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With torch passed to Mahomes, Chiefs are the favorites

January 26, 2022 06:52 PM
USATSI_17555093

When it was time to win or go home, Patrick Mahomes needed only 13 seconds and a coin flip to go his way to lift the Kansas City Chiefs to one of the most memorable wins in NFL playoff history. The most electrifying quarterback in the league is both good and lucky.

The two quarterbacks considered the favorites to win MVP — Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady — are home for the offseason. What happened in the regular season means nothing now in Las Vegas, where the Packers and Buccaneers are not among the four teams on the betting board for the conference championship games.

Is Rodgers finished in Green Bay? Is Brady headed for retirement? More importantly, what will the Super Bowl matchup be after the Bengals-Chiefs and 49ers-Rams showdowns on Sunday?

DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said he already knows which of the final four teams will be the most popular with the betting public.

“It’s about what have you seen lately, so the Chiefs are going to be the hot team with the public,” Avello said. “When you have a guy like Mahomes, you can do so much on offense. The public is going to bet the Chiefs.”

Mahomes and the Chiefs, in their fourth consecutive AFC title game, are 7-point favorites against the Bengals. Circa Sports lists Kansas City as the + 125 favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Matthew Stafford and the Rams, seeking a Super Bowl appearance in their home stadium in Los Angeles, are 3.5-point favorites against the 49ers. The Rams won the NFC West despite dropping both regular-season meetings with San Francisco.

The whining about lopsided games in the wild-card round was wiped away by an epic second weekend. The divisional round was the first postseason round in league history with four games decided by a winning score on the final play. Each of the first three games were decided by a field goal, and the best game was saved for last.

“Nobody is going to forget about 13 seconds,” Avello said. “I felt sorry for the Bills. That team is just so snake-bitten through the years.”

Mahomes produced an unforgettable finish as the Chiefs outlasted the Bills 42-36 in overtime. There were 25 points scored in the final two minutes of regulation, capped by Mahomes leading the tying drive in the final 13 seconds. He finished 33-for-44 for 378 yards and three touchdowns, including the winner to tight end Travis Kelce on the only drive in OT. It was heartbreak for the Bills and Josh Allen, who passed for 329 yards and four touchdowns.

“The greatest game I ever saw,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said.

What we saw last is not always the best, but Bills-Chiefs might be the exception.

“That’s as good as it gets,” said South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, a Pittsburgh guy who could think of only one playoff game that was better.

Most of us have only seen the highlight of the “Immaculate Reception” by Franco Harris in the 1972 AFC divisional round. The Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders 13-7 on Harris’ controversial touchdown in the final seconds.

“That’s No. 1 for me,” Andrews said.

That history lesson is relevant in part because of what happened the next week. The Steelers lost the AFC title game to the Miami Dolphins, who won Super Bowl VII and finished undefeated.

After reaching an emotional peak in a classic game, the Chiefs could be headed for a letdown. But that’s purely speculation. Kansas City’s obvious advantage is at the quarterback position. Mahomes is shooting for his third straight Super Bowl berth, while the Bengals’ Joe Burrow just won the first two playoff games of his young career.

“Experience certainly matters, and the Chiefs have got all the guys who have been here before,” Avello said. “The Chiefs are supposed to win this game.”

Burrow passed for 348 yards in Cincinnati’s 19-16 win at top-seeded Tennessee. He took a beating behind a bad offensive line but bounced back from every knockdown, and that’s one reason Andrews said he would bet on the underdog. BetMGM is offering the only + 7.5 available on the Bengals.

“I kind of like Cincinnati,” Andrews said. “I just like this Burrow kid. He got sacked nine times and he keeps getting up.”

The first major wager of the week at the South Point showed on the Rams (-165) to beat the 49ers, a moneyline play for $165,000.

In the divisional round, the Rams were popular 3-point underdogs in their 30-27 win at Tampa Bay, where Brady wiped away a 27-3 deficit to tie the score with 42 seconds remaining. Stafford, who had never won a playoff game prior to this month, led a defining drive to knock out a seven-time Super Bowl champ.

The Rams are 2-0 against the Buccaneers but 0-2 against the 49ers this season, and the latter record will be a talking point all week.

Here’s the problem with the favorite: Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Rams coach Sean McVay is 0-6 against 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. The teams met in Week 18, with San Francisco needing a road win to get into the playoffs, and Jimmy Garoppolo steered the 49ers’ offense to 449 total yards in a 27-24 overtime victory.

Here’s the problem with the underdog: The Rams have the quarterback advantage with Stafford. The 49ers won at Green Bay last week despite Garoppolo, who was awful in the first half. The Packers’ demise in the 13-10 loss was mostly because of a special-teams meltdown.

Most would bet Rodgers just played his final game for the Packers, and most would bet Brady returns for another year with the Buccaneers. This is the first time since the 2009 season that neither Brady nor Rodgers will be in a conference championship game.

The torch has been passed to Mahomes, who’s got the hot hand.

Avello said he expects the public to “bet the chalk” this weekend. If both favorites advance, expect the Super Bowl line to open with the Chiefs favored by less than a field goal against the Rams.

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