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NFL Conference Championships Preview

The conference championships are an NFL fan’s dream, with elite teams on both sides of the ball battling for a spot in Super Bowl LVIII. First, the defending Super Bowl champions take on the form team of the league before two of the hottest offences this season go head-to-head.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL this season. Lamar Jackson is all but locked into a second Most Valuable Player award. Still, their history in the playoffs remains a hurdle. If not for the Ravens players, their fans and neutrals around the league.

Baltimore is making their 11th playoff appearance in 16 years. They’re always there or thereabouts but haven’t played in the AFC Championship since winning the Super Bowl in 2012-13. For Jackson, Baltimore’s 34-10 win over the Houston Texans is only his second-ever playoff win.

It’s more of the same for the Kansas City Chiefs, though. Underdogs heading into the Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs clicked into gear. They’ve not looked right this season. Most thought they never would look like those Chiefs. However, Patrick Mahomes did what he typically does in the playoffs, Travis Kelce looked the best he has all year, and Isaiah Pacheco is getting better with every barnstorming carry he attempts.

The numbers around Mahomes as an underdog are well known. He’s now 9-1-1 as an underdog after winning straight up catching 2.5 points. Can we really fade him again…?

Baltimore is a -3.5 favourite for his one. On paper, it makes sense. You could argue the line is too low, given they’re 1st in total DVOA, 4th in Offensive DVOA and 1st in Defensive DVOA. Jackson is playing at another level and the weapons around him are firing on both sides of the ball. Mark Andrews may yet be added to an in-form offence, while the Roquan Smith-led defensive unit has given up the fewest points in the NFL this season.

But, Mahomes as a dog…

The Ravens are deserving favourites on their own turf but the Chiefs appeal as $2.60 underdogs. The total set at 44.5 points suggests a relatively low-scoring game; another tick for Mahomes covering the spread.

There is value to be found in the touchdown scorer markets. For Kansas City, Kelce is the shortest price to feature in the end zone at $2.30. He’s always been Mr. Reliable for Mahomes in the post-season. If it’s not Kelce, Isaiah Pacheco ($2.50), Rashee Rice ($2.55), Justin Watson ($6) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($7.25) are all worth exploring further.

It’s a little bit more difficult to sift through the menu of options at Jackson’s disposal with Gus Edwards ($2.45), Zay Flowers ($2.95), Mark Andrews ($3.30), Isaiah Likely ($3.30) Justice Hill ($4.40) and Odel Beckham Jr. ($4.50) all proven targets for their quarterback. The man himself is Baltimore’s most likely at $2.15.

Buffalo would have made for an exciting opponent, but this is arguably the more exciting matchup. The form team of the NFL against the defending Super Bowl champions.


Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers made things difficult for themselves last week.

“Poor weather didn’t help, but they looked rusty after the bye. Losing Deebo Samuel to injury didn’t help either. Still, they did enough to beat the Green Bay Packers 24-21 and earn a place in the Conference Championship for the fourth time in five seasons.” Divisional Round Review

Nonetheless, they’ve proven a number of times throughout the NFL season that they’re worthy Super Bowl LVIII contenders. While the offence didn’t flourish in poor conditions last week, we’re unlikely to see the same weather in San Francisco in this one. They’re the top-ranked team in offensive DVOA. Brock Purdy, albeit coming off a disappointing showing against the Packers, knows how to pull the strings of this stacked offensive unit.

Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are keeping Deebo Samuel’s status close to their chest, but he is reportedly 50/50 to play. In the post-season, that’s closer to an 80% chance.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions are playing in their first NFC championship game since the 1991-92 season. It’s been an incredible run for the Lions under Dan Campbell. He’s recalibrated the future of this franchise. However, their $3.60 odds suggest the run is coming to an end for this season.

They’re one of the few teams that can compete with the 49ers offensively. Jared Goff has turned his career around and led the Lions to 5th in offensive DVOA and towards the top of most typical offensive metrics.

We’ve been the beneficiaries of Goff’s wizardry indoors a couple of times this season but will be forced outside for this one. Remarkably, Goff and the Lions have played only one ‘true’ outdoor game on grass this season for just 161 yards and 13 points. It’s in defence where most concerns around the Lions lay, though.

They’re 13th in defensive DVOA. While not a bad defence, middling rarely cuts in in the NFL postseason. To make matters worse, they go up against the best red zone offence in the league in the 49ers. The Lions rank 29th in red zone defence…

Christian McCaffery is at an unbackable $1.33 to score against this questionable Detroit defence. Brandon Aiyuk ($2), George Kittle ($2.20), Jauan Jennings ($4.60), and Ray-Ray McCloud ($5.30) are also likely to feature. The 50.5 points total signals a relatively high-scoring game with Amon-Ra St. Brown ($2.50), Jahmyr Gibbs ($2.55), David Montgomery ($2.80) and Sam LaPorta ($2.90) more than capable of holding up Detroit on the offensive side of the ball.

The 49ers defence should be the difference between the two in the end. Still, there is a good chance of this game turning into a shootout if the Lions offence fires early.



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