Early NFL thoughts for the Conference Championship Games
NFL’s version of the Final Four is set, as we’ll see the 49ers vs. the Eagles at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday Jan. 29 and the Bengals vs. the Chiefs to end what should be an outstanding doubleheader of NFL action at 6:30 p.m. ET. Cincinnati will have to repeat last season’s heroics on the road at Arrowhead Stadium to return to the Super Bowl, but they’re being given a much greater chance this season based on the odds.
Check out Ben Fawkes on the opening odds for Sunday's games.
Last year’s Bengals were a touchdown underdog in KC. This year’s Bengals are anywhere from pick ‘em to +1.5, depending on the sportsbook, with DraftKings one of the ones showing the Chiefs -1 and a total of 47.5.
In the NFC, the Eagles host the 49ers and are a slight favorite of -2.5 points. Based on the final score, this looks to be a much stiffer test than it was back in 2018 when the Eagles beat the Vikings 38-7 with 38 unanswered points, but they were actually a home underdog of three points in that one. They are favored at Lincoln Financial Field this year.
Is there any value in either of these lines? Where might they go? Let’s talk about the early lines for the conference championship games.
The health of Jalen Hurts was the big question going into the Giants vs. Eagles game and the NFL MVP candidate looked much better than he did in Week 18 against a bevy of backups for the G-Men. That being said, Hurts wasn’t really asked to do a ton. He helped build a huge first-half lead and then the Eagles relied heavily on the run, racking up 6.1 yards per carry against an overmatched Giants defense.
The 49ers should provide a lot more resistance. San Francisco was the league’s top defense in several metrics, including EPA/play. The Eagles also graded very high, especially because they had 70 sacks and four players with at least 11 sacks during the regular season. They added five more against Daniel Jones and harassed him for much of the game.
There will be a lot of keys to this game, but the biggest one in my mind is Brock Purdy against that Eagles pass rush. Purdy didn’t make any glaring mistakes against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round, but San Francisco’s skill players were really held in check out in space. Purdy did look less comfortable in the pocket in this one than he had against a really poor set of defenses in his first seven games. The Eagles will be another big challenge.
Philadelphia’s thorough dominance of the Giants seems to have been rewarded in this line, as there was a lot of speculation that San Francisco could open -1 with the cross-country road game in Purdy’s first playoff start in a hostile environment. Maybe that was just ill-informed speculation, but Philadelphia looked great, outgaining the Giants by 1.6 yards per play, while the 49ers looked pedestrian, albeit against a stiffer opponent. The 49ers only outgained the Cowboys by 0.3 yards per play.
This will be an interesting line to follow because we’re going to see a lot of 49ers moneyline at a plus price, which will leave Eagles backers the opportunity to lay a short moneyline number instead of laying the -2.5. In terms of spread action, this may be kind of a slow game, but there will be a ton of bets on both sides of the moneyline.
I’ve felt like San Francisco has been the team with the highest ceiling all season long, so my initial lean is that way and I like the under here. We’ll have to wait on the weather, but I think the 49ers can contain Hurts well and the Eagles will be throwing a lot of pressure at Purdy.
Leans: 49ers ML (+115 or better); Under 45.5
You may or may not have heard, but Patrick Mahomes has a high ankle sprain and faces some serious mobility questions heading into Sunday night’s winner-take-all matchup in the AFC. The Bengals went into Buffalo and rolled the Bills by a 27-10 final, easing concerns about their banged-up offensive line as a six-point underdog at most sportsbooks. Joe Burrow was only sacked once for a loss of two yards.
The Bengals only finished with one sack, but they hit Josh Allen several times and also did an outstanding job in coverage on Stefon Diggs, who only had four catches on 10 targets for 35 yards. Dawson Knox had a nice game with five grabs for 65 yards and Mark Andrews had five catches for 73 yards in the Wild Card Round, which is important because Travis Kelce is clearly the focal point of the Chiefs offense. He had 14 catches on 17 targets against Jacksonville, though his longest reception was just 15 yards.
The obvious question to ask here is what this line is with a healthy Mahomes. The follow-up question to ask is whether or not the Chiefs are that much better than a Bills team that closed -6 across most of the market. Are we sure that this line isn’t too much of an overcorrection? Burrow and the Bengals looked great. The Chiefs did what they needed to do with a severely-hampered quarterback.
Mahomes says he’s fine and good to go. We’ll see what happens during the game and with this line. The Bengals have won three in a row against the Chiefs, all by a field goal. As one of the AFC’s premier teams, it feels like they’ve tried to build the roster and schemes to be able to go against the stalwarts like the Chiefs, Bills and Ravens.
All three games have also gone over this total with 51, 51 and 65 points. It’s too early to really make much sense out of the long-range forecast, but wind is what you’ll want to watch for in the middle of the week. Early in the week, I lean towards the over and I lean towards the Bengals. I really think Cincinnati is simply built to beat teams like this, whereas they struggle with teams like the Browns that offer up more of a power running game.
The Browns and the Chargers are the only teams in the last two seasons to beat the Bengals by more than a field goal. I feel like Burrow works his magic and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo makes the right adjustments. I also feel like there’s a chance that the Bengals close -1 or -1.5 in Kansas City. I think the momentum behind them in the betting market will pick up and we’re going to hear a lot about the ankle of Mahomes as the week goes along.
Leans: Bengals +1.5; Over 47.5
VSiN NFL Links for the Conference Championship Games