Austin Montgomery's NFC and AFC Championship Game Gambling Preview
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We are back for Championship Sunday, with two insane matchups. We got the two best teams in the AFC with the Chiefs and Bills, and before it, we get the classic matchup between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
With only two games, I will give a pick for each game and add several prop suggestions underneath. Playoffs season is the hardest time to handicap games since the lines are basically perfect. We are holding up with a 3-3 postseason record so far. We are hoping to go 2-0 on Sunday.
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Without further ado here are the picks and breakdowns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers
Spread: Packers (-3.5)
These teams met earlier in the season in the first week of October where the Buccaneers dominated the Packers 38-10. The Packers were our “mortal lock” that week, and I remember the Packers demise well. It was the one game where Rodgers looked mortal. After jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Jamal Dean jumped out and essentially took a ball right out of Davonte Adams' hands and returned it for a pick-six. Rodgers missed a wide open receiver down the seam on the following drive's third down - and the Bucs rolled from there. Rodgers was pressured on 48 percent of his dropbacks and had a QBR of 12.3 in that game. The Packers played their worst game of the season that day, and should have more success this week.
As for the Bucs, that Green Bay matchup was also their best game of the season. The Bucs defensive performance really put zero pressure on their offense, and they really weren't quite as explosive as you might remember. Brady threw for just 166 yards, and the Buccaneers were able to rely on their run game cutting through the Packers defense.
As mentioned, the Bucs' defense was awesome in these team's first meeting, meaning the major key in this game is how much pressure will Tampa be able to get on Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will almost certainly be the MVP this season and has led the Packers offense to extraordinary heights. The Packers rank No. 1 in DVOA, scoring, and EPA per play and just put up 32 points on a very talented Rams defense. And it's with good reason: Rodgers has been pressured on less than 22 percent of passing plays every game this season outside of the Buccaneers game. Tampa ranks sixth in adjusted sack rate, fifth in pressure rate, ninth in pass rush win rate, and they blitz at fourth highest rate in football. The Packers will be playing without starting left tackle David Bakitari, and the Green Bay offense stalled once he left mid game in the last matchup.
The one matchup to watch the Packers offensive side is between Davonte Adams and Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. Based on how much Adams is moved around, both corners will have to cover him. Adams did not have a single catch on four targets against Dean the first game, but he did have some success against Davis. I expect the Bucs to bring cover 0 pressure leaving Adams on an island with Davis or Dean. Davis is going to try to be physical with Davis on the line, while Dean will play more off coverage with his speed. If Davis is isolated on Adams with press man coverage, the Packers are going to have opportunities to hit Adams for big plays. Davis is one of the best press corners in football, while Adams is the best receiver in the league at beating press man coverage.
In addition, the Packers have also been the best scoring team in the first half. Green Bay is averaging 13.8 points in the second quarter alone. Todd Bowles defenses are susceptible in the first 3-4 drives of the game, and that has shown against some of the better offenses the Bucs faced this year. The Chiefs put up points early, the Chargers scored on the first drive, the Rams scored on their first drive, the Saints scored on their first drive in two out their tgree games, and the Packers scored on their first drive as well. The Packers are going to need to continue to get out to an early start against this really good Tampa defense.
As for the Buccaneers offense, Tom Brady is going to have to put up some points. As I mentioned last week, the Packers defense is susceptible. The Packers have a above-average pass rush and they have an All Pro corner in Jaire Alexander who takes away the other team's top weapon. Outside of that, the Packers defense is below average in every other facet. The one area where I believe the Bucs will have success is in the running game. I have mentioned all year the Packers front seven is soft; they rank 23rd in adjusted line yards and 25th in rushing success rate. And the Buccaneers offense has been committed to the run game during the playoffs. Against a Saints defense that ranked No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA, Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette combined for 125 yards on 30 carries. A successful run game will get Tom Brady in favorable second and third down spots. The key for the Bucs offense is limiting the times they are in third and long. As mentioned before, the Bucs have faced more third and longs then any playoff team this season. The Bucs offense won’t be able to coast in this one, and Brady will have to put on another GOAT-like performance to earn another Super Bowl bid.
