Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Here we go, come Sunday two teams will have punched their tickets to Super Bowl 53. We have two matchups with all chalk as the top two seeds in each conference will square off for the rights to represent their league in Atlanta. Given the scoring rate in the NFL this season and the fact that the Final Four consist of the top 4 scoring offenses in the NFL, it should not be a surprise to see that these two over/under lines combine to be higher than any previous year has seen. As always, we are here to prepare you for all of your weekend action.
Plan Z Bet of the Week
(2) Los Angeles Rams
Record ATS: 8-8-1
(1) New Orleans Saints
Record ATS: 10-7
Spread: NO -3.5
All of the football pundits out there have been touting this matchup for several weeks and we finally get it. These two teams squared off in Week 9 in New Orleans and fans were treated to almost 1,000 yards of combined offense resulting in a 45-35 Saints victory. The venue is the same, the stakes significantly higher, but temper expectations for that level of offense to be on display again.
At home, New Orleans has averaged over 400 yards per game (416.5 if you throw out Week 17 with everyone resting) compared to 358 on the road, so the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been very kind per usual. Yet this high-powered offense came out of the gate very slowly against Philadelphia last week as the Saints had to dig themselves out of a 14-0 first quarter deficit. Drew Brees and Co. were up to the task, rattling off a 20-0 run over the final three quarters to move on in the playoffs and send Eagles fans (like this woman) into a psychotic rage. Obviously New Orleans does not have that kind of leeway with the Rams potent offensive attack that just owned the Cowboys #7 rushing defense and has scored 29+ points in 14 of 17 games this season. Just as it was one of our keys to the Saints' victory last week, a balanced offensive attack will be needed again (283 passing yards, 137 rushing yards vs. Eagles) because 20-points will not get it done on Sunday. Sustaining long drives by mixing up the play calling is definitely at the top of Coach Sean Payton's priorities for Sunday.
The Rams did not have the same turmoil in the Divisional Round and dealt with Dallas in workmanlike fashion by pounding the usually stout Cowboys' run defense 48 times for 273 rushing yards, with Todd Gurley and the previously left for dead CJ Anderson both surpassing 100 yards on the ground. This team matches the Saints high-flying offensive prowess tit for tat, with no shortage of weapons at Jared Goff's disposal. The defense has been weak against better offenses, but coming off of holding the league's leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott to just 2.3 YPC the Rams unit has confidence in their ability to make the Saints one-dimensional. While trusty Drew can still sling it with the best of em, the trouble comes when teams have made him uncomfortable in the pocket (see DAL week 13), and the Rams strong front 7 will get to pin their ears back and attack if they can make the Saints a pass-first club.
A-Team Projection: LAR 50.7% straight-up; LAR 62.5% ATS; Under 68.0%
To learn more about who the A-Team is, check out our profile here.
So Wild Card weekend was a bit rough on our picks, but we sure did have a nice rebound last week going 3-1 against the spread and 3-1 on over/unders. The A-Team is back baby!!! Now oozing with as much confidence as one can expect from an artificially intelligent being, let's get to it- Rams, book it! Under, book it!! Next game... okay, okay, I guess we can explain a bit. We have this game pretty even straight-up, with only a very slight edge to the Rams winning outright and therefore covering the spread with 62.5% confidence. After 5,000 simulations, expect the Rams to put up just north of 400 yards of offense while New Orleans will ride their running game for 130+ rushing yards and another 250+ through the air. If either team commits 2 turnovers that could be the death sentence, but otherwise we are taking the road dog in a 27-26 Rams victory.
The Architect's Pick - Saints 28, Rams 27
Both teams know that controlling the game means long, sustained drives culminating in points. I expect each offense to be highly efficient in terms of yardage, first downs, and a commitment to establishing the running game. All of these things will ultimately keep this total score in a reasonable level despite the fact that both offenses should actually click throughout the game, but chew up clock in doing so. The A-Team Power Rankings (including the playoffs) have the Rams as about a point or so better than New Orleans on a neutral site, and I considered sprinkling the money line on the Rams here but truly the 3.5 points could be crucial.
Action Rob's Pick - Saints 27, Rams 24
This is not going to be a Rocky 4 type start where both teams come out swinging for the fences. Think more along the lines of basically any Floyd Mayweather ever, as I see this one starting slowly. Both teams will pick up tempo as the game progresses and the scoring will follow suit, but I do like the under to hit in this one. In many respects, this spread bet is a coin flip in my eyes as I have both teams at right about even, so the home-field advantage plays. In critical moments, give me the Hall of Fame QB to make magic happen in his last drive or two and squeak out the W, but I do like the Rams to cover getting the hook in what figures to be a FG difference.
