NFL Conference Championship Top Picks

Written by:
C Costigan
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Both conference championship games this weekend are rematches of games played earlier in the regular season. Surprisingly, teams that won the first meeting are 55-39 when facing that same team in the postseason. 

Kansas City and Tampa Bay won the initial meetings. The Chiefs are a 3-point favorite at home at Arrowhead while the Bucs are a 3-point underdog as they travel to Lambeau Field in Green Bay. 

Quarterbacks will make all the difference on Sunday and a potential Chiefs Super Bowl repeat could depend upon whether or not starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes plays. 

Back the Bills 

Buffalo is a 3-point underdog heading to Arrowhead Stadium. The big question mark is Mahomes. He suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Cleveland. Mahomes has practiced this week, but he has not yet cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol. 

Whether he plays or not, there are plenty of reasons to back Buffalo -3. There is the Bills ATS record in the team’s last 10 games - 9-1. There are the six straight wins by an average of 19.9 points to close the regular season. There is also the plight of the Chiefs. 

Kansas City hasn’t covered a spread in nine games. After going 6-2 ATS to start the 2020 season, the Chiefs are 0-8-1 ATS yet they’re 8-1 straight up. A big part of the problem is a suspect red zone defense. 

The Chiefs had the worst opponent red zone touchdown conversion rate in the NFL. Kansas City gave up a touchdown 76.6 percent of the times an opponent reached the Chiefs red zone.  

Buffalo has won eight straight and is playing well and with or without Mahomes, the Bills will keep this one close and maybe even pull the upset. 

Did you miss last week’s picks? Take a look at NFL Divisional Round top picks. 

Bet on Rodgers 

There are some things that you just do...always. One of those is bet on Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. For his career, the Packers signal-caller is 120-84-5 ATS. At home at Lambeau Field, Rodgers is 62-35-4 ATS. When looking at NFL Playoff betting, he’s hard to bet against. 

Rodgers has had an MVP-worthy 2020 with 4,299 yards passing and 48 touchdowns. The Green Bay offense led the league in scoring averaging 31.8 points per game. Yes, Tampa Bay had the NFL’s top-ranked run defense and they can get after the passer, but the Packers destroyed the NFL’s No. 1 overall defense - the Rams - in last week’s divisional round game. 

Green Bay totaled 484 yards of offense and put up 32 points against a Rams defense that allowed just 281.9 yards and 18.5 points per game for the 2020 season. Yes, the Bucs held the Packers to just 10 points in their Week 5 game, but Rodgers and the Green Bay offense are clicking. Since losing to Indianapolis 34-31 in overtime, the Packers have been held under 30 points just once.  

Sure, Bucs QB Tom Brady has 31 playoff wins in his illustrious career. Tampa Bay has won seven road games in a row. This time though, they run into the Green Bay Packers, a team that is peaking at the right time. Take Green Bay to win and cover and 3.5-point spread.

There was some thought that with the emergence of Justin Herbert at quarterback that the Chargers next head coach would be a quarterback whisperer and offensive innovator. Instead, the Chargers have gone another way by naming Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as their next head coach.

Staley is only 38 and was the coordinator with the Rams for just one season, coaching the linebackers in both Chicago and Denver before that. But his one season with the Rams was quite good. 

The Rams in 2020 allowed a league-low 18.5 points per game and just 190 passing yards per game. In a division with Patrick Mahomes, the Chargers being able to shut down the pass is a necessity. 

From Los Angeles to Los Angeles 

It's not often that an NFL coach takes a new job and can stay in his old house, but that's where Staley finds himself. He even gets to stay in the same facility and try to make the Chargers the premiere tenant in SoFi Stadium.

He leaves behind all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But he inherits Pro Bowler Joey Bosa, young middle linebacker Kenneth Murray, a hopefully healthy Derwin James, and the online sportsbook favorites to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, Herbert.

The Chargers finished in third place in the AFC West in 2020 and fourth place in 2019, and they've struggled to get solid fan support since they made the move to Los Angeles from San Diego. But as winners of their final four games this season, a true superstar in the making in Herbert, a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver in Keenan Allen, and the parts for a really dominant defense, this was considered one of the most attractive head coaching openings.

Staley's rise to the top of the coaching job pyramid has been meteoric. Just five years ago, he was the defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll. Now he is an NFL head coach. Still, if you were going to bet on the Super Bowl in next season’s futures, you might want to wait another year or two. 

Rams Lose Another Assistant 

The Sean McVay coaching tree continues to grow with Staley's move to the Chargers. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, at only 41 years old, was an offensive coordinator under McVay in 2017. 

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, only 37 years old, was the quarterbacks coach under McVay in 2018. Staley now makes three former McVay assistants taking a head coaching position in the NFL in the last three seasons. 

Other NFL Coaching Moves 

The Buccaneers defense forced four turnovers against the Saints on Sunday, and Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles vacant head coaching position on Monday. Bowles was the head coach of the Jets for four seasons.

Now that New Orleans has been eliminated from the postseason, the Detroit Lions are set to hire Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell as their new head coach. Campbell has never been a coordinator in the NFL, but he did serve as the interim head coach in Miami in 2015. The Dolphins went 5-7 under Campbell.

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