We arrive at the semi-finals of the entire season as the Conference Championship games take place tonight and we still have some vague hopes of having a new team reach the big dance as the Lions take on the 49ers in San Francisco. In the AFC the Ravens are hosting the Chiefs as Mahomes keeps up his record of always making at least the Championship game as a starter, a quite ridiculous record.
It wasn't plain sailing for the 1 seeds last week, the 49ers really should have lost against the Packers but in the crunch Brock Purdy was strong while Jordan Love mistakes cost his team down the stretch, they lost Deebo during that game but it sounds like he's fine for tonight. The Ravens went into the half at 10-10 with the Texans and looked like they were under pressure but adjustments got the job done and they ran out comfortable winners in the end.
The Sunday games were entertaining as well, the Lions were pushed close by the Bucs before settling things in the second half and an int with 2 mins left secured the win for them while the Chiefs out-toughed the Bills in Buffalo, a scoreless 4th quarter from the Bills was the key to the win in the end as the Chiefs defense did what it has done all year and got the job done for them.
The Lions are our only hope of seeing a new matchup in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks time, we had the 49ers and Ravens 10 years ago at the power outage game in New Orleans, we get the Chiefs every year and them vs. the 49ers would be a repeat of 4 years ago, so I'm sure most of the neutrals will be cheering on the Lions tonight! I had 3 free bets over the summer, 2 of them went on the Lions at 25/1, so I'm definitely rooting for them tonight.
Chiefs +4.5 @ Ravens: 44.5
A tough one for a Bengals fan to be watching as a neutral! Do I want the Conference rival or the Divisional rival to make it to the Super Bowl? Honestly, for me, that's not a tough decision, come on you dirty rat-birds!
The M&T bank stadium was rocking last weekend, one of the loudest games I feel like I've watched on TV and you'd imagine they'd kick things up another notch for the game tonight, fortunately for us the weather doesn't seem like it will be an issue, above zero, slight winds and probably raining but these are manly AFC teams, they're used to far worse than that forecast.
We all know Mahomes is generally lights out in the play-offs and this season that seems especially relevant as they were not good in the regular season but like those pesky Patriots they know all they need to do is make the post-season and then get things together. I'm not entirely sure they have got things together on offense though, sure they put up a decent performance last week but they took full advantage of the Bills missing all of their linebackers and losing more during the game and they knew that Josh Allen would eventually give the game up, it's what he does.
What more is there to say about Patrick Mahomes? He's let his frustrations get the better of him a little this year as his pass-catchers let him down constantly but when the chips are down he gets things done. A 131.6 passer rating last week when things mattered the most, actually his highest rating of the entire season and 6 carries, a stat which tends to raise in the playoffs (although there were a few kneel downs in that line) 27.5 his rush line – He keeps things alive, he finds his man, he's will end up being the best there has been. So far. He was very well protected last week but is without his LG Joe Thuney for this one as he's ruled out with a Pec injury, that could prove pivotal on that O-Line.
The passing game however, is quite compact. It's mainly Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice as the others have proven themselves completely untrustworthy through the season. Kelce hasn't had a stellar year but would have still hit 1,000 yards if he played the final game and popped back up with 2 TDs last week with his brother cheering him on. It was a good matchup for him and one they took full advantage of, he faces a far tougher test today but may well still lead the team in targets, 5 from 6 for 75 yards and 2 TDs his final stat-line last week, if they win it all this season it could be the last we've seen of the best TE of his generation. Rashee Rice has been the one bright spot on offense, they started him slowly before realising he was the only one capable of catching the ball and loading him up with targets, capable in the slot and out wide, I'd imagine they'll move him around the formation to try and get him easier coverage in this one. They even had Marquez Valdes-Scantling pop up with a couple of key plays last week after a season littered with costly drops, he will get open once or twice it's just whether he'll be able to haul in those passes, and Mecole Hardman turned up with a couple of plays designed for him…he did fumble both of them but he got the ball in his hands at least.
