It's Championship game weekend in the NFL and Mike Carlson has picked bets for both matches, keeping faith with the Chiefs and backing a high-scoring game between the Packers and Buccs...
"Kansas -3 was my best on the NFL...Only Bettor podcast on Wednesday, when it was evens, and I’m going to stick with it. I am assuming Mahomes plays..."
It's a sign of how even this week's conference championship games are that both games see a three-point spread to the home teams. Green Bay and Kansas City each give their opponents a field goal, which traditionally has been the margin of home-field advantage, although nowadays that edge has been thought to be less. In the days of Covid, with few fans in the stadia, it may be even more restricted.
Home field advantage was in large part crowd, but also down to travel: the visitors have to give up practice, rest and treatment time to travel, and in some cases (though not at all this weekend) the effects of jet lag could be a factor.
Star quarter-backs aren't the whole story
So what we are left with is two finely balanced games, made harder to judge because of a few standout match-up problems whose resolution will be key. And that's not really the battle between the two great older quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers (this year's MVP) and Tom Brady (you've heard of him, right?) in the first game, and the two great young ones, Patrick Mahomes (last year's MVP) and Josh Allen (who might be this year's MVP runner-up).
When Tampa beat Green Bay in mid-season, Rodgers turned the ball over twice, a pick six and another with a 37 yard return: this is what happened to Drew Brees last week against the Bucs and it's not Rodgers usual behaviour. But the Bucs shut down the Pack's run game, and any one-dimensional offense, especially when it falls behind early is vulnerable.
Last week the Saints dropped two easy picks of Brady, but Brady, like Rodgers, also lost a perfect TD pass to a drop. The key in this game will be the Bucs' defense again forcing Rodgers into secondary options; and Devin White had virtually the same game statistically in week six as he did last week. Green Bay's D isn't as good as the Saints, and the other big question is whether Mike Pettine can both stop the run and slow Brady down, either with pressure or changing coverage.
Coaching battle in Kansas
The problem in the Chiefs-Bills battle, assuming Mahomes is something near to full efficiency, is that Buffalo has not had a run game, and run D is theoretically the Chiefs' biggest weakness. They may want Josh Allen to be looking for chances to break the line of scrimmage, but he has to be aware of where Tyrann Matthieu is--he's basically the extra lienbacker the Chiefs need to stop the run.
Buffalo's D is very good at containment: not giving up the big plays to Tyreek Hill deep or Travis Kelce on those crossing routes, but they too will be challenged up front. If this stays close it becomes a coaching battle: McDermott's going to have to become more daring. Reid may have to become more conservative.
One last note: weather reports for Green Bay indicate temperatures just below freezing, a 50/50 shot at light snow in the morning and 9mph winds. It could be worse, and remember Brady has a good record when the temperature is below 40 F. In Kansas City we're looking at 43 degrees (that's 6 C), rain and 10mph (do I need to convert to kph?) winds. So for either game, not a huge factor.
Chiefs can end brave Bills' run
This was my best on the NFL...Only Bettor podcast on Wednesday, when it was evens, and I'm going to stick with it. I am assuming Mahomes plays, if you want to wait until we've seen the results of his concussion protocol, I wouldn't blame you.
The Chiefs might get Sammy Watkins and Clyde Edwards-Hilaire back (both were limited as of Thursday) but I don't know how much to count on either (Le'Veon Bell was also limited on Thursday with a knee). More serious might be Bashaud Breeland, who like Mahomes is in concussion protocol but nobody cares cause he's a corner back.
The Bills' injury list includes Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, but I'd expect both to play, although Beasley was clearly limited last week. Which meant it was good news John Brown (11 targets, 8 catches, 62 yards) was back: Brown, however is a deep threat more than anything. I might take him over 50.5 yards at 5/6. Which makes it odd that I like Josh Allen under 302.5 yards passing at 5/6.
Pack and Buccs' attacks make overs value
This one's up from 51 on Wednesday so get it while it's hot. As I wrote above I don't see the weather curtailing offense, and both teams have plenty of it. It's hard to read a lot into the Bucs' 30 last week, given that 7 was a pick six and Brady's three TD drives were all the result of great field position (30 yards or less) but the Saints' D is a better unit than the Packs'.
One key is Davante Adams. Under 7.5 receptions for him at evens is tempting, figuring the Bucs will want to make Rodgers beat them with someone else. This is a game where touchdown scorers are interesting too, all at 5/6: Mike Evans 7/5 and Cameron Brate 7/2 for Tampa; Tonyan (6/4) and Rodgers (7/2) for the Pack.
Buccs are loaded with offensive weapons
This to me really is an outside bet, but if you feel the Bucs can do to the NFL what the Giants did to Brady back in 2007 and 2011, then this is the way to go. They are loaded with offensive weapons, and their D may be good enough to slow Rodgers down, like they did during the season, but this is a better Packers' offense and they are much better than the Saints were last week. I am probably picking the Pack straight up but I do see it being tight. If Brady throws a TD to Gronk (12/5) it could be all over, just like the old days.