Before doing my bets for the week I always check in with http://walterfootball.com/picks.php to see what he has to say. The fact he likes my picks means I might unload more cash on them! here's his previews:
GREEN BAY OFFENSE: Aaron Rodgers has been playing out of his mind. This is early 90s Michael Jordan. Rodgers, with apologies to Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. What he's doing without his No. 1 receiver is astonishing. He made one of the greatest throws in NFL history when connecting to Jared Cook along the sideline on the final offensive play of the game, and yet no one was really surprised that it happened because Rodgers has been spectacular ever since telling the media that his team was going to run the table.
There's no reason to think Rodgers won't continue his torrid streak at Atlanta. The Falcons just handled the Seahawks pretty well, but Seattle's offensive line was predictably at fault in that defeat. The Packers won't have such problems, as they have one of the best blocking units in the NFL. Atlanta has just one player who can consistently generate pressure on the quarterback, Vic Beasley, and he'll have a tough matchup going up against Bryan Bulaga, one of the elite right tackles in the league.
With plenty of time in the pocket, Rodgers will be able to dissect Atlanta's defense, with or without Jordy Nelson. The Falcons haven't really been tested by a dynamic downfield passing attack ever since losing No. 1 cornerback Desmond Trufant, so I expect Rodgers to take advantage of mediocre cornerback Robert Alford.
ATLANTA OFFENSE: It'll be surprising if Rodgers doesn't score on most possessions, so Matt Ryan will have to match him in an expected shootout. Ryan, like Rodgers, has been extremely hot, so he'll engineer tons of scoring drives as well.
Ryan just torched the Legion of Boom, so why would he have issues against the Packers? Green Bay's problems in the secondary are well-documented, and it'll be even worse if Morgan Burnett doesn't play. Burnett hurt his quad in the opening quarter of the Dallas game, and his absence would be absolutely huge because he's one of the top safeties in the NFL. If Burnett is out, the Packers will really need their pass rush to come through. They have a better chance of pressuring the quarterback than the Falcons do because Atlanta's offensive line, while talented, is slightly inferior. Julius Peppers can beat Jake Matthews, while guard Chris Chester is a big liability I'm sure Dom Capers will figure out how to exploit.
The other caveat is Julio Jones' health. Jones suffered a toe injury against the Seahawks and wasn't on the field very much at the end. Jones will definitely play, but whether he's 100 percent or not could determine the outcome of this game.
RECAP: Prior to seeing the lines, I had a discussion with Matvei on what this spread would be. He thought the Falcons would open -2.5, and I said I could see that even though I'd make the spread -1.5. It's safe to say that we were utterly shocked by what this spread was.
Five? FIVE!? Are you kidding me? The best quarterback in the NFL, who happens to be unstoppable right now, is a five-point underdog against a team with a middling defense and a possibly injured top receiving threat?
I don't understand this line at all. I had five units on the Packers versus the Cowboys, and so I'm going to match that wager here. If this gets up to +6, I'm going to use my February NFL Pick of the Month on the Packers, as six would provide overtime insurance.
I've harped about this many times this season. If you can get an elite quarterback as an underdog of more than a field goal, you almost have to take it every time. Rodgers, at the very least, will keep this game close. He could easily win outright, but this contest should be a tight one. The Falcons, who have a poor home-field advantage, barely beat the Packers in the first meeting, 33-32, and Green Bay is a much better team now than it was back in Week 8.
NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE: The Patriots talked about how poorly they played even though they won by 18, but they really struggled to do much against the Texans. Part of that was Houston's great defense, but another factor has to be that New England simply isn't good enough as people think the team happens to be. The Patriots' strength of schedule is far worse than that of the other three teams still alive (.439 versus Atlanta's .480, Pittsburgh's .494, and Green Bay's .508). One of the few quality teams they've battled since Tom Brady returned to the lineup happened to be Pittsburgh, but Ben Roethlisberger didn't even play in that game!
Tom Brady's pass protection was woeful against Houston. While the Steelers don't have the same edge rush the Texans do, they still have a pretty terrific pass-rusher in James Harrison, who is somehow playing on a Pro Bowl level despite being 38. Bud Dupree has also performed well of late, so I think they, along with Stephon Tuitt, could put some heat on Brady without sending too many extra pass-rushers, and Brady historically hasn't done well in those situations.
It also must be remembered that Brady doesn't have Rob Gronkowski at his disposal. That hasn't mattered when the Patriots beat up on horrible teams like the Rams, 49ers, Jets (twice), etc., but the Steelers' secondary has improved as the season progressed, so I don't think Brady will have a terrific performance in this matchup.
PITTSBURGH OFFENSE: I referenced earlier that the Patriots have taken advantage of a joke of a schedule. The quarterbacks they've beaten all have one thing in common: They're not good!
That's pretty bad. New England's defense has been great statistically this year, but it's fair to wonder if that's because of the competition it has faced. Russell Wilson, behind his abysmal offensive line, absolutely torched the Patriots. I could see Ben Roethlisberger doing the same thing. Roethlisberger was great last week in between the 20s, but sputtered in the red zone. I don't expect that to happen again, especially now that he's not battling the Chiefs' prolific defense.
The Patriots barely have a pass rush, so they won't be able to get to Roethlisberger very often, as Pittsburgh's offensive line is one of the NFL's best. The Steelers will also blast open huge holes for Le'Veon Bell, who will pick up where Lamar Miller left off last Saturday night. Miller had some opportunities against the Patriots, but the Texans ultimately had to abandon the run. It's unlikely that the Steelers will be forced to do that.
RECAP: I recall Bill Simmons, a known Patriots fan, smugly comment that he wasn't afraid of the Steelers because his team had owned them over the years. And that has definitely been true. In their past eight meetings in which Brady has played, New England is 7-1 straight up and against the spread versus Pittsburgh.
While something like that gives me some pause, I still like the Steelers quite a bit. This is the first time since perhaps 2011, when the Steelers dominated the Patriots in a 25-17 victory, that Pittsburgh has maintained the superior offensive line. The blocking unit has become more crucial than ever in this post-CBA NFL, and a major reason why the Steelers have been so great in the second half of this season has been the play of their front. The Patriots, who have seldom been tested defensively this year, figure to be overwhelmed on that side of the ball, and Brady missing Gronkowski will prevent him from making up for it.
Besides, this is once again a case in which a great quarterback is an underdog of more than a field goal. And at +6, we're even getting overtime insurance to boot! I'm betting the Steelers for three units.