The conference finals this year really couldn’t have worked out any better if we had tried. On the AFC side, we have the two most dynamic young QBs in the game going up against each other in Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Both the Bills and the Chiefs have been revolutionizing the league with their pass first, aggressive offenses who don’t shy away from chucking the ball, even in the games biggest moments down the stretch when most teams opt for punts or Fullback dives.
The Chiefs got to this week by utilizing just such aggression, calling a ballsy 4th and 1 pass play to salt the game against a game Browns squad.
The focus for this game is going to rest squarely on the health of Patrick Mahomes this week although indications are that he’ll be playing. In a game, this big and this close on the spread (the Bills are +2.5-3 right now at most sportsbooks) a potential lingering injury or lack of practice this week for Mahomes could be a big factor.
In the NFC we also have two of the elite QBs in the game squaring off, but while Mahomes vs. Allen might be like putting up Captain America vs. Iron Man in their primes, the Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady battle feels more like Old Man Logan vs. the retired Bruce Wayne from the Dark Knight returns. Aaron Rodgers is coming off a home field dismantling of the Rams as he and the Packers offense put up 32-points on the league’s best defense. Rodgers will have another tough test this week though as the Bucs D-Line rates out as one of the best in the NFL and their secondary was able to shut down Michael Thomas completely last week.
Conference Finals preview (lines and totals)
Packers early injury report
- DL Kingsley Keke (concussion)
Bucs early injury report
- WR Antonio Brown (knee)
The Packers are almost as close to full health as a team can get right now, they’d obviously love to have Keke back here and did run on a bit by Cam Akers last week so any positive news there could help.
The big story of this game though is Antonio Brown. The Bucs are 7-3 since Brown was signed and with Chris Godwin struggling a bit of late his absence would make things easier on the Packers who are already very good at limiting WRs.
As of now, Brown’s knee injury doesn’t appear to be serious but whether he can make it back on a short turnaround is another question. Expect the Bucs to take him up to kickoff before deciding.
Against the Spread
- Green Bay 11-6 ATS and 6-3 as the home team
- Tampa Bay 10-8 ATS in 2020 and 5-5 as away team
This game is teetering right on the edge of being a FG game and you’ll likely see it fluctuate between 2.5 to 3.5 all week.
The line feels like it should be bigger given Brown’s injury and the fact the Packers have been dominant at home.
The market here seems to be factoring in the Bucs dominant home win from Week 6 where the Packers basically quit after the first quarter.
Bills early injury report
- WR Cole Beasley Knee (questionable)
Beasley played in the last two games although he didn’t actually catch a pass against the Ravens but did see two targets.
Chiefs early injury report
- QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion)
- CB Brashaud Breeland (concussion)
Obviously all the news will be focusing on Mahomes who may miss some practice time but looks like he’ll have a great shot at returning.
Breeland could be an underrated inactive though if he can’t clear in time given the Bills vaunted passing attack. If he’s ruled out early it only makes me like the Bills more here.
Against the Spread
- Kansas City 7-10 ATS in 2020 and 3-6 ATS at home
- Buffalo 12-6 ATS in 2020 and 4-3 ATS as the away team
As you can see the Chiefs weren’t that great a betting team this season, despite their 14-2 regular season record.
The Bills were one of the top three ATS teams in 2020, although it is worth noting that they weren’t quite as reliable in away spots.
The spread here is close and perhaps also being influenced by the Mahomes injury so take that into account. There’s a real chance we see a bigger number on the Bills later in the week once, or if, Mahomes gets cleared to play
Conference Finals early conviction play
- Packers -6.5 O
- Season record: 11-4 ATS (Totals 1-3)
Bet: Bills +3
The Bills come into this game on an eight game win streak that really could and should have been a 12-game win streak if not for the “Hail Murray” that caused them to lose to the Cardinals in Week 10. Unlike the Chiefs who sometimes have a penchant for coming out a bit slow and then shifting gears, the Bills have been great at taking leads all season and then just keeping the hammer down. This is reflected in the scoring differentials this year as well as the Bills beat opponents by a 7.9 pt margin while KC was behind them at 6.8.
Kansas City has been dominant at limiting WRs this year but have the double whammy of facing a QB who is great under pressure in Josh Allen, who led the league in TDs and passing yards when blitzed, and Stefon Diggs, who seems to be nearly unrecoverable this year.
Buffalo has some weaknesses that could be exposed here too, like the fact they can still be soft against both the run and TEs (Travis Kelce is going to go off here for fantasy purposes) but those same issues also plague Kansas City. The Chiefs are the ones coming in wounded with both Mahomes and one of their best corners in Brashaud Breeland suffering concussions last week. Even if they both play (Mahomes is likely) missed practices and any lingering injury effects won’t help against such a well-oiled team like Buffalo. This is an ATS pick so we’ll take the points, but the ML at +125 is firmly in play here for me too on Buffalo.
Bonus Total: Packers/Bucs over 51.5
We had this same total to target for last week in the Bucs/Saints game and the over really should have hit if not for the late game Drew Brees implosion which saw him kill the chance for a late game garbage FG/TD. These teams are a combined 20-15 at hitting overs in 2020 and we have two great QBs playing at the top of their games, who are more likely to grab us those late game points than not here.
Conference Finals NFL game props
- Wildcard results: 1-2
- Bucs over 23.5 pts O
- Chiefs/Browns over 3.5 FGs O
- Ravens over 21.5 pts X
As mentioned above, Buffalo has been great at jumping out on teams all year and rank third in the league in points scored in the first-half this year, behind the Colts (who they just beat) and the Packers. Kansas City comes into this game with what will surely be a week of disjointed practices and facing a team that can match them with pace and skill at WR and QB. Maybe the Chiefs nightmarish skill gets them there for the win at the end but I think the Bills have a big edge at the start of this game and will take advantage. At solid odds I like taking them to be ahead in the first half here.
Similar to the Bills, the Packers have been great front-runners all season. As mentioned above, the Packers led the league in points scored in the first-half this season and also have a great home record, sporting an 8-1 outright record at Lambeau. The first time these two teams met, the Packers actually jumped out on the Bucs to a 10-0 lead before a couple mistakes led to the wheels falling off and a lopsided road loss. That’s not going to happen here and while the Bucs showed great resolve in coming back against the Saints, they’ve been the slower starter of these two teams by far–and are also dealing with a possible injury issue to Antonio Brown, a key skill player. If the Packers win this game, it will almost certainly be because they took it to the Bucs in the first half, so if you like them to be ahead after 60 mins, taking them to lead after 30 mins makes sense too, especially with the odds we’re getting here to do it.
I love the plus-money we get on this over prop every week and couldn’t resist taking it one more time here. Kansas City ranks 14th in FGs made while the Bills have been even better for FGs as they sit at 11th. We both know these teams are two of the best offenses in the league and the pace of this game should give us a great shot here at getting four or more FGs. Both of these teams rank in the top-12 in pass attempts per game so the ball should be moved fast and loose here, giving us tons of red zone looks. Neither team here ranks in the top-10 in red zone efficiency either so I won’t be shocked if we hit this one easily.
Wildcard Week players props
Check back later in the week…