Welcome to the AFC and NFC Conference Championship weekend! The VSiN experts analyze your best opportunities as the final four teams continue their quest to win the Super Bowl.
Adam Burke: Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy both face stiff competition in the NFC Championship on Sunday. For Purdy, this will be the best pass rush that he has faced by a large margin, as the Eagles racked up 70 sacks in the regular season and had four players record at least 11 sacks. As for Hurts, he faces the league’s top defense by EPA/play. That’s a big contrast to what he faced last week against the Giants.
Purdy looked a lot more uncomfortable against the Cowboys, who ranked second in EPA/play during the regular season on defense. He didn’t turn the ball over, but the 49ers really struggled to get to 19 points in that one after averaging 34.6 points per game in Purdy’s previous six starts and an extended relief appearance in Week 13.
While it is true that you can run on the Eagles, who ranked 23rd in Rush EPA and Rush Success Rate against, they are 12th in Rush EPA and ninth in Rush Success Rate against since adding defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh in Week 11. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds with those two additions.
I think it’s fair to still wonder about the health of Hurts going into this game. He got to play some easy pitch-and-catch against the Giants. and the Eagles offensive line won the day in a clear-cut fashion. It’s much harder to run against the 49ers. Hurts was just 16-of-24 for 154 yards and looked timid on his nine carries for 34 yards.
Since I had Week 11 through the Divisional Round up at rbsdm.com, I looked and the Giants ranked 31st in EPA/play allowed in that span. The 49ers? Yeah, they’re first by a good margin. In my mind, the under is the play this week. All things considered, the weather looks pretty good this weekend, but I think these two QBs have really brutal matchups.
Pick: UNDER 46.5
Dave Tuley: We have two great matchups on Sunday. I knew immediately when the lines came out that the proper play was to tease both underdogs through the key numbers of 3 and 7. That’s why we went with 49ers +8.5/Bengals +7.5 on VSiN’s “The Greg Peterson Experience” on Sunday night as we expect both conference finales to be one-score games.
Of course, with the uncertainty around Patrick Mahomes’ high ankle sprain, the Bengals were bet to favoritism, and the line flipped to Cincinnati -1.5. We also bet a 49ers +8.5/Chiefs +7.5 teaser.
Now, with Mahomes being a full participant at mid-week practices, the line has reversed to Chiefs -1.5, and we’re back to recommending the 49ers +8.5/Bengals +7.5 teaser. But you’ll notice that to take advantage of any of this line movement, we need the 49ers to stay within one score in the early Sunday game.
Even though the Eagles have been the best team in the NFC all season—and impressively returned to form in their 38-7 rout of the Giants in the divisional round—I still trust the 49ers more on their 12-game winning streak (8-4 ATS) as their No. 5 offense should have more success against the Eagles’ No. 2 defense, and their No. 1 defense has a better chance of getting stops against the Eagles’ No. 3 offense.
A lot of books went to Eagles -2.5 with added juice, and we were waiting to also bet the 49ers +3 (South Point and some other books have gone to +3 and back to +2.5 late Thursday night and early Friday), but we still believe the stronger bet is to use the 49ers to kick off our Championship Sunday teasers.
Pick: 49ers +8.5/Bengals +7.5 (2-team, 6-point teaser)
Matt Youmans: At home and with a healthy quarterback, the Eagles have no excuses and should not need any. Jalen Hurts answered the questions about his shoulder injury last week when he went 7-for-7 for 89 yards passing in the first quarter, and he threw for two touchdowns and ran for one in the first half of a blowout of the Giants.
Philadelphia was not forced to go vanilla and operated its normal offense with zone-read plays that only work if Hurts is a threat to run. He opened up the field for running backs Kenneth Gainwell, Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, who combined for 234 yards on 35 carries. The Eagles’ offensive line turned in an elite performance, boosted by right tackle Lane Johnson’s return. Hurts is surrounded by more playmakers—including receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J Brown and tight end Dallas Goedert—than any other quarterback in the NFL.
San Francisco extended its winning streak to 12, and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy improved his record as a starter to 7-0, but this is Purdy’s first road playoff start in arguably the toughest environment in the league. Purdy’s main playmakers—running backs Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle—take some of the pressure off. Still, this is a Philadelphia defense that leads the league in sacks (75) and is air-tight against the pass.
Power ratings and statistics do not show a difference between these teams. The difference in this game, in my opinion, will be Hurts and the home field. The 49ers feasted on weak opposing quarterbacks for most of the season, and the last quarterback to thoroughly beat their defense with the run and pass was the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in October. Hurts has what it takes to succeed in this situation and put an end to Purdy’s Cinderella story.
