Championship week is upon us, which means the online sports betting market is hot. After one of the most memorable weekends in the history of the sport, everyone with an online sportsbook account is preparing their bets for today’s two sets of NFL odds. (Oh, and by the way: welcome, Louisiana!)
The first game of the Sunday slate is Bengals at Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking a home championship game for the fourth consecutive season.
In the most recent episode of our handicapping podcast, The Lion’s Edge, I explained why my favorite play for this weekend is a two-team teaser, tying together Chiefs -3 and 49ers +7.5 for a nice +110 payout. I don’t plan on taking a straight bet on either side of the AFC Championship.
However, there is enough interesting data on the total of Sunday’s opening game that I thought it might be worth a quick analysis.
AFC Championship Preview: Cincinnati Bengals (+7) at Kansas City Chiefs
The total in this game is absolutely fascinating. Like many of you, I was locked into the Bills/Chiefs instant classic last Sunday evening; a few minutes after overtime had ended, I saw when the trading team at BetMGM online sportsbook posted the opening line and total.
AFC Championship Game odds now live at @BetMGM.
Cincinnati (+7) at Kansas City
— The Lion’s Edge Podcast (@TheLionsEdge) January 24, 2022
Before I could even wind down from the theatrics and fall asleep, the total had already been bet up to 53.5, which is where movement-tracking sites like Covers or VegasInsider will tell you the line opened. That’s how quickly big money came in on the over – the amount of time between the open and the adjustment was imperceptible by the people and machines that track such things.
Currently, the total is sitting at 54.5.
There are a lot of factors that might push seasoned bettors to consider the under here. For one thing, there’s a lot of value in betting the under at 54.5, after four points of movement from open. For another, 72 percent of tickets on the over has the feel of a square side – particularly given the offensive reputation of the Chiefs and the last-minute offense from last week’s game.
On top of all that, Bengals/Chiefs is a championship game. Across pretty much every major sport, championship contests tend to skew toward the under.
Despite all that – the value, the championship factor, the squareness of the over – there is a pretty compelling historical case for the over.
If you look at the history of the AFC Championship game, the offensive output has exploded recently. From 1970 through 2017, the AFC Championship game had only eight games that featured 55 points or more. The other 40 games were lower-scoring affairs, which is fairly predictable for the time.
Crucially, though, the three most recent games (2018-20) have averaged a whopping 63 points per game. The lowest-scoring game of the three was the Chiefs’ 35-24 win over the Titans in January 2020.
Let’s acknowledge the obvious statistical caveats: this three-game streak is a small sample size, and each data point in the set exists independent of every other game. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the obvious trend in the AFC – thanks to a small group of powerful offenses and other-worldly quarterbacks, the offenses are exploding for way more points than ever before. There’s no reason to think Mahomes and the Burrow-to-Chase connection won’t keep pace with recent history.
Last week, in the Bills/Chiefs game, I made the ‘smart’ play on the total. I played the under with a lot of other professionals. It looked great until the two-minute warning.
All of a sudden, with the Bills’ successful two-point conversion, it was dead.
A few moments later, it was really dead.
That’s the risk you take when playing an under with these AFC quarterbacks. You might have traditional gambling wisdom on your side, and it just won’t matter.
Consider a play on the over in today’s AFC Championship game. If you think Kansas City’s pressure might limit Cincinnati’s ability to keep up offensively, you could always isolate Kansas City’s offense with a play on Kansas City TT Over 31.5.
Lean: Chiefs/Bengals Over 54.5