NFL Saturday Playoffs

NFL Saturday Playoffs

Pass-happy Seahawks don't buy that they must run to win in Green Bay
January 7, 2008

KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -When the Packers and Seahawks meet on Saturday in the NFC divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field, they may test the notion that you have to have a running game to win in the playoffs.

Both teams like to throw the ball, and Green Bay's Brett Favre and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck do it well. But the Packers have shown an increasing ability to run the ball late in the season. Not so much for the Seattle Seahawks.

Rookie Ryan Grant has helped give Green Bay a consistent running game, something Seattle has lacked all season despite having one of the league's most heralded backs in Shaun Alexander.

``We haven't been able to get ours going very well,'' Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.

The Seahawks beat Washington in last weekend's wild-card game despite rushing for just 77 yards. That sounds low - but it's better than they fared on Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh (38 yards) or Dec. 16, at Carolina (44 yards).

Seattle hasn't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 3. In Weeks 16 and 17, the Seahawks showed life on the ground, rushing for 144 and 167 yards respectively. However, that was against the Ravens, who were spiraling and missing menacing middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and the Falcons, who played without two starting defensive tackles.

Alexander has been playing with a broken wrist since September, and finished with 716 yards in 13 games. Second-year man Rob Sims and veteran Floyd Womack have been continually rotated on the offensive line. At midseason, Holmgren declared he was done ``trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,'' claiming the team would rely on Hasselbeck's passing instead of the stalled running.

At frosty Lambeau Field on Saturday, relying on a passing game could be problematic. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-20s with a 20 percent chance of snow flurries at kickoff.

``Uh, it's going to be cold,'' Alexander deadpanned when asked what he expected at Lambeau Field.

Cold, windy and snowy generally works against a passing team. Holmgren's been hearing this ever since the Seahawks clinched their fourth consecutive NFC West title and found that a Super Bowl run would go through Green Bay.

His response: ``I think New England is proving the point. While they run the ball very well, (they) throw the ball 33 times in a row and still have these big wins and all that.

``No one's saying they have to run the ball in the playoffs. I haven't heard that.''

Holmgren faced similar skepticism when he first arrived in Wisconsin in 1992 to be the Packers' head coach.

``There was always the belief that the weather you get, that we will get probably, can affect the passing game more than the running game,'' Holmgren said. ``Yeah, we understand all this passing business, but when it comes down to December and January, you've got to be able to bang it around a little bit.'

``I understand that. And there is some truth to that.''

But less so as it applies to Holmgren's passing fancy.

Holmgren's offense is as true to Bill Walsh's prototypical West Coast offense as any currently in football. Walsh gave Holmgren his first NFL job and taught him the pro game with the 49ers.

Hasselbeck has set team passing records for yards (3,966), completions (352) and attempts (562) while orchestrating a continuous set of 6-yard routes and safe dumpoffs near the line of scrimmage, with the occasional probe toward the back of a defense. The system mitigates the effects of wind, mud and snow.

``Because the ball is not in the air as long as in some systems,'' Holmgren said. ``Keeping in mind this offense, in its origins and how we've kept it going, we took out a few runs and replaced them with passes. Just substituted.

``It's the same thought in mind - 5 yards, 6 yards, hopefully.''

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Jaguars next with chance to end Patriots' unbeaten season
January 7, 2008

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Sixteen games. Sixteen wins. Sixteen chances for the New England Patriots to talk about how worried they are about their upcoming opponent.

With the Jacksonville Jaguars heading to town for Saturday's second-round playoff game, the Patriots are spouting the same party line they've held to all year.

And why not?

It didn't hurt them during an undefeated regular season.

``They're a very good team,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``Teams that are in this position are the best teams in the league. There's a reason why Jacksonville is playing this week. They do a lot of things very well.''

Ditto from safety Rodney Harrison: ``We've got our hands full, to say the least. We'd better be on top of our own game plan if we expect to win.''

And defensive lineman Richard Seymour: ``We have a lot of respect for this football team. We definitely have our work cut out for us.''

The Patriots earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, thanks to a 16-0 mark in the regular season that was just one of the NFL records they set. New England also scored a record 589 points and 79 touchdowns, while Brady's 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss' 23 TD catches were also the best in league history.

But coach Bill Belichick and his team insist that they're not overly confident heading into their game against the Jaguars.

``When you get to this point in the season, everyone deserves to be here. This just happens to be probably one of the better ones that's out there,'' fullback Heath Evans said. ``Bill preached for the last week that it was going to be a team that's good, that deserved to be here, and they've got the same record that we do in this tournament.''

Actually, the Jaguars are 1-0 in the postseason after earning a wild-card berth with an 11-5 record in the regular season. And while the Patriots have yet to be tested in the playoffs, their quest for perfection put added pressure on every regular-season game - especially the finale, when they rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat the New York Giants and wrap up the league's first perfect regular season since the 1972 Dolphins won all 14 games.

``To see what we've accomplished this far is great. But, as coach put it, there's another mountain to climb,'' Brady said. ``We're in the same position as Jacksonville, which is in the same position as Indy, which is in the same position as San Diego.''

New England's perfect mark did give it an edge with home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs. But more important was the bye that allowed the team to rest and recover while Jacksonville had to travel to Pittsburgh in the wild-card round.

Although the Patriots were too smart to express a preference for a playoff opponent, some admitted that they got exactly the type of game they were hoping to watch. After jumping to an early 18-point lead, the Jaguars needed a 32-yard quarterback draw on fourth-and-2 from David Garrard to set up Josh Scobee's game-winning 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining.

``You like to see a game like that,'' Harrison said. ``Because while they're out there pounding each others heads in, you're on the couch, eating popcorn and chilling.''

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

What bettors need to know: Seahawks at Packers
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Lambeau weather report

Early-week reports call for 20-degree temperatures at game time with a 20 percent chance of snow flurries. The forecast had yet to account for any winds for Saturday’s game.

"There was always the belief that the weather you get, that we will get probably, can affect the passing game more than the running game," Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren told reporters. "Yeah, we understand all this passing business, but when it comes down to December and January, you've got to be able to bang it around a little bit.

"I understand that. And there is some truth to that."

Bring on Branch

Seattle wide receiver Deion Branch is expected to start Saturday after missing last week’s game with a calf injury. Branch also had problems with a mid-foot sprain earlier in the year and missed six regular season games.

If he does start Saturday, it will be just the third time all year that he and D.J. Hackett are fit at the same time.

"To have all four (Branch, Burleson, Hackett and Engram) active at one time would be pretty special," Mike Holmgren told reporters. "When we put that out there, we have the ability to be pretty potent in the passing game. We haven't had that all season. I'm hoping."

Even still, Seattle’s wideouts put up some nice numbers. Bobby Engram caught 94 passes and Nate Burleson had nine receiving touchdowns, while D.J. Hackett and Branch combined for over 1,000 receiving yards and seven majors between them in limited action.

Life on the road

The Seahawks were 3-5 against the spread away from their storied home-field advantage at Qwest Field this season, though at least former Packer quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and ex-Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren know what they’re getting into at Lambeau Field.

Running for cover

If the weather becomes a factor on Saturday, both of these pass-happy teams may be forced to lean on the running game.

For Green Bay, that might be less of a concern than it would be for Seattle. Ryan Grant ran for 956 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season. He added eight touchdowns even though he didn’t begin carrying the rushing load until Week 7.

Holmgren was forced to abandon his running game near mid-season as Shaun Alexander struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness. Alexander missed three games and ended up with 716 yards on 3.5 yards a carry, while No. 2 back Maurice Morris gained 628 yards on 4.5 yards a carry.

Hasselbeck ready to go

Fred Smoot hit Hasselbeck hard enough to break the quarterback’s thigh pad last week, but that won’t keep Seattle’s signal caller out against the Packers. Hasselbeck will take treatment for a bruised thigh this week and shouldn’t miss any significant practice time.

He has already had problems with a strained oblique and quadriceps, bruised ribs, and a sore wrist this season.

Total toppers

The Green Bay Packers scored more than 27 points a game and played over the posted total in a dozen games during the regular season.

Seattle started the season by playing under in four of its first five games but has topped the total in four of its last six as the offense put more emphasis on the passing game.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

What bettors need to know: Jaguars at Patriots
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New England weather report

Early forecasts predict a cool, clear night for Saturday’s kickoff at Gillette Stadium. Temperatures could be as high as 43 degrees during the day, but will drop to 26 degrees overnight with a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Winds are expected to be light.

Unbeatable?

It’s one thing to go a perfect 16-0 in the regular season, but it’s something all together different when an undefeated club goes 10-6 against the number while seeing some of the highest pointspreads in NFL history. The Patriots covered six double-digit spreads and were favored by more than 20 points three times.

