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NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Preview And Picks

Wild Card weekend is the most chaotic slate of the league year while the divisional round is typically the best. But when it comes to single football-watching days on the calendar, it doesn’t get better than Championship Sunday.

All DVOA Rankings are via Football Outsiders

All betting lines are from FanDuel

Betting record

Last Week: (3-1) +1.85 Units

Season: + 0.98 Units — (7-3) +3.7 units in the playoffs

Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers

Philadelphia DVOA Rankings

Overall – 3rd

Offense – 5th

Defense – 5th

San Francisco DVOA Rankings

Overall – 2nd

Offense – 4th

Defense – 1st

KEY TO THE GAME — Eagles’ DL vs. 49ers’ OL

The NFC title game brings us a matchup of the two most complete teams in football. There is not much to nitpick or be concerned about from a football perspective with these two teams.

But when forced to pick the smallest of nits, it would be fair to worry about the interior OL and the outside corners for San Francisco. For Philly, you could turn to the linebackers and the general lack of size on the Eagles’ defense after you get by the front four.

Both of these offenses want to run the ball and are effective when they opt to do so. Philly ran all over the Giants last Saturday, keeping a lot of their best plays off of this week’s film in the process. Life on the ground figures to be much more difficult for Philly this week, with San Francisco ranking 2nd against the run. That will be an epic strength-on-strength battle when Philadelphia has the ball.

However, when San Francisco is on offense the matchup up front is not quite as even. While still solid, the 49ers’ offensive line is not as dominant as it has been in the past and will have its hands full with a menacing Eagles’ DL.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is all about creating space and perfect timing. There might not be a better defensive front in the league at taking away space and disrupting timing than that of Philly.

If San Francisco is not efficient running the ball on early downs and Brock Purdy is under siege when he drops back to pass, it will be a long day on offense for the Niners. Big games between two physical teams are often decided in the trenches, this one is no exception.

Pick — Eagles (-2.5) Risking 1.15 units to win 1

I believe the Eagles’ front four wins the battle with San Francisco’s OL and Philly ultimately wins the game.

The Eagles also have an edge on the outside with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. There will be opportunities for those two to make big plays down the field considering how excellent Jalen Hurts is with his accuracy on longer throws.

I do not trust Kyle Shanahan’s game management in a spot like this. History is littered with examples of Shanahan turtling and becoming overly conservative to the detriment of his team. I’m also not confident that Brock Purdy will continue to be able to avoid disastrous plays as he has in the postseason.

One or two mistakes from Shanahan combined with some bad plays from Purdy will be the difference in this game. The Eagles are at home and I believe there are just slightly more buttoned up and complete.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Kansas City DVOA Rankings

Overall – 4th

Offense – 1st

Defense – 18th

Cincinnati DVOA Rankings

Overall – 5th

Offense – 3rd

Defense – 9th

Previous Matchup

Week 13 — CIN won 27-24 in CIN

KEY TO THE GAME — Lou Anarumo Vs. Andy Reid

The Bengals have had the Chiefs’ number and there is no way around it. Cincinnati has gotten the better of KC three times in a row, including last year’s AFC title game. While Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase have plenty to do with it, the Bengals have had the consistent edge schematically against the Chiefs in the last three meetings.

When the playoffs roll around it’s important for defensive coaches to be flexible with their usual tendencies and create a specific game plan for the upcoming opponent. No defensive coordinator in the league is more willing to and is better at coming up with unique game plans than Lou Anarumo, AKA Big Lou. Big Lou has developed a reputation for being the guy that slows down the top quarterbacks and he does it by being flexible and unpredictable. About a year ago Cincinnati pulled off a comeback win in Arrowhead to advance to the Super Bowl by dropping eight men into coverage, flummoxing Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in the process.

Regardless of how well Mahomes is able to move around on his suspect ankle, he and Andy Reid will need to have answers for whatever Big Lou has cooked up.

Pick — Bengals (+1.5) Risking 1.12 units to win 1

Absolutely everyone is on the Bengals and that petrifies me. This line has bounced around all week and will continue to do so up until kickoff. The general consensus seems to be that the Bengals are the safer bet due to concerns with the most famous ankle in the world and with the Bengals’ recent success against KC. And that is where I am at as well.

There are a few ways to play this. It might be best to see how Mahomes looks on the ankle and then fire a live bet. It could be even better to wait until halftime when Big Lou makes his trademark adjustments and then take a second-half bet on the Bengals.

One part of this game that is being under-discussed is Chris Jones against a weak Bengals’ OL. It does not appear that RG Alex Cappa will be ready to go for Cincinnati, and that will matter a lot more this week against Jones than it did last week against Buffalo in the snow. Jones is a freak and will be ready to completely wreck this game. Joe Burrow has improved at getting the ball out of his hands to a shocking degree and this new strength of his will be vital on Sunday against Jones and this KC defense.

I will not be surprised in the slightest if Mahomes comes out on Sunday and puts together a masterful performance and the Chiefs win another home playoff game. But in a game that feels as close as this one I will side with history, this new version of Joe Burrow, and Big Lou to get the job done and return to the Super Bowl.

I hope everyone enjoys the games on Sunday and good luck with your bets! Be sure to check out all the great NFL Playoffs content at Apollo. Follow @ApolloTexans and @AaronLittleOB on Twitter for more.

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