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$FML - Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs Betting Preview - 1/30

Last week, @FastMoneyLabs ($FML) stumbled to an 0-1 start before smashing 3 straight picks (including a +440 SGP!) to cap an incredible debut for @FlashPicks, finishing 3-1 on Best Bets highlighted in his Divisional Round previews. He’s heating up, but in comments to @FlashPicks staff, it’s clear he’s not satisfied yet. Can $FML keep the good juju rolling going into Championship Weekend?

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs (3:07PM ET)

13 seconds. Just short of the optimal time to microwave a Krispy Kreme donut (15-20 seconds), and just long of what the Buffalo Bills thought they needed to avoid heartbreak at the hands of Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs. Now, the former are microwaving donuts while the latter prepare to host their 4th straight AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. Is Joe Burrow doomed to meet Josh Allen in the kitchen?

Before I break it down, here’s a snapshot of league-wide trends I found interesting during my research process:

  • Since 2001 (last 20 seasons), according to StatHead.com, Championship Weekend Underdogs are a measly 13-27 (32.5%) straight-up. Against the spread (ATS), they’ve performed about as expected, covering at a 50% clip (20-20 ATS).
  • Excluding six teams that played at home, those records drop to 10-24 (29.4%) straight-up and 16-18 (47.1%) ATS. Not good for Joe Burrow & Co. – currently penciled as 7-point Dogs for this weekend’s visit to Kansas City.
  • Looking at more recent trends, in the last 3 seasons (since 2018), Road Underdog records improve to 3-3 (50%) straight up and 3-3 (50%) ATS. Perhaps a silver lining for Cincinnati? Not so fast.

If you support the Bengals, look away, because this next stat is sobering: of the three teams I just referenced that pulled off upsets, all three were getting 3-points or less (i.e. +3 or lower spread). To find a longer-shot Dog that was victorious, we need to look all the way back to 2012, when Joe Flacco’s Ravens (+7.5 closing spread) reigned supreme in Foxborough over Tom Brady’s Patriots.

Now the key question...

The answer, potentially, is nothing. Why? Because what good are 20-year trends when there’s actual data and tape to dissect for this specific matchup? Exactly. It doesn’t always work out like this, but as recently as Week 17, these teams clashed, and it was Cincinnati – not Kansas City – who emerged victorious.

Can they do it again? To answer, I think we need to ask two related questions first: (1) Was Week 17’s result justified? and (2) What, if anything, has changed since then?

To be fair to Cincinnati, they played INCREDIBLE that week. Almost too good. They went down early (28-17 at halftime) but roared back, hitting multiple explosive plays in the 2nd half to secure victory over Mahomes and a Fantasy Football Championship for @FastMoneyLabs (s/o Ja’Marr Chase!)
The problem? Like I said, they almost played too good. Meaning they probably need to be near-perfect again to repeat the result. Impossible? No – but it’s a thin line. If you think Chiefs Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, plans to let Ja’Marr Chase shred his secondary for 266 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns again, think twice, because that man knows how to game plan.

That said, a few key things have changed since then, headlined by Kansas City losing superstar safety, Tyrann Mathieu (aka the key to stopping Ja’Marr Chase), to a concussion last week, and he remains in protocol as I type this column. I wouldn’t be shocked if he clears protocol by Sunday; however, if he doesn’t, it would immediately inject Cincinnati with confidence and serve as a tailwind to their chances at pulling off an upset.

A second change since Week 17 worth noting relates to the Bengals’ pass protection – or lack thereof – on Divisional Weekend. We knew the Titans’ defensive line was good, but 9 sacks?! That’s downright mean. While the Chiefs’ front-four is less intimidating, you better believe they’ll be equally focused on pressuring Burrow into mistakes and pounding him into the turf. If Cincinnati can’t protect their Quarterback, it’s hard to see them winning this game.

Conclusion & $FML Best Bet

My read of the spread is that +7 feels a little high, reflecting my views that (1) Cincinnati already proved they can hang with the Chiefs by beating them outright in Week 17, and (2) as I mentioned last week, the Bengals are one of the best teams in the league at keeping games close. Including playoffs, the 2021 Bengals are 12-7 (63.2%) ATS Overall and 7-3 (70%) ATS as an Underdog.

That said, after watching that 13-second miracle drive play out in Kansas City, I can say with confidence: @FastMoneyLabs is NOT in the business of fading the magician Mahomes in an AFC Championship game played on his home turf in Kansas City. There’s just no shot. That type of betting might be considered sharp, but it takes brass – the likes of which I ain’t got. I do think it’s the right play to take Bengals +7. I’m just not brave enough to do it.

Rather than take the points, I prefer backing the team I expect to win – the Chiefs – and structuring the bet as a 7-point teaser. This involves buying 7-points on the Chiefs spread (effectively giving us moneyline) and parlaying it with a bet the Game Total will finish OVER 47.5 (7-points less than the current price).

Structuring the bet this way gives us exposure to the Over (3-0 in AFC Championships played in KC since 2019) and removes the stress of needing to cover a spread – all for the reasonable price of -115 available at time of publishing at MGM.

Best Bet

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Chiefs ML / Over 47.5 Points Teaser @ -115
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