As for my personal pick, we are going to go with the first half over 24.5. I mentioned before, that the Packers are the best first half offensive team in football. Matt LeFluer is brilliant at scripting the first 20-25 plays of a game and it typically takes a quarter for Todd Bowles to adjust his defensive scheme.
I think Tom Brady will be sharp and ready to respond to this Packers offense. Snowfall early should slow down the Bucs pass rushers who aren’t used to playing on the slippery surface. So we will take the first half over as the official play.
The pick: First half over 24.5
Prop suggestions: Mike Evans under 65.5 receiving yards, Over 49 rushing yards for Ronald Jones, Aaron Jones over 3 receptions, Davonte Adams first touchdown (+500)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Spread: Kansas City (-3.5)
If you've been reading the column all season, I think you can guess who I’m going to pick here. On Friday afternoon Patrick Mahomes was confirmed available to play after passing the league’s concussion protocol. But that is not surprising at all. In fact, I like the fact Mahomes was activated early rather than activated right before the game so we can get a better number. I really think the Bills have the better overall team. But a healthy Mahomes is the great equalizer. The thing is, we are not going to get a healthy Mahomes in this matchup. He is still dealing with a nagging toe injury and looked immobile in the second half against the Browns. Mahomes rushing ability is a huge asset to the Chiefs offense and they won’t be able to utilize it against the Bills.
The Chiefs really have not been great over the past month. They are 0-9-1 ATS in their last 10 games. They did play Buffalo early in the season though, coming away with a 26-17 victory. The Bills essentially dared the Chiefs to run the ball in that game and Chiefs gashed them. The Bills run defense was terrible early, but since getting Matt Milano and Terrell Edmunds back, they have been a different team. The Bills rank 17th in rush DVOA, 19th in adjusted line yards, and 14th in rushing success rate. The Chiefs run game is going to be limited with Mahomes injury and Clyde Edwards Helaire coming off an injury as well.
Even an injured Mahomes should be able to get his. But he is going against a stout Bills secondary. We already know the Bills have a stout shutdown corner in Tre'Davious White. What makes the Bills defense go is their top safety combo with Jordan Poyor and Micah Hyde. The Bills play a lot of Cover 2 and quarters coverage and should be able to keep plays in front of them. The area where this game will be decided is in the red zone. Kansas city will be able to move the ball, the question is will they be able to score touchdowns? The Chiefs scored touchdowns on just 60 percent of their red zone opportunities this year and the Bills have one of the best red zone defenses. Buffalo plays an inverted Cover 2 red zone defense that allows their safeties to become robbers. Mahomes legs are an integral part of the Chiefs red zone offense.
Offensively, the Bills are going to have success against the worst defense they will have played this postseason. They are coming off games against the Colts, who were 9th in DVOA, and Ravens, who were 7th overall in DVOA - and will face a Chiefs defense that ranked 22nd in DVOA. Buffalo's passing offense has looked unstoppable since the buy week and although the Bills haven't really run the ball well over the last few weeks, I wouldn’t be surpassed if they went to it here. In the last two playoff games the Bills faced two stout run defenses and more or less forfeited the running game. That won’t be the case in this one. We have seen Buffalo force their will against poor run defenses when facing the Patriots and Dolphins. Expect a touch more balance with the Bills offense this time around.
Overall, I think the Chiefs will be the more public side so we are going to ride with the Buffalo Bills bandwagon. Josh Allen is playing at an insane level and Sean McDermont is an elite defensive coach who will have a solid game plan for a limited Mahomes.
The pick: Bills +3.5
Prop considerations: Devin Singeletary over 40.5 rushing yards. Kelice over 97.5 receiving yards, Diggs over 97.5 receiving yards. Josh Allen over 38.5 rushing yards.
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