This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers and gambling analysts lend us their insights about the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Paul Bovi, a sports-betting expert from VegasInsider.com who’s been handicapping games for three decades, and VSiN reporter Josh Applebaum share their opinions on the AFC and NFC Championship games this weekend.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
No. 6 Titans (+275, +7, O/U 53) at No. 1 Chiefs
The surprise of the playoffs thus far, the Titans have knocked off the Patriots and Ravens in consecutive weeks by relying on running back Derrick Henry. A three-down back with power and pass-catching ability, Henry has allowed Tennessee to control the pace of the game in both of their wins as well as kill the clock once they take a lead. Even though it will be against a porous Chiefs defense that gave up more than 2,000 rushing yards during the regular season, that will be a tough task on Sunday. The biggest reason for that is Kansas City’s offense is the most explosive unit left in the playoffs and can score every single time it has the ball. Just ask the Houston Texans, who will be watching from home after giving up TDs to the Chiefs on seven straight possessions to blow a 24-0 lead.
Bovi’s take: “The Titans are two wins away from being the seventh team In NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild-card team. First up are the Kansas City Chiefs, who stormed back from a 24-0 deficit in defeating the Houston Texans 51-31 on Sunday. KC scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions as they outscored the Texans 51-7 after a sluggish start. The Chiefs have reeled off seven straight wins since a 35-32 setback to the Titans, the last time they lost. Derrick Henry was the difference maker in that one, as he totaled 188 yards on the ground, 68 of them coming on a third-quarter touchdown run, one of his two scores that day. The Titans were without wide receiver Corey Davis, who missed his only game of the year in that upset win. The Chiefs allowed 4.9 yards per rush this year, while Henry has averaged almost six yards per carry in the playoffs. KC’s defense did stiffen after that Titans loss, as they held three teams to single digits in scoring, though two of those teams, the Raiders and Bears, ran the ball to the tune of 4.9 and 4.6 yards per carry. Tennessee has scored at least 20 points in 12 consecutive games since quarterback Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota and should get back the services of WR Adam Humphries for this one. He has been out with an ankle injury. We’ll look for a higher scoring game as the Titans keep it close. Call it 34-28.”
Applebaum’s take: “The Titans have quickly become the feel-good story of the NFL playoffs. Tennessee snuck in as the sixth seed and proceeded to upset two of the top three seeds, the Patriots and Ravens, both on the road. Derrick Henry has been downright unstoppable this postseason, rushing 64 times for 377 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City is the last obstacle in Tennessee’s way to their first Super Bowl since Steven McNair and Kevin Dyson came up one yard short against the Rams in 1999. The AFC Championship game opened with Kansas City listed as a 7.5-point home favorite. The public is rushing to the window to lay the points with the Chiefs at Arrowhead. However, despite two-thirds of bets backing Kansas City, the line has fallen to 7. This sharp reverse line movement signals pros grabbing the Titans with the hook (+7.5). Historically, big playoff dogs +7 or more are 37-26 ATS (59 percent) since 2003, including 6-2 ATS (75 percent) in conference title games, according to Bet Labs Sports. When the line stays the same or moves toward a dog, they’ve gone 59-42 ATS (58 percent), including 3-1 ATS this postseason. Keep an eye on the over as well. The total opened at 51.5 and has risen to 53. Conference championship overs are 18-11 (62 percent) since 2003. The forecast calls for frigid temperatures (20 degrees). When the temperature is less than 30 degrees, the over is 116-81 (58.9 percent), including 24-14 (63.2 percent) in the postseason. Both teams have been profitable on the over this season, with the Titans 10-8 and Chiefs 9-8. The Titans beat the Chiefs 35-32 in Week 10, winning straight up as 5-point home dogs.”
Our Pick: For the Titans to keep it close, they need to score. Take the over.
No. 2 Packers (+275, +7.5, O/U 45.5) at No. 1 49ers
It came down to the wire, but the Packers were able to hold off the surging Seahawks and escape with a win in Green Bay in the Divisional Round. Though he wasn’t sharp for portions of the season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was surgical against Seattle and completed a number of clutch passes down the stretch, including a key fourth-quarter toss to Davante Adams (eight catches, 160 yards, two touchdowns) to keep a drive alive. Opposing Rodgers will be a San Francisco defense that surrendered the fewest passing yards in the NFL this season and just help Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings to a measly 10 points. How Jimmy Garoppolo, who is making just his second postseason start, handles the pressure of being a game away from the Super Bowl, will be fascinating to watch.
Bovi’s take: “While the Packers come in at 14-3 after being topped off by Sunday’s playoff win over the Seahawks, there have been more than a few bumps along the way. One of those was a 37-8 drubbing by this week’s opponent, the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers managed a paltry 104 yards on 20-of-33 pass attempts in that loss while the offense produced a mere 53 yards in the first half. The Packers did accumulate 169 yards in the second half, but that was with the game all but out of reach at 23-0. Overall, the Green Bay offense struggled for much of the year, including the last four weeks of the regular season, in which they scored only 87 points in wins over the Redskins, Bears, Vikings and Lions. Aaron Rodgers endured a seven-game stretch leading up to the last regular season in which he averaged 193 yards passing per game. The Niners come in healthy, as several key players are back from injury, including safety Jaquiski Tartt along with defensive end Dee Ford. They are are clearly the better team on both sides of the ball. This one should get out of hand unless the Niners victimize themselves with mistakes. Call this one 30-7 for San Fran.”
Applebaum’s take: “The No. 1 seed playing the No. 2 seed with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line — it doesn’t get much better than that. Both teams are a combined 28-6 and both are coming off a first-round bye followed by a home win and cover in the Divisional Round. The NFC Championship game opened with the 49ers listed as a 7-point home favorite. Just under two-thirds of bets, including some early sharps, are backing San Francisco, which has pushed the line up a half point to -7.5. Green Bay has value as a playoff dog +7 or more. However, unlike the Titans, the line has moved away from the Packers, not toward them. Home favorites like the 49ers are 14-12 ATS (53.8 percent) in conference title games. When the line moves toward a team in a conference title game (think -7 to -7.5), those teams have gone 16-9 ATS (64 percent) since 2003, including 10-5 ATS (66.7 percent) for favorites. John Hussey, the lead ref, has historically favored home teams (54.7 percent ATS). Sharp money has also come down on the over. Pros and Joes are united, pushing the total up from 45 to 46.5. Conference championship overs are 18-11 (62 percent) since 2003. The forecast looks clear in Santa Clara with temperatures in the high 50s with little to no wind. San Francisco beat Green Bay 37-8 as 3-point home favorites in Week 12.”
Our Pick: San Fran has been the NFL’s best team all year. Take ’em and lay the points.
Last Week’s Picks: 2-2, Season: 39-49
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.