Beating the Spread: Championship Sunday Edition

Last Week’s Record: 4-0

Recap: FINALLY! An undefeated weekend. This is amazing, but the relatively lackluster betting predictions from the doldrums of midseason have guaranteed that at best this year I’ll finish 50-51-4, which is slightly under .500. Regardless, this is still cause for some celebration. Let’s start with the Saturday games: I think although the Packers were impressive, I was ultimately incredibly disappointed in the Rams’ run defense. Rodgers consistently had long drives against that tough defense. It’s performances like this that always make me anxious calling defenses great too loosely. Is this Rams defensive squad truly great? The night cap on Saturday is what me and other sports pundits called as having the highest potential for being special. Boy, the weather did not want that happen. Justin Tucker missed TWO field goals. That’s stunning! I think I mentioned it last week that both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson hadn’t thrown a single red zone pick over their entire careers. Well, Lamar’s came at probably the worst time. And then, he got himself concussed a few plays later. Inexplicably, the Ravens moved the ball down better with Huntley. Madness!

As for the Sunday games, both of these contests were really pretty exciting but for completely different reasons. In the first one, you wanted to see if the Browns could really upset the Chiefs when Mahomes went down. Ultimately, the Browns were too conservative in their play calling and too slow. With Mahomes not in the game, there’s no real reason to eat up so much clock (18 play drives are suboptimal when you’re down multiple scores). And I cannot forgive them giving up 13.5 yards to Henne on a scramble like he’s discount Patrick Mahomes. But, at least they covered. The Saints-Bucs game was more about waiting for a quarterback to make a mistake against two swarming defenses, though I’d say the Saints pass defense is exceptional. Brees made the fatal errors that did ended the Saints season and maybe ended his career. An ignominious end potentially for the legend. 

Without further ado, I want to move on to some spicy bets: Championship Sunday Edition! (Note: All spreads are as of Thursday night on DraftKings).  

SUNDAY GAMES:

Buccaneers (+3.5) @ Packers

Once again, this is 64% a heart pick. I don’t think I’ve had more faith in a single athlete than Tom Brady in a huge game (outside of Rafael Nadal at the French Open). Brady is 2-3 in his five road AFC title games, winning in 04 against Big Ben and outdueling Mahomes in 2018 which sandwich three losses to *Jim Nantz voice* the great Peyton Manning. And now, he’s playing the Bad Man that is Aaron Rodgers. Frankly, this might the season it all coalesces for Rodgers: no.1 seed, banged up Mahomes, inexperienced Bills, suspect Tampa Bay secondary, excellent receiving core, and a superb running back rotation. This is the first time Rodgers is home on championship Sunday: he’s 1-3 in his previous road NFC title games. He hasn’t covered the spread in this round since the game in 2010 against Chicago. Meanwhile, Brady hasn’t lost in a conference title game since 2015, where New England was a 2-point conversion (that should have been an extra point if Gostkowski hit his first earlier) away from OT against an all-time great Denver defense. 

The fact that this line sneaked over 3 points is a sneaky good betting sign that even a FG loss is sufficient for the Bucs to cover (1 and 2 point losses are quite rare,  so a bet on the underdog when the spread is -3 or better is essentially an implication that they’ll win outright). This all being said, there aren’t many paths to a Tampa Bay victory. As much as I want to say Tampa Bay will win on the sheer presence of Tom Brady, I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment. He’s 1-1 in seasons where he meets a QB who’s had a superior season than him in the conference title game (loss in 2013 to Manning and win in 2018 against Mahomes). Rodgers has been a level better than Brady at least this season, so for the Buccaneers to win, they’ll need to conjure a performance similar to that 2018 AFC title from New England, and they certainly have the talent for it. The question is will they have the discipline? And will the Packers offensive line hold against an improving pass rush. I’m not so sure Green Bay will be able to run all over Tampa Bay. If Rodgers is great, Green Bay will win. He has more picks than touchdowns in title games, though, so we’ll just have to see. 

Bet: Buccaneers 

Bills @ Chiefs (-3)

Big disclaimer here: I ONLY bet the Chiefs if Mahomes is playing. Otherwise, hammer the Bills on points. I’m not sold enough on the Bills running game to pick them outright in this game regardless of Mahomes’ status. I’m not here to argue that losing this game would be better for Josh Allen, as the ultimate goal of any season is to win a Super Bowl, but Allen cannot win here and then lose in the Super Bowl. Recent history shows that quarterbacks don’t quite recover from tough Super Bowl losses in their first appearances: Kaepernick in 2012, Ryan in 2016, Goff in 2018, and Garoppolo last year. Mahomes lost in 2018, Wilson lost in 2012. The advent of social media has proven that we live in an “overreaction” culture. After Lamar won MVP in 2019, we proclaimed him the next Mahomes, and now there are whispers about Allen being as impactful as the Chief’s man under center. Both are not true. There is only one Patrick Mahomes. 

Patrick Mahomes’ 18-19 seasons are like a reflection of the 10-11 seasons for Rodgers. The superstar is born with the MVP season, but the Super Bowl for Rodgers came first. Mahomes is probably a slightly more talented quarterback than Rodgers, and he probably is the one player who at his zenith right now is superior to Rodgers’ current offensive output. The Chief’s defense isn’t great so that comparison to the Bills is relatively favorable to Buffalo. Coaching is close, but the Chiefs have to have the current edge (it’s a wonder what the Super Bowl win did for Andy Reid’s legacy and winning reputation around the league). If we’re looking at the quarterbacks at the end of the game, then though Josh Allen has been dynamite this season – in fact the better quarterback by most metrics – I cannot bet against Patrick Mahomes, who already has the same number of playoff 4th quarter comebacks as Aaron Rodgers. 

Bet: Chiefs

YTD Record: 47-51-4

Lal Birali

Lal is a recent graduate from Northeastern University, majoring in CS and Finance. What helps him unwind from the work week – football! Lal was raised in Massachusetts, so he makes his bed with Tom Brady and the NE Patriots. A 6-year fantasy vet and 1-time champ, Lal is what you would call an unconventional fantasy owner: he picks QBs early, usually care more about WR/FLEX over RB2s, and will typically draft one of the following players, if available: Jordy Nelson, Doug Baldwin, Todd Gurley, Aaron Rodgers, Emmanuel Sanders, James White, or Keenan Allen. In my spare time, I watch sports, go see movies, and draw.

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