Hey, it’s Moneyline Mo, the man in the know, and we only have one game (and one column) to go! I’ve never been a fan of the two-week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, and that extended period sure didn’t do the league any favors this year! Will the game this week be enough to distract from the very serious allegations against the league and its network of oligarchies? I doubt it!

Sure, enough time has probably passed that you might have forgotten that I picked Kansas City and San Francisco to advance and make it to this game, but I refuse to let my mistakes fly under the radar! Not in this column and certainly not in my life every night when trying to fall asleep! While I was wrong, I appreciate that with this current matchup, we will officially have a five-year stretch with a different champion every single year. To me, that is the best metric of parity. Sure, we’ve had some of the same teams as contenders during this window but having a different champion each year is an indicator to me that, at least in terms of competition, the league is healthy. I think this was one of the best playoffs in a long time. Five of the last six games were walkoff wins, which is an anomaly I don’t think we’ll ever see again in the playoffs.

I told you that I love Conference Championship Sunday and what a treat that we got two close games this year. While Cincinnati’s comeback over Kansas City was genuinely exciting, I thought the second game between Los Angeles and San Francisco was a contest of two teams trying the give the game away. I thought it was a horribly coached game by Sean McVay, especially how he burned through all his timeouts in the second half with over five minutes to go. And on the flipside, Kyle Shanahan got caught in limbo with his final timeouts and for some reason didn’t use them before the two-minute warning. I also have no idea why Shanahan didn’t put the ball in Deebo Samuel’s hands in the final drives of the game for San Francisco. Neither team deserved to win that game, so it’s a shame that one had to.

So now that the needless week off has passed, the big game is finally near. And for this final column of the season, I will keep you in suspense and make you scroll to the bottom to see who I picked as the winner. Before we get into the Xs and Os, I have to cover all the minutiae surrounding the game first. With the new 18-game schedule, this year’s game comes dangerously close to Valentine’s Day. And if you’ve been reading my columns this season, you know I’m a forward-thinker, so I wonder if the league has a plan in place for 2027 when the game would fall on the holiday itself. Do you think they might bump the season up before Labor Day weekend like it used to be…or do you think they are completely unaware of the overlapping events scheduled to take place five years from now?

Do you have your plans finalized for the game this year? Are you going to a party or staying in? Do you have your array of snacks ready for the game? Are any of them contenders from the Wisconsin Snack Bracket? Are you participating in a pool this year? The first time I ever heard of a pool for the Big Game was when I was a kid and my friend Joey told me his dad was in one. I thought he was being literal, so for over 30 years I’ve had a mental image of his dad shirtless in a swimming pool watching the game. My memory isn’t quite as good as Marilu Henner’s, but this image that I made up is seared into my brain for the rest of my life.

Are you ready for all the commercials during the game to be misses? I feel like over the past decade they have become so homogenized where 95 percent are following the same playbook. Every commercial features at least one of the following elements: celebrity cameos, over the top comedic violence, a licensed song that we all know, forced jokes, a dramatic reading/recording of a famous speech, and shots of middle America.

Worst of all, the advertisers now have teasers for their commercials ahead of the game. As if seeing a commercial that a beverage company is going to have a commercial this Sunday would now convince me to tune into the event. It’s like the recent trend of movie trailers having a five-second teaser at the top before going into the longer trailer. The competition for attention is so intense that the approach is to try to hook you in before showing you a commercial, which also has the intention of hooking you in. One year, I actually saw the Super Bowl without any of the commercials. My wife and I went on a cruise in 2013 and caught the international feed of the game. We got the CBS game broadcast, but during the commercial breaks, we were treated to a loop of ESPN International commercials for cricket, soccer and baseball. Like a sucker, I DVR’d the game so we could watch the commercials as soon as we got back home and let me tell you, that was NOT WORTH IT!

Here’s a Moneyline Mo Guarantee (patent pending) for you: this year’s halftime show will be controversial for the sole reason of rap being performed. And in the wake of that controversy, I think we’ll get a safe act next year like Bon Jovi or the Foo Fighters. And please don’t think that’s a knock against either of them. You’re going to hear so many complaints from people who will hate this year’s halftime show that I predict the league will think they have to appeal to an older demographic next year. In college, I actually shouted at a guy who said the Paul McCartney halftime show sucked, so I’m not above overreacting to these performances. Really, I think the only way to make everyone happy is to make it Indiana Jones-themed every single year.

