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Rookie QBs face long odds

Training wheels no longer are required for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. Robert Griffin III is one of three who drove that point all the way to the playoffs.

Andrew Luck did not need a year to cradle a clipboard while signaling in plays for a veteran stiff, and there was no sense in handling Russell Wilson with care while he got adjusted to the next level.

Of the three rookies who get a postseason baptism in the wild-card round this weekend, only one is guaranteed to survive.

Luck seems the least likely to advance, with his Indianapolis Colts facing the longest odds as 7-point underdogs at Baltimore on Sunday. But the so-called sharp money has been against the Colts all season, and here they are at 11-5 a year after a two-win disaster.

"It has been a season to remember, in more ways than one, for the Colts. They are a very young team that overachieved while playing the easiest schedule in the league," said VegasSportsAuthority.com handicapper Jim Kruger. "Their defense is weak, and their offense is overrated. It’s a great story, but it comes to a close this weekend."

The Indianapolis defense allowed 6.2 yards per play to teams that averaged only 5.4 yards per play, a statistic deemed "very suspect for a playoff team" by Kruger.

The Colts have appeared to do it with smoke and mirrors – with a motivational boost from coach Chuck Pagano – all season, and that’s why their luck is due to run out.

Luck has 23 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, solid numbers for a rookie. His athletic ability (255 yards rushing) also makes him dangerous, and the mobility aspect is what sets this crop of first-year quarterbacks apart.

The Ravens are a hard team to love, and Joe Flacco is a very difficult quarterback to like. But what Baltimore does get is its own inspirational edge from the return of linebacker Ray Lewis, who picked the right time to announce his retirement.

No longer do many of us consider the Ravens an AFC dark horse candidate to reach the Super Bowl, even if they do outrun the Colts.

The Green Bay Packers have that potential out of the NFC, mainly due to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If I bet only one side in the four games, it would be the Packers as 7½-point favorites over Minnesota on Saturday night, and that figures to be the most popular play on teaser and parlay tickets.

"I think the turning point, our biggest decision of the weekend, will be the Packers game," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. "It looks like a bad spot for the Vikings."

Six days after Minnesota clinched a playoff spot on its home field with a wild 37-34 victory over the Packers, the teams return to Lambeau Field. It will be tough for the Vikings to turn the trick again, unless Adrian Peterson rushes for 200 yards. He has 210 and 199 in his first two tries against the Green Bay defense.

According to Kruger, when two teams meet in the playoffs after playing each other in the regular season, if the team that lost the last meeting is favored as Green Bay is, teams in that situation are 11-7 straight up and against the spread.

Follow that? If not, it means a small advantage goes to the Packers.

SportsMemo.com handicapper Ted Sevransky, siding with the home favorite, called Minnesota "a ‘happy to be here’ playoff team that spent most of the season getting blown out on the road against quality foes, suffering losses by nine points or more at Green Bay, Chicago, Seattle and Washington."

Rodgers finally has a healthy receiving corps, too, with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and James Jones all expected to be available.

"Let’s not forget that after going three-and-out on their first three possessions against the Vikings last week, the Packers proceeded to score four touchdowns and two field goals sandwiched around a fumble on their final seven possessions," Sevransky said. "Rodgers figured out how to pick apart the Minnesota defense."

Houston is a 4½-point home favorite over Cincinnati in Saturday’s opener. The Texans lost three of their last four games, all by double digits, and that’s why bettors don’t seem to be big on the Texans. Vaccaro said sharp bettors "jumped in early on the Bengals."

Saving the best game for last on Sunday night, Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks hit the road to face Griffin and the Washington Redskins. Wilson put up outstanding passing numbers (26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions), and Griffin’s (20 TDs, five interceptions) were a little better.

The old-school handicapping handbook would say to bet against a rookie quarterback making his first playoff start on the road, but this is the new-school NFL.

For those who prefer home ‘dogs, taking plus-3 with RG3 is hard to resist.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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