When he’s not getting sacked, Aaron Rodgers is one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, and his maturation has helped turn around the fortunes of the Green Bay Packers this season.
The Packers (9-5) are in position to clinch an NFC playoff spot with a win today. The task seems relatively easy for Green Bay, which is a 14-point favorite over Seattle at Lambeau Field. Snow is in the forecast.
The Seahawks, 1-6 straight up and against the spread (ATS) on the road, were whipped 34-7 at Houston two weeks ago.
Seattle coach Jim Mora has struggled to motivate his team — evidenced by last week’s 24-7 home loss to Tampa Bay — and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is fighting back problems.
“The Packers have one of the league’s most potent offenses, and Rodgers should carve up Seattle’s banged-up secondary,” said Doug Kezirian, the sports director for KTNV (Ch. 13). “Mora recently questioned his team’s toughness, and understandably so. In five road defeats, Seattle has lost by an average of 19 points.”
Green Bay is 3-1 ATS after a loss. Following the Packers’ last-second 37-36 setback at Pittsburgh, Kezirian said he expects “maximum effort” from the home favorite.
Rodgers has 28 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. He’s fifth in the league with 3,962 yards passing but has absorbed a league-high 49 sacks. That sack total is alarming, but Rodgers has kept turnovers to a minimum.
His top wideouts, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, each have 61 receptions. Ryan Grant, with 1,105 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, adds to the Packers’ arsenal of weapons.
“The sharpest handicappers avoid double-digit favorites, but I cannot see any sort of effort from Seattle,” Kezirian said. “West Coast teams typically crumble in the snow, especially with an early start time. The Packers know what’s at stake and should bury the Seahawks by halftime.
“When I like a game this much, I try to envision scenarios where it falters. But Green Bay holds a significant advantage on all fronts.”
Kezirian (ktnv.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 16 lineup:
• Oakland at Cleveland (-3): After beating Denver last week, the Raiders have defeated a handful of the league’s top teams. But Oakland predictably followed all those wins with pathetic performances, losing four times by a combined score of 119-23. The Raiders also must deal with their fourth road game in five weeks, an early kickoff time and temperatures in the 20s.
The Browns have shown life lately, and if they can limit Oakland’s rushing attack, they should bury a dysfunctional team that is prime for a letdown. Elin trusts Tiger more than I do the Raiders in this situation. This is one of my strongest plays.
• Kansas City at Cincinnati (-131/2): The Bengals have endured a tremendous amount of adversity. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer lost his wife midseason, and wide receiver Chris Henry passed away 10 days ago. The team attended Henry’s funeral Tuesday and understandably is distracted. Playing one of the league doormats only worsens the motivation, so I expect the Chiefs to keep this within the number. The underdog has covered in 13 of Cincinnati’s 14 games.
• Buffalo at Atlanta (-9): Falcons coach Mike Smith has annoyed fantasy football owners all season with the injury status of his offensive starters. Once again, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner are game-time decisions. I have no desire to lay this many points when Chris Redman has a chance to start at QB. I also cannot support a Buffalo offense that considers two touchdowns an achievement. Although the total (41) is relatively low, I lean to the under.
• Houston at Miami (-3): Jerry Seinfeld would classify the Texans as the “bizarro” Dolphins. Miami executive vice president Bill Parcells must cringe when seeing all of Houston’s talent basically go to waste. Miami is blue collar, runs the ball effectively and plays the field-position game. The Texans suffer too many turnovers and lose games in the fourth quarter. When you expect the Texans to zig, they zag. I side with the tougher and more reliable team, but a strong showing from Houston would not shock me.
• Carolina at N.Y. Giants (-7): Carolina has been out of the playoff picture for a while but is playing hard. New York has a pulse for the postseason, and its offense has become more of a passing attack. I cannot lay the touchdown because quarterback Eli Manning struggles at home. I do like the over (42) a bit, especially because the Giants defense either forces turnovers or gives up the big play.
• Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-14): The Saints finally suffered their first loss and will go through the motions until the playoffs, especially against this weak opponent. Do not let Tampa’s road win over Seattle fool you. The Bucs are awful and own an anemic offense. I like this under the total (491/2) with both teams lacking motivation.
• Jacksonville at New England (-81/2): Patriots coach Bill Belichick continues to confuse handicappers and play mind games with his team. New England lacks the killer instinct of recent years, and I am convinced quarterback Tom Brady is injured. The Jaguars have a horrible secondary, and coach Jack Del Rio is a buffoon, but I still think they are a live underdog. Jacksonville is tougher than the Patriots and will capitalize on 10 days of rest.
• Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3): These teams have produced throwback games full of hard hits and field-position battles. But Baltimore’s defense is aging, and Pittsburgh has transitioned to a passing attack behind Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers continue to give up points without injured safety Troy Polamalu. I expect this to fly over the total (42) as one of my top plays.
• Denver at Philadelphia (-7): The Broncos likely cost themselves a playoff berth with an inexcusable effort against Oakland. Denver is 2-6 straight up and ATS in its past eight games. Philadelphia has scored the most first-half points in the league and covered three straight games. But I don’t trust Donovan McNabb. For every spectacular throw, he short-hops an open target. The Eagles are tempting, but I pass.
• St. Louis at Arizona (-141/2): Everyone is waiting for the Cardinals to flip the switch like they did last year, and one would assume the one-win Rams are the ideal opponent. But St. Louis plays hard, and Arizona seems like it is on cruise control until the playoffs. I also believe quarterback Kurt Warner is not fully recovered from a midseason concussion. The Arizona coaching staff is determined to establish a strong defense and reliable rushing attack. I have a slight lean to the under (431/2).
• Detroit at San Francisco (-13): I never thought I would see the day Alex Smith would quarterback a team favored by this many points. Even more surprising, I’m backing the 49ers. San Francisco is out of the playoff hunt but is determined to win its last two games and finish with its best record in seven seasons. Detroit will start a third-stringer at quarterback, and a win would inhibit its draft position. The 49ers defense is solid, and Smith has enough weapons to cover.
• N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-5): Although the Colts have locked up home field, they maintain they will play their starters the entire game. But one play can change everything. Jets coach Rex Ryan loves to blitz and realizes one hard hit on Peyton Manning will relegate him to the clipboard. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s poor play almost directly is correlated to the weather. He should play fine in the dome, but Manning’s minutes are too unpredictable. I pass.
• Dallas (-7) at Washington: The Redskins laid a big egg Monday, despite playing at home in prime time. The Cowboys beat the Saints in a huge game, but my gut tells me Washington will rise to the occasion and try to redeem itself. Still, Dallas defensive end Demarcus Ware should feast on a challenged offensive line, and that spells doom for the Redskins. I like the under (42).
Compiled by Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.