The Super Bowl defeat suffered by the Kansas City Chiefs last season provides motivation entering the playoffs but remains a setback that can be compartmentalized.
After all, considerable work remains for the two-time reigning AFC champion before booking a Super Bowl appearance in mid-February. The path begins to unravel Sunday when the Chiefs host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round at Kansas City, Mo.
The Chiefs are easily the biggest favorites of Wildcard Weekend, with the line at 12.5 points at BetMGM and FanDuel. That has led to split action, with Pittsburgh backed by 55 percent of the bets and 50 percent of the spread-line money at BetMGM while Kansas City has been supported by 55 percent of both markets at FanDuel.
“It’s in the back of my mind but for the most part it’s a new year,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said about the NFL’s ultimate prize. “You’ve got to focus on things that have happened this year. We’re on a goal to prove to ourselves who we think we are, and we know we are, and that’s Super Bowl champions.”
The Pittsburgh matchup will be a rematch of a Dec. 26 clash Kansas City dominated 36-10 with Kelce sidelined in COVID-19 protocol. The Chiefs went on to go 12-5 while winning nine of their final 10 games and claiming their sixth consecutive AFC West title.
Kansas City has reached the AFC championship game in each of the previous three seasons, primarily engineered by stalwart quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“When you get to that playoff game day, you have a little bit different intensity knowing that every play is critical and it could really end your season by making a mistake,” Mahomes said. “At the same time, you want to be loose, you want to have fun and you want to enjoy it.”
Mahomes passed for 258 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting with the Steelers. The Chiefs also forced three turnovers and limited Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to 159 yards passing.
The Chiefs’ defensive intensity that day followed a trend that began after acquiring a longtime Steeler, Melvin Ingram. Ingram proved instrumental a week ago when he crashed into the backfield to generate a bone-jarring strip the Chiefs converted into a late touchdown return in a 28-24 win at Denver.
“He’s the swag champ,” Kelce said, adding that “you saw how much more fun people were having” after Ingram joined the defensive front.
At times, Mahomes has struggled with his accuracy, but he overcame an early-season rash of mistakes to lead the Chiefs to the league’s third-best production, 396.8 yards on average.
He passed for 4,839 yards while counting on Kelce and Tyreek Hill as 1,000-yard receivers. The committee approach to the backfield could continue with Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) ruled out and Darrel Williams (toe) listed as questionable.
Second-seeded Kansas City, a two-time Super Bowl champion, will make its seventh consecutive postseason appearance and last faced Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 2016. The Steelers won 18-16. Pittsburgh, a six-time Super Bowl champion, reached the playoffs for the second straight season but last won a postseason game in 2016.
Roethlisberger, whose career could end with the Steelers’ next loss as he considers retiring from football, lamented the long odds his team faces after going 9-7-1 and drawing the No. 7 seed.
“I would assume, as a group, you understand that we probably aren’t supposed to be here,” said Roethlisberger, who is dealing with a strained pectoral and shoulder.
“We probably are not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams I think are in, we’re probably number 14. We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs. So, let’s just go play, have fun and see what happens.”
Tongue in cheek? Probably. A dose of realism? Yes, that too.
Still, Pittsburgh got in by defeating Baltimore in the season finale and getting help from Jacksonville beating Indianapolis and Las Vegas beating the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime.
Running back Najee Harris (elbow) was deemed good to go on Saturday. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also is expected to be activated from injured reserve, where he’s been since sustaining a shoulder injury in October. Cornerback Arthur Maulet (concussion) also has been cleared to play against the Chiefs.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gained some satisfaction getting to restrict the all-out aggression of Harris, a 1,200-yard rusher as a rookie.
“It’s a good issue and problem to have,” Tomlin said, “when you have a guy that’s wired the way that he’s wired.”
–Field Level Media
The Dallas Cowboys have Super Bowl dreams but perhaps the toughest matchup of all the home teams in the NFL Wild Card round.
That’s because the NFC’s third seed drew the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the late-afternoon window on Sunday.
The Cowboys opened as 3.0-point favorites at BetMGM and FanDuel.
The line has moved to 2.5 at the former, with the 49ers backed by 54 percent of the bets and 51 percent of the spread-line money. The action has favored Dallas more at FanDuel, where the team is being backed by 55 percent of the bets and 67 percent of the money.
