York shocks the world: Establish the run, limit turnovers and protect Sanchez. Outside of the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets are facing the steepest uphill battle this weekend when they travel to Massachusetts to take on the red-hot Patriots. If Rex Ryan’s crew wants to pull off the upset, they’ll need to be efficient on offense. The Jets averaged 162.1 rushing yards per game over their 12 wins this season (including the playoffs), but that number fell to 119.6 rushing yards per game in their five losses. An effective running game will help keep Brady off the field and at the same time will limit the exposure of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Protecting the football will also be of the utmost importance on Sunday, as the Jets have committed an average of 2.2 turnovers per game in their five losses, but just 1.45 turnovers in their 12 wins.

Protect Sanchez: The second-year quarterback out of Southern California completed only 53% of his passes vs. the blitz this season, so it’s imperative that New York’s offensive line provides adequate time for Sanchez to unload the football. The Jets have surrendered an average of 2.2 sacks per game in their five losses this season, but that number drops to just 1.45 sacks per game over their 12 wins.

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