Baltimore Ravens V Pittsburgh Steelers – NFL Wild Card Betting Preview by @DavAulak

Heinz Field – Sunday 4th January at 01:15 live on Sky Sports 2

Where else can you begin in this Play Off game than talking about Le’Veon Bell and his potential absence from the game? It was finally made official that Bell will not be taking part in this game on Friday and that is a huge loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they look to improve their 3-0 record against the Baltimore Ravens, their Divisional rivals from the AFC North.

Bell’s loss is not going to play a key part in the Pittsburgh plans to run the ball as that is going to be a difficulty even if the Running Back was available- instead, it is an issue that Ben Roethlisberger will be without a player he has used heavily in the passing game when looking for a safety blanket and one who has been very good in protection when the Quarter Back goes back to throw.

Joe Harris, Dri Archer and newly signed Ben Tate will all try and have some success against the Ravens on the ground, but Haloti Ngata only improves Baltimore’s Defensive Line and Roethlisberger needs to throw the ball to win this game.

It is going to rain on Saturday, but that shouldn’t prevent Ben Roethlisberger attacking an injured Baltimore Secondary that has missed Jimmy Smith and now have to deal with Antonio Brown and a strong passing Offense.

If this game does go the way of the last one that ended at Heinz Field, Baltimore will need Joe Flacco to perform much better than he has been doing over the last three weeks. Justin Forsett should be able to help by running the ball effectively, but the Pittsburgh Defence has shown more life of late and have been an improving unit which could pose some real problems for Flacco.

Baltimore’s Offensive Line will give Flacco time to make some throws downfield, but his accuracy has been something of a concern and the pocket won’t be completely clean now the Steelers have figured out a way to find a productive pass rush.

I have been hoping that Pittsburgh’s spread would come down a little after Bell was officially ruled out, but that hasn’t been the case just yet. However, I do think they will prove to be too good at home where teams have been very good against the spread in the Wild Card Round over the last three years.

The Steelers have also won all 3 previous Play Off games against Baltimore and that includes a 7 point win when the teams met in January 2011. I believe Ben Roethlisberger wins the Quarter Back battle in what could be a surprisingly high-scoring game and helps the Steelers move on to Denver next week for the Divisional Round games.

Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers – 3 Points at 1.88

Price correct at the time of writing

By @DavAulak

 

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Arizona Cardinals V Carolina Panthers – NFL Wild Card Betting Preview by @DavAulak

Bank of America Stadium – Saturday 3rd January at 21:35 live on Sky Sports 2

The Arizona Cardinals have to be cursing their luck in losing not one, but two starting Quarter Backs this season as a promising season looks to be ending in disappointment. At one point, the Cardinals were clear favourites to finish the season with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC, but the injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton plus two losses to the Seattle Seahawks means the team had to settle for a Wild Card spot.

That also means the Arizona Cardinals have to go on the road during this Round of the Play Offs and they are a pretty big underdog against the Carolina Panthers despite the losing record the latter bring into the game. However, Carolina have been one of the hotter teams in the month of December with 4 straight wins helping them beat out the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC South title and another post-season visit.

Cam Newton avoided a major injury in the car crash he suffered a few weeks ago and looks about as healthy as he has all season and is expected to contribute to establishing the run along with Jonathan Stewart and potentially returning DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers have been pounding the ball very effectively over the last four games, averaging 199 yards per game on the ground, and they should be able to establish their first point of attack in this game.

The Arizona Cardinals have struggled to contain the run effectively in their last six games compared with the rest of the season and the defence is spending a lot of time on the field which has worn them down. That also takes away some of the ‘Blitz’ packages that Todd Bowles loves dialling up and will also mean the potential for big games for both Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen in the passing games.

The Cardinals defence hasn’t been helped by the limitations of their own offense with Ryan Lindley behind Centre, especially as the Quarter Back is 1-5 as a starter and only threw his first Touchdown passes of his NFL career in Week 17. Lindley could be helped by Kerwynn Williams and his ability to at least get something going on the ground, while both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are Receivers that can make the big catch to keep the chains moving.

It does all seem to point to the Carolina Panthers winning this game and I do think they will do that, but I think the Arizona Cardinals are still getting too many points in this game. Aside from the two heavy losses to the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona have been very competitive through their injuries and I think they can be competitive in this one too.

Even the second loss to Seattle was thanks to a huge Fourth Quarter from the Seahawks and this should be a close game unless Lindley decides to throw two or three Interceptions which is a concern.

The Arizona defence has to step up and produce a huge performance in this one- if they can slow down the run, even a little, it will give their top Corner Back tandem a chance to at least force the Panthers to punt the ball and give Arizona a chance to win the game outright.

Carolina won as the underdog in Week 17, but those teams are just 13-21-1 against the spread in the Wild Card Round, although there are a couple of big trends going against Arizona. The Cardinals do have the better strength of schedule and those teams are also 32-12 against the spread in this Play Off Round, but I will keep the interest to a minimum considering Ryan Lindley’s (lack of) ability at Quarter Back.

Pick: Arizona Cardinals + 6.5 Points at 2.00

Price correct at the time of writing

By @DavAulak

 

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