Arizona Cardinals (27)

Last week: T-1st (27)

The Carolina Panthers have taken over sole possession of the No. Note: A team’s line might not be increased the full amount when hitting (or especially crossing) key numbers such as 3 and 7.

We have the Panthers at half a point better than the Cardinals on a neutral field, so with home-field advantage it makes sense that Carolina is favored by a field goal with added juice — and we would make it 3.5 before making it 2.5.

2. 1 vs. Getting a full field goal (and some books have gone to 3.5 at various points early this week) looks like it could have some value.

The Panthers, as everyone knows, went 15-1 in the regular season and slowly moved up in the power ratings of our panel of ESPN Chalk NFL handicappers — Sal Selvaggio of madduxsports.com, Erin Rynning and yours truly — during the course of the season. They coasted in the second half and allowed the Seahawks to rally to within a touchdown, or we probably would have upgraded them even more. 1 spot in the NFL Vegas Rankings for the first time this season.

Both championship games feature No. Carolina jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs on Sunday and held on to win 31-24. On the season, these plays are 21-19-2 ATS (52.5 percent).

Everything went right for the Panthers in the first half of their win over the Seahawks, as they ran over Seattle’s No. Denver Broncos (25)

Last week: 5th (25)

Our raw numbers have the Patriots as 1.5 points better than the Broncos on a neutral field, even after we upgraded New England by a full point. There were no definitive best bets last weekend. We upgraded the Panthers’ power rating by half a point, breaking a tie with the Arizona Cardinals — whom they host this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Here’s a look at the four remaining teams in the NFL playoffs:

(Note: As always, these are not my personal plays or those of any of the other handicappers, but rather the group as a whole. New England Patriots (26.5)

Last week: 4th (25.5)

The Cardinals looked like they were going to push as 7-point favorites over the Packers, but they were victimized by Aaron “Hail Mary” Rodgers and ended up winning (but not covering) 26-20 in overtime. The Broncos are 7-7-3 ATS.

3. With Denver’s home-field advantage, our collective opinion is that this game should be closer to pick ‘em or perhaps even have the Broncos as a small home favorite. The New England Patriots were the only other team to have its power rating increased (by a full point) by our panel.

The play: Lean on Carolina -3.

Championship game value plays

1. They’ve been bypassed by both the Panthers and the Patriots.. 2 matchups, as all four home favorites won straight-up in the divisional playoffs. We always encourage people to use our power rankings as a base and adjust to where you think we have teams overrated or underrated and act accordingly in your handicapping.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Consensus line: Patriots -3 (-120)

Vegas ranks line: Patriots -1.5 (26.5-25)

Every week, we compare that week’s lines to the NFL Vegas Rankings and list the value plays based on our panel’s numbers. They were trailing an undermanned Pittsburgh team 13-12 early in the fourth quarter and looked like they would receive a downgrade, but we kept their power rating the same. No. We kept their power rating the same, but the Cardinals were the 3-1 Super Bowl favorite at the Westgate heading into last week and have stayed at that number despite winning. 2-ranked defense and shut them down. The industry standard is 2.5 points for home field, but teams such as Green Bay, New England, Denver, New Orleans and Seattle are given a field goal or even higher. My picks will be in the championship game betting previews on Friday here at ESPN Chalk.)

The Broncos rallied to beat the Steelers 23-16 and push after closing as 7-point home favorites. Our panel’s power ratings are used to compare the relative strength of teams to the current point spread, as if they were to meet on a neutral field before factoring in home-field advantage. Carolina Panthers (27.5)

Last week: T-1st (27)

The play: Broncos +3 (EVEN) or +3.5.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers Consensus line: Panthers -3 (-120)

Vegas ranks line: Panthers -0.5 (27.5-27)

The Patriots beat the Chiefs 27-20 after closing as 5.5-point home favorites. Our panel increased their power rating by a full point, partly for the win/cover, but also partly as an adjustment with the return of WR Julian Edelman, plus Rob Gronkowski showing that any doubts of his health were unwarranted.

Here’s a breakdown of how our numbers apply to this weekend’s AFC and NFC Championship Games. Carolina has the best spread record of the remaining teams at 12-5 ATS.

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