I liked the Dan Hanzus analogy of Isiah Pacheco on the Around the NFL podcast this week, ‘he runs like he's infected with the rage virus' – That's so true. If they need a yard he'll run into that line with such force it seems inevitable, if he gets in open space he'll pump those legs like his life depends on it. He's been very good to close out the season and finished with 97 and a TD last week, making it 6 games in a row finding the endzone, and they may give him a higher workload today as the Ravens run defense is the weaker point of their defense. They gave Clyde Edwards-Helaire a few carries last week and he broke one for a big gain, he's a free agent after this season after 4 unproductive years in KC, but he has shown up a couple of times in the last few months.
The Chiefs defense has been key to them making the playoffs, they've not allowed more than 27 points all season long and the 4th quarter shut-out secured the game last week with Chris Jones proving he was worth the money he got by pushing the LT into the lap of Josh Allen to cause the game-winning interception. L'Jarius Sneed (as much as I think he gets away with a lot of holding…) allowed his first TD of the season last weekend as Khalil Shakir made a good catch in the front corner of the endzone. They could be without Willie Gay which would be a loss for them, he's officially questionable with a neck injury, I think he's leaning to being out. They have been better against the pass than the run which isn't where you want to be against the Ravens.
It all looked a tad shaky for the Ravens in the first half last week, the Texans were getting pressure up front and it seemed like Lamar was reverting to his play-off self before they got things sorted out to take his post-season record to 2-3. With that warm-up game done they'll be firing on all cylinders as they host the Championship game tonight.
It looks like Lamar Jackson is going to win the regular season MVP after re-negotiating his own contract over the summer. We may never knew if any other team was truly interested in picking him up but the Ravens will definitely be happy with the fact it didn't happen. He's had 500 yards more passing yards than any other season in his career as they finally got him some guys to through the ball to and he's kept up his usual rushing line as well with 5 TDs in the regular season. His rushing is of note in the playoffs where he's averaged over 90 on the ground including the 100 he had last week, he didn't look like he was pushing it last week, just taking what was there which ended with a couple of scores.
They probably could have had Mark Andrews back last weekend but didn't feel the need to rush him onto the field after an ankle injury but he returns in this one to give Lamar one of his main guys back. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays here as Isiaih Likely has filled in very well for the veteran and I think he will still have a decent enough role in the game tonight, he only had 2 receptions last week but one was for a TD, I think I'll have Likely o22.5 receiving yards in a builder. The WR options are at least varied for the Ravens now, Zay Flowers will probably lead the team in targets, he quickness allows him to get free and Lamar likes to get the ball to him. Odell Beckham started the game last week but wasn't on the field too much in the second half where they got on top of things, Rashod Bateman gets 3 or 4 catches a week in general and the likes of Nelson Agholor has shown up with a few key plays as well through the year. They don't really have a big-bodied guy at WR, but with the TE's they've got they're fine with that.
The run game has been the key for the Ravens since Lamar turned up and that will likely be the case tonight as well. It will be interesting to see whether the increase in Justice Hills' work was purely match-up based or whether they'll be leaning on him more than Gus Edwards again this week. Hills' speed definitely helped them more than the bludgeoning power of the Gus Bus. I do prefer the rush yards line on Hill over his team-mate, 34.5 vs 44.5 on those two. Dalvin Cook is a decent price again, he was gifted more work than I thought as they closed out the game and looked fine in the work he received and of course, Lamar's ability is second-to-none in the league.
The Ravens defense is the best in the league and is loaded at every level, the trade to bring in Roquan Smith from the Bears looks like one of the best in recent history as the LB group has been transformed with him there, the Rage-infected analogy works perfectly for them as well as the pace they have in the area is scary. Kyle Hamilton has had an all-pro season at Safety and Marlon Humphrey is apparently pretty good as well at CB, he's another week healthier now. They should get pressure up front with Madubuike and Clowney putting in the work at pass rush.
I'm not exactly happy with the line being 4.5 but I do think the Ravens are the better team this season, I think they're probably the best team in the league in fact and if it wasn't for Mahomes on the other side of the ball I think we'd be closer to 7 points in this one. I have to take the Ravens winning and covering although it's not something I'd be putting money on, I think there's a good chance the final result is under a TD and there's still worries when you looking at recent post-season results for these two teams. One knows how to get to the Super Bowl, the other still needs to prove that.
