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NFL playoff predictions: Our conference championship picks


This season’s conference championship matchups aren’t just close, they are historically, at least from a market perspective. The teams in the two games are so evenly matched that the point spreads for the AFC and NFC championship games are each less than one basket.

The Super Bowl odds of the Eagles (+230), Bengals (+240), Chiefs (+280) and 49ers (+320) barely leave a glimmer of daylight between them, the first time in the recorded history of NFL betting markets that the four conference championship teams were so close. By comparison, odds for last four last year were split between +125 and +900 heading into the Championship weekend.

The relative parity in the AFC Championship forecast owes almost entirely to Patrick Mahomes’ sprained ankle suffered in last week’s Divisional Round victory over the Jaguars. Fears that Mahomes could not play on Sunday, or be so hampered by the sprain that he could not play effectively, sent Kansas City’s stock plummeting: the team entered the playoffs as a favorite in the Super Bowl and dropped to third pick. after the injury.

But probability and possibility are not the same thing. Last year, Kansas City was the +125 favorite to win it all while the Bengals were the +900 longshots, and the Bengals dispatched a healthy pack of Mahomes. Cincinnati has won the last three meetings and lost only once to a Mahomes-led Kansas City team.

Could Mahomes play injured and still turn the tables on the Bengals? It is not impossible. Could this weekend’s conference championships be boring? Unlikely.

Last week’s record: 3-1

Overall balance: 141-130-10

San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, 3 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -2.5 | Total: 46

Jalen Hurts appeared to answer questions about the health of his sprained shoulder early in last week’s division-round win, when he completed a 40-yard pass on his second play against the Giants. But the Eagles quickly took a four-point lead and Hurts didn’t need to do much to claim the victory. He finished with just 154 passing yards, his second-lowest total of the season.

That probably won’t work against the 49ers, who have the best linebacking trio in the NFL with Azeez Al-Shaair, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. They’re quick enough to keep up with receivers and tough enough to stop running backs in their tracks. Coupled with a steadfast defensive line featuring Potential Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, San Francisco is holding opponents to 3.4 yards per rushing attempt this season and has clamped down on the Cowboys’ top 3 offensive end of the season. last week. They’ll need another close game against the Eagles, the NFL’s No. 2 offense, which has kept defenses out of place by choosing wisely between passing play and running play.

Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has won seven straight as a starter for the 49ers, with each successive game looking like one in which his inexperience would be the team’s undoing. In the divisional round against the Cowboys, Purdy finally looked faltering and was held without a touchdown for the first time. He still managed to propel a victory over a formidable defense.

Against the Eagles, on the road, the task becomes even more difficult. Philadelphia finished the season two sacks from the NFL record set by the Bears in the 1984 season (72), and had five sacks last week against the Giants. Purdy will be aided by an attack that thrives on short and intermediate passing – the better to get the ball out of his hands quickly – and his teammates’ ‘everybody block’ mentality, in which hybrid position players become physical .

The Eagles have drawn over 90% of the money wagered on this game, but every time that point spread has touched 3 in sportsbooks around the world, the money has come in on the 49ers and brought the spread back at 2.5. That’s a tight number in what will most likely be a close game. Throughout the season we’ve leaned towards the underdog in games that looked just as close, and we’re sticking to that strategy again this week. Pick: 49ers +2.5

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City, Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS

Line: Kansas City +1 | Total: 47

Patrick Mahomes plans to play against his sprained ankle this week, but the injury leaves Kansas City the underdog at home for only the second time this season. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has thwarted the quarterback with second-half adjustments in each of their last three meetings, and if Mahomes wants to reverse the losing streak against Cincinnati, he’ll have to depend on his playmakers. to keep the offensive moving. . This is especially true given that the forecast calls for sub-freezing temperatures and snow that could prevent big bets.

Mahomes has relied on running back Jerick McKinnon as a passing option this season, where McKinnon has averaged a team-high 9.7 yards after catch per reception (usually Travis Kelce’s annual honor). With the quarterback hobbled last week against the Jaguars, McKinnon saw fewer targets, a trend that should continue if Kansas City needs him as a blocker. That leaves Kelce as the primary safety valve option, but when those teams met in Week 13, the Bengals defense held Kelce to four receptions and 56 yards, and linebacker Germaine Pratt forced a game-changing escape from Kelce in the fourth quarter that allowed Cincinnati to seal the victory.

The Bengals are steam teams as they did heading into its Super Bowl appearance last year, largely because Joe Burrow is taking fewer sacks than last season (41 vs. 51 in the regular season). ). Kansas City’s defensive line is expected to generate more pressure than Buffalo did last week without Von Miller, which could pose a problem for a Cincinnati offensive line that has three starters listed as questionable for Sunday. But the Bengals’ late-season winning streak coincides with a rebuilt running game, and Joe Mixon’s big day (20 carries for 105 yards) last week was a big reason Buffalo couldn’t grab Burrow. .

The Bengals come into this game 13-5 ATS, but were mixed on the road. Including the bye week, the Kansas City top seed will have spent three consecutive weeks at home. Last week, we reported on Kansas City struggling to cover as they faced overly wide point spreads at home that were inflated by an adoring home crowd. This week, that is not the case.

The Bengals were great at covering largely because they didn’t have much respect for the market. This time they get 73% of the money as road favorites. They’re finally getting the respect they deserve, but is it too late? It really all depends on that ankle. Choose: Kansas City +1

A quick primer for those unfamiliar with betting lines: favorites are listed next to a negative number which represents the number of points they need to win to cover the spread. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its supporters to win their bet. Players can also bet on the total score, i.e. whether the combined score of the teams in the game is above or below a pre-selected number of points.

Betting market data is taken from Action Network’s public betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time odds tracker.



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