Familiar faces dot the NFL playoff landscape. The Philadelphia Eagles did not make the postseason, but leave a footprint on the sport’s final four playoff teams.
NFC: Green Bay Packers versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3:05 p.m. FOX
AFC: Kansas City Chiefs versus the Buffalo Bills, 6:40 p.m. CBS
Both are rematches, won earlier by Tampa Bay and Kansas City, respectively
Andy Reid of the Chiefs, Sean McDermott of the Bills and Todd Bowles from the Bucs are the celebrated Eagles’ alumnus in the post-season spotlight.
And they headline this week’s Odds Five.
Eagles reunion: Reid vs. McDermott
Reid’s defending Super Bowl champs are slightly favored against one his disciples, McDermott, in the AFC Championship Game.
The line indicates the expectation that Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes, knocked out of the divisional-round game against the Cleveland Browns, will be cleared to play. Mahomes missed the fourth quarter and Kansas City nearly coughed up the lead before hanging on to a 22-17 triumph.
The fact that there is a line also is important. If the sportsbooks believed Mahomes was not going to play, this game would have been temporarily off the board.
As far as the Eagles connect goes, Reid coached the Eagles from 2003-2012. McDermott was a defensive coordinator under Reid.
Closer look at the Super Bowl champs
Kansas City bettors could call him St. Patrick. With Mahomes, the all-world quarterback, the Chiefs amassed a 19-3 halftime lead against the Browns, scoring on all four first half possessions and accumulating 293 yards.
And then came the play that put the team’s future in peril. Mahomes tried a quarterback rollout with his team nursing a 19-10 third-quarter lead. He already had sustained a foot injury earlier in the game. But Reid called a run-pass option and Mahomes suffered a massive hit. He was knocked out of the game.
Chad Henne came on in relief and guided the Chiefs to a field goal. And he made two late plays to clinch the 22-17 triumph, but the confidence surge for the Browns after Mahomes’ departure was palpable. Kansas City’s defense of its Super Bowl title nearly ended.
The betting line will tell you everything you need to know about Mahomes’ condition. Based on initial post-game tests, one would figure him to be cleared to play against Buffalo. That’s why the line was slightly under a field goal.
Then Buffalo would be favored, and maybe by more than a field goal.
Chiefs bettors take a wait-and-see approach to the line. Some Buffalo bettors gambled on the medical report. They make the bet as though Mahomes will play. If he does not, they still get 2.5 points when the Bills would actually be giving points if Mahomes can’t go. If he does play, nothing is lost. The line reflects the belief Mahomes will start.
Buffalo Bills coming up big
There is a different hero every week for the Bills. In the season finale against the Miami Dolphins, it was Isaiah McKenzie notching three second-quarter touchdowns, one on a punt return.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in the first playoff round, it was quarterback Josh Allen overcoming his team’s weak defense, which allowed nearly 500 scrimmage yards.
But in the second playoff round, against the Baltimore Ravens, the defense saved the day.
With Buffalo leading 10-3 and the Ravens about to score the tying TD, Taron Johnson picked Lamar Jackson and went 101 yards for the back-breaking score.
How big is that? Johnson intercepted the ball in his own end zone and rumbled all the way into the Ravens’ end zone.
On the following series, the defense knocked Jackson out of the game.
Who will step up this week?
There has been a magical air of destiny for the Bills, who keep improving to make each required step for advancement. Buffalo has won eight in a row. And look who the Bills are beating: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Colts and the Ravens, among others.
Can they add the Chiefs to that list?
Mr. Rodgers lifts the Pack
Why is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers worth roughly nine points to the betting line?
His performance in Green Bay’s 32-18 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams in the division round provides an indication. Rodgers made key plays just as it looked like the Rams could contain him in the divisional victory over LA.
When the Packers snapped a 3-3 tie, Rodgers completed an innovative third-down scoring play. Devante Adams started in motion, came across the field and Rodgers hit him with a quick 1-yard touchdown play. The Rams had appeared poised to stop the drive.
With the score 10-3 Rodgers made another acrobatic third-down play. After being flushed out of the pocket, he faked a defender out of position, scrambled right and ran into the corner of the end zone.
At the end of the half, he made a 33-yard completion after being flushed from the pocket and with a defender draped over him. That led to a field goal on the final play of the half.
Three Rodgers gems. Three plays worth 11 points to the Packers. That accounts for two touchdowns rather than field goals and the field goal they did make.
And thus we have the matchup of Rodgers’ magical qualities versus the Tampa Bay defense, which caused four turnovers in its 30-20 dismantling of the New Orleans Saints.
The Bucs and the bucks
DraftKings Sportsbook has its biggest Super Bowl liability with the Bucs, who soared from 50-1 down to roughly 15-1 in the days after Tom Brady was decided to leave the New England Patriots for them.
Brady did not even have to do the heavy lifting in Tampa Bay’s win over the Saints. Bowles’ defense did with the four takeaways. It was the Bowles’ finest hour as a defensive coordinator.
Brady also led the team to 17 unanswered points on three consecutive possessions after New Orleans failed to put the game away in the second half.
Just as the Tampa Bay-New Orleans line disregarded New Orleans’ two previous trouncing of Tampa Bay, this line ignores an earlier game too. Remember that midseason shocker when these teams met? Bucs 38, Packers 10.
It’s a new day, a new game and snow is expected in the forecast. Either quarterback is comfortable in those circumstances.
As a side not, Super Bowl 55 is being played in Tampa.
NFL final four: When you’re hot, you’re hot
No wonder it’s hard to separate the final four teams. Look at their winning streaks, bridging the regular and postseason. It comes to 32 straight triumphs:
- Green Bay, seven
- Tampa Bay, six
- Kansas City, 11 (if you count not resting their players in the meaningless Week 17 game)
- Buffalo, eight
That’s some quality football. The bettors, and the public, should be in for a treat Sunday.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara