Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (8-2-1) with our two-team teaser of the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. Recommending exotic wagers isn’t something that I often do, but the Divisional Round featured an interesting dynamic that we don’t often see. The general public found themselves on all four road underdogs, while most of the wise guy money poured in on the favorites. The unusual dichotomy of the bet splits presented a unique opportunity to tease the Saints and Chiefs to around a pick’em in both contests.
It is rare to see the public backing the underdog team(s), but the AFC/NFC Conference Championships are beginning to take an identical shape to last weekend. At the time of writing this article, 51 percent of the spread bets and 59 percent of the moneyline wagers are coming in on the Los Angeles Rams over the New Orleans Saints, and while it isn’t as extreme as the first game, the New England Patriots are getting slightly under 50 percent of the spread wagers and nearly 60 percent of the moneyline bets.
The Los Angeles Rams vs. the New Orleans Saints (-3.0) has seen some interesting movement to begin the week. The Saints quickly jumped up to -3.5 within a few hours of the market opening but some public money has sent this line back down to -3.0 at most books. The total has stayed around 57 points all week and is a challenging market to enter. I lean towards the under being the “right” side, but offensive fireworks could ensue, especially from New Orleans.
I think Los Angeles could find themselves in an awkward position this week, one in which they aren’t able to get their ground game going against the Saints’ third-ranked defense in rushing efficiency. Without the ability to get a tempo set on the ground, the Rams’ passing offense could also struggle. If you take away the Week 11 shootout against Kansas City and the meaningless game during Week 17, Jared Goff has been brutal without wide receiver Cooper Kupp. From Weeks 1-10, Goff averaged 313.4 yards, throwing for 22 touchdowns and committing only six total turnovers with Kupp available. But in Weeks 12-16 and the Divisional Round, he has averaged 225.6 yards per game, which includes a total of two touchdowns and nine total turnovers. I think this game could turn ugly quickly and believe the Saints will win going away.
New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0): O/U 56.0
In what has become a yearly tradition, the second-seeded New England Patriots will take part in the AFC Championship game for the eighth consecutive season. However, their opponent and venue will be unique. For the first time in Chiefs franchise history, the AFC Championship game will be held in Kansas City. It will also be the first conference title game held outside of New England, Denver or Indianapolis in 15 seasons.
New England has had an up-and-down year, going 8-0 at home but only 3-5 on the road. Those splits are not necessarily uncommon for an NFL team, but the lack of success outside of Foxboro is alarming. The Patriots graded out slightly worse in offensive success rate during their games on the road, but the biggest issue has been their defense. At home, New England ranked 13th against the run and fifth against the pass. Conversely, though, they rated just 28th in success against the run and 18th against the pass in games outside of Massachusetts.
The general public can be forgetful with their recollection of a season. I know we have seen the Patriots pull Houdini-esque escapes year after year, but their regression has been ignored after the thorough thumping they put on the Los Angeles Chargers. I did think New England looked good against the Chargers, but a lot of that had to do with Los Angeles being in a terrible position. The Chargers looked like a team on fumes, which would make sense given the fact that they were playing their third straight road game and second straight early game on Sunday.
The Patriots should be given credit for taking advantage of an ideal situation, but let’s pump the brakes when it comes to forgiving their backslide this year. Rob Gronkowski has been virtually non-existent for the team since Week 14 and has only caught five passes in the Patriots’ last four games. He isn’t right physically, and the team doesn’t have many weapons to turn to after Josh Gordon’s suspension. Julian Edelman and James White are the only two players producing as of late, and a two-man show will not get the job done against a prolific Kansas City offense.
Bill Belichick is a mastermind when it comes to taking away what you do best, so Chiefs running back Damien Williams will need to be productive to open up the passing game for Kansas City, but it is difficult for me to imagine that the Patriots will have enough firepower to keep up in this battle. New England may be able to dictate some of the early proceedings, which could result in this game being slightly lower scoring than the public is anticipating, but I’d imagine that we see the Chiefs find some rhythm and eventually pull away late.