Championship weekend is upon us, and everything is coming up chalk. Only the top seeds remain, and most got here thanks to convincing wins in the Division Round. There is no better weekend to glue oneself to the couch, and no better day to make life-altering money decisions. For those with financial aspirations for Championship Sunday, here are the bets to make.
As always, the picks are against the spread.
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
Line: Saints -3.5
Two of the NFL’s most well-rounded teams, two squads built on high-flying, yet balanced offenses, two teams that ran the NFC from start to finish. Both wins were impressive in their own ways. The Rams used C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley to eviscerate the Dallas front, as both broke century mark on the ground. New Orleans got out to a slow start, but Drew Brees essentially took what he willed from the Eagles through quarters two and three. Neither final score indicated blowout, but there was little doubt on who the two best teams in the conference were after this past weekend.
The first matchup between these two teams was a shootout to say the least. That week 10 game gave us 80 combined points, 970 yards and over seven yards per play. However, the Saints defense has improved quite a bit since then, while the Rams gave several more indications the rest of the way that they may be the most vulnerable defensive unit remaining.
This is where the problem comes in for Los Angeles. New Orleans has an answer for their greatest strength and is lethal in an area where they are suspect.
Sean McVay hammered the Cowboys’ stout front with Anderson and Gurley all game. He paid no mind to their fifth-best run defense or talented young linebacking corps. He lined up in his typical tight under center formations, 11 personnel, and said try and stop this. Dallas could not, and the Rams put up 273 rushing yards and 30 points as a result.
That said, the Saints are even that much better than the Cowboys at stopping the run. They ranked second, both in total yards allowed and yards per attempt, behind only Chicago. This likely will not stop McVay from attacking New Orleans as he did Dallas, but the Saints are up to the task.
Then there is the matter of the Rams’ passing defense. Thanks to Aaron Donald, they actually rank around the middle of the pack in terms of net yards per attempt allowed. However, their secondary is as susceptible as anyone to allowing chunk yardage. And given how Michael Thomas is playing lately, and the lack of weaknesses along New Orleans’ offensive line, this could be a daunting task for the Rams.
Overall, this matchup seems to favor the Saints in most areas. Brees has been here before and has been almost infallible all season long. Jared Goff, on the other hand, has clearly missed Cooper Kupp. His accuracy and decision-making have both waned a bit since Kupp’s injury. Goff was pressured only five times on Saturday, yet missed throws throughout. Should the Rams need Goff to carry their offense to the next stage, signs point to them falling short.
With Brees, Thomas and the elevating play of their defense, the Saints appear to be in position to cover.
The Bet: Saints
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Chiefs -3
Last week showed us something about each of these teams that will come into play on Sunday. For the Chiefs, we learned that no manner of bad weather can slow down Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and their indomitable passing attack. The Colts were supposedly going to dominate possession because the snow would force both teams to run. And the Colts, with their offensive line, theoretically had the running game to control the clock. Alas, everything was status quo for Andy Reid, and they threw the Colts out of the building by halftime.
For the Patriots, we somehow learned for the 1,000th time that no matter how vulnerable they look, no matter how human Tom Brady appeared during the regular season, no matter the apparent weakness of personnel, the Patriots are always the safe bet. They made the Chargers, a team that on paper had more blue chippers, particularly on defense, look like a college team this past week. There is no such thing as talent disparity with the Patriots. They are the elite of the elite until further notice.
Mahomes and Company will once again have to deal with bad weather in Kansas City on Sunday. Models project temperatures in the single digits come game time. The snow had little effect on Andy Reid’s gameplan, but the frigid cold could be a different animal. Fortunately, the emergence of Damien Williams Saturday theoretically means Kansas City may not be entirely dependent on Mahomes’ heroics to drive the offense.
As for New England, their demon to conquer is their sub-par road record. They finished 3-5 away from Foxboro in 2018 against an undefeated home record. One of those losses was the fluke lateral-heavy loss in Miami, but other than a 38-31 win in Chicago, the Patriots have struggled on the road against above-average opponents. One silver lining is that Brady has been close to the same quarterback no matter where he plays. His passer rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage were just a tick lower on the road, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio was twice as good away from Foxboro.
Some view this game as an opportunity for Brady to pass the torch to Mahomes. The Chiefs have been the best team in the conference all season, Mahomes has been the top MVP candidate virtually wire-to-wire and Brady’s play slipped just enough this year for fans and analysts to write him off completely. But again, we have seen this at least once a season for some time now. The Patriots give that slimmest of hopes that they are not destined for the Super Bowl, before ultimately putting everything together at the right time. This game screams of that happening again, especially having seen their thorough domination of the Chargers in the Division Round.
The Bet: Patriots
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.