NFL playoff picks: Why Patriots-Chiefs may not be the shootout you expect and more tips

We're down to four playoff teams vying for the Super Bowl title, and this Sunday brings us two rematches of high-scoring regular-season games. The Saints beat the Rams 45-35 in New Orleans in early November in a game that went over the closing total of 57. And the Patriots edged the Chiefs 43-40 in an October game at Foxborough that went over the closing total of 59.5.

Now it's the middle of January, and those four teams will battle for two spots in the Super Bowl in two games with totals around 56. But should we expect more shootouts on Sunday?

In Rams-Saints, it makes sense. That game is back indoors, where before Sunday the Saints historically play high-scoring games in the playoffs. Eight of the Saints' nine home playoff games before this year topped 50 points, and the one that didn't was a 27-21 loss back in 1991. Eagles-Saints last Sunday was the first Saints home playoff game to go Under the total.

But for Patriots-Chiefs? You might want to forget about expecting to see fireworks if the game gets cold enough.

The high in Kansas City was projected early in the week to be in the teens or even lower, and that's a concern for anyone taking the Over. There have been 61 NFL games since 2000 where the temperature was 19 degrees or less, and only 11 of those games finishes with 57 points or more. In the playoffs, we've seen just 34 games all-time where the temperature was 19 degrees or less, and only five of those managed to finish with at least 57 points.

The Patriots are mainstays in the playoffs and often play at home in January, so they should have plenty of experience with temperatures this cold, right? Actually, they've only had four such games since 2001: a 26-6 win at home over Bryce Petty and the Jets in Week 17 of the 2017 season; a 16-3 win over Trevor Siemian and the Broncos in Week 15 of the 2016 season; a 41-27 win over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in January 2005; and a 17-14 win over the Titans in the divisional round in January 2004.

That AFC Championship Game featured a combined 69 rush attempts and just 45 pass attempts between Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, but there have been just two games since where neither team threw the ball 25 times yet both teams combined for at least 57 points. If we get a similarly run-heavy gameplan from the Chiefs and Patriots on Sunday, it's hard to see the game going Over.

But there's a chance it won't be quite as cold as anticipated. On Thursday, the projected temperature at kickoff was up to 23 degrees. If you increase our sample to games played at 25 degrees or colder, teams combined for at least 57 points in 23 out of 130 games. That's about in line with our 11-of-61 sample above, though it may not be as easy an autoplay with two top offenses. 

There's never been a game at 25 degrees or less with a closing total of 55 or more, so we could be heading into uncharted territory. The closest we've come is Week 13 of the 2014 season, when the Patriots went to Green Bay and played the Packers in 28-degree weather with a closing total of 58. The final? Green Bay 26, New England 21. 

Stream the NFC Championship game on fuboTV, try it for free, and stream the AFC Championship game on CBS All Access.

If you want to know which sides I like this week, you can find that info at the SportsLine link below, where all my rated plays appear during the season along with plenty of great analysis from a fantastic collection of experts. You can also check out where all our CBS Sports staff lands on each game each week right here.

Each week in this space, I'm going to go behind the lines and picks to bring you a bit of a deeper dive into what you should know before locking in your plays. Let's get to it.

My picks

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Rams at Saints (-3.5)

Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Saints -4
Opening line: Saints -3


LARNO
Record vs. spread 8-8-1 10-7
Yards per play differential 0.4 0.3
Points per drive offense rank 3 2
Points per drive defense rank 21 20
Weighted DVOA 20.221.3
Pass offense DVOA rank 5 3
Pass defense DVOA rank 9 22
Run offense DVOA rank 1 8
Run defense DVOA rank 28 3

The Rams' one weakness this year has been their run defense, so the thinking went that the Cowboys should be able to pound the ball against Los Angeles' front-seven. Then the Rams went out and gave up just 50 rushing yards in a 30-22 win over Dallas. Now they head to New Orleans, where they gave up 45 points, 487 yards (346 passing, 141 rushing) and 31 first downs in a regular-season loss. The Rams defense has largely played well on the road this year, but they really didn't face any good offenses aside from the Saints (the Seahawks would be their second-toughest matchup, and then ... maybe the Broncos? Lions? Bears?).

The Saints' pass defense would appear to be their Achilles heel, but they were much better in the second half, holding their opponents to no more than 210 passing yards in five of their last eight regular-season games then only giving up 201 passing yards (and 250 yards overall) against the Eagles. But they suffered a big loss on the interior of their defense when Sheldon Rankins went down with a torn Achilles on Sunday, and the Rams' elite offensive line is certainly capable of making them pay by pounding the ball as a result.

Only four playoff games have ever had an over/under of 57 or more, with two of those coming in New Orleans. All four have went over the total. But the Over is just 20-22-1 for totals of 51 to 56.5, so if either one of these games closes just a little lower than their opening totals, it completely changes the ball game.

Patriots at Chiefs (-3)

Home-field advantage: 3 points
Power rating line: Chiefs -3.5
Opening line: Chiefs -3


NEKC
Record vs. spread 10-7 10-6-1
Yards per play differential 0.2 0.9
Points per drive offense rank 8 1
Points per drive defense rank 7 28
Weighted DVOA 23.826.4
Pass offense DVOA rank 4 1
Pass defense DVOA rank 14 12
Run offense DVOA rank 9 4
Run defense DVOA rank 19 32

The Patriots have played 38 playoffs games since 2001 and they've only been underdogs in six of them, and only one of those games came after the 2006 season. This is not a position Bill Belichick and Tom Brady find themselves in very often, and all you had to do was listen to Brady after his team's win over the Chargers (as favorites, mind you) to tell how eager he is to play the "nobody believes in us" card.

While the Patriots often feel unbeatable in the playoffs, your best chance is to get them away from Foxborough. They're 8-7 straight up on the road and in neutral-site games (aka, the Super Bowl) with Brady compared to 20-3 at home. They've also only covered six times in their 15 games away from Foxborough in that stretch.

The Chiefs are 8-1 straight up at home this year but just 5-4 ATS, with their only loss coming by one point against the Chargers late in the regular season. They have scored 26 points or more in every home game this year. But Andy Reid is no stranger to losing at home in January, with the Chiefs ending their last two postseason trips with close losses at home.

From a matchup perspective, both teams have had trouble defending the run this year, with both ranking in the bottom four of yards per carry allowed. But the Patriots only allowed 19 rushing yards against the Chargers, and the Chiefs held the Colts to 87 rushing yards one week after they racked up 200 against the Texans

Teaser of the Week

No teaser this week with only two games and me not wanting to tease through zero. If you like the favorites to win, you're better off just parlaying those moneylines and getting something around +165 rather than teasing through zero and paying -110. The teaser of the week is 14-5 after the Rams and Saints both covered as small favorites on the teaser line.

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