(2) New England Patriots
Record ATS: 10-7
(1) Kansas City Chiefs
Record ATS: 10-6-1
Spread: KC -3.0
Here we go again everyone. Similar to the NFC matchup we have ourselves a highly touted game between the top two games in the conference and a rematch of a classic high-scoring affair from earlier in the season. Week 6 seems like ages ago, but still may have provided the best Sunday Night Football game of the year when the Patriots outlasted the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxboro in thrilling fashion. The only other time that Bill Belichik has been an underdog in the last 10 years in the playoffs was in a 2013 loss to Peyton Manning's Super Bowl runner-up Denver Broncos, so this road test is not exactly familiar territory for the Pats. The oval-ish man standing across the field leading the Chiefs is much more familiar, as Belichick holds a 6-2 edge over Andy Reid in battles between the top two active coaches in wins. Can Reid get this Hall of Fame-sized monkey off of his back and get a step closer to his first Super Bowl Championship?
The Chiefs have been a fun team to watch all season leading the NFL with 35.3 points scored per game (3rd most all-time) and 426 yards per game (8th all-time). They have not scored less than 26 points in any game and went for 40+ five times. While Patrick Mahomes and the aerial attack will always be the headliner for Kansas City, this unit showcased the rushing attack last week in a 31-13 route of the Indianapolis Colts, posting their second highest total this year with 180 ground yards at a 5.5 YPC clip with 4 TDs. They can do it all. But it was the defense that was perhaps most impressive, stifling a red hot Colts team to only 14 first downs and a big fat donut on 3rd down conversions. This very defense was 24th in the NFL in scoring defense allowing over 26 PPG in the regular season giving up less than 21 points only four times, so it had to be promising for Andy Reid to see both offense and defense clicking on the playoff stage. But when it comes to the biggest stages, there is one team that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
New England's 41-28 dismantling of the Chargers last week was dominant from the get go as the Pats scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and led 35-7 by halftime. LA had no answers for the GOAT and his offensive attack. Rookie RB Sony Michel made his playoff presence known with a 129 yard, 3 TD debut. Tom Brady will obviously be a huge factor, but like many Patriots teams in the past this version is quietly very reliant on a strong running attack to open things up for Brady. New England is 11-0 this season when they rush for 97+ yards, and 1-5 when they fail to hit this mark, so do not expect this team to get one dimensional against a KC defense that ranked 31st in yards per carry giving up a gaudy 5.0 yards per tote. Belichik is a master planner and can be full of surprises, but maintaining his top rushing attack is a strategy so easy a caveman could do it. Interestingly, New England's rush defense has been almost as bad, giving up 4.9 YPC in the regular season, so in a game featuring what most consider the best QB of all time in Brady against hands down the best young QB today and likely 2018 MVP in Mahomes, it is very probable that the winner of this game is the team that is most effective on the ground.
A-Team Projection: KC 57.9% straight-up; NE 51.3% ATS; Under 59.6%
To learn more about who the A-Team is, check out our profile here.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and that is what it will be on Sunday. Hey-ohhhhh, did not need any computer simulations to bust out that gem. Okay, lame puns aside, we have this one resting on the right shoulder of Patrick Mahomes and this big play offense. As mentioned above, both teams should find plenty of open space on the ground and surpass the century mark in team rushing with the Pats pounding the rock a bit more from an attempts and yardage perspective, but the Chiefs will hold the edge in YPC and chunk plays in the passing game should send Mahomes well north of 300 yards passing to help eke out the victory. The passing of the torch begins on Sunday at Arrowhead, Chiefs win 29-26 to give the betting public the unsatisfying push while hitting the under.
The Architect's Pick - Patriots 35, Chiefs 31
Admittedly, I want to see the Chiefs win this one, as I generally root against a non-Chicago dynasty. But as much as I try to envision a game script ending with Mahomes hoisting the Lamar Hunt Trophy, the more likely scenario that keeps popping up is of the Brady-led offense driving down the field for yet another game winning drive to make it back to the Super Bowl (again). I am not playing the money line here as I see this game as a coin flip potentially coming down to whoever has the ball last, but either way I like Belichik's group getting the points in a game that should easily clear the over/under despite any worries about weather.
Action Rob's Pick - Chiefs 30, Patriots 28
If last weekend taught me anything, it’s that the hood in Foxboro can still game plan better than anyone. The Patriots were downright dominant following pre-game consensus that this wasn’t the same Patriots of old. I’m not sure how much stock I can put in the frigid game temperature narrative currently being spun as the basis for a shootout not taking place. Regardless of temperature, I don’t think we’re going to see either team slow down too much and for my money, I love the total and lean to the over. I also like the Chiefs to win, but I’m leaning to Patriots +3 covering in a very close game.