NFL Conference Championship Betting Preview: Odds, Lines, Best Bets
After a plethora of blowouts during Super Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was much more entertaining. All four games were determined by one score and came down to the wire.
Fortunately for the readers of this column, I nailed all four of my predictions for the Divisional Round. I have now correctly identified the winner of all but one game and am 8-2 against the spread in the postseason! We have netted over a grand in the past two weeks. Let’s keep this hot streak going as we gear up for the Conference Championship
After only one underdog was victorious in the Wild Card Round, three of the four road teams moved onto the Conference Championship this past weekend.
Divisional Round Recap
Despite Derrick Henry’s return to the top-seeded Titans, things couldn’t have started any worse for Tennessee. Ryan Tannehill threw the first of three interceptions on the first play from scrimmage and the Bengals were immediately in scoring position. Tennessee’s defense played well and held the Bengals to a field goal. After taking a 6-0 lead, the Titans tied it up behind a goal-line touchdown from King Henry. However, they failed to convert the two-point conversion. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson nailed a 54-yard kick to give the Bengals a 9-6 lead at the half. To begin the second half, Joe Burrow led Cincinnati down the field before Joe Mixon capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown scamper. However, Tennessee scored 10 unanswered points, including a 33-yard touchdown to A.J. Brown. But despite sacking Burrow nine times, the Bengals won the turnover battle. After picking Tannehill off with just 28 seconds to go in the game, Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase on an absolute dart to the sideline, which set up McPherson’s game-winning 52-yard field goal. The rookie kicker was the player of the game despite strong performances from Mixon, Chase, and Tee Higgins.
After upsetting the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the Green Bay Packers. After Rodgers led Green Bay down the field on the opening drive, rookie running back A.J. Dillon found the end zone on a six-yard scamper. From then on out, it was a defensive and special teams battle. To end the first half, San Francisco blocked Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field-goal attempt. That wouldn’t be the only critical special teams play of the game. After swapping field goals in the second half, San Francisco blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. Although the Niners did next to nothing on offense all day, Jimmy G found a way to get Robbie Gould into field-goal range for a game-winner. He nailed a 45-yard attempt as time expired, upsetting the NFC’s top seed. Davante Adams and Aaron Jones had solid games, but San Francisco’s defense and special teams were tremendous.
Sunday’s games kicked off with what looked to be a blowout. The Rams were in complete control mid-way through the third quarter with a 27-3 lead. However, you can never count out Tom Brady. Brady led three touchdowns drives in the final minutes to tie the game up at 27 with just 46 seconds remaining. However, the Bucs simply could not cover Cooper Kupp. After catching a 70-yard touchdown pass in the first half, Kupp hauled in two massive receptions (20 and 44 yards) to set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Gay. For the third straight game of the weekend, the road underdog was victorious.
Last but not least, we witnessed a game for the ages between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Both quarterbacks were flawless. Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns while adding 69 rushing yards and an additional score. Josh Allen totaled 329 yards through the air, four touchdowns (all to Gabriel Davis), and 68 rushing yards. Down by five points and facing a 4th and 13, Allen threw a dart to a wide-open Davis in the end zone. The Bills then converted a two-point conversion to take a three-point lead. But there was way too much time left on the clock. Mahomes tossed a 64-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill to take a 33-29 lead with just over a minute remaining. Allen then drove his team 75 yards in 75 seconds to take a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds left. Somehow, Mahomes got Harrison Butker into field-goal range on two intermediate passes to Hill and Travis Kelce. The game went into overtime. How fitting? Unfortunately for Bills fans and bettors, the Chiefs won the coin toss and marched down the field fairly easily. On the eighth play of overtime, Mahomes hit Kelce in the right corner of the end zone, ending Buffalo’s postseason hopes. Sean McDermott’s Bills will be back with a vengeance next season and there is officially a rivalry between Buffalo and Kansas City after this epic contest.
So now that we reviewed this past weekend’s contests, let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups in the Conference Championship, as the Chiefs host the Bengals and the Rams host the 49ers. The spreads have changed slightly, so let’s take a look at the opening lines as well as the current lines.
AFC Conference Championship
After each team won their respective games in thrilling fashions in the Divisional Round, bettors will be treated to a Week 17 rematch when the Bengals found a way to defeat the Chiefs, 34-31, on the road. However, Kansas City led 28-17 at the half of that game and it looked like the Chiefs would end up routing Cincinnati before a lackluster second half. Ja’Marr Chase erupted for the most receiving yards in franchise history, the refs made a few horrible calls, and the Chiefs’ offense completely stalled out. I don’t foresee that happening in a playoff atmosphere when everything is on the line.
The Chiefs are the more talented and well-rounded team with more offensive firepower and they arguably have the best quarterback in the NFL. With Patrick Mahomes under center, the Chiefs are 8-2 in the postseason contests. Those two losses occurred against Tom Brady. Although Joe Burrow is becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, he is not the GOAT. Burrow and his weapons at the wide receiver position will create tons of mismatches against Kansas City’s depleted secondary (especially if Tyrann Mathieu doesn’t play), but the Bengals’ offense can be slowed down by a solid pass rush and zone coverage.
The Chiefs have scored 42 points in back-to-back outings and should have no trouble against a middle-of-the-pack defense after dominating Buffalo’s top-rated defensive unit last week. Kansas City has all of their playmakers back at full strength on the offensive side of the ball and even their running game looked solid against the Bills. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon both should have pivotal roles in the Conference Championship, but the Chiefs are still going to rely on the passing game.
Although the total is a very high number (54.5 points), this is going to be a shootout, so I would suggest taking the over. A whopping 97% of the money thus far on Over / Under bets is on the Over. I’m following the smart money on this one. And despite a full touchdown spread, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs blew the Bengals out this week. Chiefs win and cover.
- Pick: Chiefs (-7)
- Prediction: 37-26
- Bonus: Over 54.5 Points
NFC Conference Championship
The Niners snuck into the postseason after overcoming a 17-point deficit to the Rams in Week 18 and eventually winning in overtime. Kyle Shanahan has beaten Sean McBay six times in a row and San Francisco seems to be the more physical team at the line of scrimmage, though Aaron Donald does make that difficult for San Francisco’s offensive line. Trent Williams’ return to the offensive line will certainly help the Niners’ pass protection and run blocking. Expect Eli Mitchell to get a ton of touches in order to keep the ball out of Stafford’s hands.
Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp have been phenomenal all season long, but the Niners realized that they were even better when facing the blitz. Stafford was the fourth-highest graded quarterback this season when facing blitzes. That’s why he was so effective against the Bucs last week, as Tampa blitzed Stafford a season-high 17 times, including on the game-winning pass to Cooper Kupp that set up Matt Gay’s field goal. Meanwhile, San Francisco managed to get pressure by just rushing four players. They blitzed Stafford a combined 14% in both games this season. Since the Niners are a little weak in the secondary, they have forced Stafford to make tough decisions by dropping linebackers into coverage. That’s the only way to defeat this Rams team and Shanahan knows it.
On offense, Jimmy Garoppolo has been very effective in throwing the ball down the middle of the field against Los Angeles. In their two meetings this season, Jimmy G completed 29-of-36 attempts for 319 yards and three touchdowns over the middle of the field. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle will play pivotal roles in San Francisco’s upset bid.
All that said, the Rams are still the more complete team and their quarterback is far superior to Garoppolo. After losing Robert Woods to a season-ending ACL injury, they signed Odell Beckham Jr., who now has scored six touchdowns since joining the team after failing to find the end zone with Cleveland over the first half of the season. Beckham’s chemistry with Stafford has improved every week and Cooper Kupp remains unstoppable. Nobody in the 49ers’ secondary is going to be able to cover Kupp one-on-one so expect a ton of zone coverage. Still, Kupp should be able to find open space, and when he is double-teamed, Stafford will look for OBJ, Van Jefferson, or Tyler Higbee.
And don’t forget that the Rams did not have Cam Akers in the lineup for the previous two meetings between these two franchises. Akers provides much-needed explosion out of the backfield for the Rams. Although I expect the Niners to cover the spread and make this game a nail-biter, Los Angeles should come out on top if they can avoid costly turnovers.
- Pick: 49ers (+3)
- Prediction: 24-23 Rams
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