Hey, it’s Moneyline Mo, the man in the know, officially resigned to the fact that I will not have a perfect playoff record of 13-0. This past weekend’s divisional round is one that will be talked about for the ages, so I can’t complain that I ended up splitting it 2-2 with two losses on Saturday and then two bounce back wins on Sunday. I could have just as easily gone 4-0 or 0-4, so I’ll settle for a split. In hindsight, I let my emotions cloud my judgement in picking Green Bay when I should have followed my gut that they were due for another crushing Saturday night divisional round loss. I’m telling you, that time slot is cursed, and I should have heeded my own warning!
I think in the immediate aftermath of the Green Bay game, the overall feeling was that Aaron Rodgers is done with the team and will be traded in the offseason. But then watching the other games this weekend, I don’t know if the grass is greener in the other conference for him. Would you rather stay where you are now in a division you can likely win the rest of your career and possibly be the only Hall of Fame quarterback in the conference (if Tom Brady retires) or would you want to go to a new team in the same conference that has Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and stars on the rise like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert? Like we saw with Brett Favre, I don’t think there’s any way that Green Bay trades him within their own conference so is there really a better situation for him elsewhere? For Rodgers, I think it’s the classic question of what’s better—the devil you know or the devil you don’t know? Whatever the case, I’m not crying that Green Bay’s loss means I won’t have to hear as much of his bullshit over the next few weeks…at least until he wins MVP.
So now we have our final four teams and personally my favorite day of the football season: Conference Championship Sunday. Two opportunities for close games with their own championship stakes and really the final games of the year that feel like actual football games. There are no neutral sites, no halftime shows, no prolonged commercial breaks, and most people attending the games are actual fans instead of well-connected league sponsors. I miss the old designs for the Lamar Hunt and George Halas trophies, but other than that it is one of the few sports days that hasn’t been spoiled yet. I fully expect the league to do something to muck up this day for me eventually, most likely spreading it out over two days, so I’m going to cherish it while it still lasts in its current form. Now let’s get to the picks:
KANSAS CITY OVER CINCINNATI
Should we even play the rest of the playoffs after that Kansas City-Buffalo game? Heck, should we even continue with any football games after that? I mean, that fourth quarter is about as good as the sport is ever going to get. I don’t necessarily want to see Kansas City win another championship, but it would almost be cruel if the winner of that amazing game didn’t then go on to win it all. In the aftermath of that game, I think the momentum is finally there to change the overtime rules…at least for the playoffs. I think the current overtime format should be retained for the regular season and then in the playoffs it should be one additional 15-minute quarter with 4th quarter rules/timing, and if the game is still tied at the end of it, then utilize the college-style approach of offenses starting at the opposing 25-yard line. I think that might be the fairest way to have overtime: giving more leeway in the playoffs, while still offering the abridged version during the regular season.
I wish this was a night game so our final two games of the season wouldn’t be at SoFi stadium, but I’m grateful that we get one last outdoor game this year. One thing I really appreciate about the AFC is that only four teams play indoors versus the seven teams in the NFC that have a roof over the field. In the history of the championship game, there’s only been two indoor games in the AFC. Meanwhile this Sunday will be the ninth indoor NFC Championship in just the past 25 years. And yes, I did an alternate data set for that conference because I didn’t want to get into semantics as to how to classify Texas Stadium. Whatever the case, I appreciate that I can usually count on the AFC to play their championship game outdoors, [full meatball football fan voice] THE WAY THE GAME SHOULD BE PLAYED!
I called Cincinnati the 2020s version of the 2010s Houston teams, but they’ve already proved me wrong by making it to a championship game. If they need to use “Moneyline Mo didn’t believe in us” as motivation, I’m proud to supply it. However, don’t forget that in Week 17, I called the Cincinnati upset over Kansas City, so you can’t say I didn’t previously believe in this Cincinnati team! In that Week 17 game, I thought Zac Taylor was making a mistake at the end of that game trying to score the touchdown instead of ensuring a lead with a field goal. However, the wild finish to last week’s Kansas City-Buffalo game reiterates that you need to maximize every scoring drive, take as much time as possible and do whatever you can to keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands.
I don’t want to classify it strictly as recency bias, but I just don’t see this Kansas City team not making the league championship. Other than Joe Mixon, I like Cincinnati a lot. I think their success this season can be sustainable for years to come, but they don’t strike me as conference champions at this time. They just haven’t earned it yet, baby.
I think we’ll see another high scoring game between these teams, and it might even come down to the wire again, but I think Kansas City will be the conference champion for the third year in a row.
SAN FRANCISCO OVER LOS ANGELES
If you revisit the Moneyline Mo archives from the regular season (and you really should now that you know the outcome of every game I picked), you’ll notice that I identified San Francisco as an under-the-radar contender in the middle of the season. In my Week 13 column, I even noted when the Super Bowl odds for them moved from 50-1 to 40-1, as I thought that was still a good buy and a sign that my belief in them wasn’t unfounded.
Now I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t pick against them last week, but I think I sufficiently cushioned my Packers pick with the caveat that I thought Green Bay was possibly a team of destiny. Folks, there’s no other way to say it: I went with my heart over my head and let my fandom get in the way of my better judgment. I’m disappointed in myself. Not as disappointed as Troy Aikman was in Jimmy Garoppolo throughout that game, but still wishing I had made a better decision.
While Garoppolo has had two games that were relative busts (both were sub-200 yards passing with 0 touchdowns and an interception in both games), Matthew Stafford has had two successful games (two touchdowns thrown in each game and no interceptions). It might be counterintuitive blackjack logic, but this week, I feel like the guy who’s had two busts is due for a good hand, maybe even a natural 21. Meanwhile, I think the guy who has been running hot at the table is due for a bust.
For all the criticism Jimmy Garoppolo has received this season, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s been in this spot before and this game on Sunday won’t be the biggest game of his life. That already happened two years ago when he took on Kansas City in the Super Bowl. He’s aiming to get back to that stage, but he’s been here before. On the other sidelines, Matthew Stafford has won a total of two playoff games in his career, and there’s a big difference in pressure from the divisional round to the conference championship. For as good as he is, he also can make huge mistakes. We saw four pick-sixes this season against him. I think that a bad Stafford game is due and is going to come at the worst possible time. Well, second worst possible. I guess the worst possible time would be in the Super Bowl. Or would this be the worst possible time because at least in that scenario you’ve made it to the title game? What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!
I also think the Week 18 matchup between Los Angeles and San Francisco is still firmly in Los Angeles’ head. That game had a huge contingency of vocal San Francisco fans and it clearly rattled Los Angeles as they played on their home field. As a result, Los Angeles has restricted ticket sales for this game only to those in the Los Angeles region. I always think restricting ticket sales to certain zip codes is a cowardly move any time I hear a team do it. All it does is help the secondary market by creating a level of scarcity and exclusivity that can be bypassed by using either a straw buyer or a reseller.
To make matters worse, Sean McVay is now publicly begging fans in Los Angeles not to sell their tickets. I try not to get too deep into psychology, but this doesn’t seem like a good sign for Los Angeles. Regardless of the number of San Francisco fans at the game, now it seems like Los Angeles is hyperaware that they might have to deal with crowd noise, and as a result, it will only amplify whatever noise they do hear from the San Francisco fans in attendance. I’m dumbfounded why McVay would be so public about this.
Listen, I can’t stand the smell of bell peppers and if I get even the faintest whiff of one, it psyches me out. Now, if I was football head coach and I knew the possibility of bell peppers would rattle me, I wouldn’t make a public announcement begging folks “please don’t bring any bell peppers to the game,” because all I’m doing is exposing my weakness to my opponent and their supporters. To me, Sean McVay seems like the kind of guy who has read The Art Of War but didn’t glean any lessons from it.
The one certainty for this game is that the broadcast will surely talk to death about how Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan used to coach together. I think they both can lack a feel for the moment, but I’ve seen Shanahan improve on that while I still have serious doubts about McVay. Even last week, it was almost like Los Angeles panicked since they weren’t expecting to be up 27-3 against Tampa Bay and let them back into the game. Los Angeles has invested heavily in this season, but I think it all comes to an end on Sunday at home in front of a bunch of San Francisco fans.
Honestly, I think any of the four potential Super Bowl matchups would be good, but my prediction is that we’ll get a rematch of the big game from two years ago. If you’re curious, that’s currently a +232 moneyline parlay, but again these articles are FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. Enjoy the games!
LAST WEEK: 2-2
PLAYOFFS SO FAR: 8-2