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NFL playoff betting: AFC and NFC championship opening lines

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When Patrick Mahomes couldn't fully extricate his right leg from trouble in the first quarter of his divisional-round game against the Jaguars, Chiefs backers and football fans alike felt like they just couldn't have nice things. The wild-card round was littered with quarterback uncertainty - annoying for bettors - so a competitively compromised first game this past weekend was particularly unwelcome. Luckily, Mahomes returned, but a high-ankle sprain of unknown severity has thrown the market for a loop.

Let's take a look at the conference championship matchups - how they opened and where they've settled - from a power-rating perspective. As always, the idea is to quantify how perceptions of these teams have changed based on one or two games.

The ratings below are out of 100 and suggest the likelihood of that team beating an average team on a neutral field. The market rating is an estimate based on recent point spreads, while the column furthest right is my own average rating for the team. If that rating is lower than the market's, it means I believe that team may be overrated. Conversely, if I'm higher on a team, I'd be more likely to back it in the playoffs.

49ers @ Eagles (-2.5, 45.5)

49ers 72 71
Eagles 73 66

The Eagles' market rating went way up for two reasons:

  1. Philadelphia annihilated the Giants in the Eagles' lone playoff game. Looking that good will always lead to a rating bump, no matter the opponent.
  2. Concerns about Jalen Hurts' shoulder seem to have been quelled, so there's no reason not to move the Eagles back into the echelon they inhabited prior to the Bears game where Hurts was injured.

We had an inkling that the Giants' offense would have a hard time adjusting to the Eagles' talent-scheme combination after a cushy matchup in Minnesota, but Daniel Jones going under his passing yardage total by almost 100 was still pretty jarring.

Despite covering, the 49ers' rating drifted backward thanks to a less aesthetically pleasing win over the Cowboys. Never outside of one score, San Francisco covering -4 seemed a little lucky in a game where each team only managed a single touchdown.

Bengals @ Chiefs (-1, 47.5)

Bengals 65 63
Chiefs 61 74

This is where things get interesting.

Any NFL bettor knows that it's hard to win bets and it's hard to handicap games, but if you don't understand where point spreads come from, it's over before it starts. A bet offered at bad odds can still win, but recognizing a good price is critical to long-term success.

Before Sunday's games, the sportsbook manager for the market-making Circa Sportsbook in Las Vegas hypothesized that the Chiefs, with a compromised Mahomes, would open -5.5 (-115) at home to the Bengals.

Per my healthy-Mahomes rating of 74, I had the Chiefs slightly lower at KC -5, with the benefit of boosting the Bengals' rating back up after it seemed like their offensive-line issues were overblown in Buffalo.

Meanwhile, the rival SuperBook opened the Chiefs -3.

The line then became widely available at pick'em and has ticked up to -1. So I had to ask: What does that mean for the Chiefs' rating?

Mahomes finished Saturday's game and reportedly felt better than expected on Sunday morning, and there hasn't been any indication that he won't play next Sunday night. Bettors have to decide what the Chiefs are with a less-than-100% mobile Mahomes.

A point spread of -1 suggests the Chiefs are now power-rated around 60 in the market, and that includes a sizable upgrade to the Bengals - one week after they needed a 98-yard fumble-return touchdown to beat Tyler Huntley and the Ravens at home.

Whether or not Mahomes was compromised, it was predictable that the Chiefs would get backdoored against the spread, as few bets are less profitable than laying a big number on Kansas City. That's why we tried to avoid late-game shenanigans with a first-half bet last week, but there's no need to worry about that given this line for the AFC championship.

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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