Conference Championship week picks: Concussed, or Not Concussed?

Robert Perea and Jim Vallet, The Fernley Reporter

Jim’s picks

Last week, as I watched Buffalo Bills fans celebrating their team’s performance, I caught myself tearing up. How can watching people drinking, shirtless in 30 degree weather, painting their bodies blue and red, and trying to catch the camera’s attention by performing antics more cringe worthy than the guy next to him cause me emotion other than disgust or amusement?

It’s because I want things back to normal! I understand why I’m doing it, but I miss going out to eat. I miss going to casinos, traveling, going to sporting events, going to friends’ houses, having people over, shaking hands, conversations with strangers, and going to church. My intention is not to make this about politics, living my life as I chose is not political.

And so, I want to thank the NFL (NEVER thought I’d say that) for the entertainment and diversion that this season brought to me. Lots of my friends think there should be no sporting events of any type, and they have a right to their opinion. To me, this season has been about more than watching a football game on TV. It’s been about the great life that I had, but had to put on hold. I hope we can return to enjoying our lives soon.

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In the meantime, back to my fantasy world! Who do ya like this week?

First, I think people need to remember what happened last week. In a year where scoring was king, three of the four games went under the point total. The favorites won three of the four games, and covered the point spread in two of the four games. That would seem to suggest that the games were close, and all but one was. Really, the only game that was not decided by a turnover (or, turnovers) was Green Bay and Los Angeles. The Packers easily won that game, and, in my opinion, the score was not indicative of the actual game. It seemed the Packers could have won by more, had they wanted.

Think about the other games. Baltimore was driving to score a touchdown that would have tied the game when Buffalo intercepted a Lamar Jackson pass in the Bills’ endzone and returned the interception for a touchdown. A 14 point swing. Cleveland lost by five and missed a touchdown when a Browns’ receiver was trying to stretch the ball into the endzone, but instead fumbled through the endzone, resulting in a huge turnover instead of a touchdown. The New Orleans Saints could not overcome three interceptions and a costly fumble, and those four turnovers were the biggest factor in the Bucaneers’s win over the Saints.

Now comes this week. The Packers seem to be the best team in the NFC, but, according to William Hill Sportebook on Wednesday, was only a 3 point favorite (-125 instead of the usual -110) at home against Tampa Bay.

Even with what happened last week, this one seems too easy. The Packers are very unlikely to give the ball away like the Saints did, and have an agile, smart quarterback who doesn’t need a sub to throw the ball over 20  yards. They have arguably the best receiver in the NFL, and a tight end who, this year so far, does not fumble. They also have not one, not two, but three really good running backs running behind a very good offensive line. I’m going with the Packers giving three (-125) and I think the only reason it’s not more is because of what I already said about favorites covering.

The AFC game is much harder.

I have a good friend who scans the NFL every week looking for quarterbacks who suffered concussions the week before so that he can bet against them. He would tell me (BEFORE the games) which games he was targeting, and he was VERY successful. His logic was that humans do not process information as well and as quickly immediately following the head trauma of a concussion. I don’t know about his medical logic, but I did see his system win him money.

Last week, we don’t know if Patrick Mahomes suffered a concussion or not, but we do know that as of Thursday, Mahomes was in the NFL’s “concussion protocol”. We don’t know if the Chiefs’ QB has a concussion or not because a player does not have to suffer a concussion to be in the NFL’s concussion protocol. I also want to point out that, in addition to having no medical training, I have access to zero “inside information” about Mahomes’ health.

But I know what I saw on Sunday. After his head was driven into the turf, Patrick Mahomes at first could not get up. After time had passed and he was helped up, Mahomes was VERY unsteady on his feet and did not return to a very important, close game. 

I believe Patrick Mahomes has a concussion. I don’t know if Mahomes will clear concussion protocol and be able to play on Sunday. Either way, the Chiefs are in trouble. Think about it.

If he does play, I believe it’s very likely Patrick Mahomes will not be himself. And, who do you believe is the most important player on the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense? To me, that’s so easy it’s a rhetorical question.

What happens if Mahomes can’t play at all? In that case, Chiefs fans, you get Chad Henne.