San Francisco boasts a strong running game and a stronger run defense. It enters with momentum after finishing a 10-7 season with seven wins in their last nine games.
“We know we have a chance to do something special,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “You don’t get that opportunity every year. I’ve been on a number of teams that went to the Super Bowl… there’s a feeling and you want to make them count as long as you have them.”
Some believe the 49ers’ chances of making a deep postseason run hinge on what Garoppolo does. The version of him that led a rally from a 17-0 second quarter deficit in a 27-24 overtime win at the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday can help San Francisco win multiple playoff games.
Garoppolo connected on 23 of 32 passes for 316 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, spearheading an 88-yard touchdown drive in the final 90 seconds that forced overtime. And he did that with a thumb injury suffered in a Dec. 23 loss at Tennessee that will require surgery when the season ends.
When asked about the thumb on Wednesday, Garoppolo said, “It was a little sore after the (Rams) game, but it’s feeling great right now.”
The 49ers are seventh in the league in rushing at 127.4 yards per-game despite losing Raheem Mostert after two carries in the season opener with a knee injury. Rookie Elijah Mitchell returned from a December injury to average 102 yards per-game over his last two outings.
San Francisco also expanded Deebo Samuel’s role when necessary, using him like Atlanta used Cordarrelle Patterson. In addition to his 1,405 receiving yards, Samuel rushed for 365 yards this season — good enough for second on the team — and led the club with eight rushing scores.
But the game’s most intriguing portion figures to occur when Dallas (12-5) owns the ball. That’s because its high-powered offense must cope with a defense ranked second in the league against the rush and fifth in the league in sacks with 48.
The good news for the Cowboys is that left tackle Tyron Smith has been activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and is expected to start. That should ease the mind of quarterback Dak Prescott, who will lean on Smith to keep the likes of Nick Bosa from disrupting his pocket.
Prescott is coming off a highly efficient, highly productive performance in Dallas’ final regular season game. In a 51-26 road rout of Philadelphia on Jan. 8, Prescott completed 21 of 27 attempts for 295 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters and 22 seconds of action.
The Cowboys finished the season as the NFL’s top-scoring team at 31.2 points per game and set a franchise record with 22 different players scoring at least one touchdown.
Prescott spread the wealth around, with CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz and Amari Cooper each catching at least 68 passes. Four other players caught between 35 and 47 balls, and Ezekiel Elliott squeaked out a 1,000-yard season on the ground with 87 yards at Philadelphia, giving him 1,002 in the regular season.
The matchup also features a reunion of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. They were together in Atlanta when the Falcons made Super Bowl 51 with Quinn as the head coach, only to infamously blow a 28-3 lead and lose in overtime to the New England Patriots.
Quinn invoked the memories of some early 90s playoff showdowns between these franchises when asked about this game.
“I can hear (John) Madden and (Pat) Summerall talking it through,” Quinn said. “My first Dallas and Niner playoff game — I’m pretty fired up to do it, man.”
The 49ers and the Cowboys have met in the playoffs seven previous times, but this will be their first postseason matchup since Jan. 15, 1995, a 38-28 49ers win.
Cowboys linebacker Keanu Neal was ruled out with a biceps injury along with backup running back Tony Pollard (foot). Backups Luke Gifford and Francis Bernard are expected to be called upon to play more significant roles with Neal out.
The 49ers listed four players as questionable on their final injury report: linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair (knee) and Marcell Harris (Achilles), punter Mitch Wishnowsky (concussion) and safety Talanoa Hufanga (knee).
–Field Level Media
The National Football League named Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel as its first-ever U.S. betting partners on Thursday night.
Specific terms of the agreements were not announced, but the negotiations reportedly involve five-year deals that will pay the league just shy of $1 billion. The NFL has opt-out clauses it can invoke toward the end of the deals if desired.
The NFL could sign additional operator partnerships at a lower tier going forward, according to reports.
“As the sports betting landscape has continued to evolve in the United States, we have been thoughtful with our strategy and are excited to announce three partners who share the NFL’s vision and goals,” said Renie Anderson, NFL chief revenue officer and executive vice president of NFL partnerships in a release. “Working closely with Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel, we will provide fans new and different ways of interacting and engaging with the sport they love.”
Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel will have permission to use the NFL logo and team marks on their platforms. Additionally, the three companies receive the right to integrate sports betting content directly into NFL Media properties, including NFL.com and the NFL app.
