NFL Betting: How to Pick the Conference Championship Games

We’ve made it to championship weekend in the NFL. Sunday’s first matchup is the NFC Championship between the Buccaneers and Packers, and I have a couple of bets I’m eying for this game. As for the AFC title game between the Bills and Chiefs, I’m looking forward to watching, but I likely won’t have a pre-game bet on the side or total due to the injury concerns surrounding Patrick Mahomes.

I’ll give a full preview of the games on a Periscope show I host called Weekend Warriors. The show will be live for an hour this Saturday at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on Stadium’s Periscope channel or Stadium’s Twitter.

Here are my thoughts for the conference championship games.

Buccaneers at Packers (-3.5): The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 last Saturday, while the Buccaneers defeated the Saints on Sunday to advance to the NFC title game. It never felt like the Packers were in danger of losing their game despite only leading by seven points in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers win was aided by winning the turnover margin 4-0. Tampa Bay was trailing 20-13 in the third quarter and a Jared Cook fumble near midfield changed the game with the Bucs scoring the last 17 points of the contest.

One of Green Bay’s three losses this season was in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points to win 38-10 in a game played all the way back in Week 6. Two interceptions early in the second quarter by Aaron Rodgers erased a 10-0 Green Bay lead, and Tampa Bay recorded five sacks. A lot has changed since then in terms of the Packers improving on offense, so I don’t put much weight into the prior result.

The point spread for this game opened Packers -4 and early money on the Buccaneers drove this number toward a field goal. Now the spread is either -3 or -3.5 depending on the sportsbook. You have to pay extra juice for the Packers at -3, and there’s also juice on the Buccaneers at +3.5.

The only side I could bet in this game is taking the Packers at the best number available. The Buccaneers’ 10-point win last week feels a little misleading because of the turnovers by the Saints. It’s also the third straight road game for the Buccaneers, and they are a team from Florida going to play in cold weather. While it’s not as cold as it could be for Green Bay in January, temperatures in the 20s with a chance of snow is something the Bucs aren’t ready for.

The better way to back the Green Bay side is taking them in the first half at -2.5. The Packers have the best first-half scoring offense in the NFL, and it makes sense because head coach Matt LaFleur has done a great job scripting the early drives for Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense. Even in the loss to the Buccaneers earlier this season, the Packers opened with a 10-play drive that ended in a field goal before pulling off an 11-play drive for a touchdown on their second possession. If you like the Buccaneers to cover the spread in this game, then I would wait until halftime to try to get a better number than what is being offered pregame.

The total in this game opened 51 and is now going toward 51.5 as of Friday morning. I would lean toward the over if I had to play it. The Buccaneers get a lot of credit for their defense, but it’s a unit that has regressed over the season. They have a strong rush defense, but can be attacked through the air. The Packers’ rush defense was an issue last week, as Rams running back Cam Akers rushed for 90 yards even though run plays were more predictable due to quarterback Jared Goff’s thumb injury.

I mentioned that the Buccaneers can be attacked through the air, so I’ll be looking to bet a prop involving the Packers’ passing game. It might be a square pick, but I’m going to the best receiver and will play Davante Adams over 87.5 receiving yards. Adams recorded nine receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown against a Rams secondary led by star corner Jalen Ramsey. The Buccaneers’ secondary did shut down Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas last week, but it was later revealed that Thomas was playing with multiple injuries that would require offseason surgery. The Bucs having success against Thomas last week may have suppressed Adams’ receiving yards number in this game because it was 86.5 against the Rams. This really is a great spot for Adams to have a dominant game.

Picks: Packers -2.5 first-half spread and Davante Adams over 87.5 receiving yards 

Bills at Chiefs (-3): The Bills prevailed 17-3 against the Ravens last week and the Chiefs survived the Browns to advance to their third straight AFC title game. This is also a Week 6 rematch that saw the Chiefs defeat the Bills 26-17 on a rescheduled Monday night game in Buffalo. Since then, the Bills have won 11 of their last 12 games, with the lone loss coming against the Cardinals on a Hail Mary.

The spread for this game was -2.5 earlier in the week before the status of Patrick Mahomes was known. He left the second half of last week’s game after an odd play and is in concussion protocol. Now that Mahomes is practicing and trending toward playing, we are seeing the line move up to -3 and I wouldn’t be surprised if the line closed -3.5 if Mahomes is cleared to start.

The total for this game opened at 56 and quickly was bet down due to the uncertainty surrounding Mahomes. It got down to 53.5 in the middle of the week and now is at 54. That number could go up a little more if Mahomes plays.

I don’t have an opinion on the side or total and will look to live bet this game depending on how Mahomes plays because the injury report also lists him with a toe injury. I currently don’t have any prop bets that I feel comfortable playing, but I will share any that I make on the Saturday morning Periscope stream and on my Twitter.

Pick: Pass