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May 23, 2019

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NFL Playoffs by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of conference championships

Patrick Mahomes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs onto the field before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Carson, Calif.

Regardless of what happens in Sunday’s conference championship games, this year’s Super Bowl is set up to be one of the most evenly matched of all-time.

A number of sports books have opened betting lines on the four potential Super Bowl matchups. At the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, there’s not a single scenario with a favorite of more than 1.5 points.

The New Orleans Saints are laying 1.5 points to both the Kansas City Chiefs or the New England Patriots. The Los Angeles Rams are a pick’em against the pair of opponents.

Only one previous Super Bowl, the 2015 game where the Patriots defeated the Seahawks via Maclolm Butler’s goal line interception, closed as a pick’em in sports books. Two others closed with a favorite of less than 2 points — but not since 1982 when the 49ers defeated the Bengals.

It’s partly a byproduct of the four best teams rising to the occasion in last week’s divisional round, and setting up what should be a phenomenal final three games of the season.

Talking Points hopes to hit them all after a so-so year picking every game against the spread. The blog is now 130-121-12 — 26-32-1 on plays, 40-28-4 on leans and 64-61-7 on guesses — after a 3-4-1 start to the playoffs. They’re all plays from here on out.

Read below for Talking Points’ picks for the conference championship games.

Kansas City Chiefs minus-3 vs. New England Patriots It’s a choice between either the history and infrastructure, or the production and talent. The former obviously refers to the Patriots, which are playing in an unprecedented eighth straight conference championship game with a chance to advance to their ninth Super Bowl under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. It’s also the pair’s 13th conference championship game, and only the fifth where they’ve come in as an underdog. That speaks to just how impressive the Chiefs have been in their first year under soon-to-be MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City has been the best team in the NFL all season — they’ve been implanted at the top of Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings since week 6 — and oftentimes by a large margin. The Chiefs’ offense puts the Patriots’ to shame, gaining 6.7 yards per play to their opponents’ 5.9. And, despite the Chiefs’ defense being much maligned, the gap on that side of the ball is minimal. New England gives up 5.7 yards per play to Kansas City’s 5.8. And yet, it’s hard to fire fully on Kansas City with no inhibitions given how routinely New England outperforms its expectations and punishes its doubters. Just look at the way they played in last week’s 41-28 rout of the Chargers as 4-point favorites with most of the money against them. But the action is different early this week. New England has reportedly taken most of the money, which has kept this spread deflated and perhaps set up history to repeat itself. For all the Patriots’ success, they haven’t been a wise bet in AFC Championship Games, going just 5-7 against the spread with Belichick and Brady. There seems to be a pattern where bettors forget their greatness ahead of the divisional round, before correcting to over-estimate it the next weekend. It’s also possible, however, that 12 games is too small of a sample size and it’s all just noise. But, when betting against the Patriots, any solace is welcome.

Los Angeles Rams plus-3.5 at New Orleans Saints Through the first half of the season, the Rams were considered not only the best team in the NFC but the whole NFL. That ended in New Orleans when they lost to the Saints 45-35 in Week 9, but the game was closer than it’s remembered. Los Angeles actually held a substantial 1.2 yards per play edge but were undone by a couple costly mistakes — and even one controversial call. Perhaps most important from a betting perspective, the Rams reached as high as a 3-point favorite in the game before closing at minus-1.5. A 4.5-point swing — or a 6-point swing from the height of the market — is a massive move and the type that should only exist if both teams have demonstrated their power ratings were way off. That hasn’t happened here. Sure, the Saints have hit their stride and deserve to be favored. But the Rams, which have now covered three straight, are no slouches themselves. Los Angeles looks healthier overall for the rematch with the Saints than it was in the first meeting, and as we’ve repeatedly stated, it’s the most talented team in the league at full strength. New Orleans has a legendary home-field advantage and quarterback, so expect a classic game. But the odds might be wrong in implying the AFC game is the closer of the two conference championships.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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