When Trying to Pick a Winner, Go With Experience


Why I Like the Chiefs and 49ers Both to Win and Cover

Everybody has an opinion on the two NFL conference championship games being played this weekend. Click onto any sports gambling website and you'll find every facet of both games analyzed excessively, followed by "experts" spewing their opinions about why they like one side or the other.


When Trying to Pick a Winner, Go With Experience

Though I can't prove this, I'm also convinced there's an inherently dangerous and powerful "echo chamber" effect in mainstream sports gambling, especially when it comes to NFL handicapping.

NFL reporters, writers, analysts, and even many handicappers read, watch and listen to each other’s stuff. They get caught up in hype, especially early in the week when reliable information is often elusive. They….err, make that “we” – I’m not necessarily immune from this effect….rush to early judgment and lock in an opinion.

Indeed, we can’t help but be influenced by others, especially when accompanied by facts and data. Then, by kickoff time, many are parroting each other's talking points, cutting and pasting trend results, and there’s often a consensus opinion on games. I'd even go so far as to say that most mainstream media handicapping prognostications are either completely worthless or counterproductive.

Red Flag: If you don't see a reliable and up-to-date W-L betting record attached to "analysis," most of the time, it's junk.

So, I won't even try to provide the kinds of information and data here that you'll find on most other NFL handicapping pages. By all means, do check out places that offer reliable handicapping tools and game breakdowns, so long as there's some kind of track record to go along with it; which now brings me to my own tipping point and determining factor when picking the winners of these two conference championship games.

I'm going with experience. I'm betting on proven winners. I'm wagering my money on players and teams that have been here before and been successful.

Kansas City at Baltimore

Line: Ravens -4
O/U: 44.5

Head coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs are playing in the AFC Championship Game for the sixth consecutive season. Many teams with such high accolades, including three conference championship wins and two Super Bowl victories within the last four seasons would typically be nearing the end of a successful trajectory. It's hard to stay on top in the NFL. However, Kansas City remains very much in their prime and so long as Mahomes stays healthy, this should be a Super Bowl contender for a very long time. Winning is a habit.

Detractors might note the Chiefs looked sloppy much of this past regular season. They struggled at times. Kansas City certainly lost games versus outclassed opponents they should have won. My counter-take on this is that the Chiefs often went through the motions and were flat in many games. Their overall stats and rankings, particularly on offense, were down. Yet, when the games mattered most, Kansas City usually rose to the occasion. The evidence of this was two-fold: First, a decisive and dominant win in the first round against Miami (considered by many as one of the best offensive teams in the NFL). Second, Kansas City accomplished something they didn’t have to do in the past, which was win a road playoff game. Buffalo was on their own win streak and played well last week, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Chiefs. Kansas City played their best game of the season and made all the critical plays when they had to. If they won in Buffalo (which also has lots of playoff experience), they can certainly win in Baltimore.

Let's also note this is one of the better Kansas City defenses we've seen, statistically speaking. While the Chiefs have some injury concerns this week (and admittedly, that could be serious), I tend to view injuries on well-coached teams to be a bit overrated. The spread on this game moved from Ravens -3 (open) to -4 (current) based largely on the news about the Chiefs' defensive injuries. What I see here is the echo effect in action. Yes, this is likely to be an advantage for Baltimore. But is it really so impactful the line should move from one key number to another? I'll fade popular opinion here and take the proven team that wins, even with their presumed deficiencies.

​​It's impossible to handicap this game and not acknowledge the impressive performance of the Ravens over the course of the regular season, who up to this point are clearly the NFL's best team. We've seen the glittering stats about Baltimore demolishing several playoff teams, especially at home. If Baltimore brings its best game, they will be hard to beat.

That said, I'm counting on the intangibles. We've not seen quarterback Lamar Jackson have to engineer a game-winning drive in the playoffs. When Baltimore has been in this spot before, they've choked in big games (since 2012). Perhaps this Ravens' team is much better now. We shall see. Until I see evidence that Baltimore is a superior team under pressure, and worthy of laying significant points, I'm taking the defending champions who always either win outright in games like this, or at least keep the score close -- and besides, +4 points is too many to give to any team coached by Andy Reid and quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes.

My Pick: Kansas City +4

Detroit at San Francisco

Line: 49ers -7
O/U: 51.5

This game analysis will sound like a broken record. Cut and paste the Kansas City comments above and apply them here. While San Francisco hasn't enjoyed nearly the success of Kansas City recently, the 49ers staff and players do boast lots of playoff experience, including a winning mentality that's been intrinsic within this franchise from top to bottom for several decades. I think that should be weighed heavily here when handicapping this game. San Francisco simply expects to win.

While the 49ers looked flat in their playoff opener hosting Green Bay last week (which should be a reasonable concern), oftentimes we see those subpar efforts as a giant wake-up call. Experienced and well-coached teams shake off rust and rise to the occasion in their next outing, especially playing back-to-back big games at home. This appears to be an ideal situation for the 49ers to do precisely that – and rebound. Prior to losing to Baltimore at home a month ago, many analysts were saying San Francisco was the best team in the NFL. Their recent less-steller efforts may have dampened that enthusiasm, but their personnel remains the same, and now they're fully healthy (recall the disaster of last year's conference championship game at Philadelphia when the 49ers had to put in a non-QB to run the offense).

Most football fans outside of the San Francisco Bay area will be cheering for Detroit in this game, which has been the NFL's laughingstock for half a century. The Lions are an inspiring success and certainly a fun team to watch. One never knows what will happen with the Lions so long as head coach Dan Campbell is calling the shots. He'll probably do some unconventional things in this game because that's likely what it will take to win and pull off the upset. Don't expect the 49ers to be fooled to go to sleep on fake punt and onsides kick situations. The book on Campbell and the Lions is well-known and even the surprises are no longer surprising.

To their credit, San Francisco usually won games by double digits. So, overcoming a -7 pointspread hasn't been a problem. Add the intensity of a home championship game, and the 49ers could run up points, especially versus a very marginal Lions' defense.

Anything within the margin of a touchdown is worth laying here. I'm going with the experienced team with proven performers in playoff games. I'm not sure how Detroit will rekindle the jubilation of their first playoff win last week in more than 30 years. For Detroit, this has already been a successful season. For San Francisco, the only successful season is a Super Bowl win.

My Pick: San Francisco -7

Note: For my own handicapping record and past results, please visit: nolandalla.com


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