Besides being a lifetime backup in the NFL, did Henne impress you last week? Remember the interception intended for…I don’t know, no one in a red jersey was in the picture? Remember the angry KC offensive players over not getting the ball when they clearly should have? Henne  did not play well, and is getting a lot of credit for a run that came up short and a 10 foot pass.

The pass on fourth down has caused me to pause and think. The Chiefs Play-calling and Henne have gotten a lot of (I believe) undeserved credit for that play. According to spotrac.com, Henne earns $1,625,000.00 a year. If I was paying some over 1 and a half million bucks a year, I would certainly expect him to be able to complete a 10 foot pass. On top of that, the Browns were jamming the line of scrimmage, making a pass the most obvious call. But still, the Chiefs are getting props for “their guts”. If they would have tried to run, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN STUPID!!!

On the other hand, the Bills are hot. If Mahomes plays or not, I think the Bills win, but I’ll take the 3 points.

Robert’s picks

There’s an old adage in sports betting that “Good team win. Great teams cover.”

Then there’s the Kansas City Chiefs. Any football fan in America can tell you the Chiefs are a great team. They won the Super Bowl last season, and they’re 15-2 this year, clearly the best team in the NFL last year and this year. But then there’s this – in their 15 wins, they have covered the spread only five times. In fact, after squeaking past the Browns last week, the Chiefs have now failed to cover nine times in a row, and only coming close in a push at New Orleans five weeks ago.

Intuition says that part of the reason the Chiefs haven’t covered more is that because they are widely regarded as a great team, oddsmakers have to tack on a handful of extra points to try to draw bets against the Chiefs, in order to balance the action. During this nine game streak without a cover, the Chiefs have come within three and a half points of the spread.

So, are the Chiefs really a great team, or are they a good team with a transcendent quarterback? The answer to that question will probably determine who wins the AFC Championship game this weekend.

The fact that the line came out immediately last Sunday, and that it was Kansas City -3, indicates that oddsmakers expected Pat Mahomes to play, and so far this week, Mahomes has taken most of the practice reps for the Chiefs. The line of Kansas City -3 is about a point and a half below what it would be with Mahomes at full health according to Vegas power ratings, but the game would be around pick em without Mahomes. It’s an interesting comparison to the first time the teams met this season. In that game, Oct. 19 in Buffalo, the Chiefs were -4 and won 26-17. The Bills have gone 11-1 since then, losing only on a Hail Mary in Arizona.

By comparison to the Chiefs losing record against the spread, the Bills are 12-6 ATS and while the Chiefs have gone 0-9 against the spread down the stretch, the Bills finished on a 10-1 run, failing to cover in that stretch only in their Wild Card round game against Indianapolis.

So who wins this week? The picks (lines as of Thursday night at William Hill):

Tampa Bay + 3 ½ over Green Bay: Both games this weekend are rematches from Week 6. I wish I had a good takeaway from the first Packers-Buccs game, but I fell asleep in my recliner shortly after the Packers easily marched down the field on their first possession, and when I woke up, they were down 38-10. The game turned on a pair of interceptions by Aaron Rodgers, two of only six he threw all season, so I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that, although I don’t know if there was a matchup or scheme problem for the Packers. The Buccs did run the ball exceptionally well in that game, and have for the last half of the season, and stopping the run has been the Packers’ weakness. I’ll guess that this week’s game will be much closer, and it may even become a classic, but if I’ve learned one thing over the years, and had it reinforced last week, I’m not laying points against Tom Brady in a big game.

Kansas City (-3) over Buffalo: Even though the Bills won the last two weeks, I haven’t liked most of what I’ve seen. Instead of putting the game away after taking a 14-point lead over Indianapolis, they gave up two quick scores, and last week they may not have won except for a horrendous throw by Lamar Jackson that was returned for a touchdown when it looked like the Ravens were going to tie the game. The Chiefs average margin of victory in their last eight games is only four points, and I’ve been waiting for the breakout game that may not be coming. Normally I’d trust Mahomes in this spot and with this short price, and if he plays I think the Chiefs will win, But with the uncertainty about him, there’s no way I’d put actual cash on this game, although I’ll have an eagle eye for any signs that may point to an in-game wager.

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