So now what? Championship Sunday is on the short list for best day on the sports calendar, along with the opening of the NCAA tournament and the NFL draft, among others. But the day after the NFL conference finals always represents transition. Football season is essentially over. There is one only game left, and Sundays with multiple games are gone until September. I thought the title games, like much of the playoffs, were meh. The Colts and Bills opened the playoffs in thrilling fashion, with an exciting game that made us think an awesome postseason was perhaps in store. That hope never really materialized, though, and there were moments when I think the lack of fans hurt the atmosphere.
Championship Sunday started with promise, but the Packers’ decision to kick a late field goal on fourth-and-goal, coupled with the pass-interference penalty to seal the game, really zapped a lot of drama and left viewers with sour tastes in their mouths. Illegal contact was largely ignored all game until being enforced on the game’s most important play. I’ve never been a fan of the “let them play” mantra. I think rules should be the same regardless of the situation, and the danger of that mentality was clear Sunday. If we’re not calling most fouls, OK, but where do we draw the line? It was the correct call but incongruent with the way the game had been refereed throughout, and it led to an anticlimactic finish.
The AFC game was interesting for about a quarter before the Chiefs swiftly gained control. The Bills tried to match the Chiefs’ three-run-homer offense by bunting the runners over and playing small ball. As they learned, and the rest of us already knew, you don’t beat the Chiefs with field goals inside the 10. Josh Allen was not sharp, and the Bills exited the postseason without really having played a complete game on both sides of the ball. They gave bettors who backed them to win it all at + 2,500 a hell of a ride but ultimately fell short.
Though football season is almost over, there are still winners to be picked. NBA, NHL and NCAA basketball betting options are available every night. Golf is around every weekend again, and spring training is less than a month away. Remember, money won on Iona vs. Manhattan is just as green as money won betting the NFL playoffs. As bettors, we cannot afford to discriminate against opportunities. But now is also a time to evaluate your strengths as a bettor. Track your bets, identify your strengths and maximize them. Some may say when you identify a weakness that you should spend more time strengthening it. I disagree. I think time is too precious. If you aren’t good at betting a particular sport, maybe scrap it and devote that time to perfecting what you are good at. With that said, let’s find some winners, shall we?
Patrick Mahomes (+ 120) To Win Super Bowl MVP: Hey, did you know Patrick Mahomes’ dad played baseball? One more fun fact you surely weren’t aware of (until you heard it 7,000 times already): The Bucs are the first team to host a Super Bowl. Yes, some of the storylines and subplots can be tedious, so I’m pacing myself and saving my preview for next week. However, I think this one is too good to pass up. Instead of laying the 3 or 3.5, grabbing Mahomes at this price is probably the better bang for your buck. OK, Julian Edelman won the award two years ago in a game without much offense, and Von Miller took home the MVP by dominating a game when his quarterback barely broke 100 yards. But for the most part, this award goes to the quarterback of the winning team. Sure, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are capable of having monster games, but who will be throwing them those passes? Even if a Chiefs player has a huge game, so will Mahomes, in all likelihood. Damien Williams scored three touchdowns last year, yet the award still went to Mahomes in a landslide, despite him throwing two interceptions. James White had a monster Super Bowl against Atlanta, yet Tom Brady won the award despite throwing a pick-6. This is simply a quarterback award. Mahomes is not only the quarterback and the best player in the league, he is eminently likable, so his reputation and charm give him a built-in advantage. I like Mahomes to win the game and the MVP for a second consecutive year. Not bad for a 25-year-old.
New York Yankees (-175) To Win AL East: Last summer I gave out the Rays to win this division at + 300. In a 60-game season, I thought the Yankees had too many marquee players prone to missing a few weeks at a time and were extremely vulnerable against a Rays team that had three of the top eight Cy Young Award candidates, according to oddsmakers. We are now in a 162-game season (hopefully), Blake Snell is a Padre and Charlie Morton is a Brave. Sure, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will have their bumps and bruises and miss a few weeks as they always do. But over 162 games, the Yankees have enough depth to overcome that and simply bludgeon teams with their power. They have a lot of high-upside/high-risk pitchers in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole, but those risks will be tested and ultimately graded on how they perform when they get to the postseason. Domingo German was outstanding in 2019 before being suspended, Corey Kluber is a two-time Cy Young winner and Jameson Taillon was the second pick in the 2010 draft. However, the three combined to pitch one inning in 2020. Luis Severino falls into that category of uncertainty. He finished third in Cy Young voting in 2017 and will return midseason after Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays added George Springer and will be among the best lineups in baseball, and the Rays have enough hard-throwing depth on the staff to be competitive, but neither team is deep enough or complete enough to hang with the Yankees, who still have the power in their everyday lineup to bully teams in the regular season. With the Orioles and Red Sox still rebuilding, the Yankees should cruise to the division title.