Super Bowl race intensifies
After thrilling Wild Card action in which a jet-setting mom witnessed both her NFL sons in action and the Buffallo Bills dumped the New England Patriots in spectacular style, we now enter the divisional playoffs in the red-hot race for the Super Bowl LVI championship.
As we look at who the favorites are heading into the next stage, bettors will no doubt agree they’ve witnessed one of the closest, most unpredictable seasons in recent memory, with big wins and some massive losses. In the latter category we have, unsurprisingly, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who lost a cool $2m on the Pats to win the Super Bowl, giving him a losing streak of $11.4m in just ten weeks.
As the dust settles, we even have a story that sums up the spirit of postseason, starring Donna Kelce, mother of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jason Kelce. The supermom wanted to be there for both her sons’ Sunday games on Super Wild Card weekend, as the NFL shared via Twitter:
Mrs. Kelce started in Tampa Bay, where she watched Jason’s team lose 31-15 to the defending Super Bowl champions, the Buccaneers. She then used a variety of modes of transportation, including a rickshaw, and flew to Kansas City to watch Travis’s game at Arrowhead Stadium.
I finally got it done, it only took me nine years.”
Mom got the ultimate reward. The Chiefs eliminated the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 42-21 victory and Travis even threw a touchdown. The tight end said he’d been telling his mom he would throw a touchdown in the NFL since he was five. “I finally got it done, it only took me nine years,” he said.
The Chiefs were the favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy last year, but as usual, Tom Brady had the final say. Before we get to the GOAT, let’s begin our betting preview of the four favorites for the divisional rounds by sticking with the Chiefs.
According to betting sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel, Bruce Arians’ franchise is a slight home favorite to beat the Buffalo Bills at -2.5.
Point spread: Chiefs -2.5
Point total: 54.5
Moneyline: Chiefs -138, Bills +118
Win Super Bowl: Chiefs +400, Bills +500
FanDuel’s odds listed above, are in line with the Chiefs’ high-scoring 42-21 win over the Steelers in Sunday night’s primetime game. Classy quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs in 2020, was in fine form, passing for 404 yards. What is of concern heading into the Bills game, however, was the sluggish start the Chiefs’ offense made against the Steelers, with zero points in the first quarter.
Sports anchor at Kansas City’s Fox4 News, Harold R. Kuntz, got onto Twitter to share Mahomes’ post-game comment that he and his teammates were “all pissed off at ourselves” about their start to the game:
That self-anger saw five different Chiefs take it to the house en route to 42 points. After a rocky start to the season, when it looked like they might be in danger of missing the playoffs altogether, the Chiefs’ have won ten of their last eleven games. They’ve also recorded six consecutive home playoff wins dating back to 2018.
Winning is a habit, but that observation also applies to the Bills who entered the Wild Card round on a four-game winning streak. Plus, the Bills beat the Chiefs 38-20 in week five. Making a slow start against Ben Roethlisberger and company is one thing, repeating it again against Josh Allen and his Pats-thrashing men could prove fatal. And upset Mrs. Kelce.
Heading into Sunday’s primetime showdown at Arrowhead, Sports Illustrated’s sportsbook has the money line as Buffalo +110 and Kansas City -133. BetMGM matches SI on the Bills, but is -135 on the Chiefs. Tipico Sportsbook offers the Bills at +105, Chiefs at -130.
Bucs have a score to settle
Point spread: Buccaneers -3
Point total: 48.5
Moneyline: Buccaneers -160, Rams +140
Win Super Bowl: Bucs +550, Rams +750
The above are DraftKings’ odds going into the Bucs vs. Rams game, which kicks off at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa at 3pm ET Sunday. The showdown gives Tom Brady and crew the opportunity to avenge their 34-24 loss to the Rams four months ago in Los Angeles. While the Rams easily eliminated the Arizona Cardinals 34-11 on Monday night, the underdogs are heading to the opposite side of the continent to confront a talismanic quarterback who has won 35 of the 46 playoff games he’s played in.
Brady got onto Twitter Monday to wish his fans a happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and ominously for the Rams, to say “the games only get bigger from here […] playoff football, let’s go!”
Even more ominously for the LA franchise, NFL.com ranks Brady as the current number one primary starting quarterback in the league. Based solely on play from the 2021 season, Brady has passed for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushed for two touchdowns. Add the fact that Rob Gronkowski has turned back the clock, stepping up with Mike Evans in the passing game, and the Bucs seem unstoppable.
an Odell Beckham Jr. fired up by his first-ever playoff touchdown
The injury-hit Bucs found production from Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard in the backfield against the Philadelphia Eagles. But, come Sunday, they’ll be facing a different proposition from DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert in the form of Cooper Kupp, as well as an Odell Beckham, Jr. fired up by his first-ever playoff touchdown, which the Rams shared via Twitter:
Like DraftKings, Caesars Sportsbook is offering the Rams money line at +140, with FanDuel at +130. BetMGM’s money line on the Bucs is -149, FanDuel’s is -154.
Remember the Titans
Point spread: Titans -3.5
Point total: 46.5
Moneyline: Titans -175, Bengals +150
Win Super Bowl: Titans +850, Bengals +1200
BetMGM’s -3.5 odds shown above for the Tennessee Titans versus the Cincinnati Bengals clash reflect the franchise’s resilience and consistency. The Titans claimed their second straight AFC South title and nailed the number one seed for the first time since 2008.
Tennessee will enter their third consecutive trip to the playoffs at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Saturday nicely rested, having enjoyed a first-round bye. After an injury-riddled campaign, the Titans are currently the healthiest they’ve been all season.
Their home stadium is also likely to erupt when, as it’s expected, Titans star running back Derrick Henry runs out onto the gridiron.
Buck Reising, Titans reporter for AtoZSports Nashville, took to Twitter to share Henry’s potential return after being out with a serious foot injury since October:
Even without Henry for so long and QB Ryan Tannehill having a stinker of a passing season, the Titans’ success comes from sticking to their playbook staple of running the ball. Their defense has also stepped up since mid-season, allowing just 300.3 yards and 17.5 points per game over the final eleven games.
QB Joe Burrow and wide-receiver Ja’Marr Chase have clicked superbly
The Bengals, along with the whole of football-loving Cincinnati, are riding a wave of euphoria. The Bengals won the ultra-competitive AFC North and claimed their first playoff victory in 31 years after beating the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in the first of the Wild Card games. QB Joe Burrow and wide-receiver Ja’Marr Chase have clicked superbly and no doubt will be licking their lips at the prospect of getting their teeth into Tennessee’s bottom-ten pass defense. A big loss for the Bengals is pass rush sensation Larry Ogunjobi. The defensive tackle was this week placed on Cincinnati’s injured list and will be out for at least three weeks.
DraftKings money line is currently Titans -165, Bengals +145, while FanDuel’s is Tennessee at -174, and Cincinnati on +146. Jim McIngvale might consider prolonging his current losing streak by taking his briefcase to FanDuel on its offer of +1300 for the Bengals to claim the Super Bowl.
And now, the favorites
Point spread: Green Bay -6
Point total: 47.5
Moneyline: Green Bay -250, San Francisco +200
Win Super Bowl: Green Bay +375, San Francisco +1100
While most sportsbooks are handicapping the Green Bay Packers at -5 to beat the San Francisco 49ers, PointsBet has gone for -6 as its numbers above reveal.
Key, as ever, to the Packers winning at Lambeau Field on Sunday night is QB Aaron Rodgers. While the evergreen quarterback will likely pip Brady to yet another MVP, the NFL ranks Rodgers behind the GOAT at number two in primary starting quarterbacks for the 2021 regular season. Rodgers threw 4,115 yards for 37 touchdowns and rushed for three touchdowns this season. Rodgers’ four interceptions to Brady’s 12 paints its own picture, making a potential shootout down the road between these old rivals a mouthwatering prospect.
The 49ers, however, were the only underdog to bite in the Wild Card round, taking down the Dallas Cowboys 27-17. San Francisco was also, naturally, considering the first round format, the only victor to do the business away from home. They also have a healthy 7-3 record on the road, with the wins coming by an average of 8.1 points.
But, as the Packers shared via Twitter, the 49ers will be facing a different prospect at the daunting, tundra-like Lambeau Field:
Lambeau Field is a fortress for the Packers, where they are 8-0. Green Bay is also 5-1 against franchises that made the playoffs. San Francisco did come close to dirtying up that record in week three, going ahead in the final minute only for a Rodgers’ 37-second, game-winning drive to settle the matter.
Rodgers also hasn’t had a turnover since mid-November. Add to that Green Bay peaking at just the right time and the squad looking like they are returning to good health, and it’s no wonder they’re both favorites in the divisional round, and to lift the Lombardi Trophy next month.