Sunday’s Best Bets – Sides

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If you are looking for my thoughts on the totals this week you can find that here, but just as there was one total that appears to be more actionable, the same can be side about the sides, and this time it shifts me over to the NFC side of things.

And for those of you that have read my NFL stuff throughout these playoffs, this week's play shouldn't come as any surprise given my Super Bowl prediction at the start of the playoffs.

NFC Championship
Green Bay at San Francisco (-7.5)

Green Bay fits a lot of things I like to see for a playoff game of this magnitude, and they might not be the things that everyone prefers to see when it comes down to it. Getting smoked by the 49ers in the regular season game should actually be viewed as a positive for the Packers in my view, as there is really nothing more motivating then getting another crack at a guy/team that absolutely spanked you the last time you played. Competitiveness is a funny beast, and for guys that make it to the pros in any sport, the desire to beat teams that beat up on you bad is always going to be high.

Furthermore, the fact that the Packers got smoked in that regular season game also suggests that they've got to change everything in their approach for this rematch. That works in their favor in the sense that the 49ers can't have a great idea of what to expect from Green Bay, and if the Packers execute, they will be well on their way.

Oh and there is this: the last four NFC Championship games that were non-division rematches from the same season have all seen the team that failed to cover ATS in the regular season – Green Bay in this case – come back and cover the number in the Conference Championship game; going 2-2 SU in the process. The Rams were the most recent team to fit this profile last year when they controversially got by New Orleans after losing SU and ATS to the Saints (45-35) in the regular season.

But oddly enough, the other three occurrences all included either the Packers or 49ers, with each side being on the wrong end of this equation. In the 2016 title game between the Packers and Falcons, Green Bay got blasted by Atlanta after covering the number in a 1-point regular season defeat. Back in 2011, the 49ers beat the Giants SU and ATS in the regular season, and then coughed up things to New York in the title game. The other occurrence was the only the Seattle/Green Bay title game where the Packers got the ATS win in their OT loss, after getting blasted by 20 in the regular season meeting. That latter scenario sounds awfully similar to this week's game doesn't it?

Aside from that history, the fact that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have fallen short in this game twice over the past six years is another motivating piece of data for Rodgers and company to overcome. Green Bay's QB was even quoted earlier this year about being on the “back 9” of his career, and to have another NFC Championship loss on his resume would surely eat at him, and potentially change the conversation about his career. Those are never great reasons to land on a particular side, but in this case, and this big number, I do think they've at least got to be acknowledged.

Schematically, Green Bay knows they've got to change basically everything from that first meeting and it starts with the blocking up front. If the Packers O-line can give Rodgers adequate protection back there, and Green Bay's running game can help neutralize that pass rush, the Packers will be cooking with gas this time around.

The 49ers defense may be healthier now, but they are still a unit that got lit up pretty good down the stretch this season, and if they aren't getting home with that pass rush, guys have been picking them apart. Rodgers is cerebral in that part of his game, and it's what I expect to see plenty of this week.

Finally, “experience” is often overused and nearly impossible to quantify, but when there is a lack of it, it's easy to point out and there has to be concerns. That's the situation this young 49ers team is in, as Jimmy G and company are all getting their first significant taste of playoff football (as starters), and that can bring plenty of nervousness as well. Should an early drive or two stall with a FG opportunity or three-and-out(s), and the 49ers find themselves far from being in rhythm, things can snowball very quickly for favorites at this stage of the year; I mean, just look at the Ravens a week ago. And like Tennessee in that game last week, the more time you allow the underdog to play from in front, the more confidence that underdog will gain.

Without question the 49ers have built a highly sustainable, and highly talented young core with this roster, but in the big five-year picture of this franchise, I've got a feeling we will be looking back at this NFC Championship game as one that was a big time, and needed learning experience for the 49ers. You've seemingly got to suffer heartbreak in this league before you can reach the mountain top, and a loss this week before going on to bigger things in the years to come for San Francisco is a very likely five-year result for this organization in my view.

This game will be the one where that young, prolific, team runs into the crafty old veteran who wants one more kick at the can in terms of chasing down a title. We saw this play out with the Pats/Chiefs AFC title game a year ago, and a year later, I believe we get the identical result. The road team going out and winning the game outright as an underdog to give their future HOF QB another crack at lifting a Lombardi Trophy.

Best Bet: Green Bay +7.5

Odds provided by FanDuel (IN, NJ, PA & WV only)
Subject to Change

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