Saturday’s Playoff Primer

Published on Jan. 13 at 5:35 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

One of the best weekends in sports has arrived! Gamblers have a pair of doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday in the NFL Playoffs, including a showdown between the Tim-Tebow-led Broncos against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxboro in Saturday’s prime-time tilt.

But we start in San Francisco, where the NFC’s second-seeded 49ers will take on a red-hot New Orleans squad by the Bay. The Saints were 3 ½-point favorites for most of the week, but the number moved up to four on Friday morning. The total is 47 and Jim Harbaugh’s club is plus-170 on the money line (risk $100 to win $170)

New Orleans (14-3 straight up, 13-4 against the spread) has taken the cash in nine consecutive games, including last week’s 45-28 win over Detroit as an 11-point home ‘chalk.’ Drew Brees completed 33-of-43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.

Pierre Thomas had 14 ‘touches’ (eight rushes, six receptions) for 121 yards and one rushing score, while Darren Sproles had 85 yards on 14 touches (10 carries, four catches) with a pair of TD scampers. Marques Colston had a team-high seven receptions for 120 yards.

San Francisco (13-3 SU, 12-3-1 ATS) was the NFL’s biggest surprise this year under the leadership of Harbaugh, who has shattered the previous trend of college coaches flopping at the pro level. The former Stanford coach has instilled toughness into a team that thrives on defense and running the football.

The 49ers were nearly perfect at home this year, going 7-1 SU and 7-0-1 versus the number. The lone loss came to the Cowboys in an overtime game they led by 10 with seven minutes remaining.

Sean Peyton’s club went 5-3 SU and 4-4 ATS on the road. The Saints saw the ‘over’ go 10-7 overall, 4-4 in their eight road assignments.

San Francisco has seen the ‘under’ go 9-7 overall, 4-4 in its home games. This is the highest total the 49ers have had all year. The previous high was 45 in a 25-19 win at Detroit.

On the injury front, New Orleans WR Lance Moore (hamstring) has been ruled ‘out.’ LB Jonathan Vilma has been limited at practice but will play.

The bye week has allowed the 49ers to get completely healthy with the exception of TE Delanie Walker, who is ‘out’ with a fractured jaw.

Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on FOX.

New England (13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS) garnered the AFC’s No. 1 seed thanks to eight straight victories to close the regular season. The Patriots overcame a leaky defense thanks to their high-octane offense led by veteran quarterback Tom Brady, who enjoyed another sensational year with 5,239 passing yards and a 39/12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Brady has utilized one of the best WRs in the game (Wes Welker) and two of the league’s top tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Welker hauled in an NFL-best 122 receptions for 1,573 yards and nine TDs. Gronkowski had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 TDs, while Hernandez finished the regular season with 79 grabs for 910 yards and seven scores.

Denver (9-8 SU, 8-9 ATS) lost four of its first five games before finally turning to Tim Tebow in favor of Kyle Orton at the QB position. The two-time national-title winner at the University of Florida paid instant dividends, leading the Broncos to a 7-1 record in his first eight starts.

However, John Fox’s team faltered down the stretch with three consecutive losses, backing into the postseason with a .500 record. With Tebow struggling mightily in losses at Buffalo and vs. Kansas City to end the year, his critics roared with approval.

But No. 15 didn’t get the memo. Facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense in last week’s AFC quarterfinals, Tebow threw for 316 yards, including an 80-yard scoring strike on the first play of overtime to propel the Broncos to a 29-23 win over the Steelers.

Denver hooked up its backers as an eight-point underdog, cashing money-line tickets in the plus-350 range (risk $100 to win $350).

Tebow’s game-winning TD pass went to fellow second-year player Demaryius Thomas, who showed his speed and power by dealing out a ferocious stiff-arm to create a little distance before beating the Pittsburgh secondary to the end zone. Thomas was all about the YAC (yards after the catch), turning four catches into 204 yards.

These teams met in the Mile High City on Dec. 18 with the Patriots capturing a 41-23 win as seven-point favorites. Denver raced out to a 16-7 lead before three second-quarter fumbles turned the tide of the game.

Brady threw for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception. Tebow completed 11-of-22 throws for 194 yards and also rushed 12 times for 93 yards and a pair of scores.

As of early Friday evening, most books were listing New England as a 13 ½-point favorite with a total of 50 ½. Neither number has had much movement since opening Sunday night. The Broncos are available to win outright for a plus-600 return (risk $100 to win $600).

New England has been a double-digit favorite three times, going 2-1 ATS. The Pats, who have won only three of their eight home games by double-digit margins, went 7-1 SU and 4-4 ATS at home during the regular season.

Denver has thrived on the road with a 5-3 SU record and a 6-2 ATS mark. This is the Broncos’ richest underdog situation of the year.

The ‘over’ is 11-5 overall for the Pats, 5-3 in their home games. They have seen the ‘over’ hit in six consecutive games. Also, they have watched the ‘over’ cash at a 5-4 clip in their nine games with totals in the 50s.

This is the highest total of the season for the Broncos, who have seen the ‘over’ go 3-1 their last four times out. For the year, the ‘over’ is 10-7 overall, 4-4 in their road contests. The previous high seen by Denver was 47 ½ in the aforementioned loss to New England.

CBS will provide the telecast at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Here are the updated NFL futures per Green Bay is the 7/4 (+175) ‘chalk’ and New England has the second-shortest odds at 5/2 (+250). The rest are as follows…Saints (4/1), Ravens (7/1), Giants (10/1), 49ers (12/1), Texans (20/1) and Broncos (50/1).

–Denver owns a 6-2 spread record in eight games as an underdog with Tim Tebow as its starting quarterback.

– has a slew of proposition wagers for all four NFL games this weekend. Tebow’s ‘over/under’ totals are as follows: passing yards (192.5), rushing yards (55.5) completions (11.5) and rushing attempts (9.5).

–Denver veteran safety Brian Dawkins remains ‘out’ and WR Eric Decker is also ‘out.’ Decker (44 catches, 612 yards, eight TDs) suffered a knee injury against Pittsburgh.

–Since the Brees-Peyton combo arrived in New Orleans, it has only played on the road twice in the playoffs. The Saints lost both times, at Chicago in 2006 and at Seattle last year.

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