San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles (49ers under 23.5 points)
The San Francisco 49ers are on the hottest streak in the NFL right now. They head to the city of Brotherly Love, riding a 12 game winning streak but they’ll find little love in Philadelphia.
The Eagles looked back to their best last weekend in sweeping aside the New York Giants. With veteran tackle, Lane Johnson back on the field and, more importantly, QB Jalen Hurts looking healthy, they resembled the juggernaut that claimed the NFC’s no. 1 seed – and they’ll need to be that team this weekend.
The 49ers are playing in their 18th Championship game – the most of any team since 1970! They hold the NFL’s no. 1 ranked defense, no. 1 ranked scoring defense (16.3 ppg) and lead the league in turnover differential (+13). They’re also the 2nd best team defending the run this season. That’s going to be crucial this weekend, facing a team which averages 147.6 rushing yards per game and finished last weekend with more rushing yards than the Giants had total offense!
It’s going to be a fascinating matchup. The Eagles run the ball as well as anyone in the NFL, but they have a fearsome receiving corps as well. With AJ Brown, Davonta Smith and Dallas Goedert big time playmakers for a quarterback who’s also more than capable of making big plays with his legs. It’s an offense which finished the regular season as the 3rd most potent unit in the NFL, scoring 28.1 points per game.
The Niners’ defense shut down the high scoring Cowboys last weekend and forced two interceptions. It was enough to see them into the NFC Championship, but Dallas may have shown the blueprint for stopping rookie QB Brock Purdy.
So far Purdy has been sensational – he’s 7-0 as a starter in the NFL and with him under centre, the 49ers have averaged more points per game this season than without him. They’ve scored 35+ points in 5 out of those 7 games. However, last weekend Dallas held them to just 19 points. Micah Parsons was a constant thorn in their side and the game plan of forcing Purdy to roll out of the pocket to his left, certainly caused issues. Dallas finished with 1 turnover; they should have had at least 3! The Eagles defense will have taken notice and are not only capable of installing the same gameplan but are likely to be more ruthless. They have a league leading 75 sacks this season! The only question mark, is can the Eagles be as effective against the 49ers’ run game as Dallas were? If they can, then they win this game. Even with Nick Bosa and Fred Warner on the field, Philadelphia have too many weapons and too many options – they won’t be held to a poultry 12 points as the Cowboys were. If they score 21, that may well be enough!
PICK: San Francisco 49ers – under 23.5 points
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs (Chiefs +1.5)
At 27 years old, unbelievably Patrick Mahomes is the oldest starting quarterback left in the playoffs but his status for Sunday’s game is under intense scrutiny. After sustaining a high ankle sprain against the Jaguars, will he play and if he does, will he be fit enough to turn in the kind of performance that many expect to lead to him being named the NFL MVP once again in 2 weeks time? Head Coach, Andy Reid has already said the injury isn’t as severe as the one he sustained in 2019 and it’s safe to say the expectation is that Mahomes starts this weekend with a place in Super Bowl LVII on the line.
Their opponents, for the second straight year are the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have beaten the Chiefs in 3 straight games (including last year’s AFC Championship game at Arrowhead). That record, combined with the injury to Mahomes means that Cincinnati start this weekend’s matchup as narrow favourites. You’ll be hard pressed to find the last time a Mahomes-led Chiefs team entered a home game as underdogs!
However, there’s a resiliency about this Bengals team. Largely written off as 5.5 point underdogs last weekend, they dominated the Bills in Buffalo! QB Joe Burrow sliced and diced the Bills’ secondary while their injury ravaged offensive line still found ways to create holes for Joe Mixon and the Bengals run game. That is why Cincinnati are now being favoured to win this weekend.
Yet, there is an aura about Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Appearing in their 5th consecutive Championship game (won 2, lost 2) – all at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet they’ve only won one Super Bowl. They hold the no. 1 ranked offense and the no. 1 ranked scoring offense (29.2 ppg) this season. Unlike the Bills last weekend, Kansas City have a top 10 run game the Bengals must respect.
The chess match will come in the secondary for these teams. The Chiefs rank 18th defending the pass (220.9 ypg). The Bengals have the 5th ranked passing offense (265 ypg). However, the Chiefs hold the no. 1 ranked passing offense (297.9 ypg) against a Bengals defense which has struggled at times this year, ranking 23rd against the pass, giving up an average of 229.1 ypg. Both teams have playmaking receivers that can blow a game wide open!
This was a matchup decided in overtime in last season’s Championship game. Do not be surprised if this one goes to overtime as well. Form favours Cincinnati – riding a 10 game winning streak and having beaten the Chiefs 3 times in the last 14 months. There’s a reason you’ll struggle to find a Mahomes-led Chiefs team as underdogs when playing at home though – it’s because generally they win!
Big time players, make big time plays in big time games. For Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. They need to win this game to prove the Bengals don’t have the wood on them. They need to win this game to get to the Super Bowl. If the Chiefs want to be regarded in the same light as some of the great championship winning teams down the years – the Patriots, the 90s Cowboys, the 70s Steelers – then they need to win this game to keep that dream alive and not be regarded as a team which won just 1 Super Bowl. The question is, how bad do they want it?!
PICK: Kansas City Chiefs +1.5