The biggest winners coming out of the divisional round of the NFL playoffs?
Not underdog and “over” bettors (although the pups went 3-1, with two outright upsets, and three of the four games topped the total). Not me (I went 5-3 with my selections, including nailing the Giants on the money line over the Packers, but still finished upside-down for the week).
Not even devil worshipers (who undoubtedly desecrated a few No. 15 Broncos jerseys in celebration of The Chosen One’s 35-point loss in New England).
Nope, the biggest winners were liquor distributors in and around Manhattan, where sources say NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell swiftly emptied his hooch supply after seeing Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers get knocked off in the span of 24 hours. So instead of a dream Packers-Saints NFC Championship Game matchup—and an almost certain Tom Brady vs. Brees/Rodgers Super Bowl—Goodell is faced with this sobering possibility: Joe Flacco and Alex Smith vs. two bruising, stingy defenses.
Hey, look on the bright side, Commish: If the Giants lose in San Francisco, the NFC’s three Pro Bowl quarterbacks—Brees, Rodgers and Eli Manning—will all be heading to Honolulu instead of prepping for the Super Bowl. And that trio would join the AFC’s Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. We could see one team—maybe both?—score 100 points!
Roger? Put down the bottle of scotch, Roger—put it down!
On to this week’s picks …
$550 (to win $500) on Ravens-Patriots OVER 50: Throw in the preseason, and the 2011-12 Ravens have held 14 of 21 opponents—including six of the last seven—to 17 points or fewer. I know this, and yet I’m still issuing the “over” as this week’s best bet, which means one of two things: My glue-sniffing is out of control, or I’ve found a chink in Baltimore’s armor. Believe it or not, it’s the latter. Here are the starting quarterbacks the Ravens have faced in their last dozen games dating to Oct. 24: Blaine Gabbert, Kevin Kolb (put up 27 points), Roethlisberger (20), Tarvaris Jackson (22), Andy Dalton (twice, averaged 20 points), Smith, Colt McCoy, Dan Orlovsky, Rivers (34), Seneca Wallace and T.J. Yates.
Three of those guys—Kolb, Roethlisberger and Rivers—pilot pass-first offenses, and together they averaged 27 points against Baltimore. With all due respect to Big Ben and Rivers (and no respect to Kolb), they’re not Tom Brady. During New England’s nine-game winning streak, Brady has 25 TD passes and three interceptions while leading his team to 37, 34, 38, 31, 34, 41, 27, 49 and 45 points.
Didn’t the Ravens fluster Brady in a 33-14 playoff victory in New England two years ago? Yes. But that was two years ago, when Ray Lewis’ legs were two years younger and he didn’t have to chase the dynamic tight-end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez across the field all day. (Throw in Brady’s supermodel wife, and he now has more toys than a preschool.)
So the question isn’t whether the Patriots join the Chargers as the only teams to crack 30 points against Baltimore, it’s whether the Ravens will contribute to the cause. Despite the offense flatlining in Baltimore’s 20-13 win over the Texans, it still has scored at least 20 points in 11 of its last 15 games, while New England had surrendered at least 20 in six straight prior to shutting down Denver. Lastly, the Ravens have gone over the number in six of eight road games; New England has gone over in 22 of its last 28 overall (the last seven have featured at least 51 combined points); and six of eight playoff games so far have cleared the total (with five surpassing 50 points).
$330 (to win $300) on Giants +2½ vs. 49ers: Watching Smith roast the Saints defense for 36 points—including two do-or-die touchdowns in the waning minutes—ranks high among things I’d never have believed if I didn’t see it for myself. Let’s just say I don’t see lightning striking twice for Mr. Smith, not against a Giants defense that in the last four weeks has shut down the Jets (14 points), Cowboys (14), Falcons (0; Atlanta’s two points came on a safety) and Packers (20, including a garbage-time touchdown).
Eli Manning is scorching hot (953 passing yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT in his last three games), and New York is 4-for-4 all time in the NFC Championship Game. Going back to their Super Bowl run after the 2007 regular season, the Giants have won five straight postseason games away from home (all as an underdog).
BEST OF THE REST: Patriots -7 (buy the half-point at minus-120) vs. Ravens ($120); Patriots-Ravens OVER 25½, first half ($66); Giants-49ers UNDER 42½ ($66); Giants +½ vs. 49ers, first half ($55).
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME RESULT: 1-0 (+$500); LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 5-3 (-$55); Bankroll: $6,766.