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These conference championships games are an absolute dream scenario for NFL fans. Three of the best quarterbacks to ever play the position, and possibly the most exciting young up-and-comer round out the four remaining signal-callers.
This weekend will be the best football we watch all season, so why not sweeten the pot with a few winning wagers?
My playoff leans have been red-hot. My likes? Not so much. With just two games remaining before Super Bowl Sunday, I’ll run through both and leave you with a final bet for each. Keep in mind that at the time of writing and publishing, Patrick Mahomes is still just a limited participant in practice, so things can change rather quickly leading up to kickoff. Make sure to follow me on Twitter, @mjwags23, in case I have any last-minute bets to coincide with Mahomes’ availability. See all our NFL Picks Here
Buccaneers @ Packers (-3 | O/U 51.5)
Of the 10 books available to me, five have Green Bay listed as three-point favorites at Sportsbooks, and five have them listed at -3.5. I’d rather not lay the extra half point, especially in the NFC Championship game, so if your book is one of those with a spread of -3.5, buy the half point. It won’t drop your odds any lower than -125.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. Two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL battling it out in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Neither quarterback will be phased by the weather, regardless if it’s 10 degrees below zero or a beautiful summer day, but the same can’t be said about the rest of the players – especially those suiting up for the Buccaneers.
The weather in Green Bay calls for snow showers and temperatures in the 20s that feel like temperatures in the mid-teens. That’s Packer weather; not crisp, sunny Tampa weather. Brady and Rob Gronkowski – sure, they’re used to brutal winter conditions. They battled through it in New England for years. But the rest of the Buccaneers roster, especially their key weapons, aren’t built for the snow.
Since their Week 13 bye, the Bucs have played against the Vikings and Falcons in Tampa and have traveled to Detroit, Atlanta, and New Orleans – all dome stadiums. Their most weather-averse matchup was the Wild Card round in Washington, where the temperature was in the low-40s. This team has not battled the elements very often this year, and it’s going to take some time to adjust early. That’s a recipe for disaster against a Packers team who has scored on six of their last seven opening drives – five of which resulted in touchdowns – and who owns a first-half scoring margin of plus-145.
Speaking of the Packers offense, they really don’t care who they’re playing. They’re going to score points. Just last week against the top-ranked defense in the NFL, Green Bay scored 32 points, making it the seventh time they’ve eclipsed the 30-point mark in their last eight games. Just to put that into context, it was just the second time all season that the Rams allowed 30-plus points.
I also think the Packers offense is a tough matchup for the Buccaneers defense, despite how improved they were last week with Devin White back in the lineup. Tampa owns the best rush defense in the league, but is just 21st against the pass. And in case you forgot, they’ve got to stop Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Yikes.
Green Bay’s defense is also improving. After a pretty rough start to the season where they ranked in the bottom-10 in total defense, the Packers have held five of their last six opponents under 20 points. I don’t expect them to hold Brady and the Bucs under 20, but I do expect them to win some matchups and force timely punts. And finally, I think Aaron Rodgers has revenge on his mind. Remember, Tampa Bay destroyed the Packers 38-10 earlier this year. That won’t happen again.
I’ll take the Packers -3.
Bills @ Chiefs (-3 | O/U 54)
It sure looks like Patrick Mahomes is playing on Sunday. He practiced, albeit in a limited capacity, this week, and none of the Kansas City media seem overly worried about his status for the AFC Championship. Plus, if there was a legitimate chance of Mahomes not suiting up, the Chiefs wouldn’t be three-point favorites; they’d be significant underdogs with Chad Henne under center. What’s more: the total wouldn’t have skyrocketed four points since opening at 50.
So, there are two ways to look at this game.
If you like the Chiefs, bet them now. Because when they officially announce Patrick Mahomes is starting, or when they remove him from the injury report, the public is going to come in heavily on Kansas City. And their odds are going to get worse by the minute. There are even some books offering Chiefs -2.5 right now, so if you’re a Chiefs backer, jump on that line before it disappears for good, because you’re getting value.
If you like the Bills on Sunday, wait until the Chiefs officially clear Mahomes to play. Because, as I mentioned earlier, the public is going to drive this spread up once they’re sure they’ll be betting on Mahomes and not Henne. I wouldn’t be surprised if this spread got up to Bills +4 at some books, and at that point, the value shifts over to Buffalo.
This is a really hard game to handicap. The Bills are playing so well, and I may get run out of town for saying this, but they’re the more complete of the two teams. Kansas City’s defense is spotty, and while Buffalo’s isn’t world-class, they’re a solid unit that has gotten better with each passing week.
Both offenses are high-octane, but at the end of the day, the Chiefs can move the ball down the field in the blink of an eye whenever they want to. And they’ll want to as often as possible on Sunday because quite frankly, they’re going to have to – because the Bills are going to score points.
I’m leaning with Kansas City here for two reasons. First, as great as Josh Allen has been, I trust Mahomes in this spot. He’s in his home stadium, he’s in his third consecutive AFC title game, and he’s a Super Bowl champion. He’s been here before, and Josh Allen hasn’t. Allen has made some big mistakes in big spots in the playoffs, and you can’t afford to make any mistakes if you expect to beat Mahomes.
Secondly, the line movement is fishy. The Bills opened as 2.5-point favorites, and have received 55% of the money and 60% of the bets. Heavy action on Buffalo’s side should have driven this spread in Kansas City’s favor. Instead, the line moved in Buffalo’s favor, which leads me to believe the books want us to continue taking the Bills. We don’t want to do what the books want us to do, because that ends with us losing money.
I’ll take the Chiefs -3, but I can’t blame anyone who waits to take the Bills +3.5 or +4.
Mike is an avid sports bettor and fantasy football player, and has been writing since 2013. He previously worked for NBC Sports Philadelphia and Alliance Football Focus, and currently contributes to BettingPros as a featured writer. Mike is a resident of New Jersey, a graduate of Rider University, and currently works as a research analyst. When he isn’t searching for his next wager or watching the New Jersey Devils, Mike enjoys spending time with his wife, his dog and his two cats.