Sweep or split for chalk?

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The NFL’s race to Tampa for Super Bowl LV is getting close to the finish line.

Sunday, Green Bay will host Tampa Bay for the NFC title followed by Buffalo at Kansas City for the AFC crown, the winners to meet Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium.

If history is a guide, there’s a good chance that either both home teams or both road teams will win. That’s happened more often than not since 2002’s Divisional realignment that sent eight Division winners and four Wild Cards to the playoffs. But each season stands on its own.

There’s been a SU sweep by either the home or road team in each of the last eight seasons and in 10 of the last 12. Since 2013, the home team has won both games six times and the road team twice. Overall, since 2002 there have been 11 sweeps and seven home/road splits. But five of those seven occurred between 2002 and 2007.

Over the past seven seasons the Super Bowl has featured teams only seeded one or two. The last time a Wild Card round survivor won a conference title was in 2012. Prior to this season both seeds one and two had Wild Card weekend Byes. That changed with the expanded playoff field. Form held last week in three of the four Divisional games such that fifth-seeded Tampa Bay has a chance to end the one/two domination.

A five seed has not made the Super Bowl since 2007 when the Giants upset second- seeded Green Bay and went on to defeat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. Of the 36 teams to make it to the Super Bowl since 2002, 29 have been seeded one or two.

Might we see a rematch of Super Bowl I between Green Bay and Kansas City? It almost came to pass last season when Kansas City defeated Tennessee at home but Green Bay lost at San Francisco.

This season both the Packers and Chiefs are at home and favored to win. Both games are rematches of regular season games, ironically, both played in Week 6.

But will the Bills and/or the Bucs ride their current momentum to spoil a Super Bowl I rematch? Will Tampa Bay become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium (not just home region)? Will Buffalo get a chance to erase the memory of “wide right” that took place a few yards from this field, in the old Tampa Stadium, 30 years ago?

Sunday

Buccaneers +3.5 at Packers: For a second straight week, Tampa QB Tom Brady duels a future Hall of Famer. After besting Drew Brees and winning at New Orleans Brady travels again, this time to face likely MVP Aaron Rodgers on the possibly frozen tundra in Green Bay.

As noted above, this is a rematch of a game played in Week 6. As 2.5-point home underdogs, Tampa Bay easily defeated Green Bay, 38-10, despite falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter. Tampa scored 28 second quarter points to lead 28-10 at halftime and scored 10 more in the third to end the scoring. With a balanced offense of 158 rushing yards and 166 passing, the Buccaneers outgained the Packers 324-201.

It was arguably the worst game of Rodgers career and the only one this season in which he both failed to toss a TD pass and was intercepted more than once, throwing two of the five he threw all season. His TD-to-interception margin is now a spectacular 50-5. Brady’s is a pretty solid 44-12.

Brady had his worst game of the season, and one of the worst of his career, in the mid-season 38-3 home loss to New Orleans. He got his revenge last week against the Saints. Perhaps this week it’s Rodgers’ turn.

This is Green Bay’s fourth NFC title game in the past seven seasons, giving the Pack a huge overall edge in playoff experience. This is the only of the four to be played at home. Tampa’s in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and they seek their first playoffs win since winning it all in 2002.

Brady brings his vast resume of playoff appearances and success. Making it to the Super Bowl without coach Bill Belichick would be a major story. Certainly it can happen but most of the edges – tangible and fundamental – favor the hosts.

Green Bay came close last season, losing at San Francisco in the Conference championship. Perhaps they’ll do this season what Kansas City did last season, getting to the big game after losing the AFC Championship game a season earlier. PACKERS

Bills +3 at Chiefs: The key question surrounding this game is the condition of Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes who suffered both an injured toe and a concussion in the win over Cleveland.

The line seems to suggest he’ll play since, given the recent form of both teams, Buffalo might be a very small favorite if Mahomes does not play.

The Chiefs were 7-1 in both halves of the regular season but their first half play was significantly better than their play down the stretch. Kansas City was 6-2 ATS in the first half, outscoring the opposition by an average of 31.6-19.0. Over the second half the Chiefs were 1-7 ATS (the lone cover was by a half point in New Orleans) and both their offense and defense declined, outscoring foes by just 27.5-26.3.

Buffalo was much more potent over the second half averaging 37.9 ppg vs. 24.8 in the first half. The defense improved but just slightly, from 24.9 ppg to 22.0.

Barely 24 hours after the Buccaneers defeated the Packers in Week 6, on Monday Night Football, Kansas City, favored by 5.5, won 26-17 in Buffalo. The first half was back and forth with KC leading 13-10 at halftime and 23-10 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs rushed for a season high 245 yards and outgained the Bills 466-206 on the road.

Prior to the Wild Card round I expressed my opinion Kansas City is vulnerable. Nothing K.C. showed last week causes me to back off that opinion. And now there are questions about Mahomes. Backup Chad Henne is a capable but very rusty QB who can be rattled by Buffalo’s often aggressive defense.

Buffalo has shown it can win both high-scoring and low-scoring games. Kansas City’s play since midseason and their struggles last week settling for four FG attempts – three on fourth down in the red zone – suggest that even if facing Mahomes the Bills can pull the upset. But monitor line moves and be sure to take at least three points. BILLS

Last week: 1-3

Season: 48-60-1

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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