Wagers reflect my respect for underdog Falcons


Play Q & A with handicapper Kelly Stewart, who will answer selected questions from Las Vegas Review-Journal readers. Email her at Askkelly@reviewjournal.com.

Q: Atlanta is the top seed in the NFC but seems to be getting no respect. Do you give Matt Ryan a decent shot to win another playoff game? - Wendy, Athens, Ga.

A: The Falcons have been getting very little respect all season, and I can't think of any reason other than public perception. Is it because prior to this year they had not won a playoff game since 2004? Or is it because their statistics are not that impressive on paper? I'm not sure, but I do know the Falcons have something to prove, and they proved one point by beating Seattle last week.

San Francisco opened as a 3-point favorite in the NFC title game, and money moved the line to 3½ right away and then to 4.

There are a few big keys to beating the 49ers, starting with shutting down quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If he's running out of the gate, the game could be over before you know it. The Falcons can't make the same mistakes Green Bay did, so they will have to play more zone defense than man-to-man coverage. John Abraham will be back on the Atlanta defensive line, and he will be needed to pressure Kaepernick.

Matt Ryan proved in the comeback versus the Seahawks that he is as clutch as the league's other elite quarterbacks, with 23 winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime in his career. If Ryan keeps this game close into the fourth quarter, I expect the Falcons to win. Ryan will have to exploit the 49ers secondary with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones while utilizing tight end Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field. But, and this is a big key, Ryan needs his offensive line to step it up against San Francisco's strong front seven.

Q: What's your best bet this weekend? - Tony, Las Vegas

A: Falcons plus-4. Prime Time Home Dogs - or PTHD as my friends and I call it - usually are good plays. I would like to get 4½ or 5, but I'm going to play Atlanta on the money line, too.

Q: How much blame does Peyton Manning deserve for the Broncos' playoff loss? - Patrick, Henderson

A: I have a lot of questions about what was going through Manning's head in the second half and overtime of that loss to Baltimore, but I don't blame him entirely. The Denver secondary gave up a touchdown right before halftime, which also happened to cost me the first-half cover, then allowed a 70-yard bomb to tie the score with 31 seconds to play.

Instead of attempting a drive to win, Manning took a knee and sent the game into overtime. I'm never a fan of that, but maybe there was some reasoning behind it. Manning threw an interception in overtime that led to Justin Tucker's winning field goal, but he never should have been in that position. Manning's turnovers played a big part in the defeat, but the Denver defense gets a lot of the blame.

Kelly Stewart of Hottiehandicappers.com can be reached at Askkelly@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kellyinvegas.

 

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