Bleed the Bookie: Conference Championship Week!
Mike McKittrick (@McKittrickM)
There are three games left in the NFL season. If the first eight are any indication of how the last ones will go, we're in for a wild ride! I'll be honest; this has been one of my favorite playoffs to watch in a long time. Underdogs, incredible individual efforts, controversy, this postseason has had it all. With that said, let's jump right in, and it's time to Bleed the Bookie.
Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs
If I've said this once, I've said this a thousand times, but I've LOVED Tennessee since their comeback win in week ten against Kansas City. You could tell that was a turning point of the year for them. Everybody talks about how great Derrick Henry has been in the last five weeks, but Tannehill has held his own. He may not be a top tier quarterback, but he gets the job done with efficiency, maintaining a 25:6 TD to INT ratio since becoming the starter. But can Tannehill continue that against a hungry Kansas City team that knows all too well the agony of losing in the AFC Championship? Or will he succumb to the pressure of a hostile environment?
On the other sideline, Kansas City will be looking for revenge against Tennessee, as they feel they probably should not have lost their last meeting. Out of all the teams left in the playoffs, I think the Chiefs have the best roster talent-wise. However, their defense has not looked great at times against better opponents, and Tennessee has been putting up points against everybody. Their secondary has a tough test against a very young and hungry Titans receiving core. Yet, they will need to stop the run to force the ball into Tannehill's hands. Ultimately, if the Chiefs force Tannehill to throw the ball more, most likely means KC has a good grasp on this game.
Matchup to Watch: Titans Red Zone Offense vs. Chiefs Red Zone Defense
I could've easily picked Derrick Henry vs. the KC front 7, but that's predictable. Sometimes we forget the importance of finishing off drives, and nobody has done that better than the Titans. Their red zone efficiency, in terms of scoring touchdowns, is the best in the league since 2003, clicking at a staggering 78%. Tennessee has had 44 scoring drives in total since week nine. This resulted in 43 touchdowns and one field goal, which was a 31-yard field goal. That's just downright mind-boggling! On the flip side, Kansas City has a top 10 team in the league in regards to red zone defense and points per game, holding teams to 50% red zone success rate, and just under 20 points per game. They have a combination in the front seven full of youth that utilizes their speed and strength, along with veterans that know how to get to the ball. Easily the most intriguing matchup in my eyes.
Betting the Board
Just to look at the numbers, KC is -7.5 going off at even money, with Tennessee going at -120 against the spread and +280 on the money line. As much as it kills me to do this, I can't bring myself to bet the money line on them for a third straight week. I don't know that they win this game. But I do like them to cover the spread. I think it's going to be a closely contested game throughout, and I'll go on the side of caution and take them +7.5 at -120. On the player prop side, Ryan Tannehill, passing yards o/u is at 230.5 yards. I'm not thinking twice, I'm taking the under here. Cold weather in a grind it out game means Tennessee will run the ball a lot (shocker) but take the under at -112.
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers
The second game on the Sunday slate is another November rematch, Green Bay @ San Francisco. The last time these two met, the Packers got embarrassed, 37-8, and Green Bay looked lost coming off the bye week. However, that was a team that was bitten by the injury bug, and since then, they have not lost. Aaron Jones had his breakout year, and that was no fluke. My main concern here is the lack of receiving weapons compared to the cornerbacks that SF sports. If Adams is eliminated from the equation the way he was the last matchup, it could be a long day.
I think back to the kind of games that you'd see in the early 2000s, and I feel this is pretty comparable. Strong running games, quarterbacks that will make plays, but defenses that I ultimately feel will decide the game. I think SF has an advantage in a lot of crucial spots. I like their receiver/DB matchups better, a better pass rush, and a two-headed monster in the running game with Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. Mostert averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the incredible regular season, which was incredible. But will the inexperience at the helm be able to outduel a perennial playoff and a quarterback known for making big plays when it matters?
X-Factor: San Francisco's Defensive Playmakers
San Francisco's defense may be one of the fun groups in the league. They have one or more playmakers at every level. The combination of Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner may be the best young defensive lineman pairing in the league, combining for 17 sacks between the two. Throw in the experience of Dee Ford and his knowledge; this may be the best D-Line in the league. Moving into the linebackers, Fred Warner is an exceptional talent. The second-year linebacker has been all over the field, making 89 solo tackles and 118 combined tackles this season, leading the team in both by over 25 tackles. He finished top 10 in the league in solo tackles and has been on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps for 13 of 17 games, playoffs included. He may not be too known throughout the league right now, but give it another two years, and he will be a household name.
Finally, you can't talk about the secondary without mentioning Richard Sherman. Looking at his stats, he had a great season, but not like when he was early in his tenure with Seattle. So I took a second to think about he looks as dominant as ever, but the numbers, but why the numbers do not show just how influential he is. He is so dominant that he doesn't give receivers enough room to have quarterbacks feel comfortable throwing at him. This goes to show you don't have to make a play on the ball to impact the game and, in my opinion, nobody embodies that better than Richard Sherman does.
Betting the Board
The Niners are currently a 7.5 point favorite (-110) and -340 on the Money Line with the Packers going off at +7.5 (-110) and +280 ML. I genuinely think the Packers have an excellent chance here. The spread is tempting to me, but for once, I'm more intrigued by the over/under here at 46.5 points. These are two offenses that like to run the ball because of how effective their backs are. The under here at 46.5 is going to be my play. I will be possibly playing the spread on the Packers, but for all intents and purposes, I'll be sticking with just the under here at -115. Finally, I love player props, and this game is no different. Tevin Coleman over/under is at 38.5 yards rushing, both the over and under going off at -112. Last week against a Vikings defense that's normally good against the run, he gained 105 yards on 22 rushes with Mostert going for 57 on 11 carries. I will hammer the over 38.5 yards here against a poor Packers run defense ranking in the bottom third in the league in rushing yards allowed. San Francisco ranked second in the regular season in rushing yards per game with 144.1 yards per game. I'm going to hammer this one as my final play of the weekend.
Titans +7.5 (-120) for one unit
Ryan Tannehill under 230.5 passing yards (-112) for one unit
Packers/49ers under 46.5 Total (-115) for one unit
Tevin Coleman over 38.5 yards (-112) for two units