The Chiefs opened as 2.5-point favorites at BetMGM, and that moved to -1.5 by Wednesday. Think about that: The team that has Patrick Mahomes, has played in the past two Super Bowls and has won 10 of 11 is seeing the betting line move against them.
Just because it’s a big game — and this could well be the biggest game of the entire season before the Super Bowl — doesn’t mean there’s an obvious bet. Smart bettors will be on both sides, and both sides will have good arguments.
Here’s the case for the Bills: Buffalo was better than its 11-6 record. They were third in the NFL in points scored, first in points allowed and their plus-194 point differential was the best in the league. The Chiefs’ was plus-116. The Bills lost a lot of close games, which could be a sign they were unlucky. Buffalo was No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA during the regular season (Dallas was first … sorry Cowboys fans). The Bills were an advanced stats darling, and the explosion against the Patriots was a validation of it. Buffalo looked amazing last week. The last time the Bills looked that good was probably a 38-20 win over the Chiefs in October.
The Chiefs are also a fine side. They have improved tremendously on defense. Since the Chiefs’ rough start to the season, Mahomes has been Mahomes, throwing 24 touchdowns to five interceptions over 11 games including last week’s five-touchdown game against the Steelers. It’s still Andy Reid and Mahomes (and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill and plenty of others) at Arrowhead Stadium in a big game. If you’re taking the Bills, you have to stop and consider you’re only getting 1.5 points against a team that is 57-15 in Mahomes’ starts, counting playoffs.
I’m not sure there’s a correct angle on this game. Most likely it’ll be a very close game in the fourth quarter and the winner will be the one to catch a lucky break. The teams are too evenly matched to feel like there’s one correct side. I’ll take the Chiefs and their track record and figure they’ll pull it out at home. Either way, it should be a great game. Just a tough one to bet.
Here are the rest of the divisional round picks, with spreads from BetMGM:
Titans (-3.5) over Bengals
My first inclination was to take the Bengals. They finished the season strong and got a huge win for the franchise last week, breaking a decades-long playoff drought. Also, I’ve been against Tennessee for much of the year.
But the Titans weren’t healthy when they were getting a bit lucky to keep winning. What we’ll see on Saturday is a mostly intact Tennessee team. While we can’t be sure what Derrick Henry will do in his first game since Oct. 31, normal rules also don’t apply to Henry. It might be imprudent to assume Henry can handle 25 or 30 carries off his foot injury, but are you willing to bet against it? Henry changes the entire offense. He’s the most valuable running back in the NFL. And Ryan Tannehill has been much, much better with Henry, Julio Jones and A.J. Brown on the field. It’s a much better offense than the one we saw for some weeks after Henry’s injury.
The Bengals are a fun team and it’s possible Joe Burrow continues his hot streak and takes Cincinnati to the next round. But after thinking about it a while, there’s no good reason to bet against a rested, mostly healthy Titans team.
49ers (+6) over Packers
When the NFL decided to make partnerships with sportsbooks, it should have given them more responsibility to compel teams to be transparent when it came to injuries and lineups. The betting lines for all NFL games are posted through the week and millions of dollars are bet on games.
In this game, we can’t be totally sure who is playing for the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a new shoulder injury. Nick Bosa is in concussion protocol and Fred Warner has an ankle injury. These are key injuries.
Mostly, Garoppolo’s injury seems to be the one with the most mystery. Garoppolo was at practice Tuesday but didn’t throw any passes in the media availability. Then on Wednesday there was a report Garoppolo was expected to play but at less than 100%. The 49ers played this game earlier this season, suggesting Garoppolo could play through a thumb injury but ultimately starting Trey Lance instead. Is the same thing happening? We might not know for a few days. The NFL loves its secrecy when it comes to injuries, but less transparency opens the door for more conspiracy theories when it comes to betting, which the league has now embraced. Maybe the 49ers really don’t know if Garoppolo can play yet or how healthy he’ll be. We’ll find out.
I’ll guess the 49ers will be reasonably healthy, including Garoppolo. If they are, six points is too much for a team that has won eight of 10 and checks a lot of boxes for a dangerous playoff team. The Packers should move on to the NFC championship game but it won’t be easy. If the 49ers are healthy, that is.
Rams (+3) over Buccaneers
A lot of money has been lost fading Tom Brady through the years. Yet, it still seems hard to believe the Buccaneers can just roll to another title despite their significant personnel losses.
Chris Godwin suffered a knee injury, Antonio Brown quit, Leonard Fournette still hasn’t made it back and now the Bucs have to worry about injuries to center Ryan Jensen and tackle Tristan Wirfs. Those two linemen are among the best at their positions. Jensen and Wirfs both have ankle injuries. It’s not ideal to have a banged-up offensive line before playing Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
The Buccaneers have looked good their last two games without some key offensive players, but it’s hard to keep rolling despite injuries like the ones Tampa Bay is dealing with.
The Rams looked sharp on Monday night. Maybe that had more to do with the failures of the Cardinals, but the Rams had something to do with it too. Cam Akers’ successful return gives the Rams another weapon on offense. The defense looked great last week, and perhaps the Rams will use Jalen Ramsey as a true shadow against Mike Evans. If Ramsey can limit Evans, the Bucs start to look pretty thin on offense.
The Buccaneers are hard to bet against. Brady is the greatest quarterback ever for a reason. But the Rams look like they’re in a good spot for an upset.
Last week: 5-1
Season to date: 158-119-1