NFL Playoff Picks – Conference Championship Round

By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):

Best Bets: 13-6 (68%)

Units: 38.5-25.5-1 (60%)

All Bets: 26-20-1 (57%)

Divisional Round Recap:

1 unit (Best Bet): Dallas (+7) OVER LOS ANGELES RAMS

After a fourth-quarter touchdown pulled Dallas within nine points, we all were screaming at our televisions when Jason Garrett decided to forego a two-point conversion attempt to kick an extra point instead. Doesn’t he know the numbers say to go for two?

Regardless of our bad fortunes on the above decision, we were objectively on the wrong side in this one. We harped on the Cowboys’ superior season-long play in the trenches, but it was the Rams who ripped off chunk runs all game long. Rumor has it that the Rams knew the Cowboys’ defensive playcalls, which definitely could explain how the 5th rated run defense completely no-showed in this one.

As we transition into the conference championship weekend, the sad reality finally has hit that there are only three more games all season. (No, we do not count the Pro Bowl as legitimate football).

However, there is good news: Unlike most years, the four remaining teams in 2019 are the four best teams. Can you ask for any better than NO-LA and KC-NE?

With that being said, we’ve contended for weeks that every game is not bettable. And with only two games on the docket this week, we don’t have a lot of options.

BUT – We do actually like one of these games enough to place a Best Bet wager, as we believe there was a slight overreaction to last weekend’s action. Let’s get to it.

BEST BET

KANSAS CITY (-3) OVER New England – 1 unit

The look-ahead line was Kansas City -4 here, and the Chiefs nearly shutout the red-hot Indianapolis Colts last week. (The Colts had one punt-block-return-for-touchdown and added another garbage-time score another late).

And as we all know, the difference between -4 and -3 is gigantic in NFL betting, as 3 is the most common score on which a game can land.

Yes – I will concede that the Patriots played quite well in last week’s win over the Chargers. However, it can be argued that much of that win was situational. This was like an NBA coming off a week’s rest going up against a team playing its 6th game in 7 nights. Consider the following:

  • The Patriots had faced the Bills and Jets in Week 16 and 17 home games (easy home games with no travel).
  • New England had a bye week in the Wildcard Round.
  • Bill Belichick had an extra week to prepare.
  • The Patriots (including older QB Brady) had a week of rest.
  • The Chargers, conversely, came in playing three road games in as many weeks.
  • Los Angeles flew across the country round-trip twice in that span.
  • Phil Rivers and Co. also had to fade the 1:00 p.m. EST (10:00 a.m. Pacific) start time.
  • The warm-weather Chargers had to play one of the coldest games in recent team history.

A spot doesn’t get much better than this. Let’s not overvalue New England’s strong performance. The look-ahead line should not have shifted down to -3.

And while many of us could be worried about Andy Reid vs. Bill Belichick here, we cannot forget who has the ultra-important home-field advantage.

The Chiefs are 8-1 at home this season (+117 point margin), with the only loss coming to the Chargers by one point. The Patriots are 3-5 on the road, with double-digit losses in 3 of those contents. All 5 losses were against non-playoff teams, and the Pats have a -19 point margin on the road in 2019.

Though you want to back the Patriots because of their strong playoff history, don’t be fooled. This team hasn’t won a road playoff game since 2006, and has only won two in the Brady-Belichick era (2-4 overall). I get that this isn’t a lot of games, but I believe it nullifies the “playoff experience” argument.

With a short line of three points, give me the Chiefs to cover.

OTHER PLAYOFF BREAKDOWNS

Note: This is not an endorsed pick, but rather our thoughts on the game.

NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) versus Los Angeles Rams (Sunday 3:05 p.m. EST)

Why New Orleans: The Saints boast the better quarterback and the home-field advantage. The spread isn’t too large here based on Los Angeles’ strong performance at home last weekend, and the ‘Dome’ will be rocking for this one. Additionally, Jared Goff has been a different quarterback on the road this season, so it’s very possible he welters under pressure here. If that’s the case, the Saints are an easy bet. With that being said, I would NOT tease the Rams in this one, as it could get ugly.

Why Los Angeles Rams: The public seems to believe that the Rams have fallen apart in recent weeks, but the team is 14-3 on the season, and its offense has looked fantastic in recent weeks. It’s possible that Sunday Night game against the vaunted Chicago defense is still creeping in the back of our minds even though it could be an outlier. 14-3 teams catching over three points are quite rare, and it would be tough to fade that type of situation. Furthermore, the Saints could be overvalued here, as the offense has tailed off considerably in recent weeks.

Final Thoughts: To me, the handicap comes down to one main factor: Do you trust Jared Goff? Personally, I do not at this stage in his career, as he has shown the propensity to be a fragile quarterback. While I like Drew Brees’ poise in big games, the Saints’ declining offense gives me just enough worry that I’ll have to pass the game. We lean Saints, but will not pull the trigger.

So, there we have it – looks like a Patrick Mahomes-Drew Brees Super Bowl is on the horizon! Good luck to us all over the weekend, and enjoy the last bits of the football season while it’s still around.

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.