Brady, Patriots betting favorites hosting Steelers in AFC Championship game

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The feeling that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have one creaky effort out of their system spurs the idea they can continue to be nearly automatic at home. The Patriots are listed as 5.5-point betting favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 50.5-point total for the AFC Championship Game, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Not only has New England long enjoyed the upper hand against the Steelers – 10-3-1 against the spread in their last 14 matchups – but they are also 9-2 ATS on the NFL betting lines in their last 11 home games at Gillette Stadium and 8-1 SU in their last nine home games against teams with winning records.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who are 13-5 SU and 11-6-1 ATS, are on a nine-win streak thanks to building their offense around shifty and tireless RB Le’Veon Bell. New England’s run defense is far stronger than what Pittsburgh has seen so far in the playoffs, but it’s doubtful Bell’s production will completely dry up since the Patriots are too smart to over-commit to stopping him.

While WR Antonio Brown can be nightmarish to cover, the Steelers’ lack of receiving threats beyond him might make it tough for Roethlisberger to pick apart the Patriots’ pass defense, although his offensive line should be able to give him time to throw.

Having success as an underdog in January is not a role in which the Steelers historically thrive; they are 3-10 SU in their last 13 playoff games as an underdog according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Patriots, who are 15-2 SU and 11-6 ATS, have only been stopped this season when Brady and the offense encounter a dominant pass rush. After a slow start in that phase, Pittsburgh has improved immensely due to the trio of OLB Bud Dupree, ageless OLB James Harrison and DE Stephon Tuitt, who will have to get by the strong pass protection of Patriots RT Marcus Cannon and LT Nate Solder.

The Steelers pass defenders have occasionally been beaten deep. Among the Patriots’ speed receivers, Chris Hogan (thigh) seems more likely to be 100 percent than Malcolm Mitchell (knee). Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman also offer the potential to spread the Steelers thin.

New England, the Super Bowl 51 betting favorites, used leading rusher LeGarrette Blount sparingly in the Divisional Round, which could have been a factor in the Patriots’ offense being sporadic. Blount has had a full week of practice this time.

The visiting team is 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS in the last three years in conference championship games. The total has gone under in the Patriots’ last six AFC Championship Game matchups. The total has gone under in nine of the Steelers’ last 11 games as an underdog.

Two teams are set to dominate the 2019 NFL Draft: Patriots and…the Raiders?

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The owner of the 2019 NFL Draft? Oakland, with rookie GM Mike Mayock, who counts Bill Belichick as one of his best friends in football.

The power broker, potentially, of the 2019 NFL Draft? New England, which will have the ammo to move up, down and sideways—and Belichick has always loved wheeling and dealing on draft weekend.

The Raiders have four picks in the top 35. The Patriots have one pick in the top 55. But that’s a misleading part of the story. There’s great depth in this draft from pick 25 to 100 and even deeper, some scouts at the Senior Bowl thought. So there could be fine value in the Patriot picks when they are slated to choose five times in a 45-pick span from 56 to 101.

Raiders and Patriots picks in the top 110 overall choices of the draft, as of today:

• New England: 1st round, 32nd overall; 2-56; 2-64; 3-73; 3-97^; 3-101^

• Oakland: 1st round, 4th overall; 1-24; 1-27; 2-35; 3-66; 4-106

^ Projected compensatory picks for the losses of Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler in free agency, as calculated by Over the Cap’s Nick Korte.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America by clicking here

Bengals coach Zac Taylor has had no time to process the Rams’ crushing Super Bowl LIII loss

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Don’t you always wonder what it’s like for a man to coach in the Super Bowl, then, a day or two later, get introduced as the new coach of Team X? It’s crazy. Happened twice last week. The Patriots found it odd that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was in their Atlanta lobby at 9 a.m. Monday, 5.5 hours after the Super Bowl victory party ended, to ferry new coach Brian Flores (ex-Patriots defensive coordinator) to south Florida to be introduced as coach Monday afternoon. Zac Taylor had a few more hours to get his family to Cincinnati. The former Rams quarterback coach’s introductory press conference was Tuesday.

So it was interesting to hear Taylor’s reaction over the weekend when I asked him: “How disappointing was it to play the way your offense played in the Super Bowl?”

“I haven’t had a chance to process it, quite honestly,” he said from Cincinnati. “There just hasn’t been time. I haven’t watched the game. Honestly, I’m conflicted. It’s devastating to work so hard to get to the championship game, and for your entire team to pour everything they’ve got into it, and then to lose like that.

“But five or six hours after the game, I’m on a plane to Cincinnati, on the way to fulfill a dream I’ve had for so long—to be a head coach in the NFL. And then your brain goes there. It’s just … it’s just the way it is, and you’ve got to turn the page.”

There was some discomfort in his voice, bordering on pain. It’s easy to sit back and say, Buck up, buddy. You’re about to make millions to coach a football team. True, but if you’ve been a football coach for a while, and you help your team get to the Super Bowl, regardless of the outcome, it’s got to be odd to just walk out the door a few hours after the biggest game of all of your lives, no time to process or adjust, and you move on while everyone else wallows.

One other question. I asked Taylor if he’d had much of a chance to consider how close the Rams came to taking a lead with four minutes left in the third quarter, when Jason McCourty, panic-stricken, ran 20 yards in 2.4 seconds (per NFL Next Gen Stats) to bat a decisive touchdown away from Brandin Cooks in the back of the end zone. If Jared Goff was a millisecond quicker with his throw, the touchdown would have given LA a 7-3 lead and put huge pressure on New England. Instead, the Rams settled for a field goal to tie it, 3-3.

Taylor: Sigh.

“In football, you just miss by inch sometimes,” he said. “You can be an inch from … “

Sigh again.

“That’s football in a nutshell. That’s football.”

I thought that would be it from Taylor, but he brightened, as his mentor Sean McVay would have. Taylor continued, “Criticism, pressure, adversity. We want our staff and our players to understand that this is the NFL. This is why you do this job. The energy, the camaraderie, can’t be duplicated, except maybe at the craps table in Vegas when you’re on a roll.”

The Bengals have needed some energy, and an offensive spur. I’m looking forward to seeing what Taylor can provide.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America by clicking here