Pick: Eagles -2.5
Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
Adam Burke: As far as I’m concerned, betting the side or total of this game is impossible until we have more clarity on Patrick Mahomes. Therefore, I spent my time digging into the player props to see if I could find something I liked for the backs and receivers of these two teams. The Bengals do a really good job of spreading the ball around and the Chiefs usually focus on Travis Kelce, but his prop numbers account for that.
So, I focused on the running backs for the Chiefs and opted to go with Jerick McKinnon OVER 28.5 Receiving Yards. I’ll assume that we get Mahomes, and he’ll play at well below 100%. McKinnon is the better back for picking up the blitz. When Mahomes was hobbled last week, we saw McKinnon get his highest snap share of the season at 65%. Isiah Pacheco is clearly the more productive back, but McKinnon will see the field a lot.
He only had 11 carries for 25 yards and no receptions last week, but Mahomes was compromised out there and McKinnon had one job. This week, Mahomes will have received treatment and the trainers will be able to have a plan as opposed to going off the cuff last week. I still think we see a lot of McKinnon and he can run some swing passes and screens with a better idea of what Mahomes can and can’t do.
The vig is -120 at DraftKings, but shop around for the best line and also the best juice.
Pick: Jerick McKinnon OVER 28.5 Receiving Yards (-120)
Dave Tuley: See above for teasing the Bengals with the early Sunday game, but if you miss that or just don't feel comfortable fading the Eagles or are just looking for a way to wager the AFC Championship Game, I suggest Bengals +7.5/Over 42.
As stated above, we expect this to be a one-score game with the Bengals a very live underdog. We're all aware that Joe Burrow is 3-0 vs. the Chiefs and the Bengals' offense had no problems with inclement weather in Buffalo or in past visits to Burrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
It looks like Mahomes will be just fine to lead the league's No. 1 offense, and even if Chad Henne is pressed into service, he proved once again that he'll fully capable of running the KC offense like he did on his 98-yard TD drive vs. the Jaguars.
Pick: Bengals +8.5/Over 42 (2-team, 6-point teaser)
Danny Burke: The biggest change in the Bengals from last season to this season is their defense. Cincy’s defense is a large part of their success this year, and that was true last weekend in Buffalo. The Bengals’ defense is also a big reason why they have been able to overcome the Chiefs in their past three meetings. Yes, they have been higher-scoring affairs, but the defense always made adjustments heading into the second half that limited Patrick Mahomes and company. And now, with an injured Mahomes, how much more can the Bengals prohibit his dominance? I believe it’s enough to keep this a lower-scoring affair.
Conversely, you would probably imagine that Cincinnati's offense could thrive against a lackluster defense in the Chiefs. I don’t disagree with that. However, as bad as the Chiefs have been on that side of the ball, Kansas City is actually limiting opposing quarterbacks to just 9.2 yards per completion, which is the third-fewest. So the Chiefs may have some success in limiting the huge passing plays from Burrow. Furthermore, over the last three games, the Kansas City run defense has allowed opposing tailbacks to average 5.3 yards per carry. Heck, even the Jaguars averaged 7.6 yards per rush attempt last week. Seeing the Bengals and Joe Mixon control the clock and time of possession, with their run efforts against one of the best run defenses last Sunday, leads me to believe they will try to instill that ground dominance once again. And if that’s the case, that will wind the clock down and turn this into a slower-moving game.
Pick: Total Under 48
Danny Burke: The Kansas City Chiefs are allowing opposing tailbacks to average 6.6 receptions for 47.4 receiving yards per game. Joe Burrow is not afraid to check down to his running backs when throwing the ball. And a man whose prop is seeming to have good value is Samaje Perine. Perine not only had five receptions on five targets last week, but he accumulated six receptions on seven targets for 49 receiving yards when these two teams met earlier this season. Joe Mixon was absent in that game, but it’s been apparent that Bengals Coach Zac Taylor likes to utilize Perine in the passing effort. And considering the Chiefs do a pretty good job at limiting the deep ball to their opponent’s main receivers (allowing 9.3 yards per completion, which is the third-fewest), that should limit Burrow’s options downfield from time to time, which will open up the door for the short, secure route with the running back. I thought this number should be more around a pick’em, so considering that the stats add up and the price is right, I made this a bet.
Pick: Samaje Perine Over 2.5 Receptions (+125)
For Brent Musburger's thoughts on the games, check out this clip from A Numbers Game with host Gill Alexander: