Welcome to the Conference Championship Sunday edition of our NFL Bets of the Week column. Here, I’ll break down both games and analyze their profit potential at DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, 888 Sport, and BetStars Sportsbook.
Depending on the circumstance, I’ll hone in on moneylines, point spreads, or projected totals. Sometimes I may even touch on multiple metrics for one game. We’ll strive for quality over quantity here as well — the focus will only be on spots that seem to truly be advantageous. Then, I’ll take you on a fairly deep dive as to why.
Please note we’ll be referencing only legal, regulated sportsbook betting odds and totals here at PlayPicks. A “pick” is a wager that, as of the time of this writing, we feel confident recommending. A “lean” is a wager that we favor over the other side. This play could end up on our card with the release of additional information.
Let’s take a quick look at how things went in the Divisional Round and follow that up with a closer look at both of the Conference Championship matchups.
Recapping Divisional Weekend
Divisional round winners: Chiefs -5.5, Chiefs moneyline, Rams moneyline, Saints moneyline
Divisional round losers: Cowboys +7.5 (lean), Chargers +4 (lean), Saints -8
ATS Picks: 2-1 (.667)
ATS Leans: 1-2 (.333)
Moneyline: 4-0 (.1000)
Championship Weekend NFL Betting Picks
Los Angeles Rams (1-0, 13-3 reg. season) at New Orleans Saints (1-0, 13-3 reg. season)
Over/Under Total: 56.5
How They Fared Last Time Out
The Rams advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 30-22 home win over the Dallas Cowboys last Saturday night. Jared Goff threw for 186 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Part of the reason for the modest total was the Cowboys’ stingy defense, but a significant portion was also due to Los Angeles’ vast success on the ground. Todd Gurley made his return and contributed 115 yards on 16 rushes, including a vintage 35-yard touchdown run. However, the back that had filled in so successfully for him the prior two games, C.J. Anderson, surprisingly had an even bigger role. The veteran ripped off 123 yards on 23 carries and scored twice. Robert Woods (6-69) and Brandin Cooks (4-65) were the leaders through the air.
The Saints arrive via a 20-14 home win over the defending champion Eagles last Sunday evening. After shockingly falling behind by a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter, New Orleans ran the table on the scoreboard the rest of the way. Drew Brees threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns. A bulk of that went to Michael Thomas, who set a franchise postseason record with 171 yards on 12 receptions. Alvin Kamara paced the ground attack with 71 yards on 16 rushes, adding a 4-35 line through the air. After their early troubles, the Saints defense picked off Nick Foles twice, with both interceptions courtesy of Marshon Lattimore. The second pick, which came on a ball that deflected off the hands of Philadelphia’s Alshon Jeffery late in the fourth quarter, sealed the victory.
- Out: DT Sheldon Rankins (IR-Achilles)
- Questionable: TE Ben Watson (illness)/ WR Keith Kirkwood (calf)
Regular Season Matchups
The Saints defeated the Rams 45-35 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 9. Brees threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns — one each to Thomas, Watson, Kamara, and Tre’Quan Smith. Thomas led the pass catchers with an eye-popping 12-211 line. Kamara added 82 yards and two more scores on the ground on 19 carries. New Orleans did allow Goff to rack up 391 yards and three touchdowns while Gurley turned in 68 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Cooks generated a 6-114-1 line to lead the pass-catching corps. Cooper Kupp, who’s now on injured reserve with a knee injury, was notably second with five grabs for 89 yards and a score.
Summing It Up
While this game is technically the “opening act” on Championship Sunday, it could well prove to be the main event by the time it’s all said and done — at least in terms of offensive fireworks. The two clubs combined for 80 points when they met in the regular season. Right away, it’s worth noting Los Angeles is down an important piece from that game in Kupp. Then, the Saints will have a receiver they didn’t have at their disposal in the prior meeting. That’s veteran speedster Ted Ginn, Jr., who was sidelined with his own knee issue at that time.
Both absences could play key factors in this contest. Granted, Josh Reynolds has been solid in several games since Week 11, his first week as the third receiver in Kupp’s stead. However, the reality is he hasn’t topped six catches or 80 yards in any game. In contrast, Kupp matched or exceeded one or both totals in three of the seven non-injury-shortened games. Then, Goff exceeded 300 passing yards in six of Kupp’s seven full outings. Tellingly, he failed to hit the mark in Weeks 7 and 8, when Kupp was sidelined with a separate knee issue. Plus, he accomplished the feat just twice in the seven regular-season games down the stretch subsequent to Kupp’s season-ending injury. And, as cited earlier, Goff also fell short of 200 yards in the Rams’ one postseason game thus far.
When pulling back to a team-wide view, the Rams offer home-road splits that paint a somewhat muddled picture. On the one hand, the numbers point toward L.A. being less potent offensively through the air when traveling and more vulnerable against the run. Yet some others indicate their impressive running game and pass defense both get even better outside of California.
For example, Los Angeles averages an impressive 28.8 points per game when traveling. But that’s still more than a touchdown less than their 36.3 points per game average at home. And while they compiled 136.8 rush yards per game at home, they ripped off an NFL-high 159.1 ground yards per road contest. Then, the Rams yielded a stingy 214.2 pass yards per game on the road. That’s a notable improvement over the 258.2 they surrendered on their home turf at the Coliseum. Yet they also saw a near 12-yard-per-game jump in rushing yards allowed on the road (124.1, compared to 112.7 at home).
The Saints will prove the most difficult of tests, regardless of what those numbers indicate. New Orleans already substantiated that by putting up 45 points the last time they saw the Rams. The Saints have averaged 32.6 points, 402.9 total yards, and 286.8 passing yards per home game overall. In turn, they’re also allowing a miserly 71.7 rush yards per contest at The Superdome. Factoring out the meaningless Week 17 finale, New Orleans held four home opponents under 20 points.
However, the Saints are a mixed bag statistically in their own right. New Orleans also allows a robust 24.3 points per game at home: nearly a touchdown more per game than on the road. Moreover, the Saints surrendered the second-most passing yards of any team on its home turf (288.0). And when it comes to total yards allowed at home, New Orleans was just outside the bottom 10 (359.7 allowed per game).
As detailed earlier, the Rams were able to mostly crack the Saints defense when they played. Even Gurley was able to average over 5.0 yards per rush against New Orleans’ typically impenetrable front. And it’s certainly worth noting that same front could be somewhat softer Sunday with run-stuffing tackle Sheldon Rankins having suffered a season-ending Achilles injury versus the Eagles. The impact of Anderson also can’t be underestimated. He’s allowed the Rams offense to continue humming over the last three games irrespective of Gurley’s availability.
By the Numbers
The Rams are 8-8-1 (50.0 percent) against the spread overall this season. That includes a 4-4 mark (50.0 percent) against the spread as road underdogs. Los Angeles is also 6-7 (46.2 percent) versus the number in conference games this season.
The Saints are 10-7 (58.8 percent) against the spread overall this season. That includes a 4-5 (44.4 percent) mark versus the number as a home team, including 3-5 (37.5 percent) as home favorites. New Orleans is also 8-5 (61.5 percent) against the spread in conference games.
The Final Word
The spread here emphasizes the oddsmakers’ rightful belief that the two teams are very evenly matched. However, the Saints already own a 10-point win over the Rams. Moreover, that was with LA still having a healthy Kupp at the time. New Orleans’ elite run defense will suffer some without Rankins, but they still should shape up as one of Gurley’s tougher assignments this season. Then, the ability of Lattimore to at least significantly limit Cooks or Woods and the Saints’ exemplary work versus tight ends (third-fewest receptions and receiving yards allowed to the position) put a further crimp in Los Angeles’ attack. While this should still be a very close game because of each team’s vulnerabilities, I see the Saints having just enough to score a victory of four points or better.
The Pick: Saints -3, Saints moneyline
New England Patriots (1-0, 11-5 reg. season) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, 12-4 reg. season)
Over/Under Total: 56.5
How They Fared Last Time Out
The Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game with a 41-28 home thrashing of the Chargers last Sunday. The 13-point margin of victory isn’t indicative of New England’s domination. They jumped out to a 35-7 halftime lead. It was a complete offensive performance by the Pats. Tom Brady had only 10 incompletions on 44 attempts and threw for 343 yards and a touchdown. That included nine connections for 151 yards to Julian Edelman, who led New England pass catchers. Then, Sony Michel ripped off 129 yards and scored three touchdowns on 24 carries, with all of the end-zone trips occurring in the first half. James White tallied a jaw-dropping 15 catches for 97 yards. The Pats defense limited Melvin Gordon to just 15 rushing yards on nine carries, and although Phillip Rivers amassed 331 passing yards, they largely came in an entire second half of garbage time.
The Chiefs advanced with a 31-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon. Patrick Mahomes threw for 278 yards and added a rushing score. Damien Williams led the ground troops with 129 yards and a touchdown on 25 rushes. Tyreek Hill also notched a 36-yard rushing touchdown while contributing eight grabs for 72 yards through the air. Sammy Watkins encouragingly made six grabs for 62 yards in his return from an extended absence due to a foot injury. Travis Kelce paced the Chiefs in both receptions and receiving yards with a 7-108 line.
