Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
Sunday January 17, 8:35am
The Kansas City Chiefs are hoping to make it an impressive 12 wins in a row when they visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots this weekend. Such runs are uncommon in the competitive league that is the NFL so the Chiefs should not be dismissed lightly here. Looking back to the last time these teams faced each other, which was only last season, you’ll see a dominant 41-14 win for KC. Tom Brady was benched during the game and the Pats fell to 2-2, questions were beginning to be asked about whether he was declining and one reporter even had the temerity to ask Head Coach Bill Belichick if he was considering a change at the QB position!
Coming into this game the Patriots have injuries, lots of injuries. The running back position is a huge problem with LeGarrette Blount and the early season’s surprise package Dion Lewis both out. The offensive line has been affected also forcing Rob Gronkowski, their best pass catcher, to become more of a blocking tight end. The Chiefs pass rush is strong, they rank fourth in the NFL for total sacks and Justin Houston is one of the best in the NFL at getting to the QB. The Patriots have lost four of their last six games but welcome back wide receiver Julian Edelman and that’s a big boost as they look to make their fifth AFC Championship game in a row.
Still, this is the Playoffs, and the Patriots in the Playoffs are a different animal. During the regular season the Patriots were almost unbeatable at home (7-1) but when Tom Brady has started a Playoff game in Foxboro they have won 14 games to just three losses (one, incredibly somehow, to Mark Sanchez). The Superbowl champs will be desperate to avenge the defeat that led to those questions last year and it will take a brave bettor to oppose them.
We are brave bettors. The Chiefs have lost their last five games in New England but matching the Patriots injuries with the impressive Chiefs defense there are valid grounds for an upset. Taking the Chiefs on the point spread (+4.5) is the safe bet here but braver punters will be eyeing the 3.05 on the Moneyline with relish.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
Monday January 18, 8:40am
We’ve a pretty familiar Playoff match here as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Denver Broncos in the post-season for the third time in 11 seasons. To get here the Steelers won a very eventful game on the road in Cincinnati against the Bengals 18-16. Denver have had the benefit of a week’s rest after winning their division.
In 2011, the last time these two met in the playoffs, Tim Tebow (no less!) upset the Steelers in Denver winning 29-23 in overtime. This time, however, the Broncos are heavily favoured and have named Peyton Manning as their starting QB with Brock Osweiler seemingly not having done enough in his absence to keep his place.
Manning is without doubt one of, if not the, best QB to ever suit up but this year, before his injury, he was one of the worst players at his position in the league. He threw just nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions in 10 games; he’d only previously managed to do that in a full season four times in 16 years!
The Steelers have their own issue at QB with starter Ben Roethlisberger being very vocal about his injury problems. He had to leave the game against the Bengals and his right shoulder is bad enough that he still isn’t practising as of Thursday. That said, he is one of the toughest players around and we’d be very surprised if he doesn’t start the game on Sunday. The situation with star wideout Antonio Brown is also a concern, he officially has a concussion albeit Adam Jones of the Bengals claims he faked it!
If one or both of those are out for Pittsburgh then the Steelers could be in for a tough time, Big Ben throwing to Antonio Brown accounts for nearly 40% of his pass completions. Even if Ben starts at QB he could barely throw the ball 20 yards last week and you have to wonder how fit he will be.
The Broncos defense is special, ranking first in total defense and first in sacks. With that added to the Steelers injuries and Mannings struggles on offense we don’t see a huge scoring game or a blowout here so we’re taking the unders.