NFL: Championship Weekend Preview

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers (Total Points – Under 51.5)

The Detroit Lions have never been in a Super Bowl. In fact the last time they won an NFL championship (1957), the Super Bowl hadn’t even been thought of! But now here they are, just 1 game away from a trip to Las Vegas and a place in Super Bowl LVIII.

To book their spot, they’ll have to overcome the number 1 seeded team in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers – and do so on San Francisco’s own field. Arguably the most balanced team in the NFC – ranking in the top 6 in nearly every major category, both on offense and defense. But star wide receiver Deebo Samuel is described as no better than 50-50 to play, dealing with a shoulder injury and the Lions themselves are certainly no mugs. They can score multiple times in a heartbeat and have an offense which ranks in the top 5 in most major categories – including scoring (27.1 ppg).

What makes this Lions team more dangerous, is their defense appears to have improved dramatically of late. Against both the Rams and Buccaneers, they made big plays when the pressure was greatest, and the moment was most intense. Before that, they went into Dallas on Christmas Eve and limited a Cowboys team which scored points for fun to just 20 points. It can be no coincidence that the return to health of CJ Gardner-Johnson in the secondary has helped sure up their defense against the pass and this makes it a tricky opponent for the 49ers.

Whether it was just a little rust or playoff nerves, San Francisco struggled to get by Green Bay last weekend and quarterback, Brock Purdy hasn’t yet proved to be as ruthless in the post season as he has been in the regular season but he doesn’t make costly errors either. In 4 games he’s only defeat came at this stage last year when he was injured early in the game. He’s only thrown 4 TDs in that time but no interceptions and that leads me to believe that despite this match being between two of the top 5 scoring teams in the NFL this year, it’ll be a tight, relatively low scoring game.

The 49ers can lean on running back Christian McCaffrey – arguably this team’s MVP – and their 3rd ranked run offense but that also is going strength on strength against Detroit. Teams just don’t run successfully on the Lions and their 2nd ranked run defense. Also remember how tight the game was when the 49ers met Dallas in the playoffs last year? The Niners were 23-17 winners. This could end up being a similar scoreline.

PICK: Total Points – Under 51.5

 

 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens (Chiefs +3.5)

The NFL MVP elect, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, versus the reigning Super Champion Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. It was for moments such as this that championship games were made. Two of the best in the business. One, wanting to retain his crown. The other wanting to take it.

 

Lamar Jackson looked every bit the soon to named MVP last weekend as he steered Baltimore to victory over the Texans, while the Ravens defense didn’t give up a single offensive touchdown in the game. Meanwhile Mahomes, Kelce and the Chiefs offense looked much more like the unit we’ve become used to seeing over the years as they went into Buffalo and upset the Bills again!

This is as battle of the top two scoring defenses in the NFL – the Ravens give up 16.5 points per game, the Chiefs, 17.3 but it’s the play of the quarterbacks which keep catch the eye.

Can Lamar Jackson, armed with a much improved receiving corps (which likely includes tight end, Mark Andrews this weekend) and the number 1 ranked rushing attack in the league outshine Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce – who became the leading touchdown duo combination in post season history last weekend, when they surpassed Brady and Gronkowski to score touchdown number 16.

Much like last weekend in Buffalo, expect this to be a true heavyweight clash and on paper it is one that the Ravens should come out on top of BUT as we mentioned last weekend, these are the Kansas City Chiefs. They’ve been to the Super Bowl in 3 of the last 4 years – winning two of them. Like Baltimore, their defense has been the better unit this season, but that offense is finally showing signs of life.

Once again, it’s tough to see a scenario where either team runs away with it. So, expect a tight contest and whoever wins, only does so by one score and for that reason, take the Kansas City Chiefs.

PICK: Kansas City Chiefs +3.5

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