New England slumped a bit down the stretch, dropping five of its last six games against the spread, though it’s worth noting the Pats were favored by an average of just over 18 points in those six games.

Can’t stop the rush

If New England wasn’t forcing teams to come from behind every week, it’d be much easier to notice the Pats’ questionable run defense. New England allows only 98 yards per game on the ground but most opposing teams are forced to abandon their running game to air the ball out in hopes of keeping the Patriots within reach.

New England is allowing 4.4 yards per carry on the year and Jacksonville is running for almost 150 yards a game with its Fred Taylor-Maurice Jones-Drew combo.

Peterson doubtful

Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson is doubtful for Saturday’s game as he rehabs a broken right hand. Peterson has missed the last six games.

Jacksonville held Pittsburgh to just 48 rushing yards and recorded six sacks without the standout linebacker last week but yielded 337 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger. 

All about offense

With Tom Brady and Randy Moss lighting up the scoreboard and setting records all over the place it’s easy to overlook what Jacksonville’s offense has accomplished this year.

David Garrard usurped Byron Leftwich as the club’s starting quarterback in preseason and finished the year with 2,509 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 12 starts.

Now Jacksonville owns the league’s sixth-best scoring offense (25.7 points per game) and second-best rushing attack, helping over bettors to a 12-4-1 record on the year.  New England, meanwhile, owns the league’s top overall, scoring and passing offense and has played over in 11 of its 16 games.

Bulletin board material

"They finally got caught," Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer said of the Patriots in the middle of September’s Spygate soap opera. "They're busted."

Time hasn’t changed Spicer’s feelings either.

"It's my opinion, that's all it was," he told reporters this week. "This is four months later. It's about the playoffs. It's about the Jaguars, what we can do to beat the Patriots. We haven't done research like they did, didn't go back and look at everything they said over the season and see if we can use that to get motivated to go play.

"You shouldn't need what somebody else says to get you motivated. This is the NFL. It's a playoff game. You guys are undefeated. We're coming up there (to Foxborough). That's enough right there to get motivated. I know I'm motivated."

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Game Preview for Seahawks vs Packers

(Sports Network) - Postseason football returns to historic Lambeau Field following a three-year absence this Saturday, when the resurgent Green Bay Packers begin their Super Bowl quest with a NFC Divisional Playoff showdown against the Seattle Seahawks.

After missing out on the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, the Packers reclaimed their status as one of the NFL's elite teams with a banner 2007 campaign. Green Bay raised plenty of eyebrows by amassing a 13-3 overall record, a five-game improvement over second-year head coach Mike McCarthy's debut season, and ran away with the NFC North Division en route to a bye in last week's Wild Card round.

The 13 regular-season wins were the Packers' most since 1997, a year in which legendary quarterback Brett Favre claimed his third consecutive NFL MVP award and led the storied franchise to its most recent Super Bowl appearance.

Favre enjoyed a renaissance as well in 2007. The future Hall of Famer rebounded from back-to-back subpar seasons by throwing for 4,155 yards, the third-highest yardage total of his 17-year career, and producing a 95.7 quarterback rating that was his best since 1996.

The 38-year-old ironman also completed a career-high 66.5 percent of his passes and finished second to New England's Tom Brady in balloting for this year's league MVP, proving that Favre's offseason decision to delay retirement was indeed the right call.

Green Bay will be seeking its first playoff victory since January 4, 2004, when the Pack edged the Seahawks at Lambeau Field in an 33-27 overtime thriller during the NFC's opening round. Cornerback Al Harris provided the winning points with a 52-yard interception return of Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck for a touchdown.

The third-seeded Seahawks advanced to the divisional round with last Saturday's 35-14 decision over visiting Washington in an NFC Wild Card Playoff. Seattle trailed the Redskins by a 14-13 count midway through the fourth quarter, but erupted for 22 unanswered points to keep its season alive.

Hasselbeck's 20-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Hackett with 6:06 left to play put the Seahawks ahead, and the team put the game out of reach when defensive backs Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineaux each scored on late interceptions of Washington quarterback Todd Collins.

While that win was impressive, it also came at Qwest Field, where Seattle has gone 8-1 this year. Conversely, the Seahawks posted a 3-5 road record during the regular season, with the last two defeats coming at the hands of also-rans Carolina and Atlanta.

Seattle also hasn't had much success away from home on the playoff trail. The Seahawks are 1-6 lifetime on the road in postseason games and haven't won one as the visitor since defeating Miami in an AFC Divisional matchup on December 31, 1983.

The Seahawks have come close to ending that lengthy drought, though. The club's two most recent road playoff losses were in overtime, the previously- mentioned defeat to the Packers and last year's 27-24 setback to eventual NFC champ Chicago at Soldier Field.

Green Bay also hasn't enjoyed a great deal of postseason success at home as of late. The Packers have dropped two of their last three playoff encounters at Lambeau, including a 31-17 upset loss to Minnesota during the 2004 campaign.

Saturday's tilt will also pit Green Bay against former head coach and current Seahawks sideline boss Mike Holmgren, who directed the Pack to six straight playoff appearances and two Super Bowls during a successful seven-year run from 1992-98.

Additionally, Hasselbeck spent his first three NFL seasons in Green Bay as Favre's understudy before being brought over to the Seahawks by Holmgren in a 2001 trade.

SERIES HISTORY

That 2003 NFC Wild Card Playoff is the only previous postseason meeting between the Packers and Seahawks. Green Bay owns a 6-5 lead in its all-time regular season series with Seattle, but was a 34-24 road loser when it last faced the Seahawks, in Week 12 of the 2006 regular season. The Packers were home winners in the previous two regular season matchups, in 2003 and 2005. Including playoffs, the Seahawks are 0-3 at Lambeau Field since last winning there in 1999.

Holmgren is 2-3 against his former team, including the '03 playoff loss. McCarthy is 0-1 against both Holmgren and the Seahawks as a head coach.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL

Seattle's offensive game plan usually involves spreading the field and having the battle-tested Hasselbeck (3966 passing yards, 28 TD, 12 INT) throw to a quality corps of receivers that should be bolstered by the expected return of former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch (49 receptions, 4 TD), who sat out last week's game with a strained calf. Veteran Bobby Engram (94 receptions, 1147 yards, 6 TD) has been the most productive member of the group, but Hackett (32 receptions, 3 TD) led the way in the Wild Card win with 101 yards on six catches. Nate Burleson (50 receptions, 9 TD) added six grabs for 64 yards and can be dangerous in the open field.

The Packers have a good chance of keeping at least two of those receivers in check, as their cornerback combo of Harris (37 tackles, 2 INT) and Charles Woodson (63 tackles, 4 INT) is as formidable as any duo in the league. Green Bay does have some depth concerns in its defensive backfield, however. Woodson has been playing through a nagging toe injury and nickel corner Will Blackmon probably won't play after hurting his foot in the regular-season finale, with the untested Tramon Williams (17 tackles, 1 INT) likely to fill that role. The Packers have held enemy quarterbacks to only a 55 percent completion rate this year, the second-best mark in the NFL, and garnered 19 interceptions. So Hasselbeck, who was picked off twice by the Redskins last week, will have to be judicious with his reads if the Seahawks are to succeed on Saturday. He'll also be facing a strong pass rush headed by ends Aaron Kampman (64 tackles, 12 sacks) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (26 tackles, 9.5 sacks), while underrated tackle Corey Williams (35 tackles, 7 sacks) can also get pressure from the interior.

An effective running game would make Hasselbeck's task easier, but the Seahawks have had their share of troubles in that area throughout the year. Seattle ranked just 20th overall in rushing offense (101.2 ypg) during the regular season and mustered a mediocre 77 yards on the ground in last week's playoff win. The team does have a former league MVP in its backfield in Shaun Alexander (716 rushing yards, 5 total TD), but the declining running back hasn't had a 100-yard effort since September.

