Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 12:00 PM
For years and years, I've been emphasizing the importance of focusing on PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS when you handicap games. In the NFL, that's traditionally meant placing a top priority on the quarterback position. In this Sunday's conference championship games, that's going to be a little tricky.
Sure, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is one of the greatest to ever play the position. And, he came through for us last week, as my top selection was on the Pats (-) over Tennessee in a 35-14 blowout that was 35-7 until a late garbage time TD. But, the other three QBs on the field this week have question marks surrounding them in terms of true championship moxie.
BLAKE BORTLES of Jacksonville is just as likely to make a big play for his opponent as he is for the Jaguars! He only completed 14 passes in the upset of Pittsburgh last week. The Jags won because of a great rushing attack and a defense that scored a touchdown on his own. Entering the season, he was about the least likely "veteran" starting quarterback you could imagine reaching the Super Bowl.
NICK FOLES of Philadelphia was limited to short passes last week in a low scoring win over Atlanta. He was able to engineer long drives for field goals. Tough to make that work two weeks in a row, particularly when you're facing a great defense. Just a month ago, he wasn't even expected to be taking meaningful snaps for the Eagles!
CASE KEENUM of Minnesota shouldn't even be playing this week. New Orleans should have cashed tickets for us (the Saints did cover the closer of +5.5). He did make a big play at the end of the game thanks to a defensive miscue from New Orleans. But, the offense disappeared in the second half when it was most needed to produce. Can Keenum get the job done as a road favorite, outdoors, against a good defense this week? And, this is another signal caller who started the season as a backup.
Frankly, if you're making picks on either of those other three quarterbacks besides Brady, it's NOT because of the big play potential under a championship spotlight. It's because of defense, rushing, and/or line value.
I have to say that the way football is being played right now in the NFL, the concept of PLAYMAKING might need a little tweak. Quarterbacks aren't being asked to throw touchdown passes at the same volume as in the past. Now, the priority is moving the chains on third down conversions, so the offense can maintain possession, run clock, and let their own defense rest.
Check this out:
New England beat Tennessee 65% to 33% in third down conversions
Philadelphia beat Atlanta 46% to 31% in third down conversions
Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh 57% to 44% in third down conversions
Minnesota beat New Orleans 59% to 22% in third down conversions
Jacksonville wins games when Bortles avoids turnovers while helping his offense move the chains. Even if you see Brady vs. Bortles as a QB mismatch for the Patriots this Sunday (which it is!), that won't matter in terms of the high pointspread if Bortles can keep Brady off the field.
Minnesota actually routed New Orleans in this key area last week (despite an experience disadvantage against Drew Brees). The Vikings defense is historically great at preventing conversions. Keenum just has to do a good enough job to outperform what is own defense is allowing.
So, as you students here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting consider this Sunday's NFL matchups, it would behoove you to think of PLAYMAKING as executing in a way that moves the chains. Which QB's will make the right decisions under duress?
*Review how each quarterback's offense performed on third downs during the regular season vs. playoff caliber opposition.
*For the road quarterbacks, place extra emphasis on what they did in road games.
*Familiarize yourself with the defensive numbers on third down for the four remaining contenders.
*Familiarize yourself with the "red zone defense" numbers for the four remaining contenders, because that will give you additional insights into what's going to happen in crunch time at the point of attack.
I'm not going to post here in the coursework who my selections are for the weekend. That wouldn't be fair to my paying customers. Particularly when it looks like I might have my biggest unit-rated play of the NFL Playoffs to date. I can tell you that I'm thinking a lot about defenses this week. I'm already 6-2 through the first two rounds of the playoffs. There will be a significant defensive component behind any side or total release on my service.
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The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your continuing attendance and hard work. I trust that your seeing results with your own sports betting. It's impossible to win every selection. But, if you're fixing leaks in your game (cutting losses) while finding edges you used to miss (adding wins), your bankroll will benefit significantly. See you next week.