Betting on the Championship Round

After a 1-2-1 start on Wild Card weekend, I managed going 3-1 during the Divisional Round. Backed by easy wins by the 49ers (-7) over the Vikings and Titans (+10) over the Ravens, and what turned out to be a comfortable win by the Chiefs (-9.5) over the Texans, the only game I got wrong was the Seahawks (+4) — who lost by 5 points to the Packers. Basically I lost 1 game… by 1 point.

But like Toretto teaches us in the original Fast and the Furious, ‘It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.’ And in the gambling world losing by 1 point against the spread, while it sucks, is slightly easier to stomach than losing by a lone half. So there’s that for you. Thus far during the playoffs I am batting a shade better than .500 — 4-3-1 — which is pretty good considering the dumpster fire that the Wild Card Round turned out to be.

We are now down to the final four, a group featuring the top two seeds in the NFC and the #2 and #6 in the AFC. The 49ers and Packers both took care of business at home over the weekend, while the Chiefs came out of a 24-0 hole against the Texans and the improbable Titans knocked off a juggernaut for the second consecutive weekend.

Anyway, onto Championship Weekend. (All lines courtesy of Bovada.)

1. Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5) vs. Tennessee Titans

The Chiefs defense received a lot of love at the end of the year, as over the final six weeks of the regular season they ranked first in the league in several categories, including points allowed (11.5). If all you did was look at the box score from last weekend’s Texans game, where Kansas City surrendered a whopping 31 points, you would naturally think, oh, this is the same old shitty KC defense we’ve all grown accustomed to.

While at the end of the day all those points are created equally (a touchdown is a touchdown, and so forth), I do think it’s relevant to highlight just how those 31 points were scored:

  • DeShaun Watson 54 yard pass to Kenny Stills (7-0)
  • Lonnie Johnson 10 yard blocked punt return (14-0)
  • DeShaun Watson 4 yard pass to Darren Fells (21-0)
  • Ka’imi Fairbairn 31 yard field goal (24-0)
  • Deshaun Watson 5 yard run (31-41)

Houston scored their first touchdown off a busted coverage; they scored their second touchdown on a blocked punt return; they scored their third touchdown after Tyreek Hill muffed a punt inside his own 10 yard line, setting up the Texans with first and goal; and they scored their 4th touchdown after the Chiefs put up 41 unanswered points, at a time when the game was effectively out of hand.

I’m not saying the Chiefs defense is good enough to hold opponents to 11.5 points per game, but they weren’t by any stretch dominated by the Texans. It would have been one thing if DeShaun Watson had consistently dinked and dunked for eight or ten yards whenever he wanted to, or if their offense had established the run with Carlos Hyde. Instead, Houston mostly carved out their points from a few big plays and taking advantage of generous field position.

Kansas City’s offense, meanwhile, looked like the 2018 version of the team. Patrick Mahomes had five touchdown passes, and Travis Kelce (10 catches, 134 yards, 3 TDs) played for once this year like the guy I thought he was going to be when I drafted him in the second round for my fantasy team. With Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and rookie Mecole Hardman, the Chiefs have the league’s most dangerous offense. It is possible to double team Hill and/or Kelce, but sooner or later one of the other guys is going to win their one-on-one matchup and it’s only a matter of time before Mahomes gets in the end zone again.

As a Chiefs fan I’m obviously worried about Derrick Henry and the Titans grinding out a close win, something to remind Kansas City fans (like me) that only bad things happen to the Chiefs around this time of the year. But the other, more optimistic, part of me thinks an AFC Championship is not enough for this year’s Chiefs. Before the year they set out to avenge their overtime loss to the Patriots in last year’s AFC Title, and it doesn’t feel like Tennessee is the team who’s going to crush our dreams.

Final Score: Chiefs 34, Titans 20

2. Green Bay Packers (+7.5) at San Francisco 49ers

Most sports betting revolves around information. It makes sense: the more you know, the better chance you have of making a “good” bet. But then there’s another side of betting, one that can’t be quantified with empirical evidence or be followed by basic logic. It’s called ego. Sometimes you want to throw out the evidence and logic and make a pick because you think everyone is wrong, and you want to be right.

This line opened with the 49ers as 7-point favorites, but according to the Action Network 61% of the money so far has been placed on San Francisco, making the line jump to SF -7.5. I’m no expert on line movements, but I will say it doesn’t surprise me. These two teams met earlier in the season, in San Francisco, and the 49ers crushed the Packers, 37-8. Green Bay looked slow, Aaron Rodgers looked old, and the Niners were looking like the solid pick to win the NFC.

But that was just one game. The 49ers beat the shit out of the Packers that night, but it isn’t like they will be able to take any of the 29 points they won by with them into this week’s NFC Title game. The spread in their last matchup was 49ers -3, meaning the line has jumped by a massive 4.5 points over the last couple months. While I do think San Francisco is the superior team, I am betting on Aaron Rodgers to keep Green Bay within a touchdown.

The way to accomplish that is simple, at least on paper. It has to be a low-scoring, ball control game where Aaron Jones carries the ball 18-20 times, and where Rodgers is able to pick his spots on 3rd down to keep moving the chains. Then, and only then, will they be able to keep the ball out of the hands of the 49ers, who have a stable of running backs who should be able to attack the Packers weak run defense on their way to a Super Bowl appearance.

One thing I’m confident about is that Aaron Rodgers won’t be able to win if he’s buried by double digits early on. Green Bay is a run first team; besides Davonte Adams they don’t have enough receiving weapons to dice up the San Francisco secondary. And further, the 49ers two best pass rushers — Nick Bosa and Dee Ford — are most effective when they can pin their ears back in must-pass situations. The way the Packers can keep it close, or win, is to keep the point total low and keep Rodgers from having to run for his life every play (like the first matchup).

I would be surprised, but not shocked, if Rodgers has a little magic left in the tank to pull off this upset. But I will be rolling with the 49ers to win this game, and probably win the Super Bowl, because I believe in their program.

Final score: 49ers 26, Packers 21


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