Green Bay finished 14th in the league in run defense (102.9 ypg) and possesses a solid front seven highlighted by Nick Barnett (131 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT), who delivered an excellent all-around season at middle linebacker. Athletic youngster A.J. Hawk (105 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) played well on the weak side, while strong safety Atari Bigby (86 tackles, 9 PD) was also active in run support in addition to coming up with a team-best five interceptions. Linemen Ryan Pickett (39 tackles, 1 sack) and Cullen Jenkins (44 tackles, 1 sack) are proven stoppers as well who will have the task of slowing down Alexander.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

The Packers' personnel and offensive philosophy is a lot like Seattle's, as the team boasts a talented contingent of receivers that should be getting plenty of work from the ageless Favre (4155 yards, 28 TD, 15 INT) on Saturday. The remarkably reliable Donald Driver (82 receptions, 1048 yards, 2 TD) delivered a fourth straight year with more than 80 catches and 1,000 yards, while the dynamic Greg Jennings (53 receptions) scored 12 touchdowns and averaged 17.4 yards per grab in a breakout sophomore season. Rookie James Jones (47 receptions, 2 TD) also made quite an impact as the No. 3 receiver, while tight end Donald Lee (48 receptions, 6 TD) emerged as one of Favre's favorite targets in the red zone. Favre curtailed his trademark gunslinger mentality this year, and that wiser approach has resulted in a drastic reduction in turnovers for the NFL's second-ranked passing attack (270.9 ypg).

Favre's turnaround season has been aided by terrific protection from a line that yielded just 19 sacks, an impressive number considering how much the Packers throw the ball. However, the front wall will face quite a challenge this week from a Seattle defense that got to the quarterback 45 times during the regular season and consistently harassed Washington's Collins last Saturday. The one-on-one matchups between Seahawk ends Patrick Kerney (62 tackles, 14.5 sacks) and Darryl Tapp (49 tackles, 7 sacks) and Green Bay's bookend tackle tandem of Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will be ones to watch, as those battles will go a long way in determining the success of both teams. The Packers still have to deal with pass-rushing linebacker Julian Peterson (74 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 INT), as well as a ballhawking secondary headed by Pro Bowl selection Trufant (85 tackles, 7 INT, 15 PD). Seattle yielded a league-low 15 touchdown passes and forced a healthy 34 turnovers entering the postseason.

The Seahawks also played the run extremely well in last week's victory, limiting Washington's Clinton Portis to a mere 52 rushing yards on 20 carries. Strongside linebacker LeRoy Hill (81 tackles, 3 sacks) led the charge with 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops, and is part of a top-notch trio headlined by three-time Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu (109 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) in the middle. Tatupu finished with 12 tackles against the Redskins. For the year Seattle ranked 12th overall in rushing defense (102.8 ypg).

Green Bay was only 21st in the NFL in rushing yards (99.8 ypg), but its once- dormant ground game went from a weakness to a strength when McCarthy inserted Ryan Grant (956 rushing yards, 8 TD, 30 receptions) as the primary ball- carrier at midseason. The former practice squad player had five 100-yard outings over the final 10 games and averaged 5.1 yards per rush on the year. Grant also displayed plenty of game-breaking ability, as four of his eight touchdown runs were for 27 yards or more.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Seattle has a pair of impact return men in Burleson, whose average of 11.3 yards per punt return ranked second only to Chicago star Devin Hester in the NFC, and rookie Josh Wilson, who averaged an eye-opening 27.5 yards taking back kicks during the regular season. Green Bay will likely be without its regular punt returner in Blackmon, but the club is still in good hands, as Tramon Williams had a 94-yard touchdown in a win over Carolina in November. The Packers' coverage units have been better than those of Seattle's this year.

Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby came through with a very strong rookie season and possesses a powerful leg, but this will be his first foray into the pressure-packed postseason. Seattle's Josh Brown, on the other hand, is 14- of-17 on field goals during the playoffs for his career. Give the Seahawks the edge in the punting department, as Ryan Plackemeier was effective at pinning in the opposition, while the Packers' Jon Ryan had two kicks blocked in a late-year loss at Chicago.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

In a game that features the most prolific quarterback in the history of the sport as well as plenty of well-established talent on each side, it's ironic that the x-factor is Grant, an undrafted player out of college who began this season as Green Bay's fourth-string halfback. Both teams have signal-callers with a wealth of big-game experience and moxie, excellent skill and depth at the receiver positions, and sturdy defenses that are very good at pressuring the passer. But the Packers do have one potential clear advantage, provided they're able to get the running game churning out yards like it did during the second half of the season. Conversely, if the Seahawks can shut down Grant, there's no reason to think they can't win this game. Forget about Seattle's dubious history on the road -- the team came within a whisker of winning its last two playoff tests away from home and went toe-to-toe with quality clubs like Cleveland and Philadelphia as the visitor earlier this year. Still, the Packers are a little bit stronger along both lines of scrimmage and should run the ball well enough to keep Seattle's opportunistic defense honest. Therefore, give the home team a slight edge in what should be a hard-fought and entertaining contest.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 28, Seahawks 22

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Seahawks hit road for playoff at Lambeau

- Seattle's defense looked amazing at times in their Wild Card win over Washington, but some lapses nearly cost them the game. The Seahawks head to Lambeau Field to face the resting NFC North champions, where the Pack has won four of six meetings since 1996. Brett Favre will test a Seahawk defense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in road efficiency.

Oddsmakers currently have the Packers listed as 8 point favorites versus the Seahawks, while the game's total is sitting at 43.

Seattle scored 22 fourth-quarter points in their 35-14 wild-card win over Washington, covering the 3-point home spread. The 49 points scored were OVER the posted total of 38.5.

Matt Hasselbeck was 20-for-32 for 229 yards, one touchdown and two picks, while D.J. Hackett caught six passes for 101 yards and a score for the Seahawks.

The Packers defeated Detroit 34-13 as a 5.5-point favorite in Week 17. The combined score went OVER the posted over/under total (38.5).

Brett Favre threw for 99 yards with two touchdowns for Green Bay and Koren Robinson caught four passes for 47 yards with a touchdown.

Team records:
Seattle: 10-6 SU, 9-6-1 ATS
Green Bay: 13-3 SU, 12-3-1 ATS

Seattle most recently:
When playing in January are 6-4
When playing on grass are 4-6
After being outgained are 6-4
When playing outside the division are 5-5

Green Bay most recently:
When playing in January are 6-4
When playing on grass are 8-2
After outgaining opponent are 8-2
When playing outside the division are 9-1

A few trends to consider:
Seattle is 7-2 SU in its last 9 games
Seattle is 7-2 ATS in its last 9 games
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Seattle's last 6 games
Seattle is 4-1-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing on the road against Green Bay
Green Bay is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
The total has gone OVER in 6 of Green Bay's last 7 games
Green Bay is 17-3 SU in its last 20 games
Green Bay is 4-0-1 ATS in its last 5 games at home

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Game Preview for Jaguars vs Patriots

(Sports Network) - If the Jacksonville Jaguars are truly worthy of status among the NFL elite, they'll have a chance to prove as much on Saturday night.

The Jags will face arguably the tallest task in their franchise history on Saturday, when they take the Gillette Stadium field to face the mighty New England Patriots in an AFC Divisional Playoff.

Though Jacksonville might remain something of a mystery to the NFL-viewing public, New England's 2007 journey has been well-chronicled.

The Patriots, who have already achieved the first 16-0 regular season in league history, can on Saturday become just the second team in NFL annals to win their first 17 games of a campaign, joining the 1972 Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins.

The Jaguars will be up against both that potential piece of history, and New England's record-setting offense.

The Patriots set NFL marks for single-season points (589) and touchdowns (75) during 2007, while quarterback Tom Brady's 50 touchdown passes and wideout Randy Moss' 23 TD catches were also all-time records.

But, as Bill Belichick's team well knows, all of the above achievements are insignificant in a single-elimination playoff setting, and New England is undoubtedly taking Jacksonville, one of the league's hottest teams, quite seriously.

The Jaguars scored their first postseason win since 1999 last Saturday, defeating the Steelers, 31-29, in a thrilling AFC First-Round Playoff. With the win, Jacksonville became the first team in NFL history to prevail in Pittsburgh twice in one season, a mark the Jaguars pulled off during a four- week span.

Jack Del Rio's squad is 7-2 in its past nine games, with the only losses during that stretch a three-point setback at Indianapolis (28-25) on Dec. 2nd and a 42-28 loss at Houston in a Week 17 game during which the Jags rested many of their starters.

Jacksonville has now scored 24 or more points in 11 consecutive games since a 29-7 loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 22nd.

SERIES HISTORY

The Patriots and Jaguars have met three times in the playoffs, with New England holding a 2-1 edge there. The Patriots were 28-3 winners in a 2005 AFC First-Round Playoff; New England scored a 20-6 home victory in the 1996 AFC Championship; and the Jaguars earned their only meaningful win against the Patriots in their history with a 25-10 home win in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff.

New England is 4-0 against Jacksonville in regular season games all-time, including a 24-21 win when the teams last met, in Florida in Week 16 of the 2006 season. The Jaguars are 0-2 in regular season games played in New England, with those defeats coming in 1996 and 2003.

