NFL Best Bets: Championship Round

Last week ATS: 0-4

Overall ATS: 35-35-3

NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers (-4) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If I wasn’t so lazy I would probably see that over the course of the 2020 season I had a pretty terrible record whenever I bet against the Packers. I was low on them before the season, picking them to go under 9 wins, I was low on them when they started the year strong, and I was low on them when they finished the year strong. All year I haven’t been a believer, and all year they have proven me to be the amateur sports bettor that I am.

I don’t understand why that is, mainly because Aaron Rodgers has long been my favorite quarterback in the NFL. Before Patrick Mahomes came along, wrapped up like a Christmas present just for me, Rodgers was the one star QB in the league that I had the most faith in. As a 30 year-old who came of age as a football fan in the mid-to-late 2000’s decade, Aaron Rodgers was the dude you wanted under center with all the chips down on the table.

He is also, unsurprisingly, the reason I am not going to bet against the Packers at home in the NFC Championship. I think Rodgers is too good, I think Davante Adams is impossible to defend, and I have more confidence in the Packers’ ability to put points on the board than I am Tom Brady and the Bucs.

The game is going to be played in Green Bay, and a lot of the Buccaneers’ players aren’t used to playing in that kind of cold. Half of their division opponents play in domes, and the other plays in Charlotte. Their out of division games this year came against the AFC West (with road games at Denver [before the cold months] and at Las Vegas [dome]), and the NFC North (with road games at Chicago [before the cold months] and at Detroit [dome]). I know I’m nitpicking a one season sample size, but it’s this season’s sample size. Tampa Bay didn’t play a cold weather game all season.

Having Tom Brady — the most successful postseason QB in NFL history and no stranger to cold weather — is a huge plus for Tampa. But then you look at the rest of the roster, with most of it never having played in an NFC Championship, and you just wonder if they have the type of fortitude to keep this competitive.

Score prediction: Packers 34, Bucs 24

AFC Championship: Kansas City Chiefs (-3) vs. Buffalo Bills

Everyone is looking for Patrick Mahomes to have a rival in the AFC. They wanted it to be Tom Brady in 2018. They wanted it to be Lamar Jackson in 2019. Now they want it to be Josh Allen in 2020. They want football to have a decade’s worth of Colts/Patriots games like they did at the height of Brady and Peyton Manning’s careers.

I remain skeptical. Like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen is the flavor of the 2020 season, and for good reason. I happen to like Allen’s future a lot more than Jackson’s, but with how quickly the NFL evolves there is no guarantee that these two quarterbacks — Mahomes and Allen — will ever meet again in the AFC Championship. Not if you have Jackson, or Deshaun Watson, or Justin Herbert, or Baker Mayfield, or who knows maybe Joe Burrow will come back and put something together with the Bengals, or maybe Trevor Lawrence is as good as everyone says and he takes the Jaguars to the promised land. No one knows.

But this is the matchup of 2020. These are the two best quarterbacks in the AFC this year, and these are the two best teams in the AFC this year. I don’t want to be the guy to say Josh Allen can’t take down Mahomes and the defending champs. I’m just saying until he does it the Chiefs are still the team to beat in the AFC.

Somehow, though, the Chiefs are going to have a lot of underdog energy in this game. They are the 3-point favorite — so they aren’t really the underdog — but considering the trajectory of each of these teams, along with the fact that Mahomes got knocked out of the divisional round against the Browns, Kansas City most definitely has a chip on its shoulder this weekend.

In what turned out to be perhaps the most boring, ho-hum 14-2 season in NFL history, what the Chiefs seemed to lack was true adversity. They didn’t have to deal with Mahomes missing three games (like they did in 2019), they didn’t have to deal with a new defensive coordinator and having everything come together at the end of the year, they didn’t have to scratch and claw their way to a first round bye. That was last year. With how many guys they brought back from their championship team, this is as close to a Run It Back campaign as we will ever see.

Kansas City lost twice this year: the first came against the Raiders, 40-32, in a game they didn’t show up for, and the second came against the Chargers, 38-21, in Week 17 where they rested all their starters. Aside from that they won every other game on their schedule, including on the road against the Ravens, Bills, Bucs, and Saints. Say what you will about point spreads and KC’s inability to cover them, but they answered the bell every time they played a good team.

That’s what I think is working against Buffalo in this spot, that with how well they have played over the last half of the season there are a good amount of media types who think the Bills are the team to beat this year. The Chiefs may be 3-point favorites in this game, but inside that locker room they have to feel like they are being overlooked and disrespected.

I don’t have a lot of X’s and O’s in this matchup, as everyone knows how good both of these offenses are. I think the game will be fairly high scoring, and I think the difference will be red zone defense and an occasional sack or interception to hold the opponent to a field goal, or get them off the field completely.

It’s still an open question whether or not Patrick Mahomes will be available — given his injury against the Browns — but by making this line Chiefs -3 betting markets clearly believe he will play. It’s obviously possible that he doesn’t play, and it’s likely that if he does he won’t be at full strength, but I still have faith that a Mahomes at ~80% combined with KC’s playmakers on both sides of the ball will be enough to carry this team to their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Score prediction: Chiefs 30, Bills 24

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