NFL playoff picks: Packers-Buccaneers, Chiefs-Bills

NFL experts Matt Youmans and Drew Dinsick explore betting angles for Sunday’s two championship games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers

Youmans: I’ll start with what amounts to the bottom line: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing at such an insanely high level that it’s difficult for me to envision him losing this game in the cold and snow at Lambeau Field. The difference simply could be Rodgers’ ability to escape the pocket, improvise and make more plays than Tom Brady.

The Buccaneers will go from beating a worn-out Drew Brees, who had little arm strength and mobility left, to facing the hottest hand in the NFL. The Bucs used turnover luck (4-0 margin) to beat the Saints, who were stymied by Brees’ three interceptions. Rodgers is not going to gift wrap anything for Tampa Bay. Including last week, Rodgers now has 50 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season. The Packers outgained the Rams 484-244 in the divisional round, with Green Bay rushing for 188 yards and putting up 32 points against the league’s No. 1 scoring defense; Rodgers was not sacked in 36 pass attempts.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady
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Obviously, it was a much different story in mid-October when the Packers were 2.5-point favorites in a 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay. Rodgers was sacked four times and threw two interceptions. However, that was a bad spot for Green Bay, which at the time was a fat-and-happy team coming off a bye, and I actually bet on the home ’dog in that game. This time, the Bucs are at a disadvantage by playing their third consecutive road game. Brady’s mystique is not a fear factor for me at this stage of his career. In Brady’s past 12 away playoff games, including his last 10 with New England, he’s 6-6.

I am hooked on the Rodgers storyline as he pursues his second Super Bowl. In late November, when betting Green Bay at 7/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, I had become convinced this is Rodgers’ season. I never want to lay 3.5 points, but this line moved to -3 and that was my buy sign. I’ll back the MVP to outduel Brady.

Dinsick: Considering the likelihood that the Packers find early success, the game would then turn to Tampa Bay’s ability to mount a comeback, a role that Brady has excelled at throughout his career and a situation that will be aided by the outstanding weapons in the passing game for the Buccaneers. Over the course of this season, Green Bay’s defense has been more susceptible in the second halves of games, conceding 0.042 EPA per play (15th in the NFL) compared to 0.005 EPA per play (in the top 10). It is fair to assume Rodgers and Co. recognize the strength of the Tampa defense is stopping the run and will continue to press their advantage through the air, even with a lead, which sets up a game state that lends to a shootout between these veteran quarterbacks. Fair price on the total irrespective of game state is 55 by my numbers, so the Over at 51.5 is in play.

Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes
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Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs

Youmans: The Bills are 11-1 straight up in their past 12 games — the loss was on a Hail Mary at Arizona — and 9-1 ATS in their past 10. But the truth is Buffalo caught several lucky breaks in its two home playoff wins against the Colts and Ravens. I’m not a Bill-iever just yet.

Dinsick: Considering Kansas City will have some small home-field advantage, it is fair that the Chiefs are favorites, but the ’dog price is appealing, especially if Patrick Mahomes’ foot injury limits his ability to make game-changing plays on the ground. It’s likely Kansas City money moves the market as we approach kickoff, so I will wait to get the best of the number, but this game is Bills or nothing on the side by my metrics.

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