We're down to the final eight teams in the NFL and the balance of power (or at least the perceptions of Las Vegas) have changed quite a bit over the last six weeks.
Let's take a look at each of the eight teams left, their Super Bowl odds and what we think of each play. Joining me in the discussion will be Joe Fortenbaugh (@JoeFortenbaugh) from the National Football Post. Let's take a look at the current Super Bowl and Conference Championship odds from the Las Vegas Hilton Sportsbook:
Best Value: The 49ers are sitting at 5-1, yet they've gone into Foxboro and beaten the Patriots and gone into Green Bay and beaten the Packers. If they get through the NFC gauntlet, they will likely face off against either Manning or Brady, but neither guy is particularly mobile and I'm not sure that either defense would be able to handle the physicality of their offensive line and the athleticism and power of their defensive front.
Best Value: Considering that the Broncos are expected to cruise past this round and take on the Patriots at home as what should be at least a -3 favorite, I consider their even money odds to be the best value on the board right now in the AFC. The Patriots would be my choice if I could get them at 7-5 or more, but that isn't happening. The Texans simply can't win two straight games on the road against the Patriots and Broncos.
Best Value: Once again, the 49ers offer the best "value" but that is relative considering the fact that they are as low as 2-1 now. With a game at home against the Packers, the 49'ers will be in good shape to impose their will once again. If they get by, they will take on Atlanta who won't be able to run at all against them or they will get Seattle again, but at home in this one.
LZ: Joe, when I look over the Super Bowl odds, I have a hard time arguing with how the board is stacked in terms of the order, but it is interesting that the Falcons are co-favorites at 2-1 favorite to win the NFC Championship, but fall below both San Francisco and Green Bay when it comes to Super Bowl odds. If anything, I think this proves that the Falcons should be sitting at closer to 7-2 odds to win the NFC which would make more sense compared to their Super Bowl odds.
Joe Fortenbaugh: I think that the thought process regarding Atlanta is that even if they find a way to get past Seattle on Sunday and GB/SF next week, they won't be able to close out the show in New Orleans. Home field advantage is probably a big factor with these odds, as Atlanta is short at 2/1 for the NFC (where they control the turf), but isn't getting a whole lot of respect once it comes to a neutral field.
It sounds off a red alert when the No. 1 seed, who is playing a team facing back-to-back trips to the east coast, doesn't even open at the standard -3 for home field advantage. In addition, when you look at the remaining playoff teams, you have to account for public perception.
Atlanta is in the best spot of anybody, but the country is riding high on Seattle (won 6 straight), San Francisco (preseason Super Bowl favorite) and Green Bay (popular quarterback, won nine of 12). And you can't forget about the fact that Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have never won a playoff game.
LZ: With so many tough teams in the NFC and with the odds being so tight, do you really feel like there is a team that offers good value on that side in terms of to win the NFC Championship?
Joe Fortenbaugh: Green Bay at 9/1 is the only team that, in my mind, offers any value at this point. But that's not saying a whole lot because I'll be betting San Francisco -3 this weekend.
LZ: So you would skip the NFC Championship wagering and just go right after the Super Bowl odds on that side of the bracket, right?
Joe Fortenbaugh: Yep. With only two games left until the conference champions are crowned, I think the time has passed to bet on which team will win the AFC or NFC.
LZ: Getting back to your comments of betting the 49ers over the Packers, I agree with you. I don't think there was anything fluky about their first meeting and the Packers have had issues with a team like the Giants for two years in a row who could take it right to them like the 49ers can. I also think the versatility of Keapernick outweighs his relative inexperience in this one. Speaking of young quarterbacks, are you surprised that Seattle is only 8-1 to win Super Bowl and just a +2 dog in Atlanta this week?
Joe Fortenbaugh: Not at all. Seattle was approximately 36-1 the week before they blew the doors off the Cardinals and the odds have been plummeting ever since. It's a red hot football team that has captured the eyes of the country, meaning public perception couldn't be higher at the moment.
Factoring in Atlanta's recent playoff struggles, I wasn't totally surprised by the line for this week's game, especially when you consider the fact that the Seahawks are +.71 in yards per play differential this season (third in NFL), while Atlanta is -.12 (18th in NFL, only playoff team remaining that posted a negative differential during the regular season). But when you consider the back-to-back east coast road games for Pete Carroll's crew, there's cause for concern.
LZ: Last week, I had the Ravens taking care of the Colts fairly easily and they did cover, but Andrew Luck and the Colts moved the ball against them with a fair amount of consistency. As a handicapper, I'm always open to each week being different than the last, but I just can't see a scenario where the Broncos don't win by at least two touchdowns. Where are you on that game?
Joe Fortenbaugh: I laid the -8.5 with Denver as soon as the game hit the board and I haven't second-guessed it yet. Manning and the Broncos are riding an 11-game winning streak and have an extra week of rest for a team that is playing their second playoff game in 7 days...with this one taking place at altitude, which could be a big factor during the second half.
In addition, Joe Flacco has been awful on the road this season, where he has gone 4-4 while completing only 56.9% of his passes with seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a QB Rating of 74.9. Denver is going to score against this defense, but the question is can the Ravens keep pace? If it were anybody but Flacco, I'd hesitate laying this much lumber.