Belichick is 3-2 against the Jaguars, with both losses dating back to the 1995 season, when he served as head coach in Cleveland. Jacksonville's Del Rio is 0-3 against both Belichick and the Patriots in his career as a head coach.

WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL

The vaunted Jacksonville running game mustered 135 yards in last week's win over Pittsburgh, though rushers Fred Taylor (16 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD) and Maurice Jones-Drew (8 carries, 29 yards, 1 TD) did not exactly run wild. In fact, the Jags' top rusher was quarterback David Garrard (5 carries, 58 yards), who did the bulk of his damage on a back-breaking 32-yard run in the game's waning moments. Jones-Drew's biggest offensive play came through the air, when he took a dump-off pass from Garrard 43 yards to the house to stake the Jags to a 21-10 lead late in the second quarter. Jacksonville ranked No. 2 in NFL rushing offense (149.4 yards per game) during the regular season behind the work of Taylor (1202 rushing yards, 5 TD) and Jones-Drew (768 rushing yards, 9 TD, 40 receptions).

Garrard notched his first career playoff win against Pittsburgh, though his personal passing day was one of his weakest of the campaign. The East Carolina product completed just 9-of-21 passes for 140 yards with two interceptions and four sacks absorbed in the contest. Wideouts Ernest Wilford (2 receptions, 29 yards), Reggie Williams (2 receptions, 23 yards), and tight end Marcedes Lewis (2 receptions, 16 yards) were Garrard's most frequent targets but did not register a major impact. During the regular season, Garrard (2509 passing yards, 18 TD, 3 INT) was third in the NFL in passer rating (102.2) behind Brady and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, while Wilford (45 receptions, 3 TD) led the team in catches and Williams (38 receptions, 10 TD) in TD receptions.

The Patriots' defensive reputation has taken something of a hit during the second half of the season, as teams like the Eagles (28 points scored), Ravens (24), and Giants (35) were able to find holes in the team's defense and put up significant scoring totals. Keeping Jacksonville from moving the ball on the ground figures to be the chief directive for New England, which was 10th in the league in rushing defense (98.2 yards per game) but also ranked near the bottom of the league with 4.4 yards allowed per carry. The three-man line of Vince Wilfork (48 tackles, 2 sacks) at nose tackle and Richard Seymour (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Ty Warren (53 tackles, 4 sacks) on the ends will look to set the tone against Taylor and Jones-Drew, with inside linebackers Junior Seau (74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT) and Tedy Bruschi (92 tackles, 2 sacks) the key members of the second line of defense.

Garrard will have to avoid mistakes against a New England defense that ranked second in the NFL in sacks (47) and top 10 in takeaways (31) during the regular season. Outside linebackers Mike Vrabel (77 tackles, 12.5 sacks) and Adalius Thomas (78 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT) are both dangerous coming off the edge, and end Jarvis Green (39 tackles, 6.5 sacks) is adept as a situational pass rusher. The secondary possesses a number of playmakers, most notably Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel (44 tackles, 6 INT) and veteran safety Rodney Harrison (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT).

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

Brady's 12-2 career playoff record is nearly as celebrated as his amazing 2007 season, but this will be the recently-named MVP's first postseason foray with his new arsenal of receivers. Moss (98 receptions), who has nine touchdowns in eight career playoff games, will be appearing in the postseason for the first time since his Vikings lost to the Eagles in a 2004 NFC Divisional Playoff. Wes Welker (112 receptions, 8 TD), meanwhile, the NFL's co-leader in receptions during the regular campaign, will be suiting up for a playoff game for the first time in his four-year NFL career. The third member of the first- year New England receiving triumvirate is Donte' Stallworth (46 receptions, 3 TD), who had six catches for 141 yards and two TDs in a pair of playoff appearances with the Eagles last season. Finally, don't overlook holdover Jabar Gaffney (36 receptions, 5 TD), who came up huge in last year's postseason with 21 catches, 244 yards, and two touchdowns in a three-game span.

While most of Jacksonville's attention will likely be drawn to the record- setting Patriots passing attack, the defense can't ignore a running game that ranked a respectable 13th in NFL rushing offense (115.6 yards per game) during the regular season. Running back Laurence Maroney (835 rushing yards, 6 TD) was particularly effective late in the season, rushing for 306 yards with four touchdowns in his final three games. Maroney struggled in the 2006 playoffs, mustering only 87 yards on 31 carries (2.8 yards per attempt) with one touchdown in three games. Veteran Kevin Faulk (265 rushing yards, 47 receptions, 1 TD), who has appeared in 13 postseason games with New England since 2001, will continue to replace Maroney in certain situations.

Brady and company should make plenty of gains against a Jacksonville defense that allowed 337 aerial yards to Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh attack last Saturday, though New England will also have to be wary of the Jags' playmaking ability in that arena. Jacksonville sacked Roethlisberger six times, with six different players getting to the QB, and intercepted him on three occasions. Former Pro Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis was the day's defensive star, picking off a pair of errant tosses, including one he returned 63 yards for a second-quarter interception. End Paul Spicer, who led the Jags in sacks (7.5) during the regular season and got to Roethlisberger once last week, will likely be a target for both New England and its fan base after making some incendiary comments about the team's "Spygate" incident earlier in the year.

Jacksonville shut down the Pittsburgh run last week, allowing three Steelers running backs to amass just 30 yards on 22 combined carries. Strong safety Sammy Knight and linebacker Justin Durant were extremely active against the run, combining for 25 stops, while LBs Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram tallied six stops each. Injuries at the point of attack could hamper the ground- stopping efforts this week, as tackles Grady Jackson (knee) and John Henderson (hamstring) are both regarded as questionable and middle linebacker Mike Peterson (hand) will miss his eighth straight game. The team is already without former Pro Bowl tackle Marcus Stroud (ankle) was placed on season- ending injured reserve in mid-December. The Jaguars ranked 11th in NFL rushing defense (100.3 yards per game) during the regular season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee was one of last week's heroes thanks to his 25-yard game-winning field goal in Pittsburgh, though he also missed a 46-yard try earlier in the game. Scobee was 12-of-13 on field goals during the regular season. Rookie punter Adam Podlesh, who struggled at times during his initial campaign, averaged 50 yards on four punts in his first career playoff contest.

The ever-dangerous Jones-Drew set up Jacksonville's first touchdown against Pittsburgh with a dazzling 96-yard return down to the Steelers 1-yard line. Dennis Northcutt averaged over 10 yards on his three punt returns. The Jaguars did not allow any big plays in the return game last week, but are just two weeks removed from allowing two kickoff returns for TDs to Houston's Andre' Davis.

Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (21-24 FG) was accurate all season, though due in large part to the team's offensive proficiency, he wasn't asked to make many deep kicks (just 3-of-5 on field goals of 40 yards or longer). The second-year-pro was among league leaders with 15 touchbacks on the season, however. In the punting game, former Jaguar Chris Hanson (41.4 avg.) worked infrequently during the regular season, with his 44 boots ranking 32nd among NFL punters.

Welker (10.0 avg.) handled most of New England's punt returns during the regular season, but could defer to veteran Troy Brown (9.2 avg.) in order to concentrate on offense during the playoffs. Two different Patriots - cornerback Ellis Hobbs (26.0 avg.) and reserve d-back Willie Andrews (37.3 avg.) - brought back kickoffs for touchdowns during the year. Andrews was inactive due to an elbow injury in Week 17 and is questionable for Saturday.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

In some ways this figures to be the Patriots' toughest test of the 2007 season to date, as Jacksonville is a red-hot club with brimming confidence that expects to come out of Gillette Stadium with a win. The Jaguars have the ability to stay in this game, thanks to a run game that could give New England problems, a pass rush that will get after Brady, and an underrated secondary that could slow the Patriots' receivers better than some. At the same time, you have to wonder whether Jacksonville is going to play its best game just seven days after a physical date with Pittsburgh, and whether what will be the Jags' fifth road trip in the past seven weeks is going to catch up with them at some point. It's going to take a perfect game for Jacksonville to knock off fresh, rested, and (let's not forget) unbelievably talented New England, and Jacksonville doesn't have a perfect game in them at this stage.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 27, Jaguars 17

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Jags get chance to ruin New England?s perfect season

- Jacksonville made its Wild Card win at Pitt a lot more dramatic than it needed to be and they'll need to go for the jugular if they get ahead of the Patriots in one of the AFC Divisional Playoff games. The Patriots have won six of seven meetings since 1996, but the big worry here for the Jags is their No. 29 league rank in defending the pass on the road.

Oddsmakers currently have the Patriots listed as 13-point favorites versus the Jaguars, while the game's total is sitting at 50.

Jacksonville had a 28-10 lead after three quarters in a 31-29 win at Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card round, failing to cover the 3-point road spread. The 60 points scored were OVER the posted total of 40.