With the strength of both defenses it looks like the under should be in play but every Championship game the Chiefs have been involved in has hit the over and both offenses are capable of putting up points on any team in the league. Again, I doubt I'll have it any bets but I'd lean to the over on the total.
Prop-wise, I'll be taking Likely o22.5 receiving yards, he should still get a couple of catches. I like the o2.5 receptions for Justice Hill – Whether he gets the snaps he did or not he's reliable on dump-offs and if they're in more 3rd down situations he could be involved more in that aspect. Worryingly I'm leaning o1.5 on MVS, it's plus-money but his incompetence through the year gives me too much pause there. Mahomes rushing yards is usually a good one in the play-offs but I'm shying away from that as well with the speed of the Ravens' LBs.
TD scorers? Everyone is above Evens which is a little surprising in a game like this, so obviously Pacheco and Lamar are worth a look, 23/20 the best price at Ladbrokes for Lamar and 13/10 for Pacheco at PaddyPower (thanks to Oddschecker for making things so easy to compare) – But they're boring. 13/2 for Mahomes (PaddyPower) will be getting a bit of cash from me, probably in a double with someone, and I'm being drawn to 12/1 for Mecole Hardman (PaddyPower again), he fumbled through the endzone last week but at least got the chance to get there. Dalvin Cook at 10/1… They know how much of a sucker I am… and there is a 10/1 for MVS as well, but at 10bet, he's 7/1 at BetFred as the best price of the more mainstream books.
Lions +7.5 @ 49ers: 51.5
The upstart Lions are surely the neutrals team for the last couple of weeks of the season, led by the enigmatic Dan Campbell they've become tough to dislike and they've performed well in the two post-season games they've had so far this year. The 49ers may count themselves lucky to be here but good teams win tough games and they'll be happy to hear that the weather shouldn't be too much of an issue this week with no rain forecast for the game.
It's not just Brock Purdy who will be happy with the weather forecast, Jared Goff has a pretty dismal record outside in bad weather as well but he'll be fine with conditions in this one and he's overcome one of his biggest weaknesses this year as he's been fine against the blitz, something which tended to hurt him earlier in his career, playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league probably helps that. The line will be a tad weaker this week with Jonah Jackson ruled out at guard and Frank Ragnow banged up with a number of ailments at center for them. Goff though has had a very good year and had a good game last week with a heavy workload, he does prefer to throw over the middle of the field and that's where the 49ers are the strongest so it may be a little tougher for him this week. I don't mind a dabble on o1.5 rush yards for him, it's the playoffs, QBs risk things a little more.
The run game is where the Lions want to live and they're well set there for a few years with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery toting the rock very well. Gibbs has been outstanding in the second half of the season and he found the endzone once more last week as part of his 9 for 74 on the ground and 4/4 through the air. I like his reception line in this one. Apparently, Craig Reynolds shouldn't have been on the field for his 4th down TD last weekend, one that SHOULD have gone to Monty and brought home the SkyBet treble for all of us, so I think it's safe to say his position as the goal-line back hasn't been usurped quite yet. Montgomery finished with 13 in the regular season and one so far in the playoffs. Gibbs is much more fun to watch but Monty will get those tough yards.
The passing game has been largely Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta for much of the year and I'm sure that will be the idea here but with the 49ers linebackers and the middle of their defense that could be tougher. St. Brown finished with 8 from 14 targets last weekend with LaPorta 9 from 11. St. Brown in fact has at least 6 receptions in his last 6 games, his line is 7.5 here, I'd be tempted to go under on it. LaPorta o4.5 looks the better option there although it is minus odds, so won't make you rich quickly. Josh Reynolds has helped out this playoff run, just the 2 receptions last week but he did have a big one called back by a flag and scored a TD last weekend and Jameson Williams provides the deep threat with Kalif Raymond once again missing out. They will be without Brock Wright at TE2, but picked up Zach Ertz this week as his replacement who should be more of a play-maker for them.
