Expert NFL Picks for Bucs-Packers and Bills-Chiefs in the NFC and AFC Championship Games
Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for PennBets.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on the pair of Conference Championship games that will take place on Sunday in the NFL, when the Packers host the Buccaneers and the Chiefs host the Bills.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) (+150, +3.5, O/U 51) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)
A compelling matchup because … after handing the Packers their worst defeat of the season in Week 6, Tom Brady will lead Tampa Bay into Green Bay for the rematch with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. For Brady, this will be his ninth Conference Championship game in the last 10 seasons, but just his fourth on the road. This will be Rodgers’s fourth Conference Championship game in the last seven seasons, but just the first he will play at Lambeau Field. Though the duel between the veteran quarterbacks will be the main story here, how the respective defenses play against them is really the matchup to watch.
Altruda’s Angle: Tougher to kill than Jason Vorhees and seemingly as old, Brady is attempting to reach the Super Bowl for the 10th time. Yet, the Buccaneers showed they were not all about the 43-year-old and a prolific offense in winning at New Orleans as the defense did its job by putting Brady in winning positions via takeaways. The future Hall-of-Famer delivered with touchdowns on three forced turnovers. That defense will have to again deliver against a high-powered offense as the Packers led the NFL in scoring at 31.8 points per game and flexed all over the vaunted Los Angeles Rams defense in their divisional-round victory. Rodgers looked every bit the MVP frontrunner, and the one-two punch of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams churned out 164 rushing yards between them. The key to this game will be both defenses getting pressure on the opposing quarterback, a daunting task given the skill of both Brady and Rodgers and their combined 63 games of postseason experience. Even if the defenses have success, there is a certain amount of playing with fire, since both quarterbacks can win games by themselves if their respective running games go south. There isn’t much to glean from Tampa Bay’s 38-10 win in Week 6 because the game got turned on its head when the Bucs defense intercepted Rodgers on back-to-back drives in a 28-point second quarter. It should also be pointed out Rodgers threw three INTs the rest of the season after that defeat. The game is a toss-up to the point where even the narrow spread gives pause. I’m jumping on the over now because I have a hunch it may inch towards that 52 TD+FG number and possibly higher before kickoff.
Gable’s Guess: There are no significant injuries for either side in this game, which is good news for both teams. The Packers offense looked very good against the top NFL defense last week in the Rams as they compiled 484 yards and 28 first downs. The other thing I continue to be impressed with is Green Bay’s run defense. That has been an area they have improved upon as the season has gotten on. Tampa came away with a victory over New Orleans, but I don’t feel like they won the game as much as Drew Brees lost the game for the Saints. Brady was pretty average. He threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but there wasn’t a lot of production out of their talented wide receiving corps. The bright spot on offense for Tampa was the play of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. They combined for 125 yards rushing and looked really good. In Week 6, Tampa defensive coordinator Todd Bowles disguised coverages really well and had timely blitzes on Rodgers. It was certainly the worst that he looked this season. For me, Rodgers is playing at too high of a level right now and I really like how their defense has stepped up.Rodgers is 62-35-4 against the spread in his career at Lambeau. That’s pretty impressive. I’m going to lay the points here with Green Bay
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This NFC Championship game is the 14th for Brady and 5th for Aaron Rodgers. Brady is 9-4 while Rodgers is 1-3. The Bucs (10-8 ATS) enter as the underdog. Tampa Bay beat Washington 31-23 in the Wild Card round, although they failed to cover. In last week’s Divisional Round, the Bucs upset the Saints 30-20, winning outright as 2.5-point road dogs. The Packers (11-6 ATS) received a first-round bye and are coming off a 32-18 win over the Rams in the Divisional Round, covering as 7-point home favorites. This line opened with Green Bay listed as a 4-point home favorite. The public respects Brady but also can’t pass up laying a short spread at home with the high-flying Packers. However, despite a majority of bets backing Green Bay, we’ve seen this line fall from 4 to 3.5 or even 3 at some shops. This sharp reverse line movement signals respected pro money taking Tampa Bay plus the points. Playoff dogs with a line move in their favor are 14-7 ATS (67 percent) since 2017. These teams met back in Week 6 and the Bucs won 38-10. I’m not betting against Brady in a big game. Give me the Bucs and make sure to shop around for the hook (+3.5).
Our Pick: If Brady wins, we’ll bet him in the Super Bowl. Here, we’re laying the points with the Pack.
