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NFL Conference Championship prop bets preview

After absolutely nailing the player props bets last weekend, it's time to welcome back Scottish NFL devotee Ian Steven, @deevo82, to preview tonight's two Championship games.

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are the home team in this encounter but the 49ers are the bookies favourite and rightly so on paper. What is emotive and not taken into consideration is the fact that the Dirty Birds and the Niners used to be bitter division rivals before the NFL realignment so there is added spice to the match up. The Georgia Dome is going to be full and rocking which evens the balance out slightly. Atlanta fans do not have a Lombardi trophy gathering dust on their mantelpiece there is definite yearning after speaking to a few Falcs fans this week.

Where San Fran are strongest is on defense. Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith are all on top of their game and importantly, they are all three-down defenders making it difficult for Atlanta to scheme against their personnel. I have a hunch we are going to see a defensive touchdown from this talented unit in the NFC title game.

On offense, the 49ers like to establish the run through Frank Gore and more recently, through the read-option with Colin Kaepernick, which destroyed Green Bay, so much so that the QB set an NFL record for rushing yards in a single game at that position. The bookies were way off having and over/under around the 40 yard mark and the former Nevada man ran for 181 yards. He will probably use his feet again against Atlanta but more out of necessity than design as Atlanta will probably attack the line of scrimmage to create pressure with top pass rusher John Abraham ailing with an ankle injury. The bookies have taken note so the odds are below worthwhile at 1.47.

What is an unknown factor is the mental state of top receiver Michael Crabtree after being questioned over an alleged sexual assault this week. Crabtree has quickly found favour as Kaepernick’s receiver of choice and I would have looked seriously at placing money on his receptions totals but he has shown signs of immaturity in his career so how prepared he is to play is far too much of an unknown factor. Tune in to any pre-game broadcasts to get a hint of how he is coping. The unders market might work well here.

Atlanta will try to establish the run on offense, sometimes out of shotgun which is a formation they use a lot of recently, but will eventually have to move to a pass first approach as they won’t get much change out of a stingy Niners defense. I expect Jaquizz Rodgers to play a key role as he will be the outlet on a lot of hot reads and should get a few screen passes coming his way to take the sting out of San Francisco’s pass rush. I don’t think Matt Ryan will have enough time to target Julio Jones and Roddy White downfield so there should be quite a few dump off passes with Tony Gonzalez the prime target.

I think San Francisco will ultimately be too tough for Atlanta to break down and the Niners should progress to yet another Super Bowl.

Bets

Colin Kaepernick as an anytime touchdown scorer 3 points @2.3 with William Hill (ED - 2.75 at Coral, cheers @jamesr32ca for the tip)

Michael Crabtree under 82.5 yards receiving 1 point @ 1.9 with Bet 365 (bet close to game time if he appears unprepared)

Jaquizz Rodgers over 22.5 receiving yards 4 points @1.8 with Bet 365

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Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

New England are looking to end future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis’s career one game early as the Ravens come to town in a bid to make their second Super Bowl since their controversial transformation from the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s.

Baltimore look to have the “team of destiny” moniker in the playoffs, much like the New York Giants last year but the visitors will have to play lights out football if they want to keep up with the Patriot’s lightning fast offense.

Usually then you think of lightning fast you think of receivers with sprinter’s speed but in this case, it is New England’s speed getting to the line of scrimmage that is wearing down defences. Bill Belichick met with former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly who runs a no-huddle offense that has dominated college football and was inspired to borrow some of that system for the 2012 season. Tom Brady has been a maestro running the offense which has got defences huffing and puffing and this is where Baltimore could fall short as they are a defense built for the black and blue AFC North division and could struggle to keep pace with the Pats.

New England will have to approach their passing attack without the injured Rob Gronkowski who broke his forearm against the Houston Texans last week. Aaron Hernandez will step into the breach and should have a big game as Brady targets him early. New England has so much talent and Brady can read the field so well it is difficult to isolate a definite performer making it difficult to wager.

The Patriots are not as strong on defense and Baltimore has a chance of managing the scoreboard if Joe Flacco is accurate early on and gets into a rhythm, whilst feeding the ball to Ray Rice to keep the chains moving. Rice should get 25-30 touches of the ball as John Harbaugh looks to lean heavily on his best player.

Flacco has been lucky with a heave and hope approach in recent weeks but this masked his earlier struggles in games. New England might bring more pressure than they normally would so that the quarterback loses his composure. I fully expect Baltimore will have to play catch up due to the speed New England puts points on the board and a lot rests on Flacco’s shoulders.

I think New England have the advantage with a Hall of Fame coach and quarterback in their ranks and I think Lewis will ultimately go home unhappy so take the opportunity to enjoy his bizarre peacocking as he runs out of the tunnel for the last time.

Bets

Aaron Hernandez over 72.5 receiving yards 2 points @1.83 with Paddy Power

Aaron Hernandez anytime touchdown 1 point @2.00 with William Hill

Ray Rice over 84.5 rushing yards 2 points @ 1.83 with Paddy Power

Ray Rice over 3.5 receptions 5 points @1.9 with Bet 365

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