Previously, the NFL had partnered with sportsbooks in Australia and Latin America.
–Field Level Media
A bettor lost a $40,000 wager when the Baltimore Ravens scored a safety on the final play of Monday night’s game, FanDuel confirmed to Field Level Media.
The bettor placed the wager on the Cleveland Browns +4.5 points on an alternate spread offered by FanDuel at -130. Kicker Justin Tucker put the Ravens up 45-42 when he connected on a 55-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Cleveland attempted a desperation play with two seconds on the clock. A short completion to Kareem Hunt led to a half dozen laterals, with a pair of fumbles recovered by the Browns in between. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry ultimately was pushed out of the back of the end zone by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the final two points.
The 47-42 victory by Baltimore turned what appeared to be the winning ticket into a massive losing wager that had the potential to earn a net profit of $30,769.23.
–Field Level Media
The good news for the New Jersey sportsbooks in the newly released revenue report for October is a large jump in handle from $186 million in September to $261 in October. The downside is that the bettors took a bigger bite of the books this month than usual, cutting revenue by more than half month-over-month from $24 million in September to “just” $11.7 million in October.
Overall that spells a 4.4 percent hold, down from 13 percent in Sept., which may be partly attributable to baseball (more on this below) and perhaps moreso a lot of “public” teams covering the spread in October NFL contests. The rise in betting handle is almost entirely attributable to the mobile/one sector, which grew from $105 million in September to $174 million in October. On-site sports betting inched up from $79 million in the prior month to $86 million.
Resorts Digital continues to lead the way by a lap on the revenue front, reporting $5.1 million in October, which is nearly half of the entire haul across all sportsbooks for the month. An arm of Resorts Casino, Resorts Digital figures represent DraftKings Sportsbook as well as BetStarsNJ.com. We can no longer parse out which side is driving what, but based on prior figures we can safely say that DraftKings is responsible for the lion’s as well as the cub’s share. Let’s dig in a litter deeper now.
October Brick-and-Mortar Sportsbook Revenue:
- Bally’s: $303K
- Borgata: $120K
- Golden Nugget: $46K
- Harrah’s: $104K
- Meadowlands (FanDuel Sportsbook): $1.1 million
- Monmouth Park: $606K
- Ocean Resort: $438K
- Resorts: $97K
- Tropicana: $15K
A spokesperson for FanDuel Sportsboook said: “Demand for the FanDuel Sportsbook continues to outpace our expectations with online handle 2.5 times higher than September and continued double digit growth in retail handle. It was an exciting month for bettors who won at a high rate on football and benefitted from our industry-leading pricing and odds boosts.”
October Online Sportsbook Revenue:
- Bally’s (combination of CaesarsCasino & 888sport): $108K
- Borgata (PlayMGM): $67K
- FanDuel Sportsbook (Meadowlands): $2.43 million
- Golden Nugget (PlaySugarHouse): $151K
- Monmouth Park (William Hill and PlaySugarHouse): $609K
- Ocean Resort (William Hill): $385K
- Resorts Digital (combination of DK Sportsbook and BetStarsNJ.com): $5.1 million
Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) are coming to the Bayou State after residents in most of the state’s 64 parishes voted in favor of a ballot initiative to allow residents of those parishes to play in online DFS contests.
According to the Times-Picayune, 47 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes voted in favor of legalizing online DFS contests, with most of those against it located in north Louisiana, while most parishes in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette areas voted in favor. DFS will be available only to those within the parishes that voted in favor — not statewide.
Because the Louisiana state constitution prohibits gambling, the legislation sponsored by state representative Kirk Talbot’s (R-River Ridge), which triggered the ballot initiative read, “participation in any fantasy sports contest … shall not be considered gambling.”
The wall separating the major U.S. sports leagues and sports wagering world continues to crumble with the announcement of two new deals involving Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and sportsbook operator FanDuel.
FanDuel in its newly minted partnership with the National Hockey League (NHL) has additionally refocused attention on what was its core business as it continues its efforts to establish itself in emerging Nevada-style sports betting marketplaces.
On Monday, the number two DFS company announced a multi-year partnership with the NHL, making FanDuel the “exclusive official daily fantasy partner and an official sports betting partner of the NHL.” The new deal also allows FanDuel customers to gain access to what it calls “special prizing,” such as VIP experiences to NHL major events including its All-Star Game and Winter Classic outdoor hockey game.