NFL Playoffs by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of championship week


Jeff Roberson / Assocaited Press

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) runs in for a game winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. The Vikings defeated the Saints 29-24.

Thu, Jan 18, 2018 (2 a.m.)

NFC Championship Game: Vikings at Eagles

Which side would you take in the NFC Championship Game? (Poll consensus year to date: 8-10-1)

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Those cursing the Minnesota Vikings for not kicking the extra point to cover as 5.5-point favorites in their miraculous 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday should direct their criticism inwards.

Bettors who liked the Vikings but ended up losing money have no one to blame but themselves. They violated one of the most important rules of sports betting — not taking bad numbers.

Minnesota was available at as low as a 3.5-point favorite against New Orleans throughout last week, and never rose to higher than 5 at certain sports books. Anyone who gave 5.5 points on the betting line made a poor wager, regardless of whether Minnesota kicked the extra point after Marcus Williams’ whiffed tackle to allow Stefon Diggs to score on a game-winning 61-yard touchdown reception.

Taking a favorite with two added points on its side is rarely a smart investment. A half-point or point might not seem like as much of a problem — especially across a number like 5, an uncommon margin of victory — but the edges from getting the better price add up over time. And to win long-term, gamblers need to accumulate those edges.

They get harder to find as the season draws to a close, but Talking Points is still searching and continuing to pick every game with Sunday’s two conference championship matchups.

Check below for analysis and picks. The blog sits at 147-109-7 against the spread on the season with the confidence category breakdowns as follows — 36-16 on plays, 44-39-5 on leans and 67-54-2 on guesses.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots, 12:05 p.m. Sunday on CBS

The line: Patriots minus-9 For the seventh straight year, the Patriots are in the AFC Championship Game. For the seventh straight year, sports books will be rooting against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The result has gone bookmakers’ way more often than not, as New England is just 2-4 against the spread (3-3 straight-up) during the run. And the house will have the most points to work with this season. The 9-point spread surpasses the minus-8 price attached to the Patriots going into their 2013 game with the Ravens, which pulled a 28-13 upset, for the most points given in their last seven AFC Championship Games. Nearly 80 percent of the early money has come in on New England, but it looks as if there have been some limit plays on Jacksonville. That’s the most likely way to explain why the spread has come down a half-point to 9 at most sports books.

The matchup: Bettors who already backed Jacksonville were able to do something most of the market can’t — Ignore the names on the jerseys. Gamblers can make a strong argument for the visitors, though only if they can get past the imbalance of their recent paltriness juxtaposed with the home team’s overwhelming prestige. Starting basic, the Jaguars posted a plus-149 point differential on the year to the Patriots’ plus-162. It’s almost unprecedented to see only a 13-point difference on that large of a sample size translate to nearly double digits on the betting line. More specifically, the Jaguars could create matchup problems for the Patriots.

New England’s rush defense has been a liability all year, and the two-week break before last week’s divisional game didn’t seem to shore up the issue. Tennessee rushed for better than 4 yards per carry last week and were carving up New England early on the legs on Marcus Mariota before he suffered a quad injury. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles can also run. He’s averaged 6.3 yards per rush — almost better than his 6.7 yards per pass attempt — for his career. Behind Bortles and running back Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville ranks in the NFL’s top 10 in averaging 4.3 yards per rush on the year. Defensively, the Jaguars are also a load. They finished the regular season with the No. 1 defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. That’s six spots ahead of the best defense New England encountered all year, Carolina at No. 7. New England lost that game, 33-30 as 9-point favorites, but to no fault of its offense. The Bill Belichick/Josh McDaniels/Tom Brady brain trust has a way of making a tall task on paper look simple in reality. Their track record is unimpeachable, and not a bad reason for bettors to continue to trust them. It’s just that paying a premium is the only way to do so.

The pick: Jaguars plus-9 (lean)

Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles, 3:40 p.m. Sunday on Fox

The line: Vikings minus-3 Ever since the midseason when the Vikings cemented their place as one of the best teams in the NFC, fans and analysts have labeled them with the, “team of destiny,” tag. Those designations only increased after the way they beat the Saints last weekend. That doesn’t mean no one is betting against them in Las Vegas. On the contrary, the gambling split has been surprisingly even on the NFC Championship Game early in the week. And the big money doesn’t appear to believe much in destiny. The Vikings immediately posted as 3.5-point favorites following their memorable victory, but the half-point hook steadily disappeared all across town. Although both championship games have seen half-point line moves towards the underdog, the NFC is a much more significant shift because 3 is a key number, whereas exactly 9 points rarely ever decide an NFL game.

The matchup: The move means this line sits identically to where last week’s game at Lincoln Financial Field was for much of the week. Even though the Eagles ultimately prevailed in upsetting the Falcons 15-10, the number didn’t feel far off. Atlanta was two yards, and a two-point conversion off of an inevitable attempt, away from pushing the point spread. Minnesota is, without any hyperbole, better in every area than Atlanta, so it stands to reason that this point spread should be higher. Or maybe the line is just a reflection of how hard points will be to come by with these two defenses. By weighted DVOA — which emphasizes recent performance — the Eagles and Vikings have the second- and third-best defenses in the NFL, respectively.

That’s put the over/under at 38.5 points, the lowest for an NFC Championship since 2005. The defenses have similar strengths too, as they’re two of the six teams in the NFL allowing 6 yards per passing attempt or less. That means the game could come down to the quarterback best equipped to battle the opposing secondary. And though Nick Foles versus Case Keenum may have looked like a wash at the beginning of the year, the season has played out much differently. The Vikings have come to trust Keenum, and show no hesitation in leaning on him. He’s thrown for 2 yards more per attempt than Foles, whom the Eagles have been cautious not to saddle with too much of the offensive onus. Defensively, Minnesota will likely enter the NFC Championship more banged up as several players limped off the field in the Saints’ game. Safety Andrew Sendejo and tackle Shamar Stephen are listed as questionable, which might not sound significant but the Eagles could use every offensive advantage possible considering they’ve plummeted to barely 4 yards per play since losing quarterback Carson Wentz. The Vikings have been more consistent, and unlike the Falcons last week, look like a deserving favorite.

The pick: Vikings minus-3 (guess)

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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