David Garrard was 9-for-21 for 140 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and Maurice Jones-Drew had 72 combined yards and two majors for the Jaguars.

The Patriots completed a perfect 16-0 season with a thrilling 38-35 comeback victory over the Giants in their regular-season finale. The Patriots failed to cover the 13.5-point spread, but the 73 points sailed OVER the posted total of 47.

Tom Brady completed 32-of-42 passes for 356 yards with two touchdowns, and set an NFL record with 50 touchdowns in a season. Randy Moss caught six passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in the win.

Team records:
Jacksonville: 11-5 SU, 11-5 ATS
New England: 16-0 SU, 10-6 ATS

Jacksonville most recently:
When playing in January are 6-4
When playing on turf are 3-7
After being outgained are 8-2
When playing outside the division are 9-1

New England most recently:
When playing in January are 7-3
When playing on turf are 10-0
After outgaining opponent are 10-0
When playing outside the division are 10-0

A few trends to consider:
The total has gone OVER in 5 of Jacksonville's last 5 games
The total has gone OVER in 5 of Jacksonville's last 5 games on the road
Jacksonville is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games
Jacksonville is 7-2 ATS in its last 9 games
New England is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
New England is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
New England is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games when playing Jacksonville
New England is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Jacksonville

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Seahawks at Packers
By Brad Young

Saturday’s playoff matchup between Seattle and Green Bay renew acquaintances between two franchises that know each other very well. These two teams also collided in a memorable overtime playoff meeting four years ago.
   
“Green Bay plays very well at home, going 7-1 this season,” stated VegasInsider.com handicapper Scott Pritchard, who has cashed tickets on all three of his postseason selections. “Seattle has a very good passing offense, but it will get tested in this spot due to the weather.”

Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren led Green Bay to a Super Bowl XXXI victory before leaving the Packers in 1998. He then proceeded to take the Seahawks position where he’s been ever since. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck also spent extensive time in Green Bay after getting drafted by the franchise in 1998 before leaving in 2001 for the Pacific Northwest.

It hasn’t been all give and take for Seattle however, as current Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was the Seahawks vice president of football operations from 2000 to 2004. These two franchises have similar philosophies and offensive attacks, so familiarity is even more of a factor this weekend.

Green Bay posted a 7-1 straight up and 6-1 against the spread home ledger this season, with the ‘over’ going 5-3. The Packers were also 4-1 ATS when listed as a home ‘chalk.’ Seattle struggled to a 3-5 SU and ATS road record, with its biggest victory away from home occurring against 8-8 Philadelphia. The Seahawks were a modest 1-2 ATS as a road underdog, and just 1-4 versus the number when playing on natural grass.

Caesars Palace lists Green Bay as an eight-point home ‘chalk’ over Seattle, with the total set at 42. The line has remained constant throughout the week, but the total opened at 41. FOX Sports will provide coverage of Saturday’s matchup beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET.

“The Seahawks’ running game has been inconsistent, they will need to at least try to run the ball Saturday in the cold,” noted Pritchard. “Seattle has a good pass rush with 45 sacks on the year, and will need to pressure (Brett) Favre even though he was sacked just 19 times in 16 games.”

Seattle (11-6 SU, 10-6 ATS) toppled Washington last weekend in the wild-card round as a three-point home favorite, 35-14. The combined 49 points eclipsed the 39-point closing total, helping the ‘over’ cash the second consecutive contest.

Momentum in this contest swung like an executioners’ axe, with the Seahawks trailing briefly in the fourth quarter, 14-13. Seattle started the game scoring the first 13 points, before posting 22 fourth-quarter points after the Redskins missed a field goal. The Seahawks advanced despite trailing Washington in first downs (21-14), passing yards (244-227) and time of possession (34:15-25:45).

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 20-of-32 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Shaun Alexander paced the ground game with 15 carries for 46 yards, while wideout D.J. Hackett enjoyed a solid game with six receptions for 101 yards and a score.

The duo of Hackett and Deion Branch hope to be a major factor against the Packers and their 12th-ranked pass defense. The receivers are a potent combination, accounting for 22 receptions, 300 yards and two touchdowns in less than two games together this season due to various injuries.

Green Bay (13-3 SU, 12-3 ATS) enjoyed a bye week as the NFC’s second seed, locking up the NFC North weeks ago ahead of second-place Minnesota who finished 8-8. The Packers return to the postseason for the first time in three years, hosting this game with the league’s youngest team.

“I don’t trust Brett Farve, as good as he is, he’s only 11-9 in his postseason career,” said Pritchard. “He’s capable of going on tilt at any time with boneheaded decisions and turnovers.”

The home team has won the previous four meetings SU in the Seahawks-Packers series, while going just 1-2 ATS. The ‘over’ has also gone 3-1 during those matchups. That trend continued in 2006 when Seattle prevailed as a 10½-point home ‘chalk,’ 34-24, while the combined 58 points toppled the 42-point closing total.

These two teams met in a memorable playoff game in 2004 with Green Bay winning in overtime as a 7 ½-point home favorite, 33-27. The combined 60 points soared ‘over’ the 43 ½-point closing total. That game was made famous when Hasselbeck stated on the overtime coin toss that Seattle wanted the ball so we can go down the field and score. However, he promptly tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (thigh) and wide receiver Deion Branch (calf) are ‘probable’ against the Packers. Branch missed the last two games with his injury, and missed time earlier this year with a mild-foot sprain. The Seahawks are reporting no players as ‘questionable’ or ‘doubtful.’

Green Bay defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (groin) and fullback Korey Hall (hip) are ‘probable’ versus the Seahawks. The Packers are also reporting no players as ‘questionable’ or ‘doubtful.’

Snow is projected for Saturday’s forecast, with highs reaching 28 degrees and lows down to 21.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Jaguars at Patriots
By Brian Edwards

Before we anoint New England as the greatest team of all time, there’s this little matter of winning three more football games. The ‘one-at-a-time’ mantra Bill Belichick has been preaching all season continues for the Patriots this Saturday when they play host to Jacksonville in the AFC semifinals.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened New England (16-0 straight up, 10-6 against the spread) as an 11 ½-point favorite with a total of 51. As of Thursday, the number had moved to 13 ½ at most sports books, while the total had dipped to 49 ½. Gamblers can back the Jaguars on the money line for a plus 600 return (risk $100 to win $600).

“I’m not surprised to see the number moving up,” VegasInsider.com handicapper Bill Marzano said. “The public has been pounding the Patriots all year long and that’ll continue in the playoffs. I think the number could end up closing at 14.”

On Thursday’s edition of the Power Hours on VI radio, there were conflicting opinions about where the number will be come kick-off time.

Mark Franco, who is No. 1 on VI in guaranteed picks with a 16-7 record (70%), agreed with Marzano. “I definitely think the number will reach at least 14,” Franco said. “Most of your square bettors are going to bet New England no matter what the number is.”

Stephen Nover had a different take. “I’ve talked to a lot of people around town (Las Vegas) this week and the number won’t be any higher than 13 ½ Satuday,” Nover said. “If by chance it does get to 14, it won’t stay there long because wise guys will jump on the Jaguars immediately just for the value.”

Bettors feasted on the Patriots early in the season, as they cashed tickets in their first eight games. However, they have failed to cover the number in five of their last six outings.

Jacksonville (12-5 SU, 11-6 ATS) has won seven of its last nine games both SU and ATS. The Jags advanced by doing something no team had ever done in NFL history – win at Pittsburgh twice in the same season.

Jack Del Rio’s team jumped out to a 28-10 lead over the Steelers late in the third quarter last week, only to find itself trailing 29-28 at crunch time following a furious Pittsburgh rally. The Steelers actually had the ball and the lead with less than three minutes left, but the Jags forced a three and out when the Steelers played conservatively with three consecutive running plays.

With Jacksonville facing a fourth-and-two situation at Pittsburgh’s 43 with 1:56 left, the season was on the line for both the Jags and Steelers.

And David Garrard, the career back-up who Del Rio gave the starting job a week before the season opener, made the play of the game. On a QB draw, Garrard slipped through a hole on the left side and into the open field, scampering for 32 yards to the Pittsburgh 11.

Four plays later, Josh Scobee was true from 25 yards out to lift the Jags to a 31-29 win. However, they failed to cover the spread as 2 ½-point favorites at most spots. The 60 combined points sailed ‘over’ the 40-point tally.

While the Jags were fighting for survival, New England enjoyed a weekend of rest. The Patriots needed the respite after becoming the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 during the regular season (The 1972 Dolphins had only 14 regular-season games.).

