NFL Betting Guide: Conference Championships
We're down to four teams in this NFL season, and it's truly a historic race. For the first time in the history of the league, all four teams are longer than +250 and shorter than +300 to win the Super Bowl at almost every sportsbook. It's a total toss-up where each team has no more than a 28.6% implied chance to win it all.
We'll decide which participants will duel in Arizona on Sunday. In the early game, the San Francisco 49ers will look to carry their momentum east as they meet the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly. Then, the nightcap is a rematch of last year's AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs in K.C.
Using NFL odds and totals from FanDuel Sportsbook, where can we find betting value in these contests?
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles -2.5 (-115) - 0.5 Units
Over 46.5 (-110) - 1.0 Unit
The key rule of thumb to remember when betting spreads this weekend is to find the winner. The winners of NFL conference title games are 72-11-1 against the spread (ATS) since 1980.
It helps both of these lines fall short of the most key number in football at 3.0. The Eagles find themselves as 2.5-point favorites at home, and they've regained the most crucial element of all recently: health. Their bludgeoning of the Giants doesn't mean a ton for this one because New York, according to our nERD rankings, was the second-worst team to make the playoffs.
Most importantly, Jalen Hurts is healthy, and he'll likely be the Birds' primary source of offense here. The Niners' elite defense hasn't let a single running back eclipse 70 yards rushing this year.
In the regular season, this defense allowed -0.04 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, which was the second-best in the NFL. But that mark has been 0.19 in the playoffs against Geno Smith and Dak Prescott -- both of whom had a lower season-long Passing NEP per drop back than Hurts (0.19).
Beyond the Niners' recent issues defending the pass in the playoffs, the other tidbit to remember is that San Francisco's "dominant" rush game hasn't been that. It's actually Philadelphia that leads the NFL in Rushing NEP (117.48), and the Niners are 15th (28.23). With that said, they still should have success versus an Eagles squad ranked as numberFire's sixth-worst rush defense.
Philadelphia has a path to points through the air, and San Francisco should make headway on the ground -- even with Elijah Mitchell, who might be in line for more work as Christian McCaffrey continues to miss practices. Plus, these two teams play at a solid situational-neutral pace, so the tempo should be decent. The over appears to be a sneaky spot.
This number hasn't budged all week and likely won't. I'd easily flip to S.F. if given the key number in this spot -- but so would every sharp on the planet. In a higher-scoring affair than most think, I'll back the home team to visit their second Super Bowl in five years.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Eagles 26-23
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
Bengals +1.5 (-112) - 1.0 Unit
Under 48.0 (-110) - Lean
This game has featured some legendary line-movement activity thanks to Patrick Mahomes' ankle. I've slept like a baby all week knowing that I would be backing Cincinnati in this exact matchup before the playoffs began.
When these teams have met in the past three games -- two with Tyreek Hill and all with Mahomes completely healthy -- the Bengals have won. It's the same consistent formula why I'm backing the Stripes as I did in last year's AFC Championship and this year's game in Cincinnati.
The gap between Mahomes and Joe Burrow hasn't -- and perhaps can't -- overcome the gap between Cincinnati's defense and Kansas City's. The Bengals are our nERD rankings' 7th-best defense in the NFL, and K.C. is downright poor (21st) in that area. The Chiefs compiled over 70 Offensive NEP more than the Bengals, who finished 2nd in the league, but the realistic gap just isn't that wide -- especially if Mahomes is limited in any capacity.
The home team took plenty of money on Wednesday to move K.C. back to its favored status. However, you can largely throw out line movement and public betting trends with this Bengals squad. They're just unphased by being the public darling, amassing a 21-5 record ATS in their past 26 games. That's absurd in the NFL.
The Chiefs are 0-5 ATS against the last five teams they faced with a winning record. In that time since K.C. covered in San Francisco, the Bengals have thumped the Bills, Buccaneers, and Ravens (twice). Indisputably, we have a more significant record of Cincinnati's established dominance over playoff teams.
For this reason, I've been waiting for a realistic opportunity to fade the Chiefs. They haven't played a truly losable contest since the one in Cincinnati. I hammered this line like I never do (three units) when the Bengals opened as three-point underdogs, which was a great number given Mahomes' ankle issue.
Kansas City is at its weakest form in this quadrilogy. I'd still take the Bengals' spread at +1.5 for a unit again here, but now I'm just waiting to see how many points we'll get as public prognosticators expect the future hall-of-famer's equivalent of Jordan's flu game.
All of this said, I'm totally stumped on the total. While we know Mahomes will play, his effectiveness is my question. While my gut tells me he struggles with Cincinnati's tough defense, these are also the two top offenses in our nERD rankings, and the situation-neutral pace here is excellent. I'm leaning away from the 71% of bets on the over as of now, but I may have no action on this guy.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bengals 24-23