Super Bowl LVII is just two weeks away and we are down to the final four teams in the playoffs. Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles host Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers in a battle of the NFC's top two seeds while Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals head to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium to face Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
We're looking at the key questions in these conference championship games as each team attempts to reach the Super Bowl in Arizona.
What is worth looking at from a betting perspective? And which are the best plays to help you make smart wagering decisions?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan, fantasy and sports betting analyst Eric Moody, ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz offer their insights into the games with tips and picks.
Note: Lines are from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
The top two seeds are meeting in the NFC Championship Game as the 49ers travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles (-2.5, 46) San Francisco is on a 12-game winning streak while the Eagles got back to their winning ways last Sunday. Who do you like to cover this line?
Kezirian: In terms of value, the best time to back Philly would have been at any other point this postseason. San Francisco was the favorite but that changed after last weekend's games. I still think laying the 2.5 is OK. Brock Purdy deserves immense credit for what he has done but I think the magical ride ends in Philly. Facing the Eagles on the road will be his hardest challenge, and I think his limitations will surface. He has played with fire a few times and escaped game-changing interceptions but I do not think this ball-hawking defense will let him off the hook. Overall, the Eagles' defense ranks second in efficiency, yet is often overlooked. The Eagles are healthy and playing at home, so I will lay the short number.
Fulghum: I will stick with the horse that got me here: the San Francisco 49ers. Not only have they won 12 games in a row, they have covered 10 of those 12. This is, however, the best competition they have seen all season -- and it's a very tough road environment for Purdy. Kyle Shanahan has thrived in the postseason for bettors. He's 7-1 ATS in his playoff career. He's also 19-10 ATS as a road underdog -- including a 12-3 mark since 2019. Sometimes I really wonder about his conservatism and game management, but the dude can obviously coach ball. I will not at all be surprised by a Philadelphia win, but I'm taking the points with the 49ers.
Dolan: I'm taking the Eagles ML. I know you are laying some juice, but I am not touching the spread given how good the 49ers have been against the number this season. This could always be included as a leg of a parlay. Both of these teams are so evenly matched that I believe it is going to come down to the least amount of mistakes and penalties. The 49ers have 120 total penalties including declined penalties (ranked 22nd), while the Eagles have 105 (T13) for what it is worth. Meanwhile, both teams have not turned over the ball frequently throughout the season. It could quite literally come down to which QB is better. I trust Jalen Hurts and his offensive teammates more over Purdy, who might really struggle unless he is handing off the ball every play.
Schatz: I've been driving the Eagles' bandwagon since the preseason but I'm hopping off here. The 49ers have just been absurdly good over the past dozen games, ranking No. 1 in DVOA, which lowers the importance of early-season games. There's a good gap between them and the Eagles, who are below the three top AFC teams. That's because while the 49ers have been hot, the Eagles have not been as good in recent weeks. Their passing game, for example, was third in DVOA in Weeks 1-9 but 15th in Weeks 10-20 even if you ignore the two Garner Minshew weeks. Their pass defense is a bit more complicated since it has been very good over the past three games; from Week 9 to Week 16, the Eagles' pass defense was very average, but it has rebounded in the last month. Nonetheless, San Francisco has been the better team on both sides of the ball for three months now and I'll take the 49ers with the 2.5 points.
Moody: I'm backing the Eagles to cover the spread. In last week's game against the Giants, Jalen Hurts looked like an MVP candidate thanks to the bye week, which allowed him to get healthier. Additionally, seven of the past nine NFC Championship Games have been won by the home team. The Eagles are 6-2 against the spread in their past eight playoff games. They've also covered the spread in seven of 10 home games this season. The Eagles' defense will come up big against Brock Purdy.
Walder: I'm laying the points with the Eagles. These are the two best rosters from 1-53, but Philadelphia has the advantage at all the most important positions: quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback. And while the Niners have the superstars on each line, I'd take Philly's offensive line and pass rush as units ahead of San Francisco's. And I also still think it's fair to hold on to some light skepticism of Purdy: five of the seven pass defenses he has faced have been below average and he didn't play as well against Dallas, the best pass defense he has seen. The Eagles' defense is better than them all.
Marks: Fly Eagles Fly! I also like the Eagles (-1.5) at the half. Philadelphia is the best first-half team in the NFL -- first in points per drive, and TD per drive -- it had a +149 point differential in the first half this season. The advantage the Eagles have is at quarterback. Purdy looked like a true rookie against Dallas last week -- 0 TDs, 38.6 passer rating and only 50% on third-down conversion rate. The Eagles have the best pass defense in the NFL, and Purdy will have another week of tough sledding.
The total is 46. Five straight Eagles games have gone under the total, while four of the past five Niners games went over the total. Do you like over or under?
Fulghum: I think we see a similar game script and environment to the game we saw in Santa Clara last week between Dallas and San Francisco. Both of these teams can be overwhelming at the LOS. Despite the fact that there are superstar offensive players on both teams, I expect it to be a wildly physical game that makes it tough for both offenses. I'm playing this game to go under the total.
