This coming weekend is arguably one of the most exciting of the year in American sports as it is the NFL playoffs, when the final eight teams who stand a chance of Super Bowl glory, face off against each other for a place in the Divisional Championships.
In this article, we’ll preview the four games at the weekend, giving our tips on what are the best bets for each game. Let’s start by taking a look at the four teams left in contention in the AFC before looking at those remaining in the NFC.
In the final section, we’ll provide our favourite picks on Bet365 Sports for UK bettors. Want to try out Bet365? Now is a great time to join up, as new accountholders will receive free Bet365 sports bets when they do.
The first game of Playoff weekend comes from Foxboro where Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens. John Harbaugh’s Ravens were the somewhat surprise winners of their clash against divisional rivals Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, defeating the Steelers 30-17 in steel-town.
However, it just gets tougher for the Ravens as they travel further north to Foxboro where Bill Belichick’s Patriots, who had the joint best record in the NFL regular season lie in wait, along with the wintry weather that provides the Patriots with a very formidable winter ally.
The weather forecasts seem to predict colder weather for the north east US over the next few days which could make Baltimore’s task all the more tougher. That said, Joe Flacco inspired his team to a surprise victory over Pittsburgh and the Ravens certainly have the firepower to cause the Patriots plenty of problems.
However, if any team in the current crop of NFL franchises know how to win playoff games more than any other, it is the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick’s team are perennial contenders for the AFC title and have made the AFC East their own division.
The current New England team may not have the many standout players of some of the great teams of the past, but in Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, they have at least two elite players in their position. That combined with a typically strong Belichick defense plus a partisan home crowd means they are good value for their position as favourites with the bookmakers.
However, while the Patriots hold a 7-1 record over the Ravens in regular season games, the Ravens have won two of the three post-season match ups including the last time the two teams met in the play offs in the 2013 AFC divisional title game which suggests the Ravens are not completely without hope here.
The teams have already met once this season with the Broncos’ emerging with a 31-24 win. That win came mainly due to Broncos tight end Julius Thomas having a career day scoring three touchdowns.
The Colts were 24-0 and then 31-10 down in the game before two fourth quarter touchdowns added some respectability to the score but the Colts will know that they cannot let the Broncos establish such a big lead so early in the game if they are to stand a chance here.
In the end, it was two crucial turnovers which cost the Colts that day and if they are to be successful here against the favourites Denver, they will need to eradicate turnovers and hope their defence can fluster Peyton Manning.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback has endured some trials and tribulations in the post season in his career and after last season’s embarrassment in the Super Bowl against Seattle, Denver will be itching to get back to the big game this season.
This could be a game that goes right down to the wire on Sunday night and should make compelling viewing for those tuning in on Sky Sports.
The first NFC game will be a real battle between two of the best defenses in the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks welcome the in-form Carolina Panthers to Qwest Field in what bookmakers have as by far the biggest mismatch of the playoffs.
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks are the strong favourites here with homefield advantage and as reigning Super Bowl champions, they have a great chance of reaching their second final in the space of 12 months.
However, if one team is able to compete with the Seahawks on equal terms, it is the Panthers.
Forget their poor divisional record, the Panthers are a team on a roll having won all of their last five games and defensively they have arguably the only defense that could claim to be on a par, or even better than, the Seahawks own.
If Marshawn Lynch can establish a running game against the Panthers then the ‘Hawks should just shade this but this will be a much closer game than the bookies are predicting.
Normally, a southern side travelling north in the playoffs would spell certain doom for the team used to more sunnier climes, but Jason Garrett’s Cowboys have shown they are made of sterner stuff than previous Cowboys teams and they look capable of giving Green Bay a real game.
The Packers do start as favourites but a critical issue here is the health of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, sidelined with a calf injury, he is likely to start but is not likely to be anywhere near 100% healthy for this one.
This is another game which is closer than the bookies would have you think and while the weather and home field are big advantages for Green Bay, a half-fit Aaron Rodgers, the talisman of their team, hugely diminishes this advantage and could even turn the game in the Cowboys favour.
Top NFL Playoff betting tips for UK punters
If you are looking for a solid bet then one does leap out at me and that is the Carolina Panthers being +11 in the Spread bet market with Bet365 against the Seahawks.
This is a massive handicap positive for a Panthers team that has exactly the right strengths to cause the Seahawks maximum problems.
I foresee this as a very tight game, with perhaps just a few points separating the winners, so such a big handicap in Carolina’s favour makes the 10/11 you can get on them very attractive.
I also like the Colts with a +7 handicap against the Broncos and I also think that the Dallas Cowboys at +6.5 are a great bet against the Packers, especially if Rodgers isn’t anywhere near fit. If Rodgers however can play to anywhere near his full capacity, then I’d probably take the -6.5 on the Packers.
Lastly, it’s hard to back against New England at home, so even with a -7 handicap, I think Tom Brady’s team have enough to emerge with the win here.
Place a £10 fourfold bet on these selections and with Bet365, you’d stand to win £122.80, but you’d also earn 10% extra thanks to the US Sports Parlay bonus, giving you an additional £12.28 on top of your usual winnings.