Belichick’s bunch had to rally from a double-digit deficit to beat the Giants at the Meadowlands in the regular-season finale. After falling behind 28-16 in the third quarter, New England responded with 22 unanswered points, including a breath-taking scoring strike from Tom Brady to Randy Moss for 65 yards on a third-and-10 play. The Patriots eventually won a 38-35 decision as 13-point favorites.

The 73 combined points easily jumped ‘over’ the 46 ½-point tally. That ended a three-game surge for the ‘under,’ but we should note that the two previous ‘unders’ came in bad-weather games.

As for this week’s contest, the temperatures are expected to be cold – in the 20s – but no precipitation or high winds are expected.

“The strange thing about this game is that Jacksonville is more suited for a cold-weather game than New England,” Nover added. “If the Patriots played in a dome, there’s no telling how many points they would’ve scored this year.”

Nover makes a solid point. In cold-weather environments, teams are more likely to have success by running the football, and that’s exactly what the Jags want to do with the lethal combination of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The Patriots would rather air it out with Brady choosing between a list of weapons that includes Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney.

The ‘over’ has been a big-time money maker for the Jags, who have seen the ‘over’ hit at a 9-0-1 clip in their last 10 games. For the season, the ‘over’ is 8-1 in Jacksonville’s road assignments. Dating back to last season, the ‘over’ is 10-1 in the Jags’ last 11 road games. Finally, the ‘over’ is 8-0 in the Jags’ last eight games as a road underdog.

The ‘over’ is 11-5 overall for New England, 5-3 in its home outings.

This is a rematch of a playoff game in Foxboro three seasons ago. On that night, New England cruised to a 28-3 triumph as a 7½-point ‘chalk.’

The Jags haven’t been double-digit ‘dogs since 1998 when Minnesota dealt out a 50-10 clubbing as a 13½-point ‘chalk.’

CBS will provide television coverage at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Before last week’s win at Pittsburgh, Jacksonville had not won a playoff game since a 62-7 home win over Miami on Jan. 15 of 2000. That was Dan Marino’s last game as a player and Jimmy Johnson’s last as a coach.

--New England owns a 6-5 spread record as a double-digit favorite this season.

--Garrard had an 18/3 touchdown-interception ratio during the regular season. However, he threw a pair of costly picks in the fourth quarter last week that nearly resulted in the Jags’ undoing.

--New England has made the playoffs in five of Belichick’s seven seasons as head coach. During that postseason stretch, the Patriots are 12-2 SU and 8-5-1 ATS. Surprisingly, this will be their first spot as double-digit favorites.

--Jacksonville owns a 17-11 spread record as a road underdog during Del Rio’s five-year tenure.

--Brady finished the regular season with an NFL-best 117.2 QB rating. He threw for 50 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions. Brady’s previous season high for TD passes was 28 both in 2002 and 2004. For his career, Brady has a TD-INT ratio of 197/86.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Saturday’s Pregame Buzz

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers


* Green Bay has not advanced to the NFC title game since Mike Holmgren was the team's head coach. This time, he will be on the opposing sideline with the Seahawks, trying to get them there for the 2nd time in 3 years. Holmgren mentored future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre and led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1997 and 1998. "Mike Holmgren has meant a lot, obviously, to my career," Favre said. "And that will never change." Favre has faced Holmgren once in the playoffs, beating Seattle 33-27 in overtime at Lambeau Field back in 2004. SLIGHT EDGE: PACKERS
* Favre has dropped 6 of his last 8 playoff games but has an overall mark of 11-9 in the postseason. He has thrown an interception in 7 of his last 8 playoff games and has a passer rating of 69.3 in his last 5 with 9 TDs and 14 INTs. SLIGHT EDGE: SEAHAWKS
* Green Bay has the more balanced offense between the teams, with rookie RB Ryan Grant stepping up big-time down the stretch. Grant had 5 100-yard games in the last 10 games and did not emerge as the team's top back until the 7th game of the season. "We've talked about the difference between the regular season and the playoffs," Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "And I think this is when he can become even more 'Ryan Grant' and make a name for himself." Meanwhile, 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander has been a shell of his former self for the Seahawks, failing to break the century mark in rushing yards since Week 3. EDGE: PACKERS
* Seahawks are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games overall.
* Seahawks are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games vs. NFC opponents.
* Packers are 13-3-1 ATS in their last 17 games overall.
* Packersd are 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 games on grass.
* Packers are 13-4-2 ATS in their last 19 games vs. NFC opponents.
* The OVER is 6-2 in Seattle's last 8 games as a road underdog.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
   
* One of New England's main weaknesses at the end of the regular season was run defense, as the Patriots surrendered an average of 124.8 yards on the ground in 5 December games. Jacksonville's dynamic duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew ranked 2nd in the NFL behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor with 1,970 rushing yards between them. "They both have different qualities," New England DT Richard Seymour said. "Jones-Drew is a little short, bowling-ball type guy that runs hard, and Fred Taylor, he's shifty in the hole and brings a lot of power. He has the speed to give that home run hit." EDGE: JAGUARS
* Jacksonville DE Paul Spicer became the latest player to give the Patriots bulletin-board material heading into this game, defending his early-season comments that he believes they are cheaters following the spying scandal. "Do like the NCAA and kick them out of the playoffs or something," Spicer had said. "Put them on probation; they can't go to no playoff games." Spicer doesn't care if he may have lit a fire under New England because he doesn't think that should determine motivation. "You shouldn't need what somebody else says to get you motivated," Spicer said. "This is the NFL. It's a playoff game. You guys are undefeated. We're coming up there. That's enough right there to get motivated. I know I'm motivated." EDGE: PATRIOTS
* New England has a huge edge in the passing game with NFL MVP Tom Brady (league-record 50 touchdown passes) and WR Randy Moss (league-record 23 TD catches), who finished 1-2 in AP Offensive Player of the Year voting earlier this week. Add Wes Welker (tied for the league lead in receptions with 112) into the mix, and the Patriots should be able to pick apart a Jacksonville secondary that has struggled at times. EDGE: PATRIOTS
* The Patriots covered their 1st 8 games of the regular season but finished on a 1-5 ATS run. They were a 6-0 against playoff teams, averaging 39 points per game.
* The OVER is 16-6 in New England's last 22 games overall.
* The OVER is 10-0-1 in Jacksonville's last 11 games and 17-5-1 in the last 23.
* The OVER is 8-0 in Jacksonville's last 8 games as an underdog.
* The OVER is 10-1 in Jacksonville's last 11 road games.
* The OVER is 7-1 in Jacksonville's last 8 Saturday games.
* The UNDER is 8-1-1 in New England's last 10 Saturday games.
* The UNDER is 9-2 in New England's last 11 home playoff games.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Seattle-Green Bay Divisional Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo

There is something so familiar about this weekend's NFL Divisional Round matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.

I'm not talking about seeing Mike Holmgren trolling the sidelines in Lambeau Field guiding a team through another playoff battle in the uncompassionate January cold. And it isn't Brett Favre flinging five-yard shovel passes in another mad postseason two-minute drill. And it isn't even the fact that this is a rematch of a classic overtime game played just two Januarys ago.

No, none of these threads and storylines came to mind when I first pondered the impending Seahawks-Packers tussle. The first thing that came to mind was the game that ended Seattle's season last year. The Seahawks rolled into Chicago as a heavy underdog to the NFC North favorites and not only covered, but also nearly knocked off the Bears in the brutal elements of the Midwest. The underestimated Seahawks relied on a surprising toughness and plenty of playoff experience to keep them close, and will need every bit of those attributes when they lace them up this weekend.

Seattle is a steep nine-point underdog in this game, set to kickoff at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in Green Bay. The total for this game is currently at 42. The Packers boast the league's No. 2 offense and No. 12 defense while the Seahawks were ranked ninth and 15th, respectively in the regular season.

Seattle has been an exceptional playoff underdog under Holmgren, covering three of their last four in those spots with the one loss coming courtesy of a hose job in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have their best defense of the last six seasons and they are sporting a nearly double-digit cushion. Kick in the fact that they are 7-1 against the spread as an underdog of seven or more off a win and you have yourself a strong situation on the puppy.

However, and it always comes back to this when you're handicapping the Seahawks, Seattle is an absolutely pathetic 6-13-1 ATS in its last 20 road games. They are simply not the same team on grass and have been a horrendous bet when traveling east of the Mississippi. This season they made three such trips - at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, and at Carolina - and lost all three.

Green Bay has been a cash machine over the past two seasons, with their three-receiver sets overwhelming opponents. They are 13-3-1 ATS in their last 17 games and 18-7-2 ATS dating back to last October. They were the clear-cut No. 2 team in the NFC this season and are 6-1-1 ATS at home this season, winning their last four home games by an average of 25 points per game.

