NFL
January 21, 2021
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Best Bets: NFL Conference Championships

We’re down to the NFL’s version of the Final Four, the conference championship games.

There is a noticeable difference between the AFC and the NFC participants when you look at the quarterback position. On the AFC side, both Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are up-and-coming stars. While the NFC Championship Game will feature Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, two of the oldest quarterbacks in the league. That should make for an intriguing Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, we should have two close and compelling championship games, as the home team is favored by a field goal in both matchups. With the Super Bowl on the line, here are our betting picks for both conference championship games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3.5 at Green Bay Packers

We went against Tom Brady and the Bucs as underdogs last week and we don’t want to make the same mistake this week. While four New Orleans turnovers undoubtedly helped, the Buccaneers put up 30 points against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

And to be honest, it’s not just Brady and his band of receivers that has us leaning toward Tampa. The emergence of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones as a backfield duo last week has us believing that the Bucs have a chance to walk away from Lambeau Field with a win.

Over the last few weeks, Fournette looks a lot more like the running back who nearly carried Jacksonville to the Super Bowl a few years ago. Meanwhile, Jones looked healthy and productive last week after being absent during the Wild Card Round. The Green Bay run defense worries us enough to think that the Bucs can establish their rushing attack early in the game. Keep in mind that Cam Akers had 90 yards on 18 carries against the Packers last week before the Rams fell too far behind to keep running the ball. If Fournette and Jones can get going early, it’ll make Brady’s receivers all the more dangerous.

We can’t forget about Rodgers and the explosive Green Bay offense. The Packers posted 32 points and 484 total yards against the NFL’s best defense last week. However, Tampa Bay’s defense had Green Bay’s number when these teams met in Week 6. The Buccaneers are also much better defensively with the return of linebacker Devin White. The Tampa defense might be able to do just enough to throw Rodgers off his game, enabling Brady and the offense to win the game.

Buccaneers vs Packers, Over 51.5

If the point spreads are a little too close to call, consider taking the over on 51 points in the NFC Championship Game.

As mentioned, the Packers scored 32 points against the best defense in the NFL last week while the Bucs scored 30 points against another top-flight defense. Meanwhile, both teams feature a legendary quarterback, neither of which will have to deal with a particularly imposing defense this week. That could set the stage for a potential shootout between Brady and Rodgers.

In fairness, both defenses have proven themselves capable of playing at a high level under the right circumstances. But if the Bucs can establish a rushing attack, the Packers' Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith won’t be able to pin their ears back and focus on getting after the quarterback. By the way, Tampa’s quarterback is one of the best in league history at getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The same can be said of Green Bay’s quarterback, who’s just mobile enough to improvise when he needs to. 

In theory, a 27-24 game would get us to 51 points. But we can envision both of these teams scoring 30-plus points. Even if there’s a little snow at Lambeau Field, there won’t be much accumulation and it won’t be enough to stop two quarterbacks who are experienced when it comes to playing cold-weather games in January.

Look for both offenses to be at their best, leading to a lot more than 51 points.

Buffalo Bills +3 at Kansas City Chiefs

We’ll just go ahead and assume that Mahomes is going to play in this game despite being in the league’s concussion protocol. If he ends up being ruled out of the game, it’ll seriously alter the betting line and all of the betting strategies. That being said, we’re still fans of the Bills in this game. Keep in mind that before he was knocked out of last week’s game, Mahomes was dealing with a toe injury that seemed to hinder his accuracy on a few throws and could limit his mobility in this game. That might be more of a concern than concussion issues that seem to be trending in the right direction.

We also have to consider how impressive the Buffalo defense was last week against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. The game would have been a little different if Justin Tucker hadn’t missed two field goals and Jackson had been able to finish the game, sure, but the Bills sacked Jackson three times and did a decent job of keeping him contained in the pocket. It was good preparation for facing Mahomes, especially if his mobility is compromised by his toe injury. Granted, the Chiefs have better playmakers than Baltimore. But the Bills have an outstanding secondary that should be up for the challenge.

Meanwhile, the Bills should have a much better offensive performance than they did a week ago against a stout Baltimore defense. The Buffalo offensive line should be able to neutralize Kansas City’s pass rush, enabling Allen to take shots down the field with Stefon Diggs and John Brown potentially creating problems for the Kansas City secondary.

Ultimately, the Bills have a legitimate chance to win this game while the Chiefs haven’t beaten a team by more than six points since November 1. That’s enough to push us toward the underdog.

Photo: Getty Images