I'm not trying to depress you, but this is the last weekend with multiple NFL games until the fall. Sure, we still have March Madness and the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs, but the NFL is still king around here, and we'll miss it.
There's a reason we have Football Fridays in this newsletter but not Basketball Fridays, and it's not just alliteration. Well, OK, so the fact most basketball lines aren't posted until the day of the game plays a pretty significant role too, but that's not the point! The point is we love football, and we love betting on it, but it will be gone soon. Let us cherish the time we have remaining.
- These predictions for the conference championship games are so bold that I suggest putting on a protective visor.
- Listen, I get it, but you can't make every kind of tackle illegal. You'll never litigate risk out of the sport.
- Wow, a coach is frustrated with Ben Simmons. Get out of here. That never happens.
Let's get to the winners.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Bucks at Pacers, 7 p.m. | TV: NBA League Pass
- Key Trend: The Pacers are 11-5 ATS as home dogs this season.
- The Pick: Pacers +8.5 (-110)
The Pacers will be without Tyrese Haliburton again tonight, as he's out for at least another week with a knee injury. That's a significant loss, but the Pacers have been without Haliburton for over two weeks and are finally adjusting. They started 0-5 without him but have been much better in their last three games.
Sure, they've only won one of them (a six-point win over Chicago), but the road losses to Phoenix and Orlando were close. While tonight's matchup will be difficult, the line gives Milwaukee a bit too much credit. It's not as if Milwaukee's at full strength. Bobby Portis suffered a knee injury that'll keep him out for at least a week, and while he's going to play, Giannis is dealing with a knee issue of his own.
Also, the Pacers have been excellent against the spread. The Pacers are 16-9 ATS at home this season, including 11-5 ATS as home dogs. The Bucks have been good ATS this year too, but their dominance is at home, where they're 16-8 ATS. On the road, they're only 9-12-3 ATS. Finally, Milwaukee's coming off a big win over Denver and has another big game at home Sunday against New Orleans. The Bucks wouldn't be the first team to get caught looking past a road game against a team at the bottom of the league.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model and I are in a slight disagreement about the spread, but it's a bigger fan of a play on the total anyway.
🏈 NFL Championship Sunday Picks
49ers at Eagles, Sunday, 3 p.m. | TV: FOX
The Pick: Eagles -2.5 (-120) -- I keep betting against Brock Purdy and losing. What do you want from me? I'm stubborn. That's why I'm doing it again. Now Purdy is on the road, facing an elite defense and a team with an offense that won't screw up repeatedly. Seriously, Purdy and the Niners didn't play that well offensively last week. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys gave the game away.
The Eagles won't. Philadelphia has been the most complete team in the NFC all season long, and it might be the best team in the NFL. Offensively there isn't anything they can't do, and when it's not clicking, they have a defense that keeps them in games. Don't get me wrong, the 49ers are great too, but they'll need too many breaks to go their way this weekend to leave Philly with the win.
Bengals at Chiefs, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Bengals (+100) -- I'm not buying it. You can show me video of Patrick Mahomes stretching at practice. You can tell me he was a full participant. He can even walk smoothly away from the podium after a press conference. I don't believe it. Some people want to believe Damar Hamlin is a body double. I prefer to believe Mahomes' ankle is in much worse shape than advertised, and this is all a smokescreen by Kansas City to force Cincinnati to prepare for the typically mobile Mahomes.
I don't think he'll be the mobile Mahomes. Which stinks because this is a matchup of what I believe to be the two best quarterbacks in the NFL, and I'd prefer having both at full strength. So not only do I think Cincinnati will have the better and healthier QB on Sunday, but the Bengals also have better skill position players than the Chiefs. I don't think it's an accident that the Bengals have had as much success against the Chiefs as they have, and the success continues Sunday.
💰 Other Picks
🏀 College Basketball
Oakland at Youngstown State, 9 p.m | TV: ESPN2
The Pick: Oakland +9 (-110) -- I'm not a television executive or a conference commissioner, but I like to play one in this newsletter. The Friday night college basketball slates are pretty thin. There are only 10 games on the schedule tonight, and none involve a "major" league. I know we like to save games for Saturday and Sunday, but wouldn't it make sense for at least one of the major conferences to play some games on Friday night? It feels like a missed opportunity.
Anyway, as for this incredible Horizon League game we're betting, this spread is a bit too optimistic about Youngstown State's chances by my calculations. The Penguins are probably the best team in the Horizon League, but they're a mess defensively. They've just been so good offensively that it hasn't mattered. However, conference play has been much kinder to Oakland, as the Grizzlies are 7-3 and have been pretty sound defensively. The Penguins beat the Grizzlies by 16 two weeks ago, but they shot 14/26 from three in that game. I don't think they'll do it again, and the Grizzlies will keep this one a lot closer.
Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. | TV: ESPN+
The Pick: Over 3.5 (+120) -- I began a tradition a few years ago where I buy my favorite shirt every season from a team I don't support. Last year I bought the black, white and pink PSG alternate. This season I bought Monchengladbach's home kit. This has absolutely nothing to do with my play, it's just a nice shirt, and I like it a lot. I hope it has goals in it because we're betting the over here.
I don't bet the Bundesliga in this newsletter often, but it's a fun league if you like goals. Bundesliga matches average 3.27 goals this season, which is 0.33 more goals per game than the next highest of Europe's top five leagues (France's Ligue 1 is at 2.94). This match is likely to add to that average. Hoffenheim has been outscored at home 13-14, but its xG at home is 16.1-10.8. It's been unlucky. Meanwhile, Monchengladbach's defending falls off a cliff when it hits the road. It goes from allowing an average of 1.32 xG per match at home to 1.6 on the road. This line is too juicy to pass up, given the chance of a goal fest breaking out.
Napoli vs. Roma, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. | TV: Paramount+
The Pick: Under 2.5 (-115) -- Please understand that I know how condescending what I'm about to say sounds, but I'm sincere when I say it. As a Napoli fan, I am thrilled with the season the team is having. Napoli has dominated Serie A and has a 12-point lead in the league at the halfway mark. It's on pace for 100 points. It's also been dominant in the Champions League. It's wonderful. At the same time, I kind of wish the race for Napoli's first Seria A title since 1990 was a little more dramatic. Instead of living and dying with the results every week, the only thing I have to fear is an epic collapse. That's not fun. Nor is it likely, because another reason I wish the race were tighter is I believe the fact it isn't says more about the rest of Serie A than it does Napoli, but that's an entirely different story for another time.
What matters now is this match. We've made a lot of money in this column betting Roma against bad teams and betting against Roma against good teams, but we're changing the script a bit this week. Thanks to the 15-point penalty suffered by Juventus, Roma finds itself in the thick of the race for a Champions League spot, and it's played better lately. As with all Jose Mourinho teams, the impetus for the improvement has been defensively. Roma has allowed an average of 0.6 expected goals (xG) over its last 11 Serie A matches. It only allowed more than 1.0 xG in any of them. That includes the 1-0 loss to Napoli in late October, in which Roma was the first to truly fluster Napoli before they found a breakthrough goal. I expect this weekend's matchup won't look much different than the first.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The Projection Model's favorite play of the night is on the game between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.