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There are three games left in this NFL season and they all figure to be compelling.

Sorry, the Pro Bowl doesn’t count as either a real game or one that is compelling.

But the conference championship games for this Sunday are going to produce a heck of a Super Bowl two weeks hence, regardless of who the participants are. With the quarterbacks involved, how can the NFC and AFC title games not provide some drama?

You’ve got two grizzled veterans in New England’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees. You’ve got two young stars in Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. They all have supporting casts who can electrify any offense.

If I’m Roger Goodell, and for all his money I’m glad I’m not, I’m looking at boffo ratings on FOX for the NFC title game between the Saints and the Rams at the Superdome and on CBS for the Patriots and Chiefs in chilly Kansas City.

And if I’m running a sports book in Mississippi and Rhode Island, I’m doing backflips.

This is the first NFL championship weekend where people can place a legal bet on the two games outside of Nevada. And if you think the handle has been tremendous at places like Scarlet Pearl and the Golden Nugget in Mississippi and the Twin River in Lincoln, Rhode Island, wait until Sunday morning. It’s going to be insane as Saints fans make the drive from Louisiana to grab the -3.5 or whatever the number will wind up being, while the Pats fans will be coming from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and maybe even Maine to grab the +3 with Brady and Co.

Here in Las Vegas, it’ll be business as usual. Sure, it’ll be packed all over town and a lot of Rams fans will likely travel to Nevada to watch and wager since California isn’t quite ready to afford its citizens the right to make a legal bet on a football game. I’m guessing at some point that will come to pass. But for now, Interstate 15 figures to have a little more traffic than usual.

And the menu will be expanded. It’s not just the line and the total anymore. Those days are long gone. These days, there’s proposition bets for both games with all sorts of creative wagers awaiting the public to dive into.

More important, there’ll be opportunities to make bets during the game. As our Dave Dye discussed in part one of his three-part series on the phenomenon that is in-game wagering, more and more people are investing and taking part in making a bet after kickoff.

As the Saints fell behind 14-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles in last Sunday’s NFC Divisional game, the -8 everyone had to lay prior to kickoff on New Orleans suddenly became a +3.5 situation. The money line had also shifted to Eagles -185 and Saints +155.

And while the Saints failed to cover the eight points their backers had laid before kickoff, those who invested in New Orleans after kickoff at +3.5 got paid as they rallied to win, 20-14.

You can open a phone account in Nevada, even if you don’t live in the Silver State. Of course, you can’t wager unless you’re within the borders, but that convenience is afforded to you if you desire. You can also bet in-game while sitting in a sports book. The numbers are constantly being updated so you can stay in action. But your smart phone and mobile app is the smart way to go.

And of course, the always popular prop bets will be a big part of the handle. And whenever Brady is involved, there’s going to be a lot of action involving No. 12.

Both games have contrast and intrigue. The AFC will have its title game decided outdoors where the forecast calls for temperatures in the low-to-mid teens. We won’t have an Ice Bowl per se, but cold is cold and it will be far different than the climate-controlled 72 degrees and a fast track inside the Superdome for the NFC title game.

Brees, who turned 40 Tuesday, shook off the rust from two weeks’ inactivity to find a way to clip the Eagles’ wings and end their reign as Super Bowl champs. And while the folks running the sports books at SugarHouse and Parx are no doubt sad, Eagles fans will show up to wager Sunday, if for no other reason than to root against the Saints.

The Rams have had their backers flirting with disaster all season when it comes to point spreads. They’ll be the underdog Sunday and you’ll have to decide if there’s value there or if you’re going to need to tease the number up to back Goff, Todd Gurley and L.A.

In the NFC, the road to Atlanta figured to go through New Orleans. And the Saints are very tough to beat in their building. When you see the weapons Brees has to work with, their favoritism is justified. Alvin Kamara. Michael Thomas. Mark Ingram. An offensive line that does enough things well to keep Brees upright. And a defense that is underrated.

But there’s enough respect for the Rams for the number to come 3.5 and not higher. The public may decide its not high enough or the price is too steep and they’ll roll with L.A. That’s fine with the oddsmakers. As long as they get good two-way action, they’ll be happy.

The Patriots-Chiefs game could be Mahomes’ official coronation as the NFL’s new king. But the current king is back for the eighth straight year in this spot. And Brady, the 41-year-old who has five Super Bowl rings, has no problem being the underdog.

“Everybody thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” he said after New England handled the Chargers with ease, cruising into the title game with a 41-28 win in the AFC Divisional.

You know they’ll use it for motivation and it has already begun.

“We’re the underdog this week. I’m going to jump on that train and roll with it,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman. “That’s my life.”

I’m guessing some of the Rams are saying the same thing as they head to the Big Easy.


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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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