Buccaneers (+3) @ Packers
The Green Bay Packers have played great football seemingly all season long coming into this matchup, sporting a 14-3 SU record and 11-6 ATS record. One of those straight up losses, however, came at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the Packers' worst defeat of the year, losing by 28 points back in Week 6 despite leading 10-0 after the first quarter of that game. Since the NFL switched its current divisional format, teams that won the first meeting in a season are 55-39 in postseason rematches. This trend would obviously favor the Buccaneers. But on the other side of the field the Packers do indeed have one of the most explosive, if not the most explosive pass offense in this league. The Bucs came up with a game plan in Week 6 that neutralized Green Bay's passing attack by keeping pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Tampa Bay pressured Rodgers 18 times on 41 dropbacks in that game, forcing two interceptions, sacking Rodgers five times and registering 13 quarterback hits. Tampa outscored the Packers 28-0 in the second quarter alone and outscored Green Bay 38-0 despite being trailing by 10 points after the first quarter of action. And the Bucs have the healthy personnel to put the pressure on Rodgers again here.
The Bucs' only hope to keep the Packers offense in check this time is to pressure Rodgers early and often in this NFC Conference Championship contest. Rodgers has a 45.3% completion percentage while under pressure, which ranks 29th out of 42 qualified quarterbacks. Another part of the Bucs' plan to neutralize Green Bay’s offense and keep Rodgers off the field will be their running attack, led by Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. In these teams' first matchup, Jones went for 113 yards on 23 carries and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. Against the Saints defense last week - a run defense that ranked 2nd in DVOA according to Football Outsiders - Jones and Fournette combined for 125 yards on 30 carries. I expect the running game to be a big part of the game plan yet again come Sunday afternoon for Brady & Company.
The Packers, on the other hand, went up against the number one ranked defense last week in the divisional round while facing the Los Angeles Rams, but the Rams weren’t at full strength with Aaron Donald missing more snaps than usual. Rodgers was able to take advantage of that, and the Rams were also limited on offense with wide receiver Cooper Kupp not able to play due to a knee injury. The Rams had some opportunities to keep the score close throughout, but these injuries eventually caught up with them.
Even though the Buccaneers have the number one ranked rush defense here, I don’t believe that’ll stop the Packers from trying to establish their own running game led by Aaron Jones. The Packers' rushing attack combined for only 80 yards between Aaron Jones, Jamal Williams and AJ Dillon last week against the Rams, so in order to try and keep pressure off of Rodgers they’ll have to find a way to get their running game going again. In the first matchup, the total opened at 52 and closed at 55. The teams only combined for 48 points (Bucs 38, Packers 10), and for this matchup the total is at 51 and with both teams looking to establish their rushing attack. Because of these reasons, I believe there’s still some value on the under.
Like: Under 51 points
Bills (+3) @ Chiefs
This should be a very competitive matchup, as Sunday's AFC Conference Championship game pits the top two offenses in the league against one another, with very similar defenses also facing off. I believe that the deciding factor could come down to which team can win the turnover battle, and the Buffalo Bills have the edge here as their defense is ranked 2nd overall in takeaways while the Kansas City Chiefs are ranked 23rd with only eight takeaways all season. When these teams played back in October it seemed like the Bills were more impacted by the bad weather, as it was one of their worst statistical games of the season.
I expect the Bills to be more prepared for similar weather conditions this time around, and contrary to popular belief, they still have more of a reliable, "efficient" running game to depend on in order to help move the ball up and down the field while they look to get comfortable with their explosive passing game behind Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and John Brown. Since the playoffs started the Bills aren’t holding anything back either, and Allen has been used more in the running game as well. During the regular season he ran the ball 6.3 times per game. In his two games in the playoffs, he’s ran the ball 9 times per game.
I also consider the Chiefs lucky to have come away with a win in last week's divisional round matchup against the Cleveland Browns, as Rashard Higgins' fumble out of the end zone turned out to be the deciding factor of that game, especially after the officials admitted that they should’ve called targeting on the hit that caused the fumble. But even before that game, the Chiefs had been barely getting by for weeks on end. Kansas City hasn’t covered a spread in nine straight games (!) with eight of those games being one possession contests. Now compare that to the Bills, who have covered the spread in seven of their last eight games, including last week's 17-3 home victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The lone exception for the Bills not covering the spread was against the Indianapolis Colts in Wild Card Weekend.
I believe that the Bills are the slightly better football team, and I have them being the favorite in this matchup. Getting them at +3, then I’ll gladly take the points here. I also believe that you’ll be able to get anywhere from +3.5 to +4.5 closer to game time because it's looking more and more likely that Patrick Mahomes will not miss this game. Once it's officially announced that Mahomes is playing, I expect that money will be steadily coming in on the Chiefs. Even without the line move, I still like the Bills at +3.
Like: Bills +3