As the teams in the NFL playoffs diminish, the emphasis on defense has traditionally become a decisive factor.
Now, after the field has been whittled to eight teams, the lowest over-under point total set by Nevada oddsmakers for the divisional round is 48 points — in typically frigid New England.
The Chargers are a 4 1/2-point underdog to five-time champion Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots. The Chargers staved off a desperate fourth-quarter push by the AFC North Division champion Ravens on Sunday to prevail 23-17 in Baltimore.
CBS will televise the game from Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday at 10:05 a.m. PST. The early weather forecast is for a high of 28 degrees that day.
By virtue of a missed Chicago Bears field goal that struck both the left upright and crossbar before bouncing backward to the end zone in the waning seconds of a 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon, the popular Dallas Cowboys will now venture to the Coliseum Saturday to meet the Rams at 5:15 p.m.
The NFC West champion Rams are favored by seven points, with the over-under set at 49 1/2 points.
Earlier Saturday in the AFC divisional game, top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes (50 touchdown passes this season) are a six-point favorite over the wild-card Indianapolis Colts, with the over/under at 57.
The weekend’s closing game sees the NFC top-seeded and Super Bowl-favorite New Orleans Saints as a nine-point favorite over the defending Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles, with the over-under set at 51.5 points.
The Eagles were the beneficiary of the missed 36-yeard field goal by Bears kicker Cody Parkey, eliminating the NFC North champions.
“All of these [divisional] games will most likely be played in good weather and [inflated scoring] is the NFL these days, especially as we start talking about the better teams that remain,” said Westgate Superbook Race and Sports Director Jay Kornegay.
“Powerful offenses — with one game in a dome, and one in L.A. — they’re going to be just fine there. The early weather in Kansas City is OK, too, but we’ll be keeping an eye on that … .”
In New England, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will look to avenge postseason losses to Brady in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The then-top-seeded Chargers bowed out after a 14-2 regular season at home in the first meeting and again to the then-unbeaten Patriots, 21-12, in the AFC championship game while Rivers played with a torn knee ligament and star running back LaDainian Tomlinson left the game early with an injury.
Brady is 7-0 against Rivers. The Patriots, who were 8-0 at home during the regular season, are 5-to-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Kornegay says he views the Chargers as the best underdog to bet in the divisional round.
“There’s a big difference between this New England team and the ones in past years that were very good,” he said. “They preyed on a weak division again, and this team is not as strong as years’ past.
“While the Chargers really were labeled by many as fool’s gold early on, they continue to win and they’re 8-1 on the road in games that weren’t patty cakes — Baltimore, Seattle, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Many [bettors] respect that team, and the oddsmakers certainly do.
“Therefore, you see a lower number than you’d typically see for a team going to New England.”
The Rams had a bye this weekend while the Cowboys edged Seattle, 24-22, Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
“We know, despite the popularity of Dallas, that a lot of fans will support L.A.,” at the sports-book windows in Las Vegas, “and that’s why you see a hefty number there,” said Kornegay.
“The Cowboys have obviously been playing very well down the stretch and their defense has been extraordinary at home, but now they have to go on the road.”
Kornegay said the Rams “were the best team in the first half of the season, but they topped out right there and it feels like the Rams peaked a little early. However, they still have all the weapons. They have a tremendous coaching staff, and you have to think they’ll perform in the playoffs.”
That said, Kornegay cautioned, “We have seen the younger quarterbacks struggle in the playoffs, so it’s going to be interesting to see how [Rams quarterback Jared] Goff performs.”
The Saints, at plus-225 (bet $100 to win $225), remain the favorite to win the Super Bowl, followed by the Rams and the defensively suspect Chiefs at plus-450.
“The AFC is wide open … the Chiefs aren’t being viewed as a power house,” Kornegay said. “They have dents in the armor, and we all know on what side of the ball that is.”