This Weekend's Best Bets: AFC and NFC Title Games
Crunch time for the NFL and gamblers.
About four weeks into the NFL season, a prop bet popped up on the board in
the corner of the internet that I visit in order to recreationally place some action Las Vegas and it went like this:
* Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, 48ers to win Super Bowl XLVIII -120 * Any of the other 28 teams to win Super Bowl XLVIII -120
Knowing that of the last eight Super Bowls, six have been won by teams who played a wild card round game, I figured the intelligent bet was to take the other 28 teams for a sawbuck or two. Hell, there were still three months of the season remaining, time enough for one or two of the four favorites to morph into an 8-8 team or lose a quarterback to injury.
And along the way, perhaps the Saints, Packers, Bengals, Colts, Chiefs, Bears, or Ravens would make a run at a first round bye.
Well, we all know how this worked out.
For the first time perhaps in the history of this particular wager, the "other 28 teams" ticket is dead before the conference championship games even kickoff. Broncos and Patriots in the AFC, Seahawks and Niners in the NFC. Good night.
And if you need a perfect microcosm for my season of wagering, well, there you go.
But I'm resilient if nothing else, and I'm sure by now you noticed that, for the first time all year, I put up an undefeated week. In fact, this might be the first week that I've done anything better than 4-2. Indeed, here comes my regression to mean, albeit about two months too late.
So let's pick these two games, shall we?
Someone asked me recently to make the appropriate WWE analogy for these two games, and I immediately thought of Wrestlemania 3, where the main event was the two biggest legends of the time (at least in that company), Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant for the heavyweight title, and the undercard contained two potential future staples of the company in the Intercontinental Title match in Randy Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Star power carried the main event, but the undercard bout was the one that had everybody talking.
I think that could be how things go this Sunday. Onto the picks...
Patriots +5 1/2 over BRONCOS WWE Doppelgängers Defined: Peyton is playing the role of Andre -- challenger, favored in the bout, but less decorated in terms of gold over the course of his career. (Also, Peyton and Andre, for different reasons, both have/had extraordinary foreheads.) Brady is in the Hulk role -- underdog in this bout, but the younger (well, younger than Peyton, at least) face of a generation.
Ironically, while this game has been all about the quarterbacks in the buildup, I think it will ultimately be decided by two things:
1. Running game. There's not much you can take from the first matchup between these two, as key components for both teams all over the place have been lost to injury (or in the case of Brandon Spikes, tardiness) since that November 24 matchup. However, Knowshon Moreno's 224 yard game the first time around may not be something he replicates in total yards, but in terms of effectiveness, he could absolutely go off again against New England's ravaged front seven. Conversely, I would expect the Pats' Legarrette Blount to be involved to a far greater tune than the 13 yards he had in the first matchup.
2. Belichick. With everyone focused on Manning and Brady, it's almost like the matchup between John Fox and Bill Belichick is being swept under the rug. Honestly, which head coach do you trust more in this matchup? Not even close, right? ESPN Stats and Info tweeted this out on Thursday:
Peyton Manning: 6-23 (26.1 pct), 0 TD, 4 Int passing 15+ yards downfield in postseason career vs Patriots.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2014
Kind of resonates and speaks to Belichick's ability to confound Manning and disguise what he is doing, no? Bottom line, if one team has the head coach and the quarterback that you trust more, don't you take them when they're getting 5 1/2 points regardless of where the game is? The answer is yes, yes you do. AND WHATCHA GONNA DO, WHEN BRADYMANIA RUNS WILD ON YOU???
Patriots 24, Broncos 20
Niners +3 1/2 over SEAHAWKS WWE Doppelgängers Defined: Well, in 1987, it was thought that Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat would be WWE (then WWF) fixtures for years to come. Savage was the Intercontinental champion and Steamboat was his main rival. A year later, Savage would be world heavyweight champion and Steamboat would be floundering in the mid card, due in part to leaving the company for a hiatus in May to be with his pregnant wife. If I had to pick which of these two would be a freaky, unhinged future world champion, I'll take Kaepernick. If I had to pick which one would complement his career by catering to a pregnant wife, I'll take the more subdued Wilson.
71-16 and seven. Those are the numbers that fans of the 49ers see in their sleep. That's the combined score of the previous two games, both Seahawks blowouts, at CenturyLink Field and the number of turnovers the Niners have committed in those two games. To pick the 49ers is not so much to believe they've exorcised any demons, as much as it is to believe there were no demons to begin with. In other words, in those other two games, the Seahawks were just the better team (yeah, much better) those nights.
Because here's the thing -- I am picking the 49ers, mainly because they're the hottest team in football, the most complete team in football (now that they are healthy on the offensive side of the ball with Crabtree, Davis, and Boldin), and I think the two road wins in the playoffs thus far (especially the opening round game in Green Bay) will serve them well on Sunday. Neither team has been great offensively recently, but I think San Francisco can beat you in more ways.
Are we going dog-dog in these two games? As the Macho Man would say...OOOOHHHHH YYEEEEAAHHHH....
Niners 19, Seahawks 17
Last week: 3-0-1 Season record: 44-67-4
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