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NFL playoff picks: Saints win low-scoring NFC title game, plus more of Tom Fornelli’s best bets

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There are only three football games left in the season unless you count the Pro Bowl, but you definitely shouldn’t count the Pro Bowl. I know some people bet on it, which makes it real, but Gambler’s Anonymous exists for a reason, and I would bet that no fewer than 95 percent of anybody in a meeting realized they had a problem when they were betting on the Pro Bowl.

Anyway, I didn’t even get through an entire paragraph before getting off track. Maybe I did it intentionally to avoid mentioning my 0-3 performance last weekend, or perhaps I’m just sad the season is ending, and I’m not ready to confront it. Whatever the case, there are only three games left, with two this weekend and the Super Bowl in two weeks.

So there aren’t many options available to us this weekend, but I’ve got three plays between the two conference championship games. Let’s get to it.

Stream the NFC Championship game on fuboTV, try it for free, and stream the AFC Championship game on CBS All Access.  

Saints (-3) vs. Rams

These two teams played earlier this season in one of the best games of the NFL season. The Saints won that game 45-35, and like this week’s game, it will be played in New Orleans. Of course, the Saints were humming at the time, and Drew Brees was well on his way to an MVP season. Things have slowed down a bit since then, however. The Saints won three of their last four regular-season games, but in those games, Brees completed 69.2 percent of his passes, but his yards per attempt numbers are down to a measly 6.4, and he has 3 touchdowns to go with 3 interceptions. In the first 11 games of the season, Brees was completing 76.4 percent of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt and had 29 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. So things have dropped off.

So why am I taking the Saints? Well, a few reasons. One, Brees bounced back a bit last week against Philadelphia. After a slow start to the game, he finished with 301 yards while completing nearly 75 percent of his passes for 7.9 yards per attempt. Also, three of those last four regular season games were on the road, and Brees and the Saints are always different outside the Superdome. Finally, I don’t know if the Saints will need to air it out to beat this Rams team. The Rams come into this game with one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, and I expect the Saints to use Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara accordingly, which plays a role in my next pick.

Who wins the AFC and NFC Championship Games? And which sides of the spread can you bank on in well over half of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which NFL teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has beaten 98 percent of experts over the past two years. 

Saints vs. Rams (Under 57)

The first game featured 80 points, and the total got that high even though the Rams came up empty on a couple of red-zone possessions in the game. Well, even if I believe the same team will win in the rematch, I don’t expect we’ll see the same game. I expect New Orleans to try to run the ball more not just because the Rams defense has a hard time stopping the run, but because it’ll also keep the Rams offense off the field a bit. The Rams offense averaged 8.2 yards per play in the regular season meeting, after all.

The Saints, meanwhile, have one of the best rush defenses in the league. They’ve allowed 3.6 yards per carry, which is tied with Houston for the fewest in the league. They will not have Sheldon Rankins in this game, which hurts, but I believe the Saints defense will focus on limiting Todd Gurley’s impact as much as possible, making Jared Goff beat them. We’ve seen two Goffs this season: one with Cooper Kupp and one without. Here’s a comparison of the two:

With Kupp

10

68.37

6.63

1.81

9.44

W/O Kupp

7

59.14

3.89

2.33

6.77

So if the Saints can limit Gurley’s impact, it will limit what the Rams offense can do overall, and that will lead to a lower-scoring affair than expected. Saints 27, Rams 20

Listen to Pete Prisco, R.J. White and Will Brinson break down their Championship Sunday picks on the Pick Six Podcast:

Chiefs (-3) vs. Patriots

I am picking against Tom Brady and the Patriots for the second-consecutive week, and believe me when I tell you I’m terrified of this pick, even if I believe it to be the right one. I just can’t get past the difference between the Patriots at home this season compared to the Patriots on the road.

At home, the Patriots are 9-0 overall, 7-2 ATS, and have averaged 33.8 points per game.

On the road the Patriots are 3-5 overall, 3-5 ATS and have averaged 21.6 points per game.

Those three road wins came against the Bears, Bills and Jets, while the losses came to the Jaguars, Lions, Titans, Dolphins and Steelers. Now, the Bears win was impressive, but it’s easy to forget that two of New England’s five touchdowns that day came on special teams.

I have no doubt in my mind that Bill Belichick will figure out a way to slow down Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes. He’s Bill Belichick, after all. It’s just, you can slow down the Chiefs, but you aren’t going to stop them. That much was evident when Mahomes threw for 352 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Pats in Foxboro earlier this season. It won’t be easy by any stretch, but the Chiefs will do just enough to get past New England and get to the Super Bowl. Chiefs 34, Patriots 30



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