Pick­ing Pa­tri­ots safe bet in play­offs

New Eng­land 151/2-point fa­vorite to de­feat Tex­ans and reach AFC cham­pi­onship game

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Barry Wil­ner

When the point spreads came out for the di­vi­sional play­off round, the line get­ting the most at­ten­tion was for the game at Foxbor­ough, the one pro­jected blowout.

While all four teams com­ing off byes are fa­vored, the Pa­tri­ots (142) opened as a 13 1/2-point choice against the Tex­ans (10-7). The money started flow­ing in, and the line moved up to 15 1/2.

The play­ers and coaches have no in­ter­est in such things, of course, rea­son­ing that bet­ting lines have no im­pact on what hap­pens on the field Satur­day night.

They are right. Tal­ent makes the dif­fer­ence, and there rarely has been such a mis­match in skill as in this one.

Not that the Tex­ans, fresh off a rout of the in­jury-wrecked Raiders, will sim­ply for­feit. They rec­og­nize the chal­lenge and sound ea­ger to face it.

“You have to make sure that, No. 1, that you do your job,” Tex­ans coach Bill O’Brien said. “That your play­ers un­der­stand what their role in the game is and how they’re sup­posed to per­form on ev­ery sin­gle play.

“They’re go­ing to make their share of plays. I think one of the big things for us is we have to play good, sound, fun­da­men­tal foot­ball.

They’re the type of team that if you make too many mis­takes, they’re go­ing to bury you.” Let the romp­ing be­gin. New Eng­land has won its past four meet­ings with Hous­ton at Gil­lette Sta­dium by a com­bined 150-49. It’s tempt­ing to pick that score, but we’ll go with the av­er­age of those re­sults.

BEST BET: PA­TRI­OTS, 38-12

Steel­ers (plus 2) at Chiefs, Sun­day

That boot be­ing worn by Ben Roeth­lis­berger after Pitts­burgh’s win against Mi­ami is very wor­ri­some. But Roeth­lis­berger tends to al­ways show up in the play­offs and per­form su­perbly much of the time.

The Steel­ers eased past the Chiefs on Oct. 2, but that was in Pitts­burgh. Kansas City is bet­ter now than it was back then, al­though so are the Steel­ers.

If KC can get pressure on Big Ben and some­what con­trol An­to­nio Brown, the league’s most danger­ous re­ceiver (and non-quar­ter­back), and RB Le’Veon Bell, it can use its rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive of­fense to its ad­van­tage. But will Andy Reid turn the reins loose a bit when the Chiefs have the ball?

A matchup we can’t wait to see is Brown vs. All-Pro cor­ner­back Mar­cus Peters.

The feel­ing is that only the Steel­ers could de­rail an­other trip to the Su­per Bowl for New Eng­land. Pro Picks would like to see if Pitts­burgh can do that, so ...

UP­SET SPE­CIAL: STEEL­ERS, 23-21

Sea­hawks (plus 4 1⁄2) at Fal­cons, Satur­day

Ex­pe­ri­ence, coach­ing and swag­ger — they all are on

the side of the vis­i­tors.

Seat­tle is as ac­com­plished as any NFC play­off team, and many of the key con­trib­u­tors to its re­cent suc­cess re­main on the scene: Rus­sell Wil­son, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sher­man and Doug Bald­win.

Now that Thomas Rawls seems healthy, there’s a run­ning game to com­ple­ment Wil­son, Bald­win and tight end Jimmy Gra­ham.

But this is one of those prove-it games for At­lanta’s All-Pros, quar­ter­back Matt Ryan and wide­out Julio Jones. Which op­po­nent to bet­ter prove that your of­fense, and an im­prov­ing de­fense, are ca­pa­ble of a long post­sea­son run than against the big kid on the NFC block?

Fal­cons coach Dan Quinn gets the bet­ter of his men­tor, Seat­tle’s Pete Car­roll, in a squeaker.

FAL­CONS, 27-26

Pack­ers (plus 4) at

ELISE AMENDOLA — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tom Brady and Pa­tri­ots are a 15 1/2-point fa­vorite to de­feat Tex­ans on Satur­day.

JEF­FREY PHELPS — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Aaron Rodgers and the Pack­ers are a 4-point un­der­dog for Sun­day’s game against Cow­boys.

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