Dolan: I would rather play the first-half total under 23. Philly has been successful jumping out on teams in the first half, averaging 18 points in the first half and 11 points in the second half, but factor in the defenses that the Eagles have faced. This will be a lower-scoring first half for the Eagles. Defenses come up big and the total hits under in the first half.
Schatz: These teams have both been very good on both sides of the ball, but offense is more predictive than defense and that's also true when it comes to over/under totals. Don't forget that Philadelphia will have mild weather on Sunday as opposed to below-freezing temperatures in Kansas City. I'll take this game to go over the total.
Walder: Under. These are the two best pass defenses in the NFL, and that's going to force some more running -- which is generally less efficient and will run the clock. I know both offenses can be explosive, but I think the defenses will at least contain.
Marks: Under please. We are going to see two of the best defenses play chess -- taking away what each team does best. Purdy will face the best pass defense in the NFL, and George Kittle will struggle against a top LB core -- much like Dallas Goedert will as well. Miles Sanders will battle against a 49ers rush defense that allows only 3.3 yards per carry. Defense will be the storyline.
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The AFC Championship Game line keeps moving. Opened with K.C. favored by 2.5 and then swung to Cincinnati as favorite before going back to K.C. after Mahomes practiced. How do you see this game shaping up?
Dolan: Bengals ML. This will be a moneyline bet for me just like the NFC Championship Game given how tight this line is. Joe Burrow has owned Patrick Mahomes in his career. The Bengals have boasted one of the best second-half defenses the past two seasons. For context, Mahomes has six passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first half of his past three games against the Bengals, but has zero touchdowns and two interceptions after the half. On top of that, I am concerned about Mahomes' ankle, which could get worse throughout the game. The Bengals will capitalize on the Chiefs' weaknesses and be successful.
Schatz: I lean toward the Bengals because of Mahomes' ankle injury. In addition, the Cincinnati defense led by coordinator Lou Anarumo has a record of playing (relatively) better against the top quarterbacks than it does against run-of-the-mill quarterbacks. Nonetheless, all the advanced metrics had the Chiefs better than the Bengals this season. ESPN FPI has the Chiefs first and the Bengals third. DVOA has the Chiefs fourth and the Bengals fifth if you include the playoffs. The Bengals playing at Arrowhead Stadium would be underdogs if not for Mahomes' injury. Your appetite for betting on this game probably depends on your appetite for risk.
Fulghum: I like the Bengals to win. Burrow has earned enough equity over the past two seasons to trust him in this spot. Mahomes has even more equity ... but his ankle injury is too big to ignore. The Bengals have already been his most difficult matchup over the past two seasons when he was fully healthy. At (likely) far less than 100 percent, I'm trusting the team that just keep winning and covering.
Moody: I'm backing the Bengals. Mahomes' injury and mobility will play a factor. His injury has caused a ripple effect throughout the entire Chiefs offense. Despite being favored earlier in the week, the Bengals are unlikely to underestimate the Chiefs. Burrow is playing great at a perfect time. He is 5-1 against the spread in playoff games, including 3-0 against Mahomes. The Bengals are 8-1-1 against the spread over their past 10 games.
Walder: I truly don't know, because it's basically a bet on Mahomes' ankle. But what I do think is that the Chiefs lookahead lines (+1 vs. Eagles, PK vs. 49ers) offer an opportunity. If Mahomes' injury severely limits him the Chiefs probably just lose and the lookahead bets void, taking out a lot of the downside risk. But if the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl that probably means Mahomes is relatively healthy and then will get two more weeks to rest that ankle. I suspect if you're going to want to bet on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, these are the best lines you're going to get.
Marks: Give me the big cats! The Bengals are better team, having won 11 straight, and are 13-5 ATS. Cincy has beaten Kansas City three times in the past 13 months and Mahomes comes in with a hurt ankle. The Bengals have the healthier QB and the better defense. The Bengals have allowed only 16 points per game their past six games and have a better red zone defense (52% scoring allowed).
The Chiefs and Bengals both played more overs than unders this season, but also finished as two of the top seven scoring teams in the NFL, with the Chiefs 29.2 PPG leading the league. Are you playing over or under 46.5?
Kezirian: The under is my only play for this game and it's a small one at that. I believe Cincinnati benefited from the snowy conditions in Buffalo, preventing the Bills pass rush to pivot at all. I question whether the Bengals' offensive line can hold its own against Kansas City without those elements. I love Burrow, and Mahomes will find a way to be effective, despite the injury, but I will cautiously play the under.
Fulghum: I'm playing this game to go under the total, just like the NFC. The Chiefs' offensive ceiling is lowered due to Mahomes' injury. His mobility in the pocket and ability to extend plays off script bring so much value to the Chiefs' offense. It cannot be ignored. Plus, Mahomes has already proved to have some struggles in recent matchups with coordinator Anarumo and his Bengals defense. On the other side, Burrow is incredible but going into Arrowhead and lighting up the scoreboard is always difficult. I'm just not sure 30+ points will be necessary in this game for the winner.
