Sports gambling column: Week 18

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If you took anything away from the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs round, it should be that 1) It was dumb of me to trust the Cowboys and 2) It was even dumber of me to not trust the Patriots in the playoffs. All of the home teams advanced last weekend, three of them with flying colors while the fourth got off to a slow start but dominated for the last three quarters. Even though most of the games were blowouts, the so-called “best weekend of the year” for football fans did not disappoint. In the opening game, the Chiefs dominated the Colts, in a game that was really never close. Later that same night, Rams running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson ran all over the Cowboys, in a game that the Cowboys never really had a chance in despite the close final score. On Sunday, the Patriots’ coaching staff put on a clinic against the Chargers, and the Saints completed a comeback over the Eagles with yours truly in the building. If the Divisional Round was the best weekend of the year, then the Conference Championship Round is the best day of the year, given that both games are on Sunday. Let’s break down each and get my predictions and bets, starting with the NFC Championship (the afternoon game).

1: Rams-Saints

The Rams easily handled the Cowboys without having to turn to their passing game, and the Saints were able to edge out the Eagles without much of a contribution from their two-headed monster at running back in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Both teams showed the ability to play left-handed, meaning that the Rams and Saints were able to win despite relying on a different part of their team than they usually do. It makes for a very intriguing matchup, although there will probably be fewer points scored from each team than the 45-35 Saints win back in Week 9. I like Saints receiver Michael Thomas to have a big game, as he will be matched up with a suspect secondary for the second week in a row. I also think the insanely loud crowd noise at the Superdome (I was there last week, and it really is remarkable) will affect Rams quarterback Jared Goff and cause him to make mistakes during this game. However, the Rams ability to run the ball scares me, especially since Saints All-Pro defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins tore his achilles tendon during the Eagles game. If Anderson and Gurley are able to pound the ball, it could allow the Rams to dominate the time of possession in this game, which is exactly what the Saints want to do as they were able to have the ball for 37 of the 60 minutes during the Eagles game last week. I am also scared of Rams defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, who might be able to take advantage of a Saints offensive line that hasn’t played well recently. Both teams have creative play-callers in head coaches Sean McVay and Sean Payton, and it is my hope that the Saints’ Payton is able to have the last laugh. I see this game being decided in the final two minutes or so, with the Saints barely winning. For that reason, I’m staying away from this one.

2: Patriots-Chiefs

Like the performances put on by the Rams and Saints, both of these teams reminded us why they represent the top two seeds in the AFC. The Chiefs defense stepped up huge against the Colts, and the Patriots rode an impeccable gameplan to victory over the Chargers. This will be a night game at freezing Arrowhead Stadium, but both teams are no strangers to the cold. I’ve talked before in this column about a potential playoff matchup between the Patriots and Chiefs, and my mind hasn’t really changed. I trust the playoff experience that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have going into their eighth-straight AFC title game together, and I still don’t have any faith in the clock management abilities of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, no matter how sensational Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes can be. The Patriots were able to completely neutralize the Chargers’ tough defense with runs and short passes, and I see a similar game plan for this week. Their defense, however, isn’t good enough to slow down Mahomes and the rest of the vaunted Chiefs offense, so this will be a high-scoring game despite the weather. I do think Belichick will have something up his sleeve on the defensive side of the ball, and he should be able to take away the run game, receiver Tyreek Hill or tight end Travis Kelce in this game. Many saw this season as the finish line on the Patriots dynasty, but last week proved that Belichick and Brady still have something left in the tank. I don’t see the dynasty ending in Kansas City this week, and I’m putting $10 on the Patriots money line (+120) in this one.

See you next week, where I might have to bet on some NBA stuff because I refuse to acknowledge the Pro Bowl.

 

Money spent to date: $160

Winnings to date: $89.59

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