Questionable: RB Spencer Ware (hamstring)
Regular Season Matchups
The Patriots defeated the Chiefs 43-40 at Gillette Stadium in Week 6. A Stephen Gostkowski 28-yard field goal as time expired made the difference. Brady threw for 340 yards and a touchdown, capping off that performance by leading a seven-play, 65-yard game-winning drive. Michel totaled 106 yards and two rushing touchdowns while Rob Gronkowski led the way through the air with a 3-97 line. On the Chiefs’ side, Mahomes racked up 352 yards and four touchdowns although he was also guilty of two interceptions. The since-departed Kareem Hunt was an integral factor, complementing his 80 rushing yards (10 carries) with a 5-105-1 line through the air. Hill led both teams with seven catches, 142 yards, and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard, fourth-quarter strike.
Summing It Up
Not that it was necessarily in any doubt, but Bill Belichick once again corroborated his Hall of Fame credentials in last Sunday’s win over the Chargers. Going up against a team he didn’t see in the regular season, Belichick spearheaded the development of a defensive game plan that thoroughly frustrated Phillip Rivers and his talented offensive teammates throughout the first two quarters.
That begs the question what the Pats coach will devise to curtail the considerable offensive success of a team he’s already seen. New England’s secondary played at an elite level when it mattered last Sunday, but that was a trend that had been building over the final four games of the regular season. Even Ryan Tannehill’s 265 passing yards in Week 14 were largely inflated by the 69-yard game-winning miracle on Kenyan Drake’s part. Then, the Pats held Ben Roethlisberger to 235 yards and picked him off twice in Week 15 before also limiting a much lesser caliber of competition (Josh Allen and Sam Darnold) to a total of 382 yards over the final pair of regular-season games.
Naturally, the challenge will be exponentially greater versus Mahomes. But it’s worth noting the second-year phenom was actually considerably less prolific at Arrowhead. Mahomes threw for a relatively modest 19 touchdowns in eight home games, compared to 31 on the road. He averaged just 3.4 yards per rush at home as well. KC also scored six points less per game at home (32.2) than away (38.2). The splits carry over into passing yards (289.6, compared to 325.2) and rushing yards (111.2, compared to 129.2).
However, Kansas City’s defensive dominance at home can’t be overlooked. The Chiefs have allowed the third-fewest points per home game (17.4). That number is largely the byproduct of yielding just 216.7 passing yards per home contest, over 100 yards fewer than on the road. And their pass rush was a big part of their success. Only the Vikings averaged more sacks per home game than the Chiefs (3.8 per home contest). In the aforementioned regular-season meeting, the Chiefs brought Brady down twice and forced two fumbles from him, and that was on the road.
But there’s a potential vulnerability that an improving New England running game may be primed to exploit. The Chiefs allowed the eighth-most rush yards per game of any team on their home field (128.2). In turn, New England is averaging a whopping 186.3 rush yards over the last three games, including last week’s win over the Chargers. Michel has turned in 116- and 129-yard efforts in two of those contests. Then, KC yielded a 92-894-6 line through the air to running backs this season. That certainly could spell trouble against White, who could well keep the chains moving throughout the afternoon with his pass-catching acumen.
By the Numbers
The Patriots are 10-7 (58.8 percent) against the spread overall this season. That includes a 3-5 mark (37.5 percent) versus the number as a road team. New England is also 7-6 (53.8 percent) against the spread in conference games. The Patriots are 17-18 (48.6 percent) versus the number in playoff games since Tom Brady’s second season in 2003.
The Chiefs are 10-6-1 (62.5 percent) against the spread overall this season. That includes a 5-4 mark (55.6 percent) versus the number as home favorites. Kansas City is also 9-4 (69.2 percent) against the spread in conference games.
The Final Word
Like the Rams-Saints showdown, this game is another in which each team will be able to make inroads. The Chiefs are undeniably an offensive juggernaut, but as they demonstrated last week, the postseason version of the Patriots can never be underestimated. New England has the confidence afforded by a regular-season win over KC as well, and it’s a virtual certainty Belichick will draw up something unique to try and prevent another outright trampling at the hands of Hill. The fact the Chiefs will be without their second-most potent weapon last time (Hunt) can’t be undersold, either. Therefore, I lean strongly toward the Pats going down swinging in a very tight game, with the home squad having just enough Arrowhead magic to clinch a Super Bowl berth.
The Lean: Patriots +3
The Pick: Chiefs moneyline