Rams (+3) over SAINTS/Under (57): Off an NFL season in which offense shoved defense out of the way, assumed command of the drivers’ seat and put on quite the show, we’re appropriately left with these two point-producing NFC powerhouses. In the earlier Week 9 meeting between these two in the Superdome, the Saints drew off to a three-touchdown lead, gave it all back, but then proceeded to prevail in the endgame — as home underdogs, with the then-undefeated Rams’ hype machine being fully-deployed, at the time.
Ace Rams corner Aqub Talib was incapacitated for that one, but he’s back in harness for this, which is not great news for Saints receivers — even marvel Michael Thomas, who’s unlikely to catch another dozen passes in this one. Sunday’s market appears a more accurate reflection of prevailing realities. Some early -3 ½ sightings were soon erased, no doubt due to the broad prevailing skepticism regarding the state of Saints QB Drew Brees’ passing arm. Even if brilliant and resourceful, one can only do what one’s prevailing physique will permit, and presuming Brees is going to need to successfully deliver the deep ball to win this, we’re compelled to look the other way in the marketplace.
Super Bowl 2019: NFL odds and predictions for AFC, NFC Championships
On the other side, Rams QB Jared Goff’s pitfall is cold weather — an obvious non-factor here. The Bears’ defense was the best in football, and they were likely going to outhit LA in their meeting at Soldier Field — but the sub-freezing conditions essentially relegated Goff to the victim’s role in that Dec. 9 Sunday-nighter, which handed the Rams their second of three seasonal losses. To overlook that weather style-cramp in any Rams performance review (which many have) is giving short shrift to the visitors’ seasonal body of work.
We don’t expect another 80-point offensive explosion. Goff’s favorite receiver, by far — Cooper Kupp — was sidelined for the season with ACL issues after the Seattle rematch in mid-November. Both of these sides are superior in terms of stopping the run — and having already faced each other this campaign, defensive adjustments are expected, and are likely to be effective.
CHIEFS (-3) over Patriots/Under (55 ½): First, let’s jump to some juicy stuff, then get back to our regular scheduled programming.
A decade ago, another Bill Belichick Patriots edition visited New Orleans for a late-November Monday-nighter and got steamrolled, 38-17. A subsequently produced NFL Network documentary, “A Football Life: Bill Belichick” featured the reigning king of coaches commenting, “We just have no mental toughness. We go on the road, we have no mental toughness” in Tom Brady’s general direction. Drew Brees threw for five TDs and 371 yards, going 18-for-23. Brady didn’t even finish — Belichick threw Brian Hoyer to the wolves with five minutes left.
Why sharps take a deep look at third-down conversion stats
Third-down conversions proved to be an important indicator stat in…
We’ve long been cynical about the bumpy postseason past performance record laid down by Andy Reid (12-13 straight-up, 2-4 coaching the Chiefs — and but one Super Bowl appearance, a narrow Eagles loss to the Patriots concluding the 2004 season), but what gets lost in the shuffle regarding the Patriots is their AFC East sinecure — which yields the Pats a half-dozen games a year against the Dolphins, Jets and Pats. Though not a free pass, it’s consistently the softest division in the AFC within the prevailing time window. New England escaped by a mere field goal when the Chiefs invaded Foxborough on Oct. 14. If there was an easier schedule to face than New England’s this season, we’re not aware of it.
This handicap is a skullbuster, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the combatants and the psychological wrinkles surrounding the coaches involved. Given the site, we’ll lean Chiefs — but if Kansas City hits the locker room at the break with anything resembling a daylight lead, there could be worse gaming strategies than to take the Patriots in the second half, if the market affords a reasonable opening. It’s that kind of matchup. The second half figures to be drama-fraught. What if Andrew Luck hadn’t fumbled the ball right back to the Chiefs late in the third quarter of the divisional last Saturday?
Safety Eric Berry and LB Justin Houston returning to action for the home side is a significant plus.
Divisional round: Sides: 2-2. Over/Unders: 2-2.
Postseason: Sides: 4-3-1. Over/Unders: 5-3.
Follow Richard Witt on Twitter: @rich_witt1