NFL Tips: Conference Championship Picks

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Last weekend saw us land another winning slate of picks with both the 3/1 double and riskier 13/2 treble both successful. That brought the postseason record to a perfect 5 out of 5 and boost what was already a very profitable season.

This weekend sees just the two games. The AFC and NFC conference championships as the remaining 4 teams do battle for a place in the Super Bowl.

Atlanta Falcons -6 @ 20/21 vs Green Bay Packers (8.05pm)

All the way back in week 8 Matt Ryan’s threw a touchdown pass with less than a minute to go to lead the Falcons to a 33-32 victory over the Packers. A shell-shocked Green Bay team went on to lose their next 3 games and also seemingly any chance of making the postseason. At the time even the most optimistic of gamblers would have found it tough to back them at the plus 100/1 odds they were chalked up for the Superbowl. In fact it seems the only person who hadn’t lost hope at that point was Packers QB Aaron Rodgers who said he felt the team could “run the table” and make the playoffs. 8 games later amazingly that is what they have done and now are just a game away from reaching the Super Bowl. All credit for that run has to go to Rodgers whose performances during that stretch have surpassed anything I have seen from a QB in the past. If he can keep it going for another two games it surely will go down as one of the greatest ever stories in American sports.

 

 

 

 

The problem is first he’ll have to knock off the highest scoring team on football, the Atlanta Falcons, in their own backyard and outgun QB Matt Ryan who having the season of his career and is a worthy favourite for the MVP title. Ryan certainly has the better weapons at his disposal. Julio Jones is the obvious threat but both Sanu and Gabriel are also more than capable of success against a beat up Packers secondary. Meanwhile the 1-2 punch of running back tandem Freeman and Coleman should get success both on the ground and through the air. For the Packers, main receiver Jordy Nelson looks almost certain to miss out here with Broken ribs while Davante Adams and Geromino Allison are also questionable. While neither of these teams have a particularly good defence the Falcons are certainly the healthier in this area also and I think they have more ability to make the big play.

As hard as it is back against Aaron Rodgers right now and as much as it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Packers cover the spread or win this outright the smart pick for me still has to be the Falcons. This offence has outgunned everybody this year especially at home and I don’t see how Green Bay manages to make the stops on defence to win this. Expect lots of points as this swings back and forth for a while but ultimately I like the Falcons should emerge with victory. The handicap point line has crept up from 4 early in the week to a much stiffer 6 by today but I’m still sticking with my guns on this one. The total match points over/under has also been set at an enormous 60.5 points but for those interested in a bet there i wouldn’t let that high total scare you. With the quality of offences on show this one should still go over as it did in the first meeting of these two.

Pittsburgh Steelers +6 @ 10/11 vs New England Patriots (11.40pm)

With all the media attention of Green Bay’s winning run people seem to have forgotten that these two have put up an even more impressive streak between them. The New England Patriots have themselves gained 8 consecutive victories while the Steelers have won 9 in a row! These two histories franchises are tied with a record 8 Super Bowl appearances each so whoever emerges from this one on Sunday night will have the outright record with 9.

Statistically the two team stack up rather evenly over the course of the year but history is very much on the Patriots side. During the Belichick/Brady era they have absolutely dominated these Steelers going 9-2 including playoffs while the road to the Steelers two Super Bowl victories during this era haven’t led through New England. However at the beginning of the playoffs I said that Pittsburgh were the only team that could stop the Patriots from emerging from the AFC and I still believe that to be the case.

Last weekend New England QB Tom Brady had an uncharacteristically poor game against the Houston Texans. It didn’t matter though as the Patriots kicked on in the second half and still managed to cover a massive 16 point handicap. Brady at 39 is playing as well as he ever has in his career and he doesn’t ever seem to put up two bad games in a row. More of a worry in my eyes is the strength of schedule that the Patriots have faced this season. In their 16 games this season only 3 were against what I’d consider high quality opponents, they defeated the Steelers (although with backup Landry Jones under centre instead of Ben Roethlisberger), a rather lacklustre Cardinals team while they lost to the Seattle Seahawks. During their 8 game winning streak the Quarterbacks they have faced have been Brock Osweiler, Matt Moore, Jared Goff, Trevor Siemian, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. None of these guys are even in the same galaxy as Roethlisberger. While the old adage is that you can only beat what’s in front of you(And the Pats have done so impressively going 14-2) I think the lack of competitive opponents will hurt them when they face what will be the best team they have come up against all year.

For the Steelers it’s going to be very important not to fall behind early as Foxboro is not the place where you want to be chasing a lead. Their underrated defence certainly has the potential to do this. In two playoff games they have conceded just 28 points and if they can get in Brady’s face right from the get go they can cause him a lot of problems. Offensively they will have to perform better than last weekend as no touchdowns in 4 red zone attempts just won’t cut it against the Patriots. The 3 headed monster of Big Ben, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown is the best combination of Quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the league and has the scoring potential to stick with New England. Bill Belichick loves to take away an opponent’s best player so he’ll likely stack the box in an attempt to limit Bell but that should leave plenty of one on one coverage for Brown to do the damage. An interesting stat I spotted was that this is the 6th time this year where Pittsburgh has faced an opponent for the 2nd time. In the previous 5 they have gone 5-0 so manage that again and they are on their way to the Super Bowl. That said winning against New England at Foxboro in an AFC championship game is an enormous task so I’m not quite brave enough to back them to win this outright. However given the massive 6 points on offer with the Steelers I’ll gladly to back them on the handicap in a game that I think will come down to one score either way.

These two as a double pay close to 3/1. I’ll personally also be taking a small interest in the line/total points double market. The Steelers +5.5 and under 51.5pts and Falcons -4.5 and over 61.5 pts pays out at a very nice 9/1 but again my preference is with the straight handicap double.

Best of luck,

Cathal