Buffalo Bills (15-3) (+140, +3, O/U 54) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)
A compelling matchup because … in another Week 6 rematch, the streaking Bills will look to extend their winning streak to nine games and avenge their loss to the Chiefs at home earlier this season. It seems like Patrick Mahomes, who was forced from last week’s win with a concussion, will probably play on Sunday, but how healthy he will actually be is up for debate. The Bills are well-rounded and hot, but could potentially get run out of the building by a healthy Mahomes running KC’s high-octane offense. With the star QB likely operating at less than 100 percent, the playing field is much more level.
Altruda’s Angle: As the betting world waits on the status of Mahomes, who was in concussion protocol during the week, it throws the foundation of the actual pick into uncertainty. Laying the narrow spread further out before kickoff as a Chiefs backer could be a wise investment if both Mahomes and starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire are cleared to play, or it could prove more challenging if one or both are ruled out and the line drastically swings with Bills money. The key to this has been Mahomes. Some books had early lines of the Bills -1.5 shortly after he was sidelined in the win over Cleveland. There have been reports the difference between a 100-percent Mahomes and backup Chad Henne is approximately 10 points, and the current spread also reflects Mahomes dealing with what appears to be a toe injury. All this talk obscures the fact a damn good football team is coming to town in the Bills. The offense did its part in the Wild-Card round win over Indianapolis and then the defense did its job last weekend in stifling Lamar Jackson and contributing a 101-yard pick-6. Quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills offense have come a long way from their 26-17 home loss to the Chiefs in Week 6, when they were outgained 466-206. But it will be the Bills defense that makes or break them at Arrowhead. Buffalo has survived despite allowing Indianapolis and Baltimore to go a combined 16-for-34 on third down. The Chiefs went 9-for-14 on such plays in Week 6 and a repeat performance will result in Kansas City being the AFC representative in the Super Bowl again, regardless of who is under center. I’m willing to ride the Chiefs and lay up to -5.5, but if you’re hesitant and need a fallback pick, I suggest a prop play of Allen as an anytime touchdown scorer.
Gable’s Guess: Teams that have played on Saturday in the Divisional Round have gone 6-2 in the Championship Round over the last four years and actually 16-6 over the past 11 years. So, history fits the Bills in this one. The Bills have been out-gained offensively in both their playoff wins, but have come up with big plays when needed. They started the game against Baltimore with 20 straight passing plays, but I highly doubt it’s going to be the same gameplan against Kansas City. The Chiefs aren’t the Ravens against the run, so I’d expect Devin Singletary to get some touches and keep the offensive a bit more balanced. When these two played earlier this season, the Chiefs had 245 yards on the ground compared to only 84 for Buffalo. I don’t expect the Bills to be able to control the clock. The Bills have been pretty inconsistent with their past rush and I see them struggling to cover some of KC’s wide receivers. I think they’re definitely going to struggle covering Travis Kelce. They’re going to have to generate some turnovers as they’ve been doing and really hope Allen has a big game passing, which I think he should. I’d be taking the Bills plus the three points.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This is the third straight conference title game for Kansas City. Meanwhile, it’s the first for Buffalo since 1994. The No. 2 seed Bills (12-6 ATS) just dismissed the Ravens 17-3 in the Divisional Round, easily covering as 2.5-point home favorites. A week earlier, Buffalo beat Indianapolis 27-24, although they failed to cover as 7-point home favorites. The top-seeded Chiefs (6-10-1 ATS) just squeaked by the Browns 22-17, failing to cover as 8-point home favorites. This line opened with Kansas City listed as a 3-point home favorite. Bets are virtually split down the middle and the public doesn’t know who to back. Throughout the week, the juice has trended toward the Bills at times. Playoff dogs are 6-4 ATS this postseason and 27-17 ATS (61 percent) since 2017. Buffalo enjoys a one-day rest advantage as they played on Saturday, while the Chiefs played Sunday. Bill Vinovich, the lead ref, has historically favored road teams (55 percent ATS). The Chiefs are 8-1 straight up over their last nine games but just 1-8 ATS. The Bills are well balanced and Mahomes is coming back from a concussion and has a gimpy foot. I’ll grab the points with Bills Mafia +3.
Our Pick: Think Mahomes will play and play well. Crossing our fingers and laying the points with KC.
Last Week: 2-2, Season: 51-42–1
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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