Championship Sunday Betting Preview & Picks
Divisional Round Recap: My regular season success has not carried over to the postseason. After hitting the under in the Colts-Chiefs game, I missed on the Cowboys +7 versus the Rams. On Sunday, I nailed the Patriots -4 over the Chargers but whiffed badly on the over in the Eagles-Saints game. So, following a 2-2 split, I am now 3-4-1 against the spread in the playoffs. That’s a far cry from my 53-29-3 regular season ATS record but there’s still time to right the ship.
- Spread: Saints -3
- O/U: 56.5
- Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
As of this writing, most of the betting tickets are on the Rams to cover on Sunday. Perhaps public bettors saw the Rams handle the Cowboys and the Saints struggle versus the Eagles and assume New Orleans is vulnerable. I think that’s a mistake.
The Eagles jumped out to that 14-0 lead last week but keep in mind that they didn’t score another point past the first quarter. With all the attention that the Saints offense receives, New Orleans defense has largely flown under the radar since mid-October. When Drew Brees was struggling in games versus Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina in December, it was the defense that kept the Saints in those games.
Yes, the Eagles nearly pulled off yet another upset last week but make no mistake: The Saints controlled that game in the second half. Their eight-plus minute touchdown drive in the third quarter was a product of moving backward a few times but it was a reminder that Sean Payton’s offense is more balanced than it is high-flying. Brees doesn’t have the arm strength to continuously attack defenses deep but this offense is capable of paper-cutting opponents to death with a mix of short, quick passes and power running. The key to Sunday might be what the Saints did in the third quarter last week: Play ball-control, wear out the defense and make sure you get in the end zone instead of settling for three.
Aqib Talib didn’t play in the Week 9 meeting between these two teams and getting him back is critical for the Rams. That said, neither Talib nor Marcus Peters are comfortable in the slot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Payton aligned Michael Thomas inside on Sunday and force the Rams to try and double the No. 1 receiver with a combination of a nickel back, linebacker or safety. Or, perhaps Talib and Peters will travel inside with Thomas, but either way, it’s an advantage for the Saints.
Sean McVay is a coaching descendant of Bill Walsh. Just like Walsh did in the 80s, McVay forces opponents to defend the entire field. His system is rooted in the West Coast offense, but it’s far more explosive than a typical WCO. He’ll use short, quick passes in efforts to set up deep shots later in the game and also mixes in plenty of misdirection plays, end-arounds and bubble screens to keep defenses off-balance. He’s a masterful play-caller and as he showed in the second half of the first meeting between these two teams, he also adjusts very well on the fly.
The key, and it’s not easy, is to take away Todd Gurley in the passing game. Gurley is the Rams’ offense. When McVay got away from Gurley in that Sunday night game in Chicago a few weeks back, Jared Goff’s play suffered. For as good as C.J. Anderson has been, Gurley’s ability to catch passes in open space gives McVay’s offense an added dimension.
The Rams were able to run the ball down the Cowboys’ throats last week but they also knew when the defensive line was going to stunt based on Dallas’ alignment. As I wrote last week, I thought the Cowboys’ athletic linebackers were going to give Dallas an advantage but it was the exact opposite: Their linebackers were pushed around all night. That won’t be the case this weekend in New Orleans.
My prediction is that the Saints force Goff to beat them and that’s a tall order. The Superdome will be deafening and for as good as Goff was for most of the season, he struggled over the past month. I expect the game to come down to the wire but just like a week ago, I think the Saints get a key turnover late to seal their trip to Atlanta in two weeks.
Prediction: Saints -3
- Spread: Chiefs -3
- O/U: 56
- Time: 6:40 p.m. ET
Public bettors loved the Chargers last week in New England because the Patriots haven’t looked like the Patriots for much of the season. If you read my breakdown for that game last Sunday, you know I said it was time to hop back on New England’s bandwagon. The Patriots had a bye week to get Tom Brady some rest, they were at home and the Chargers had been traveling all over the country for a month. That was a prime spot for the Patriots to do exactly what they did: Remind us that they’re still the Patriots.
That said, the issues that everyone brought up about New England last week are still there. The Pats did not play well on the road this year. They were 3-5 away from Foxborough this season, with uncharacteristic losses to the Lions, Dolphins and Steelers during that span. The loss in Miami really stands out and not just because of the miracle Kenyan Drake touchdown in the final seconds. Brady also took a sack deep in Dolphins territory before halftime in that game, which cost the Patriots points. When was the last time you saw Brady lose track of the clock? Right before Drake scored the touchdown, Josh McDaniels also went hyper-conservative on the team’s final offensive possession, settling for a field goal instead of putting the game away with a touchdown.
Yes, the Patriots looked like the Patriots last week. The Chargers also ran the same exact defense as they did two weeks prior in Baltimore and were predictably shredded. The Patriots were also at home, where they dominated opponents all year. The bye week helped Brady, who looked fatigued in December. None of this is to say the Pats were handed a win but the situation was in their favor.
On the road, the Pats averaged 21.6 points, which was the lowest of Brady’s career. They also struggled mightily on defense on the road, which is problematic for Sunday when they face the No. 1 offense in the league. The last time the Patriots won a road conference championship game was back in 2004. This isn’t one of Bill Belichick’s better teams and I think their win over the Chargers last week masked the issues New England has had all year. Betting against Brady and Belichick isn’t wise but if you pick and choose your spots, it can be profitable.
The Chiefs are the better team. This is why they traded up for Patrick Mahomes and traded for Alex Smith: To win the big games. Last week was big and Mahomes shined. He has faced stiff competition all year and has thrived. Kansas City is basically guaranteed to score at least 27 points and the Patriots don’t have a pass rush. The Chiefs take a lot of heat for their defense, but that unit stepped up last week against a red-hot quarterback in Andrew Luck and a red-hot offense led by Frank Reich. They have a trio of pass-rushers in Dee Ford, Chris Jones and Justin Houston and will run more man-to-man than the Chargers did in efforts to disrupt the timing between Brady and his receivers.
I think New England keeps this thing close by playing keep-away with its plethora of running backs. That said, despite Kansas City’s defensive problems this season, I don’t think the Pats out-score this dynamic Chiefs offense. Andy Reid is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game and he’s due. His disciple Doug Pederson got the best of Belichick last season in the Super Bowl and I believe it's Reid's turn to get the Belichick monkey off his back.
Prediction: Chiefs -3
ATS Season Records
Week 1: 5-0
Week 2: 3-2
Week 3: 4-1
Week 4: 3-1-1
Week 5: 3-2
Week 6: 4-1
Week 7: 2-3
Week 8: 3-2
Week 9: 4-1
Week 10: 3-2
Week 11: 2-2-2
Week 12: 5-3
Week 13: 1-3
Week 14: 4-1
Week 15: 2-3
Week 16: 3-1
Week 17: 2-1
Wild Card Weekend: 1-2-1
Divisional Round: 2-2
Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images.