Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
AFC Wild Card parlay
Chiefs vs. Colts – over 46.5
Chargers vs. Bengals – under 46.5
Throughout their 9-0 start, the Chiefs were a defensive juggernaut that featured the league’s most ferocious pass rush and allowed no more than 17 points in any game. The teams they were playing, however, included those from the weak NFC East – the division Andy Reid is most familiar with – and the likes of the Titans, Raiders, Browns and Jaguars. All told, they faced five of the league’s nine lowest scoring offenses during that span.
While injuries began to their toll on the defense, the Chiefs’ competition stiffened up over the second half of the season. At the same time, the offense turned a corner, the combination of which turned KC from an under team into an over team. In their final six games, the Chiefs averaged 33 points and went 5-1 to the over. Of course, the one time they went under was against these same Colts in a 23-7 Week 16 loss, but not much should be read into that performance. The Chiefs knew they were essentially locked into the 5-seed, and after scoring a touchdown on their first drive they dialed it back, clearly wanting to save their ammo. Bettors can expect to see a return to the high-scoring attack centered around a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles, particularly against a Colts defense that ranked 25th in opponents yards per rush (4.5).
Indy, meanwhile, had no trouble putting up points down the stretch, averaging 25.6 over their last five games while scoring at least 22 in each – just about in line with their average of 24.9 points per game at home this season. Moreover, in their pair of home contests against playoff teams, the Colts soared over the total in each one (34-28 vs. Seattle, 39-33 vs. Denver). Finally, special teams could also help the scoring, as neither KC (20th in the league) nor Indy (25th) boast good kickoff-coverage units. The Chiefs led the NFL in both average kickoff return yards (29.9) and touchdowns (2), and were just as explosive on punt returns. In this wild-card matchup, both teams can be expected to reach at least the mid-20s.
Moving to Sunday’s AFC wild-card game in Cincinnati, like its NFC counterpart between the 49ers and Packers in Green Bay, it appears as if weather is going to play a major role. A winter storm packing sleet and freezing rain – coupled with swirling winds – that’s expected to turn over to heavy snow sometime in the second half could wreak havoc on the aerial attacks of both teams. That doesn’t bode well for the Chargers, who are accustomed to the balmy sunshine of Southern California. And while they are 5-3 in Philip Rivers’ career in games with kickoff temperatures of 35 degrees or below, none of those contests were played in accumulating snow. The good news for San Diego is the playing field should be level for both quarterbacks, as Andy Dalton has also yet to play through significant snowfall as a pro (though the Bengals did practice in cold temperatures and light snowfall on Thursday).
Added up, the rushing respective rushing attacks and run defenses of each team will assume the spotlight. The Bengals have been stout against the run all season, allowing 96.5 yards per game (5th in the NFL) and 4.0 yards per carry (tied for 12th). Going back to the regular-season meeting between the teams in San Diego, Cincinnati has given up just 84.4 yards per game and a hair over four YPC. The Chargers have been significantly worse, surrendering averages of 107.8 yards (12th) and 4.6 per carry (27th). San Diego has, however, run the ball down the throats of the opposition during their four-game winning streak, grinding out nearly 165 yards per game.
Barring a last-minute change to the forecast, this contest is going to be waged in the trenches (similar to the previous two games between the teams, Bengals wins of 17-10 in Week 13 and 20-13 in December 2012). One final note: Games played in the elements are frequently wars of attrition. The Chargers have proven to be a tough team to knock out year, but it can’t be forgotten that it required four consecutive do-or-die wins – capped by a five-quarter slugfest with the Chiefs last week – just for them to get to the playoffs. And their reward is a cross-country trip for a 10 a.m. local time kickoff in hideous weather. The Bengals should win that war of attrition.
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