Look For Chiefs and Cards in Conference Finals
By: The Rex Factor
The first of four NFL divisional playoff games kicks off Saturday in Foxboro, as Kansas City brings an 11-game winning streak to town to face second-seeded New England, losers of four of their last six games. CBS has the call for the 4:35 p.m. EST kickoff.
Kansas City has done nothing wrong since the 1-5 start; the Chiefs have allowed opponents just 11.6 points per game during this hot streak while scoring 28 ppg themselves. Included is a 30-0 mauling of host Houston in the first round of the playoffs last week.
New England is going the other way, as injuries have finally caught up to the Pats. The offense is shell of what we saw in September and October. There have been five left tackles start for the Pats and Tom Brady was sacked 38 times on the season, ranking ninth in the league. That’s an alarming number for someone with the pocket presence and awareness of Brady and it goes to show that even with Brady’s ultra-fast release, you do at least need SOMEONE to block sometimes.
Key receiver Julian Edelman hasn’t played since week 10, other key receiver Danny Amendola is playing banged up and tight end Rob Gronkowski was in the hospital getting his knee looked at as recently as Thursday afternoon. He’s also listed with a back problem on the most recent injury report. Perhaps it’s gamesmanship from the ultimate cheater, Bill Belichick, who has never won a championship without an asterisk attached. Two starting running backs are also out for the year. So good luck to New England’s sputtering offense in trying to score against a top-10 pass defense that has gotten its leading pass rusher Justin Houston back from injury. The Pats scored just 23 offensive points in their final two games and went 5-for-24 on third down conversions in those contests.
The Chiefs won’t put up a big number on offense, but they shouldn’t have to. Quarterback Alex Smith is not the kind of guy to beat himself, and he’s proven that going back many years. The Patriot defense is also banged up, with Donta’a Hightower missing the last game and Chandler Jones taking some sort of synthetic marijuana that was strong enough to have him bowing at his knees in front of Foxborough Police last weekend.
Since the 2008 playoffs, New England is just 3-7 ATS in home playoff games. They haven’t laid less than 5 since six years ago, when Baltimore came in and mauled the Pats 33-14 in 2010. While the score won’t be the same, the result will be.
Prediction: Kansas City 23, New England 16
Recommendation: KC +4.5 for a big play
The Saturday nightcap is a replay from three weeks ago, when Green Bay went out to the desert and left with a 38-8 beating. NBC has the broadcast in the USA, with kickoff coming at about 8:15 EST.
I watched the tape of the first game and noticed some things schematically that will be different this week for the Packers. Perhaps the biggest development was at left tackle last week, where J.C. Tretter played pretty well after being the chief culprit on the early safety for the Redskins. It was a clean effort and one to give him some confidence when he’ll likely see a lot of rush end Dwight Freeney this week. Good luck there, J.C.!
That said, the other notable change on offense was getting John Kuhn involved in both the running game and the passing game. Instead of playing all of that ’11’ formation that we saw in the first meeting, the Packers played two backs last week on a majority of offensive snaps when they made the most progress on offense.
The final three weeks ago at this venue was not totally indicative of how the game played out, as the Packer defense was relatively solid. Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled twice directly for Arizona touchdowns, had three turnovers and took eight sacks. Rodgers hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since mid-November and only one quarterback was sacked more all season. That said, how many quarterbacks in this league can say that they threw for 61 percent yet had their worst season as a pro? That’s the expectation you have from Rodgers, and despite how well Arizona has played, let’s not forget that Carson Palmer has yet to win a playoff game in his career.
A few things work against Green Bay here:
Arizona has been good about being able to get separation. The Cards have won 10 of their 13 games by seven points or more and had a plus-176 point differential (led the league). Green Bay also played the late game Sunday out east and now goes out west for a Saturday game. The Pack are also 4-11-1 the last 16 as a dog; this isn’t a role they particularly relish.
Prediction: Arizona 30, Green Bay 24
No play on the side. Let’s try the total.
Recommendation: OVER 49 for a medium play
The Rex Factor has been handicapping the NFL for more than 15 years and has taken it far more seriously in the last five years, as he realizes it’s the one sport that he can get down whatever he wants to bet without it affecting the market, unlike in baseball and in some other sports.
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