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NFC Championship Best Bet

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Conference Championship Weekend: Total Report

Three have been eight games in the NFL playoffs so far and the totals for those contests have gone 4-4 O/U. However, all four "unders" came during Wildcard Weekend and all four "overs" came this past weekend during the divisional round. This past weekend's game set an NFL record for points scored in any round with 276. Because of that, we have seen two very high opening numbers for the Conference Championship games and both are already getting heavy action (85% or more) on the "overs". It is important not to overreact to what you last saw though and this weekend may prove it.

Here is this week's best bet:

NFC Championship: San Francisco vs. Atlanta: Total set at 49

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All the early money (over 90%) as come on this over after San Francisco's dominant offensive performance in their win over Green Bay. San Fran racked up 579 yards of offense, scored 45 points and looked unstoppable after throwing a pick-6 on their opening drive. It is no surprise after that performance that many bettors are strong believers in San Fran's ability to put up points, I believe this total is too high and the "under" is the way to go here.

The first thing to note is that SF managed to score 40 or more two other times this year and their offense was a dud the next week. After they beat Buffalo 45-3 in Week 5, San Fran hosted the Giants at home and lost 26-3. The second time was after they beat New England 41-34 late in the year and the next week saw them score only 13 in a blowout (42-13) loss to Seattle. That is a combined 16 points the week after giving the scoreboard a workout, and although Atlanta's defense isn't exceptional, the Falcons didn't post the best record in the NFC by not being able to stop anyone.

Secondly, this will be the fourth game this year in a dome stadium for the 49ers and they've had varied success. They were 1-2 SU in their three previous games, only beating the Saints. The 49ers put up 31 points in that win but that was against arguably the worst defense in all of football and the game still only finished with 52 points. More importantly though is the fact that they only scored 13 points in those two "dome" losses vs. Minnesota (Week 3) and St Louis (Week 12). Kaepernick did not start in that Minnesota game, but he was there for that Rams contest and other than a 50-yard run, he really was contained (21-for-32 for 208 yards passing, 84 rushing yards). He is still a young QB in this league and noisy domes give even the most veteran QB's problems.

Thirdly, a lot is being made of the fact that San Fran basically stopped running zone read plays and the "pistol" formation in Weeks 16 and 17 to remove it from the minds of their first round opponent. That strategy worked to perfection against the Packers as Kaepernick set an NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB in NFL history and the 49ers put up 323 rushing yards.

Well, not only will Atlanta be prepared for the pistol formation, they have also been practicing and preparing for zone-read QB's for what will now be three weeks. Atlanta had to figure they would get the winner of the Wildcard game between Seattle and Washington and no doubt spent plenty of time during their bye week preparing for it. Once they learned they would be playing Seattle, the Falcons then spent their week of preparation focused on shutting down the Marshawn Lynch/Russell Wilson rushing attack and did a very good job of it. Those two combined for only 106 yards rushing yards as it was Wilson's arm that got the Seahawks back into that game. The zone-read play was a big part of Seattle's offense all year and Atlanta had been preparing for it for two weeks. In fact, Seattle ran the ball numerous times from that zone-read look and Wilson never pulled the ball in and kept it himself. Not once. That's how well Atlanta was containing him. The Falcons are preparing to stop a zone-read QB for the third straight week now and will be confident in knowing how to stop it after last week's success.

Finally, San Francisco's defense knows they have to step up in this game after giving up 31 points vs. the Packers. That was nearly double their season average (17.1 pts allowed/game), and it is rare for this defense to get lit up twice in a row. They finished the regular season 3rd in yards allowed per game, 4th against the rush, 4th against the pass, and held opponents to 33% on 3rd down conversions; only Denver (30.6%) was better.

Simply put, this is too many points to expect in a game of this magnitude. Only four of the past 13 NFC Championships have seen more than 49 points scored. Three of those four "overs" involved a team that had a top-4 ranked offense, including the #1 offense in the entire league that year twice (2001 STL, 2009 NO). Neither Atlanta nor San Fran finished this year higher than 4th in any of the major offensive categories (yards, rush yards, pass yards, points) which makes this high number an overreaction to last week's record breaking point totals.

Take the under 49 points.

  
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