The Bettor's Guide to NFL Conference Championships
The Seattle Seahawks did look horrible on the road, as we expected during the divisional round, but we were hung up on the other, closer lines. Hopefully, with just two conference championship games to go before the Super Bowl, we'll bat a perfect 1.000.
As always, our spread odds are relayed by OddsShark, which has more than a dozen live lines from books stretching from Las Vegas to online. Recent trends come from TeamRankings.com, which provides several situations to isolate teams in, dating back to the 2003 regular season.
Join us as we attempt to close the season strong after a Green Bay Packers last-second field goal, a Kansas City Chiefs missed two-point conversion and a late cover by the New England Patriots hurt us last time around.
Record ATS total: 110-129-3
Record ATS last week: 1-3
Green Bay vs. Atlanta
Best home line: Atlanta -4
Best away line: Green Bay +5.5
Let's break this game down position by position.
Quarterback: You can take whatever stance you want on the MVP race this season in the NFL, but Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is likely the more talented passer, even if the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan leads a more explosive passing offense. Rodgers has thrown 24 passing touchdowns and just one interception since Week 10 of the regular season.
Running back: Green Bay's Ty Montgomery, a converted receiver, is the story of these two backfields, but the Packers are thin behind him, with just Christine Michael, who looks like he's desperately trying to show the coaching staff something every time he touches the ball, and Aaron Ripkowski, a fullback, behind him. Montgomery also struggles with pass protection.
On the other team, Atlanta has a two-headed monster of starting-caliber running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Edge: Atlanta.
Receivers: The Falcons have the flexibility to run three tight end formations, plus they have Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu as wideouts. Green Bay might have to enter this game with three receivers in Randall Cobb, a slot receiver by definition, Trevor Davis, a Day 3 rookie selection, and Jeff Janis, who had 11 receptions for 93 yards this season.
Offensive line: This is about a split, with the Packers getting the nod for their bookend combo, as David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga might be the best pair in the world, but Atlanta gets the crown for their interior offensive line.
Front seven: It's possible that Green Bay hasn't had a career season from anyone in its front seven other than Nick Perry, an outside linebacker. On the other hand, despite losing both Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby in the pass-rushing unit, the Falcons are incredibly fast and young, with Vic Beasley, the NFL's leading sack artist, leading the way for everyone.
Secondary: Green Bay's cornerbacks are Damarious Randall, who has had a sophomore slump, Ladarius Gunter, who went undrafted because of his 40-yard dash time, Quinten Rollins, who played four years of basketball before converting to football at Miami University, Ohio, Herb Waters, who is just converting from receiver cornerback as an undrafted free agent, and something called a Josh Hawkins.
Quarterback is the only position you can claim that the Packers have an edge in. Atlanta. Big.
The pick: Atlanta -4
Pittsburgh vs. New England
Best home line: New England -6
Best away line: Pittsburgh +6
At home this season, the New England Patriots are 7-2 against the spread, the best mark in the NFL according to TeamRankings.com. They have the second-best margin of victory in the NFL overall, behind the Seattle Seahawks, and the fifth-best margin of victory against the spread this season.
To say the least, they're dominant at home, and it's one reason why quarterback Tom Brady was able to post 28 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions despite missing star tight end Rob Gronkowski for large portions of the season and the fact that he served a four-game suspension, when he wasn't allowed at practice, to start off the year.
Since Ben Roethlisberger became the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, his team has traveled to New England four times. They've lost three of those games, with the combined margin of victory leaning 52 points in favor of New England in those wins.
Starting with the 2011 season, the Patriots are 8-1 at home in the playoffs. Just don't bet against Brady and Bill Belichick, even against the spread. The fact they covered against the Houston Texans, despite it being a three-score line in the second round of the playoffs, should have been enough evidence to dissuade you from leaning toward Pittsburgh here.
The pick: New England -6