But there is no doubt that this line is inflated because of the Favre Factor. The public frequently lines up to throw piles upon piles of square money upon the Altar of Favre the Almighty. This is especially true in the playoffs and as a result the books often tack on a few extra points to the line to compensate. Consequently, the Packers are 1-4 ATS as a postseason favorite dating back to the 1997 Super Bowl.

The statistics don't show me a glaring weakness either way. Green Bay is a much more efficient team on third down but Seattle has a huge edge in penalties and a modest advantage in turnovers. The only area where I would say there is a noticeable discrepancy is that Green Bay is much better running the ball while both teams are equal when it comes to stopping the run.

I will be a bit surprised if Seattle gets blown out of Lambeau Field on Saturday. They can move the ball effectively through the air and their defensive front seven may be even better than Green Bay's. Further, the Packers feature a lot of players that will be making their postseason debut whereas Seattle's entire roster is made of men hardened by past playoff trials. That made a huge difference in the Windy City last season and could be a big factor this weekend. This line is about three points too high so now it's up you if you want to blaspheme against Super Brett.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Jacksonville-New England Divisional Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo

The New England Patriots are not the Greatest Team of All Time. They aren't as they sit today, and they won't be if they run the table and win the Super Bowl this season. And to me it's not even an issue.

At least that is this handicapper's humble opinion. And I can say that confidently because I don't have to line up and face them head-on in a cruel, homicidal postseason matchup in Foxboro. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a rendezvous with the gallows at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

New England, quite naturally, is a 13.5-point favorite this weekend in their Divisional Round game and the total is generously listed at 49 at most Las Vegas sportsbooks.

But the Jaguars are incidental in this historical mosaic. The only real competition for this Patriots team lies in the ghosts of this Great Game. They are competing with immortality, not David Garrard.

There is no rational, empirical way to handicap this New England team. They have destroyed every system, trend, and piece of handicapping logic that has been thrown their way. I mean, routinely facing and topping 20-points spreads is absolutely absurd. But the Patriots have made it look easy. New England is 10-6 against the spread this season with their average number set at 13.4 points. I can't fully explain how freakish those numbers are.

But it gets better. The Patriots are 13-5-2 ATS in January. The Patriots are 41-19-3 ATS against a team with a winning record. The Patriots are 80-47-3 ATS overall since the end of the 2000 season. They may not be the GOAT, but their 63-percent run over the past eight years has to put them at the top of the list for the greatest moneymakers the postmodern gambling world has seen.

New England is also 8-2-1 ATS in its last 11 home playoff games. And despite this fact more than six of every 10 bettors has strolled up to the window and made a play on the Jaguars for this weekend's affair. Apparently, the Recency Effect is in full swing. Gamblers were obviously so impressed with Jacksonville's tip-of-its-fingers victory (and non-cover) at Pittsburgh last week that they think the Jags are primed to stroll into Foxboro and tangle with the titans.

The Pats have displayed some weakness over the past month as they tried to secure the first undefeated regular season in the Expansion Era. They survived against Philadelphia. The officials gift-wrapped a game in Baltimore. They held off a valiant charge by the Jets. And the Giants absolutely handed them their finale. New England has gone 1-5 ATS over its last six games, failing to cover the number by an average of approximately 12 points per contest. Either the rest of the NFL has caught up with them or the oddsmakers have done laps around them.

That being said, how does one punch a ticket against History? I want the Patriots to lose, straight-up, as much as anyone, but that doesn't mean that I would throw a mortgage payment or two on the game out of sheer hatred and resentment towards the dirty, lying, cheating, smug heathens up in Massachusetts. And neither should you.

Sure, Jacksonville can run the ball and play good defense. And that wins in the playoffs. And yes, the Patriots played a weak second-half schedule. But is that reason enough to think that this game will be any different from the 28-3 lesson that New England delivered to the upstart Jaguars just two short Januarys ago? I say no.

(And here is my closing, my epilogue. Co-authored by the Coen Brothers, writers of "No Country For Old Men." If you have seen the flick you may appreciate this. If not, I recommend not watching the Jaguars-Patriots game and going to check it out. Because I already know how it's going to end.)

The original title of this article was going to be, "Dr. Spiteslove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Patriots." I thought it was a good title. But it wouldn't fit.

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Seattle (11-6, 10-7 ATS at Green Bay (13-3, 12-3-1 ATS)

The third-seeded Seahawks face a familiar opponent when they travel to Lambeau Field to take on the second-seeded Packers to open the divisional playoff round.

Seattle stifled a Washington comeback last week by putting up 21 fourth-quarter points in a 35-14 home victory as a three-point chalk in the wild-card round. QB Matt Hasselbeck struggled a bit in going 20 of 32 for 229 yards with one TD and two INTs, but CB Marcus Trufant returned an INT for a fourth-quarter score that helped seal the game. The Seahawks, who bounced back from a 1-2 SU and ATS hiccup to end the regular season, finished with just 304 total yards, nearly 45 off their season average (348.9), and they lost the time-of-possession battle, 34:15-25:45.

While Seattle faced the Redskins, Green Bay was enjoying a bye week. The Packers finished the regular season with a 34-13 rout of Detroit as a 3½-point home favorite on Dec. 30, moving to 3-1 SU and ATS in their last four starts. Green Bay finished with the NFL’s best pointspread record.

These two teams have squared off six times since 2003 – twice in the preseason, three times in the regular season and once in the playoffs. In the four contests that mattered, Green Bay went 3-1 (1-1-2 ATS), with Seattle winning the most recent battle last year 34-24, pushing as a 10-point home chalk. The Seahawks and Packers also met in the wild-card round after the 2003 season, with Green Bay claiming a 33-27 overtime victory at Lambeau as a 7½-point favorite. Hasselbeck threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the extra session.

Adding to these two teams’ levels of familiarity, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren led Green Bay to consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s before exiting for Seattle, and Hasselbeck was formerly Favre’s backup.

The Seahawks come into this game on a 7-2 SU and ATS surge. They’re also 7-2 ATS in their last nine against the NFC, 5-2 ATS in their last seven as an underdog and 4-1 ATS in their last five January games (bolstered by their Super Bowl run in 2005). On the downside, Seattle went just 3-5 SU and ATS on the highway this season, and going back to 2005, this squad is just 6-13-1 ATS in its last 20 road starts.

The Packers finished 7-1 at Lambeau this season (6-1-1 ATS). Additionally, they enjoyed season-long ATS runs of 7-2-1 as a favorite and 8-1-1 in non-division play. Green Bay is also 13-3-1 ATS in its last 17 starts overall and 13-4-2 ATS in its last 19 against the NFC. On the negative side, the Packers are 3-7-4 ATS in their last 14 versus teams with a winning record and 1-4 ATS in their last five as a playoff favorite, including the non-cover against Seattle in January 2004.
In the regular season, Seattle was in the league’s top 10 offensively in points (24.6, 10th), total yards (348.9, 9th) and passing yards (247.8, 8th). The Seahawks allowed just 18.2 points per game (tied for 6th), although they were a middling 15th in total yards allowed (321.8). They posted a solid plus-10 turnover differential, though they were even last week with two giveaways and two takeaways.

Green Bay’s offense ranked in the top five in total yards (370.7, 2nd), passing yards (270.9, 2nd) and scoring (27.2 points per game, 4th). Favre completed a career-best 66.5 percent of his passes for 4,155 passing yards, with 28 TDs against 15 INTs. RB Ryan Grant rushed for 956 yards (5.1 per carry) and eight TDs, and WR Donald Driver had 1,048 yards receiving (12.8 per catch).

Defensively, the Packers allowed 313.3 ypg (11th) and just 18.2 points (tied for 6th with Seattle), and they finished with a plus-4 turnover differential.

For Green Bay, the over is on runs of 7-0 overall, 10-1 following a spread-cover, 6-0 as a favorite and 6-0 against the NFC. For Seattle, the over is 6-2 as a road pup, 4-1 against the NFC and 19-8 as an underdog. The over is also 3-1 in the last four non-preseason meetings in this series.

ATS ADVANTAGE: GREEN BAY and OVER


Jacksonville (12-5, 11-6 ATS) at New England (16-0, 10-6 ATS)

The Jaguars, one of the league’s best bets the second half of the season, look to pull off a historic upset when they visit Gillette Stadium for a playoff battle with the unbeaten Patriots.

