The San Diego Chargers did not qualify for the postseason, but I felt like I was watching them during the divisional round playoff games.
If you’ve ever gambled, you’re familiar with the Chargers of the last six years. Norv Turner on the sideline. Philip Rivers under center. A duo that was never worthy of your trust and would never deliver when you thought you had them solved. With Turner — who was fired at the conclusion of the regular season — and Rivers at the helm, you could always rely on mistakes and letdowns.
It was erratic, Chargers-like football that made me think three of the four divisional round competitors had lightning bolts on their helmets. The Broncos could have been hosting the AFC Championship game this weekend, but bowed out after playing not to lose. The Falcons advanced despite not being able to cover a 2½-point number — and they were leading, 27-7, at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And I knew the Texans, even with a 9½-point head start, were doomed when their long return of the opening kickoff wasn’t converted into a touchdown.
I’m here to deliver hope, though. The remaining four teams have won a combined 51 games outright and have gone 38-29-2 against the spread. Three of them — New England, Baltimore, and San Francisco — reached conference championship games last season.
These clubs have résumés worthy of our trust. Now we’ll make a case for two of them.
This week’s picks (home team in caps):
ATLANTA (+4) over San Francisco: According to Pregame.com, the Falcons are the biggest home underdog of any No. 1 seed in any round of the playoffs since the NFL expanded to 10 playoff teams in 1978. The 49ers may be a Super Bowl team, but Atlanta has the offensive weapons to hang around and cover against any opponent. Looking back at recent conference championship games, this matchup reminds me of New Orleans hosting Minnesota in January 2010. The Saints were favored by 4 and won by a field goal. I like a lot about San Francisco, but I like those points even more. Risking $165 to win $150.
NEW ENGLAND (-9) over Baltimore: The Ravens are lucky to be in this position. Denver’s unwillingness to put away Baltimore was baffling, but New England will experience no such hesitation. Risking $165 to win $150.
Last week: 1-3, minus $285. Season: 37-35-1, plus $132.