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Points look inviting with the visitors

For much of this past weekend it appeared as though form would hold and both number one seeds and both number two seeds would advance this Sunday’s Conference Championship games.

It appeared to be a mere formality for San Diego to complete the first field of both one and two seeds since the 2004 Playoffs. After all, the Chargers were the largest of the four favorites, bet up to eight and a half or nine point favorites around town as kickoff approached.

But as was the case a week earlier the best game was saved for last as the Chargers were unable to protect their 7-0 halftime lead as the New York Jets rallied to defeat the Chargers 17-14 and end the Chargers’ 11 game winning streak.

The Jets used the league’s top ranked rushing offense and their top ranked defense to keep the game close and make plays in the fourth quarter.

The task gets more difficult this week as the Indianapolis Colts will host the Jets with a trip to Super Bowl XLIV awaiting the winner. Recall that the Jets began their run with a 29-15 week 16 win over the Colts when the Colts pulled most of their starters — including QB Peyton Manning — in the third quarter of a game that had little meaning beyond keeping Indy’s hopes of a perfect season alive. They had already clinched the AFC’s top seed.

This is the twentieth Playoff season since the NFL expanded the Playoff field from 10 to 12 teams back in 1990. Over the past 19 seasons the home team has won 23 of 38 Conference Championship games (60.5 percent) but the home team is just 18-19-1 (48.6 percent) ATS. Both the straight up and pointspread results are significantly lower for the home team than in the Wild Card and Divisional Playoff rounds.

And this makes sense as teams playing in Conference Championship games are very good teams and have already one or perhaps two Playoff games already. Playing on the road generally affects good teams less than weak ones.

Here’s a look at both Conference Championship games.

New York Jets (plus 7 ½) at Indianapolis (Over/Under 41) — The Jets have now won 5 in a row and 7 of 8 and have not allowed more than 15 points in any of their last 8 games. Their lone loss over this span was at home to Atlanta 10-7 win week 15. In that loss the Jets outgained the Falcons 314 to 238 but rookie QB Mark Sanchez was intercepted three times. The week following that loss the Jets defeated the Colts but only after the Colts pulled most of their starters which renders useless almost any reliance on that game as a guide to what can be expected in this “rematch.” The Jets have matured as a team over the course of the season and showed in San Diego that even when they are outmanned in terms of offensive potential the play of their defense can keep them in games. That will be put to the test here as the Colts present a very formidable challenge although the Colts’ over reliance on the passing game often bodes well for an outstanding defense. Over the past few weeks, for example, we saw Dallas’ defense look unbeatable twice against the one dimensional Philadelphia offense only to be torched by Minnesota’s well balanced offense last week. The Jets fared well last week against San Diego’s primarily pass oriented offense. San Diego had the number 31 rushing offense during the regular season. The only team worse? Yep, Indianapolis averaged just 81 rushing yards per game. Even in last week’s win over Baltimore the Colts ran for just 42 yards on 25 carries and gained just 275 total yards for just 3.9 yards per play. Offensively as well Baltimore relies very heavily on the run. But as well as the Ravens fared defensively last week in limiting the Colts to just 20 points, the offense could produce just a single FG. The Jets will continue to do what they do best – run the football and control the clock. Their best chance for success is to keep QB Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offense off the field as much as possible and use their own rushing offense to wear down the Indy defense. In their Playoff wins over both Cincinnati and San Diego, the Jets fell behind 7-0. But that was the most by which they trailed in either game. Being down by only one score does not mandate a change in the game plan. But fall behind by two scores or more and things take on a different complexion. But the Colts were not a dominant team this season with half of their 14 regular season wins coming by 4 points or less. The Jets are a confident team but the preferred play in this game looks to be on the Total. NEW YORK JETS & UNDER the Total.

Minnesota (+4) at New Orleans (53): In winning their Divisional Playoff games last week both teams showed little rust from rest but rather displayed the form that for most of the season made this the heavily favored matchup for the NFC Title. Both the Saints and Vikings have plenty of offense, most of which comes from the passing game. Saints’ QB Drew Brees had an outstanding season that was equaled if not surpassed by Minnesota’s Brett Favre. The Vikings scored at least 27 points in 14 of their 17 games, scoring 30 or more 11 times. New Orleans scored at least 27 points 12 times and scored at least 35 points in 8 games. The two offenses have to be rated as even with Minnesota having an edge on defense. Is that edge enough to overcome New Orleans’ playing at home? And which will prevail – Minnesota’s series history against the Saints or Minnesota’s past failures in NFC Title games? This should be a most entertaining contest and the team with the ball last has an excellent chance to move his team down the field. The opening line translates to a 28-24 New Orleans win. And while a 4 point win by either team seems reasonable it’s hard to envision the losing team scoring just 24 points. MINNESOTA & OVER the Total.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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