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And then there were four... who to pick in the conference championships

And then there were four... who to pick in the conference championships

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Are you ready for some rematches?

The NFL's conference championships unfold as fans would want, featuring four teams with the potential of treating the scoreboard like a pinball machine: bing, score change, bing, score change.

The Patriots and Chiefs, who meet for the AFC title in Kansas City, combined for 83 points in their first encounter, won 43-40 by the Patriots. The Rams visit the Saints for the NFC title after losing to them 45-35 during the season. Both games were terrific, and exciting.

What about now?

Our friends at Sugar House Casino (you can place wagers with them at opened their totals for both games at 57.5. That's high if you consider the history of Over-Unders, low if you account for the first meeting between the teams.

The Over-Unders have been a tricky proposition for the books all year. New rules protecting quarterbacks and wide receivers combined with fleet-footed quarterbacks have substantially opened the game. Over-Under props, often nestled in the low 40s area, have shot several points higher and can fluctuate rapidly. The total for Kansas City-New England had dropped to 54.5 in some places by midweek. And by game time? Who knows.

What's different this time? There is no next game for the loser and possible weather in Kansas City. None of the teams have a real good defense, yet the defenses stepped up for them in the divisional playoff round.

What's also different is that all three of the four winners displayed strong running games. The Saints were the exception, having to chunk-and-dunk the ball downfield against the Eagles after Drew Brees' first attempt - a bomb - was intercepted.

By midweek, the Saints were a 3.5-point favorite, while Kansas City was giving New England 2.5, but the lines were moving and hopefully you get your bet into the sweet spot.

“The total in the Chiefs/Pats game is one to watch as there is bad/cold weather predicted for the weekend,” says Mattias Stetz, the CEO at Rush Street Interactive, which operates Sugar House Online casino. “The line has been moving around all week, going as low as 55 at some point and is 56.5. If you think the weather will be extremely cold and that has an impact on offensive strategy or efficiency, then there might be some value in the current line...

The spread is implying these teams are all very evenly matched – with home-field advantage being the differentiator in both games. One would expect the Super Bowl line to be roughly “pick” no matter what teams are playing.”

This upcoming game is exactly where critics of the Patriots thought their season would end. New England had just lost to Pittsburgh, was a pedestrian 9-5 and had three home games following. They won last week at home, where they haven't lost all year, and now go on the road, where they were 3-5.

Note: While favorites and dogs have taken turns beating the spread in the conference finals, the home team has won every game outright since 2013.

This Week's Lines

The lines, always in flux, from Draft Kings, Sugar House and varied sources.

This is a classic case for point shopping. I found 2.5 for Kansas City and took it. But as of Wednesday, these were the lines.

New Orleans -3 Los Angeles Rams (57.5)

Kansas City -3 New England (54.5)

This week's picks, excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I co-host with Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City. Brian Cahill, formally promoted from guest degenerate to full degenerate status by virtue of hosting the show, is a frequent contributor.

Our show airs on Newstalk 1400-AM WOND, 92.5-FM, and the Tune In app. Check out next week's show 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan 23.

Bontempo: Kansas City

Cronick Pick: New Orleans, also loves the Under in the N.E. game

Brian Cahill Pick: New England

Da Kipster, Pickett Russell: Kansas City

Dave Weinberg, Eagles beat writer for The Press of Atlantic City: New England

Listener pick: Take both dogs. Listeners are 15-3 this year and may open their own handicapping service.

Last week's results: Cronick and myself were nipped by Dallas getting seven but losing by eight to the Rams.

Weinberg: Correctly forecast the Birds covering 8 to the Saints in a 20-14 setback. (Good thing that last field goal by New Orleans was missed).

Cronick hit a four-team parlay on his own, teasing the Cowboys up to 14 points, the Eagles to 16, the Colts-Chiefs under to 63.5 and the Patriots-Chargers down to 40.5 and grabbing the over. He bet $20 and won $72 ... SaWEET..

The Games of Inches

As Al Pacino said in the movie “Any Given Sunday,” “the inches we need are all around us. We fight for that inch.”

Winners of that fight last week included the Los Angeles Rams and the Under bettors for the Eagles-New Orleans games.

How the world turned in those games. Dallas was losing to Los Angeles 13-7 in the second quarter and had finally forced a stop. But on that 3rd-and-14 play, the Cowboys were flagged for illegal hands to the face. The infraction had nothing to do with the play, but it gave the Rams a gift first down. That's like giving Mike Tyson a free shot at your chin. Two plays later, the Rams were in the endzone. It was 20-7, and the Cowboys were on the outside looking in for most of the rest of the game.

They had one chance to slip back in it. Down 23-15, they had a 4th-and-1 at the Rams’ 35. The betting degenerates wanted the Cowboys to kick a field goal and get back under that 7-point line. But the Boys were stopped, the teams traded touchdowns and 30-22 meant a narrow Rams cover.

Another big turning point occurred in the Eagles-Saints game, affecting the over-under. It was 49. When the Eagles jumped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and coaxed a fumble deep in Saints’ territory, that bet dribbled in the balance. The Eagles nearly recovered, but the Saints got it. An Eagles’ recovery would have produced at least 3, if not 7, points. Down three scores, at 17-0 or 21-0, the Saints would have been forced to become more free-wheeling and not embark on deliberate drives like the one that took up nearly the entire third quarter.

Do you have any fingernails left? Sugar House had a popular prop bet last week for Drew Brees to amass 300 yards and Michael Thomas to gain more than 100 yards receiving. Seemed like a no-brainer, but it paid +250, a nice payout for what seemed a near certainty. Well ... Brees finally hit the total on his last pass, accounting for 301 yards. And it came on a 3rd-and-14. You talk about sweating one out!!

Player props are always interesting and require some instinct. Defensive coordinators can take a receiver out of the mix by double-teaming him and negate a running back by putting eight defenders on the line, daring quarterbacks to beat them through the air.

This has been an exciting week of speculation for the games. I hope you hit big.

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