No, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not get here. And yes, the Cleveland Browns gave it a valiant shot but fell short.
Although their most popular teams are not involved, West Virginia online sports bettors descend upon an excellent NFL conference championship round.
What to watch on Sunday
- The Green Bay Packers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (1:05 p.m. EST, Fox)
- The Kansas City Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills. (6:40 p.m. EST, CBS)
The winners of Sunday’s games go to the Super Bowl. No team has ever played the Super Bowl on its home field, but Tampa Bay would accomplish that by beating the Packers. Super Bowl 55 is in Tampa on Feb. 7.
The watch-and-wait boards across major sportsbooks like DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM reflect betting intrigue. Both games are in the neighborhood of a field goal, and each projects a different angle.
This is probably the most talented group of four teams to hit the postseason in several years. Discounting Kansas City benching its regulars in a Week 17 loss, the four playoff teams have won an astonishing 32 straight games. That’s one reason they are hard to separate. Let’s look at each contest.
Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay has taken action when the line has hit -3. The line occasionally bounces up to -3.5, where Tampa Bay bettors may nibble. Line shopping and value hunting will be paramount for gamblers.
Wherever the line falls, sportsbook operators will be united in rooting for Green Bay. Many of them list the Bucs as their biggest Super Bowl liability. They took bets from 50-1 all the way down to 14-1 in the days after Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay was announced.
A month ago, the books looked safe in not paying that out. But Tampa Bay has caught fire.
The weather in Green Bay is expected to be cold for the conference championship but not punitive, with the high in the 20s, snow showers and the wind only about 6 mph.
It’s veteran quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in a matchup of the old guard.
Rodgers had a season for the ages with 48 touchdowns thrown versus only five picks.
He also made three unbelievable plays that made the difference in Green Bay’s 32-18 division-round triumph over the Los Angeles Rams.
Rodgers threw a bang-bang pass to Davante Adams in the end zone for one yard on a third-down play. The play was worth four points more than if Green Bay had been forced to settle for a field goal, and seven more if the Pack had missed and then failed to convert on fourth down.
On another score, Rodgers made an acrobatic fake, prompting a defender to go airborne, then rushing in. If he can’t make that move, it’s another field goal.
Finally, he made a 33-yard completion with defenders draped on him late in the first half. That led to a field goal on the final play of the half.
Rodgers was worth at least 11 first-half points to the Packers, maybe more, and they won by 14.
Can Tampa Bay duplicate its feat from a win over the New Orleans Saints last week? Tampa Bay had four takeaways, leading to all three of its touchdowns in a 30-20 victory.
Brady has been another huge story. His offensive line has been blocking well, and he looks the best he has in the last five years. Brady has caught fire — and the Bucs have reeled off six straight wins, the last two on the road.
The Bucs are also not afraid to be daring. Trailing 6-0 early against the Saints, Tampa Bay went for it on fourth down from its own 29. The Bucs wanted to change the momentum of a game New Orleans had dominated. It worked: Brady sneaked for the first down. And Tampa Bay went ahead for good in the fourth quarter.
What’s interesting about the victory is that it was a rematch — or in Tampa Bay’s case, a double rematch. The Bucs had been trounced twice by the Saints in the regular season but got their revenge in this game.
Green Bay would like some revenge too. The Packers were inexplicably blasted by the Bucs 38-10 earlier in the season. But that game was in Tampa Bay. This one is in Green Bay, where Rodgers always plays tough.
Prop betting targets
Rodgers and Brady for passing yards and Davante Adams to score for Green Bay are no-brainers. Then bettors can choose from Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, among others, for the Bucs.
BetMGM has Adams at +490 to be the first TD scorer, and Evans is +1000.
Check for odds boosts closer to kickoff. The midweek custom bet has high payouts, but you need three players to accomplish something. It’s hard enough to figure just one.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills
Bettors are nibbling at this line, cautiously optimistic, waiting for confirmation on Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs quarterback, who suffered a concussion when knocked out of Kansas City’s 22-17 triumph over the Browns, must clear NFL protocols in order to play Sunday.
So far, so good; he’s passed the big ones. But he won’t be an absolute certainty until Sunday.
Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayWV.com that Kansas City could be favored by as much as four points if Mahomes plays. If he sits out, Buffalo would likely be favored by four.
That’s a massive eight-point swing, indicating why bettors haven’t gone all in. But the line did nudge upward from Kansas City -2.5 to -3 at major books early Tuesday. If Chief bettors give the 2.5 and Mahomes plays with the line going to -4, KC backers pick up 1.5 points. That’s a worthwhile edge.
How big is Mahomes? In the first half of Kansas City’s 22-17 triumph over the Browns, the Chiefs had the ball four times. They scored four times. And they collected nearly 300 yards.
Without Mahomes, the Chiefs got one field goal in a quarter and a half and were fortunate not to turn the ball back to Cleveland in the final minutes.
Prop betting targets
Buffalo loves throwing to Stefon Diggs. He returned an average of 11-1 at the books last week as the first touchdown scorer in Buffalo’s win over the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Josh Allen is also a threat to run the ball in.
For Kansas City, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are popular scoring threats. Mahomes occasionally lights it up with touchdown passes, but he also occasionally runs one in, as he did last week.
This game also is a rematch. Kansas City beat Buffalo 26-17 in October.
A nostalgic twist
If the Chiefs and Packers both win, they will be headed to a rematch of the very first Super Bowl, in 1967 in Los Angeles.