Schatz: You would have to significantly dock the Kansas City offense for the Mahomes injury to play the under in this game, even after accounting for the fact that the temperature will be in the 20s. Both offenses are just too good and the defenses are not as strong as the defenses we'll see in the NFC game. I'll take the over in this game as well.
What is your favorite prop for this weekend's championship games?
Fulghum: Mahomes under 275.5 passing yards. Mahomes has faced this Bengals defense (Lou Anarumo) three times in the past two seasons -- playoffs included -- and he's averaging just 252.3 pass yards per game. His highest total came in last year's AFC title game when he threw for 275. Even with a healthy ankle, Mahomes has never crossed this threshold against Anarumo's defense. I hate betting against the most dynamic QB to ever play the game, but with his mobility seriously compromised, I think the market is still too high on this prop.
Moody: Burrow over 275.5 passing yards. Cincinnati's quarterback is not taking Kansas City lightly despite being 3-0 against them and still calls them the "team to beat," but he also said that the Bengals are "coming for them." Over the past two seasons, Burrow has averaged 327 passing yards against the Chiefs. On Sunday, I believe he will rise to the occasion against Kansas since he has never shied away from big moments. Burrow is well-positioned for success with receivers like Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.
Fortenbaugh: Ja'Marr Chase over 82.5 receiving yards. According to Football Outsiders, Kansas City finished the regular season ranked 31st in the NFL in defending opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Guess what? Chase is a No. 1 wide receiver! Not only did he record 97 receiving yards against the Chiefs this season, but fellow star wideouts Davante Adams, Mike Williams, Mike Evans and Stefon Diggs all topped 100 receiving yards against Kansas City this season as well.
Schatz: Christian McCaffrey over 60.5 rushing yards, especially if you can still get the odds at the currently listed (-106). This goes along with the narrative where the 49ers win this game. The Eagles have improved their run defense since Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph showed up, but they still rank just 15th in DVOA run defense over that time period.
Dolan: A.J. Brown Over 69.5 receiving yards. Philly's offensive line has a multitude of ways to beat opponents, but it's all about the Eagles' game plan. This is the toughest defense the Birds have faced this season. While Brown finished with 22 receiving yards against the Giants, the Eagles' game plan was to run the ball in order to expose the Giants' poor defense against the run. That's why Miles Sanders over rushing yards was my best bet last week. The 49ers' defense as a whole is scary, but keep in mind that San Francisco ranks second in rushing yards per game, but 20th against the pass. Against Dallas, the 49ers just held Ezekiel Elliott to 26 rush yards on 10 attempts and Tony Pollard to 22 rushing yards. Meanwhile, CeeDee Lamb went over 100 receiving yards. Hurts has to beat the 49ers through the air and will lean on Brown.
Walder: Bengals to call first timeout (-115 at BetMGM). I find this chart from the NFL's analytics group awfully compelling: It shows that Zac Taylor uses 2.4 "unnecessary" timeouts per game, while Andy Reid uses 1.7. I'll bet on the pattern holding true and Taylor being more likely to use an early timeout.
Marks: Hurts over 32.5 passing attempts. The only way a team beats the 49ers is via the pass. Opponents throw the ball 62% of their plays, and 74% of yards paced on San Fran is via the air. Expect Hurts to pass over 75%- similar to how we saw the Eagles game plan against the Titans.
What is your best bet for this weekend's games?
Fortenbaugh: Eagles -2.5. Purdy has only played two road games in his short NFL career, which took place in Seattle and Las Vegas against teams that rank outside the top-20 in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Well, this is a big step up in class against an Eagles defense that ranks sixth in the NFL in DVOA and first against the pass. Further, San Francisco went on its bye in Week 9, which means this will be its 12th straight week of football. Philly, conversely, was off just two weeks ago. I think the beautiful people at Lincoln Financial Field play a big role in this one.
Fulghum: Bengals -1. I absolutely HATE betting against Mahomes, and hate that Cincinnati was favored earlier in the week, but I just can't get over how good the Bengals match up against the Chiefs. Now that Mahomes is less than 100 percent, I have even more conviction that the Bengals are the better team in this spot.
Schatz: 49ers +2.5. I don't want to see my preseason Super Bowl pick fall, but it's hard to turn down the 49ers getting points when you consider just how dominant they've been on both sides of the ball for three months now.
Marks: Eagles (-2.5) & Bengals (-2.5) parlay (+300). I feel confident that both the Eagles and Bengals will win by at least three points. Mr. Irrelevant will have some tough sledding against the Eagles' No. 1 pass defense. The Bengals own K.C., and with Mahomes dealing with an ankle injury, I have a concern he won't finish the game against Cincy's top-5 defense.