The Lions passing defense has been all over the place this season but has got better in recent weeks and provided a game-winning interception last weekend. Aiden Hutchinson has 8 sacks in the last month and provided a lot of pressure by himself last week and they will have James Houston back who popped last season to help out in that area. Their run defense though has been immense this year, yet to allow a 100-yard rusher on the ground all season, although they haven't played CmcC…
The best team in the NFC this season, by some way has been the 49ers, the only games they really struggled in were against the AFC North and several of them with Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel missing time. Both will be playing here so there's no excuses for them.
I don't want to belabour a point but I have had concerns over Purdy in big games and realistically he should have cost his team the win last week with several dropped interceptions before (fair play to him) he provided a game-winning drive to close out the game. The weather got a lot of the blame with his tiny hands struggling to grip the ball, he won't be able to use that as an excuse today. He is an aggressive passer and will stand in there taking shots if he thinks he can get the ball to his man, he's decent on the run and runs the Shanahan offense perfectly. He's a fine QB.
I'm not sure if I'll ever give Purdy the credit that some people feel he deserves as the team around him is so good, but he's not the first QB to have a loaded roster and brilliant play-caller helping him win games. Having Christian McCaffrey at RB definitely helps things, the trade to bring him in from the Panthers a year and a half ago could be a Super Bowl-winning moment and there's no superlatives that haven't been used for him, 3/10 for a TD today sums that up quickly in betting terms. He had a couple of scores last week and 128 combined yards with 30 of them through the air. He's outstanding and incredibly fun to watch, a rightful winner of Offensive player of the year. Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason are decent alternates for him as well although neither got a touch last weekend.
It seems that Deebo Samuel is the key for the niners passing offense, his ability on the ground and through the air is probably only matched by his team-mate, he's electric to watch and it's not just shiftiness, he's a very powerful runner with the ball in his hands, the Lions LBs will have their work cut out for them tonight. Brandon Aiyuk has been the deep threat for them for most of the year and that's where they should look to target against this Lions defense tonight, his line is too high for me to take the over at 78.5 but it should be around there when all is said and done, his longest reception has been a solid bet all year but 28.5 is crazy, he's 6/5 second favourite to score tonight. George Kittle has had a good season at TE, always reliable in the blocking game he's shown up when needed in the pass as well this year and led the team in yards last week with Deebo out of the game. Jauan Jennings does a bit and I wouldn't be shocked to see Kyle Juzszysysysck get a touch tonight.
The 49ers defense boasts arguably the best LB in the league with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw who will provide a good challenge against LaPorta and they've got good CBs as well to close out the secondary. It's up front where they look to win though with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Javon Hargreave performing well this year, and the addition of Chase Young should have helped, but he's not had the best of times since coming in from the Commanders.
Obviously I, and I'm sure most neutrals want to see the Lions make the Super Bowl and while I think they can if things go well for them I think the line is about right. As it's touched over the 7 I'll be leaning to the Lions covering the spread, if it was any lower I'd be on the 49ers getting the job done. The total is high but there's good reason for that, I won't be having a bet on the over but that's the way I'm leaning on that selection.
I've actually not got that much on the props side of things here, lean under on St. Brown receptions, lean over on LaPorta on that side of the ball. Gibbs o3.5 receptions – 1/1 looks good to me though, like Hill in the AFC game they could be in third-down situations more and that means more pass-catching back on the field. Juasczyk to have a reception is 10/11, a tempter. I did give out Christian McCaffrey u84.5 rush yards as a bet on the Full10Yards podcast so I'll stick to that one although there's not a huge amount of confidence in that, it's relying on that Lions rush defense holding firm. Jared Goff o1.5 rush yards – Why the hell not.
TD scorers? Obviously not Cmc at the price, I don't mind Gibbs at 6/4 with Boylesports and you can get double-digits on Juice finding the endzone at most books as well.
I appreciate there's far too much information there. Best bets for each game?
and for TDs
- Patrick Mahomes and Jahmyr Gibbs both to score – 17/1