Jacksonville edged Pittsburgh 31-29 last week in the wild-card round, failing to cash as a 2½-point favorite. QB David Garrard had his worst outing of the year, going 9 of 21 for 140 yards with one TD and two INTs – one less pick than he threw the entire regular season. But he keyed the winning drive with a 32-yard scramble on fourth-and-2 late in the fourth quarter, with Josh Scobee drilling a 25-yard FG in the final minute.

The Jags were outgained by more than 100 yards in Pittsburgh (340-239) and lost the time-of-possession battle by six minutes, but they forced QB Ben Roethlisberger into three INTs, plus a fumble after Scobee’s field goal. Jacksonville also registered six sacks and allowed just 43 rushing yards.

The Jaguars enter this contest on a 7-2 SU and ATS roll, including a meaningless Week 17 blowout loss at Houston when none of Jacksonville’s key starters played.

Top-seeded New England was off last week after capping its perfect regular season with a tightly contested 38-35 road win over the New York Giants on Dec. 29. The Patriots never threatened to cover as a 13-point chalk, dropping to 2-6 ATS in their last eight, including three straight non-covers to close the regular season.

QB Tom Brady went 32 of 42 for 356 yards with two TDs and no INTs against New York, ending the year with a ridiculous 50-8 TD-to-INT ratio, with the 50 TDs besting Peyton Manning’s previous single-season NFL record of 49. WRs Wes Welker (11 catches, 122 yards) and Randy Moss (6 catches, 100 yards) had big nights, with Moss reaching 23 TDs to break Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season mark.

New England has won the past two meetings (2-0 ATS) against Jacksonville: a 28-3 wild-card playoff rout at home as a 7½-point favorite after the 2005 regular season; and a 24-21 road victory as a three-point underdog during the 2006 regular season.

With last week’s win in Pittsburgh, the Jags improved to 6-3 SU and 7-2 ATS on the highway this season, outgaining and outscoring opponents by slim margins of 339-327 and 25-24, respectively. They hold additional positive ATS trends of 5-1 against teams with a winning record, 9-3 against the AFC, 5-2 as a road pup and 15-6-1 as an underdog. But Jacksonville is 1-4 ATS in its last five playoff starts and 0-5 ATS in road playoff contests.

The Patriots’ positive ATS trends are seemingly endless: 7-3 at home overall, 8-2-1 in home playoff games, 13-5-2 in January, 13-5 against the AFC and 41-19-3 against teams with a winning record. On the negative side, New England is 1-5 ATS in its last six, all as a double-digit chalk.

In the regular season, Jacksonville was among the top 10 in the league in total yards (357.4, 7th), points (25.7, 6th) and rushing yards (149.4, 2nd). Defensively, the Jaguars were 10th in the league in points allowed at 19.0. They finished the regular season with a plus-9 turnover differential.

New England set a single-season scoring record this year, averaging 36.8 per game. The Patriots also led the NFL in total offense (411.2 ypg) and passing offense (295.7 ypg). Brady finished with 4,806 yards passing (68.9 completion percentage), Moss had 1,493 receiving yards (15.2 per catch), Welker had 1,175 receiving yards (10.5 ypc), and RB Laurence Maroney had 835 rushing yards (4.5 per carry).

Defensively, the Pats ranked fourth in both points allowed (17.1) and total yards allowed (288.3). They also had the league’s third-best turnover ratio at plus-16.

The over is 12-4-1 on the season for the Jags, including 7-0 in the last seven and 10-0-1 in the last 11. The Jaguars are also on over runs of 8-0 as an underdog and 10-1 on the road.

The over is 16-6 in New England’s last 22 overall, including 8-3 in the last 11 at home. But the under is 12-5 in the Patriots’ last 17 playoff games, including 9-2 at home. The under is also 7-0 in their last seven divisional playoff games and 8-3 as a postseason favorite.

ATS ADVANTAGE: JACKSONVILLE

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

NFL Saturday Gameday

By David Harrison

The NFL Divisional Round playoffs kick off on Saturday when Seattle invades Green Bay, and Jacksonville tries to become the first team this season to hand New England a loss.

Seattle at Green Bay

The Seahawks soared past Washington during Wild Card weekend in a 35-14 win as a 3-point favorite. Seattle got it done on both sides of the ball in the victory, as the defense played its part with two interception returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Matt Hasselbeck completed 20-of-32 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and he is expected to play through a number of injuries on Saturday. Hasselbeck suffered a bruised thigh after taking a helmet hit last week and he’s also dealing with a sore wrist that he injured in the Seahawks’ regular-season finale.

The Seahawks’ injury troubles don’t end with Hasselbeck. Wide receiver D.J. Hackett missed most of the regular season with an ankle injury, but appeared to be back for good last week after leading Seattle with six receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. Hackett’s return may be short-lived though, after he re-aggravated the ankle in practice and is listed as questionable for Saturday. Wideout Deion Branch missed last week’s game against Washington with an injured calf, but is expected to play this week after making it though practice. Running back Shaun Alexander is also dealing with a minor wrist injury, but even if he was 100 percent his workload would be reduced in Seattle’s pass-first offense.

The Packers finished off the regular season in grand style two weeks ago with a 34-13 rout of the Detroit Lions as a 5.5-point favorite. Brett Favre’s 17th NFL season was one of his best in years, as he put aside his old gunslinger ways for a more conservative approach that saw him pass for 4,155 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That marks the first time since 2004 that Favre has thrown more TDs than picks in a season.

Donald Driver and Greg Jennings lead a strong group of receivers in Green Bay with Driver leading the team with 82 receptions for 1,048 yards and two touchdowns, while Jennings was a TD machine this year with a team-high 12 trips to the end zone.

The Packers struggled to find a running game for a big chunk of the season until the starting job fell to Ryan Grant due to injuries. Grant took over the starting job in Week 8 and went on to rush for 956 yards on 188 carries with eight touchdowns.

On defense the Packers are loaded with young talent at all levels. Aaron Kampman proved last year was no fluke after leading the team with 12 sacks, while linebacker A.J. Hawk lived up to his lofty potential and finished second on the team in tackles. The Green Bay secondary boasts one of the best cornerback duos in the league with veterans Charles Woodson and Al Harris, although Woodson has been dealing with a nagging toe injury lately.

The Packers and Seahawks met up in the playoffs back in 2004 when Hasselbeck declared his now famous phrase “we want the ball and we’re going to score,” only to toss an interception into the hands of Al Harris that was run back for a game-winning TD. Green Bay won that game 33-27 as a 7-point favorite and they’re a 7.5-point home favorite in Saturday’s game.

Jacksonville at New England

The Jaguars nearly blew an 18-point lead against Pittsburgh last week before a fourth-quarter field goal by Josh Scobee allowed them to escape with a 31-29 win as a 2.5-point favorite. David Garrard came up with a game-saving 32-yard run on fourth down, but essentially struggled in the win while completing only 9-of-21 passes for 140 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew both ran in for a score but neither had a big day on the ground, with Taylor rushing for 48 yards on 16 carries and Jones-Drew adding 29 yards on eight carries. Jones-Drew did come through in the passing game with a 43-yard touchdown reception. While the Jaguars’ offense went through some struggles in the win, the defense was strong with six sacks and three interceptions to keep Pittsburgh from taking over.

What else can be said about the Patriots? The undefeated superpower had the best offense in the league and arguably one of the best of all-time after scoring a league-high 36.8 points per game. Tom Brady earned MVP honors after passing for 4,806 yards with a record-setting 50 touchdown passes.

Randy Moss reverted back to his old form in his first season in New England with 1,493 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. Wes Welker also found success in new digs in New England with a team-high 112 receptions for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns. Running back Laurence Maroney saw his workload reduced while splitting what little carries the running game was given, and rushed for 835 yards with six touchdowns. The Patriots’ defense maintained its status among the league’s elite after allowing 17.1 points per game, however their linebackers are starting to show some wear leaving them vulnerable to the run more than in the past.

New England and Jacksonville met up in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs when the Patriots defeated the Jags 28-3 as a 7.5-point favorite. In Saturday’s matchup the Pats are a 13-point favorite.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

National Football League Weather
Saturday, January 12th

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers, 4:30 p.m.
Mostly Cloudy Mostly cloudy with a 40-percent chance of snow. Winds blowing from the East at 5-10 m.p.h. Game-time temperature: Around 30.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots, 8:00 p.m.
Partly Cloudy Partly cloudy. Winds blowing from the Northwest at 5-10 m.p.h. Game-time temperature: Near 40.

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Re: NFL Saturday Playoffs

Seahawks WR Deion Branch (calf) is again expected to play today.

The Seahawks are optimistic about WR D.J. Hackett (ankle) playing against Green Bay.

Packers CB Charles Woodson (toe) is expected to be available for today's game.

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