NFL Conference Championship Weekend
Conference Championship weekend. This is a really interesting time of year for the NFL. All but four fan bases have checked out of the season, maybe their coach got fired, maybe they have draft picks to look forward to, but other than that this weekend means a lot to a select few.
Odds are you all know the major storylines. Brady vs. Manning Part 15. The young guns Wilson and Kaepernick as the stars of Seattle vs. San Francisco Part 3. So let’s break down each game from a different angle. Prop bets!
Denver Broncos (-5.5) vs. New England Patriots
As a Patriots fan, I can’t remember the last time the team was a 5 ½ point underdog. Call me a homer, but I’m not as impressed with Denver as the rest of the country. They’re a record-setting offense, but they had the fortune of playing some of the worst defenses in the league from the NFC East and AFC South. Not to mention their own division, with only the Chiefs being halfway decent. I think New England can win this one outright, so thank you for the 5 ½. Nearly every Brady/Manning game is decided by less than 7 points.
The over/under is 55 ½ points. I think it’s instinct to say these teams are going to play a high scoring shootout, and yes, neither defense was great in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Less flags and defenses can get away with more, which makes it harder for the offense. You have to go back to the Saints/Vikings game in January 2010 to find a conference championship that went over 55, and that went into overtime. Yes, the last few teams to make a conference championship had better defenses, but the fact remains, the last 6 conference game totals: 41, 52, 37, 43, 43, 35. The public inflates the line higher because the public loves the over, yet offenses don’t score in the playoffs like they do in the regular season. The value here is on the under. Yes, the last game was a 34-31 OT game, but that also featured three early Pats turnovers that led to 21 Denver points.
As far as interesting props, I love taking OVER 6.5 receptions for Julian Edelman. The Patriots receiver corps hasn’t been healthy all year. Edelman is the only Wide Receiver on the Pats to play all 16 games. He averaged 6.5 receptions all year, and that’s with six games with 5 or less while Rob Gronkowski was healthy and they played defenses that were much more physical over the middle than Denver is. Over the final 6 games of the regular season, Edelman had 53 catches.
I also like UNDER 3 TD passes for Peyton Manning. The last time these teams played, the Patriots dropped 7 and 8 guys into coverage and let Knowshon Moreno run wild. To win this bet outright Manning would need 4 touchdowns, which happened in 9 of 16 games. However, that was the 2013 regular season. In 21 career playoff games, Peyton Manning has had 4 or more TDs in only TWO games, ironically both against Denver, in 2003 and 2004.
Seattle Seahawks (-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers
By far the best rivalry in the NFL currently, this is a game you want extra medical personnel on hand for. Two phenomenal, hard hitting, young teams with something to prove. The lazy analysis here is that Seattle is at home, and should win and cover because that’s just what they’ve done this year going undefeated at home. If you’ve been watching the playoffs San Francisco seems like the hottest team in the league, winning in Green Bay in the freezing cold, and then facing a bruising Carolina defense. Seattle, however, struggled to hold off the Saints even after they held the Saints scoreless in the first half. They seem to have peaked in Week 13, whereas the Niners may be peaking now, always a recipe for postseason success.
I think this has a strong chance of pushing with a 3 point Seattle win. If pushed, I’m taking Seattle because they haven’t let down yet. But as with any great rivalry, throw the numbers out when these two get together. We’ve seen extreme highs and lows from Wilson and Kaepernick, and in 2014, the team goes as far as the quarterback. You could talk me into either QB having a 3 INT type of day.
I’ve been staring at the 39.5 over/under for a while now. It’s an absurdly low number for your average NFL game. The two teams in the AFC title game put up 39 on their own regularly. The number seems like it’s designed to invite action on the over. The totals of the last 6 games (since Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh were coaching these teams) have gone 50, 36, 19, 55, 32, 36. In the 55-point game, there was a blocked field goal returned for a TD, two red-zone turnovers that resulted in 10 points and two meaningless scoring drives in the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. In the 50 point game, it was 19-17 until Ted Ginn took a kickoff and a punt back for touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of the game. Both of those scenarios are very unlikely to repeat themselves.
Since 2011 these games are historically close in San Francisco and blowouts in Seattle. This will be the first time these two physical defenses will meet in the playoffs, where the rules are different. Both defenses will be allowed to rough up receivers much more. I don’t think this has blowout potential. And it certainly won’t be a shootout. 19-17 sounds right. Oddly enough I’m going UNDER. Follow me fearlessly.
The props in this game are a little more difficult to figure out, but there are two that I think are worthwhile. OVER 67.5 rushing yards for Frank Gore. Gore finished under 67.5 only six times in the regular season, and the Niners limit his carries during the regular season. In five of those six games, he received 15 carries or less. San Francisco will have to move the ball somehow. There’s no reason to have him on a pitch count in the biggest game of the year so far. He’ll get more than 15 carries and he’ll eclipse 67 yards.
Staying in San Francisco, Anquan Boldin should go OVER 62.5 receiving yards as well. He’s eclipsed this mark in 6 of the last 8 and the other two were three-catch games. Michael Crabtree helps balance the offense out, and yes, Seattle is a fantastic defense, but they can’t cover everyone all the time. Anquan Boldin comes out in the playoffs. I expect Crabtree and Davis to be relatively quiet, but a TD for Vernon Davis at +130 isn’t the worst value in the world.
There are very few Seattle props out there and for good reason. Their offense has been very inconsistent. If pushed, UNDER 200.5 passing yards for Russell Wilson sounds right, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it. Marshawn Lynch should have an above average game as he usually does against the Niners, and 89.5 yards sounds about right.
Good luck this weekend and we’ll see you back here for the greatest gambling day of the year, Super Bowl! Parlay an Orange Gatorade bath with everything!