I rebounded from my "bad beat" two weeks ago to post a 3-1 record last week, bringing my season record to 41-35 (54%). Since there are only three games left in the season, I'm now assured of a season-long winning record in both my
and college football picks.
History of the Championship Game Round
Listen up! In the 58 conference championship games since the merger of the
American Football League
and the National Football League in 1969, the point spread has mattered in the outcome of only three games! Sixteen underdogs have won the game straight up, or SU. The favorite has won the other 42 times -- and the point spread has not affected the betting outcome in 39 of those 42 games. The only underdogs who lost the game but covered the spread were the 1983 San Francisco
(they were 10-point underdogs and lost to the
24-21), the 1991 Denver
(they were 10 1/2-point underdogs and lost to the
10-7) and the 1995 Indianapolis
(they were 11 1/2-point underdogs and lost 20-16 to the
). When a team is favored by 7 or more points, that team's record against the spread, or ATS, is 17-6. In that time frame, home favorites are 35-21-2 ATS. While the lines for this week appear to be inflated, the oddsmaker is simply reflecting the history of the conference championship games.
This Week's Picks
St. Louis Rams (minus 13 1/2) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When I was a novice handicapper in the 1980s, I would always look at a playoff game in the same way that I looked at a regular season game. In a regular season game, the
would be favored over the
by about 9 points. In this game, they are favored by 13 1/2 points. In the 1980s, this would invariably lead me to bet on a team like the Bucs because I was getting 4 1/2 points of "value." I slowly learned that this method of handicapping was WRONG!
In the playoffs, as the statistics quoted above demonstrate, you simply try to figure out which team is going to win the game. I will admit that a 13 1/2-point spread does give the Bucs a lot of wiggle room to lose the game but cover the spread. I just don't think they will be able to do so.
The Redskins' porous defense shut down the Bucs' running attack last week and held Tampa Bay to 14 points. Unless there are multiple turnovers, I simply can't see how the conservative offense of the Bucs will be able to put more than 10 points up on the scoreboard, particularly on a Ram defense that is better than the Redskin defense and is playing at home.
The question then becomes: Can St. Louis score 24 points on the Buccaneers' stellar defense? In my humble opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. The Rams offense has not been stopped all year. They are winning their games by an average score of 34-16. At home they are 9-0 SU and ATS; the only team to come within 17 points of the Rams was the Minnesota
-- in last week's playoff game.
And the final score was deceiving, since the Vikings scored three late meaningless touchdowns. The history of both the conference championship games and the
demonstrates that you want to bet on the team that is on a roll.
That team is the Rams. I could bore you with all the matchups that will enable the Rams to score against the vaunted Tampa defense, but it would serve no purpose. The Rams are so deep in their offensive threats that they obtain favorable matchups in every game. Although Tampa Bay has great linebackers, you cannot expect a linebacker to guard a wide receiver -- and when the Rams put four or five wide receivers on the field, the linebackers will have to match up one on one with one of the receivers. The Rams will easily defeat such one-on-one coverage.
In a "traditional set," the Ram wide receivers will face a zone defense by Tampa Bay. If the linebackers drop back too far, Marshall Faulk will run wild. If they honor the run, Rams receivers Isaac Bruce, Az Hakim and Torry Holt will successfully run crossing patterns over the middle and Kurt Warner will get the ball to them in full stride, as he has done all season.
If the line on this game had come out at less than 10 points, this would have been a double or triple play for me. At 13 1/2, I'll make the Rams a regular play since one or two turnovers by the Rams could well enable the Bucs to cover the spread.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans (no selection)
OK -- so I am wimping out on this game. I have gone back and forth in my mind as what to do with this game. The 7-point spread on this game is a perfect line. I have already discussed the proclivity of home favorites to win and cover the spread in the conference championship game. However, the
have beat the
twice this season and that has given me reason to pause.
While the "talking heads" keep telling us how difficult it is to beat a team three times in one season, the reality is that, since 1970, two teams have met three times in a season 37 times. Twenty-five times those teams have split the games in the regular season. Twelve times a team has swept the regular season series. On seven of those 12 occasions, the team that has swept the regular season series has won the playoff game also. Thus the "myth" does not equate with the reality.
Tennessee is a team with a very good defense and a very mediocre offense. Jacksonville has both a very good offense and a very good defense. Tennessee crushed the Jaguars in their meeting on Dec. 26, but because Mark Brunell was injured during that game, I do not think the result is particularly valuable for handicapping purposes other than to provide a strong "revenge" motive for Jacksonville. The Jags are an exceptional home team -- they are 16-2 SU and 12-6 ATS over the last two years at Alltel Stadium.
As a result of piling up an early lead on the
last week, Jacksonville was able to pull some of its starters early -- including Brunell. The Titans are playing their 13th straight game without a bye. The Titans know how to win on the road only one way -- keep the game close into the fourth quarter. This makes them a very good underdog. But, if the Titans fall behind by more than a touchdown, it is very difficult for them to come back because of Steve McNair's inconsistent passing.
After deliberating on the game, I am personally playing a parlay with the Jaguars minus 7 parlayed to the over-39 1/2 points. This means that, to win my bet, the Jaguars must win by more than 7 points and the total points scored by both teams must equal 40 or more. If you win this bet, you win between $260 and $280 (depending on where you make your bet) for every $100 bet. Normally, I do not bet parlays because they are not profitable in the long run. But my analysis of this game is that a high-scoring game makes it far more likely that the Jaguars will cover the point spread. As long as the game is played close to the vest, it will be low scoring and the Titans will probably cover the spread.
But if the Jaguars get ahead by more than a touchdown, Jeff Fisher will be forced to open up his offense. Because I don't think McNair is capable of playing in a wide-open game without throwing interceptions, I expect that the Jaguars will be able to expand their margin of victory in a wide-open game. Although I assign a 50-50 probability to whether the game will be a low-scoring game (where the Titans will probably cover the spread) or a high-scoring game (where the Jaguars will probably cover the spread), betting a parlay allows me to get more bang for my buck and a greater return on my investment if my analysis is correct.
I also would not argue with anyone who wanted to parlay the Titans plus 7 with the under-39 1/2, since my reasoning applies with equal logic to that parlay. So, officially I have no play on this game, but I will be betting my Jaguars and over parlay.
Let's see how much you have learned this season. Assuming that the Rams and Jaguars advance to the Super Bowl, the line will be:
Rams by 9
Rams by 8
Rams by 7
Rams by 6
Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years, and welcomes your feedback at