I haven’t heard, is there a big TV show premiering or special episode airing after the big game this year? Is that not happening because of the winter games taking place at the same time? I’m a big fan of the show Homicide: Life on the Street, and was stunned to learn that it premiered following the first Dallas-Buffalo Super Bowl. If you’ve never seen the show, the first season is especially bleak, but the pilot episode has rookie detective Tim Bayliss assigned to the case of a child who was murdered. Think of all the parties back on January 31, 1993 that just kept NBC on in the background after the game who then had to scramble to change the channel as this episode aired. As I write this, I’m thinking maybe I’ll have to revisit Homicide: Life on the Street during the offseason. I believe in physical media, so I have the box set that looks like a huge case file. It takes up too much room, but I’ll never give it up.

Now I don’t think enough is being made about this being the final time we get Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth calling a game together. They have been the best broadcast pair since the days of John Madden and Pat Summerall, so I do feel a sadness that it’s coming to an end. Michaels will either be on Amazon or ESPN next season, and the rumor is that if it’s the former, he will paired with Troy Aikman. Personally, I don’t think that would be a great pairing because Aikman has shown a pessimistic streak this year, which Joe Buck can pivot out of, but I think Michaels would be more likely to complain along with Aikman. Speaking of Aikman, do you remember during the Green Bay-Los Angeles game back in Week 12 when he said he wasn’t sure if Los Angeles would win another game this season? I knew it was a dumb comment at the time, and it certainly is even dumber now in hindsight. Okay, so let’s get on to the game itself…

Los Angeles is playing at home and they are the favorites, but I can see them playing very tight this game. I’ve said it repeatedly, but I think McVay is a good coach who can really struggle in the big moment. Between McVay’s clock mismanagement/desperate challenges and some Matthew Stafford passes that should have been easy interceptions, I think Los Angeles is very lucky to be in the position they’re in. For Los Angeles, they have invested so much into this season that if they were to lose, it would be a crushing disappointment. I think the fact that they are playing in their home stadium only adds more pressure.

As for their opponent, I think Cincinnati is in a great position where it is such a young team that they are playing with house money. They absolutely have earned the spot they are in, but no one was holding them to the expectations of a championship and they’ll still be celebrated even if they lose. No matter what, thanks to them, I now can consistently spell Cincinnati correctly, which is something I could not do back when I wrote my first column this season. I don’t know if they’ll hang a banner about this accomplishment, but I didn’t want it to get lost in the rest of their success this year.

One of my favorite storylines from the playoffs is the development of Evan McPherson as the confident can’t-miss kicker. I’ve talked with multiple friends who seem to have forgotten about how the Green Bay-Cincinnati game went this year. Mason Crosby and Evan McPherson combined to miss five field goals in clutch situations, including misses in overtime by each kicker that would have been a walkoff win for their team. However, McPherson only missed three other field goals during the regular season and has yet to miss one in the postseason (currently 12 for 12), so I’m all for embracing him as the best kicker in years.

Speaking of special teams, as far as prop bets for the game, I honestly think there is some good value right now related to punts. The bookmakers think of everything for this game, and out of all the categories you can bet on, I’m really intrigued by the following punting odds:

If Johnny Hekker has a punt that results in a touchback, that is currently +500. If the same happens for Kevin Huber, that’s +345. If either team downs a punt inside the 5-yard line that is +400. And if either Los Angeles or Cincinnati don’t punt in the game, that is +750. As always, my column is FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, but I also really like the idea of someone only watching the game for the punts. I’m confident least one of these bets is going to pay out, but I don’t have enough certainty to tell you which one is a sure thing.

Okay, I’ve kept you waiting long enough, here’s my pick for the game on Sunday. I think that Los Angeles is the more talented group of players, but I think Cincinnati is the better team. Cincinnati has weaknesses (that offensive line in particular), but I think they make up for it with their team unity. I also just can’t see Matthew Stafford being a champion, at least not yet. I think he got very lucky in the conference championship game, but now up against a much more aggressive team and coach, he won’t be able to get away with those same mistakes. Joe Burrow might be young, but he has the same number of career playoff wins as Stafford, and he has the rare ability to be cocky in a likeable way. I’ve never smoked anything in my life thanks to D.A.R.E., but Joe Burrow looks cool smoking and I think he’s going to light a victory cigar on Sunday night. So, here you have it folks, in my final pick of the year, I’m backing the underdog!

CINCINNATI OVER LOS ANGELES
In fact, not only do I predict that Cincinnati will win the championship, but I think we’ll get an expedited Ja’Marr Chase Funko Pop out of this as well! So really it would be a victory for the entire nation.
Thank you to everyone who read my columns and to Milwaukee Record for the opportunity to share my picks and thoughts every week of the season. As the man in the know, I’m glad I was able to provide both a winning regular season and postseason. Now, let’s just hope Cincinnati delivers one final win for Moneyline Mo. I’m begging you, Cincinnati, do it for me and the readers of Milwaukee Record. We all deserve it. More than anyone. Enjoy the game!

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 167-104-1
POSTSEASON RECORD (SO FAR): 8-4

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