AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
Bengals @ Chiefs
Two things are certain for this year's AFC championship. 1. Short of there being lots of massive injuries due to injury there will be lots of points scored. 2. Neither of these teams are strangers to big games and they have completely different reasons for why they would want to get to the Super Bowl.
The Bengals would want to do it to defend the Super Bowl and the Chiefs would be wanting to do it to prove that they aren’t Super Bowl material as one hit wonders, as they won the Super Bowl in 2020 in a 31-20 win against the 49ers.
There will be some significant points scored as both teams have elite offenses and quarterbacks In Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes. If the winner of this game wins by three points it would be the fourth game in a row in which this happened. So now onto the next question. Our Pick: Bangals
What are the keys to winning the AFC championship?
Considering that both of these teams have elite offenses it will likely come down to either which team makes the least number of mistakes or which defense is able to force more mistakes. So how can the two defenses do that? Cincinnati should try to make Patrick Mahomes throw a lot on the run as he is notorious for being able to squirm around and run around the pocket. While Joe Burrow is not typically a running quarterback he can certainly hold his own so they need to try to keep the ball out of his chief wide receiver in Ja’marr Chase. Now onto the NFC.
49ers @ Eagles
Both teams had different paths of getting to the NFC championship but yielded similar results as both teams won their division. The 49ers spent a part of the year with the injury bug as wide receiver Deebo Samuel was out for a period of time and quarterback Jimmy Garropolo has been out since midseason, however back up quarterback Brock Purdy proved he was the man for the job which resulted in a 107.3 quarterback rating while going 114-170 for 1,374 , 13 touchdowns against only four interceptions. They also picked up running back Christian McCaffrey midseason to up their running game, resulting in a 13-4 season for San Francisco.
As for the Eagles they picked up AJ Brown in the offseason which turned out to be an outstanding pick up as he garnered 88 receptions against 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns, resulting in a 14-3 season for the Eagles.
As for the actual game, if San Francisco expects to win they need to keep the ball out of their best playmakers hands in Brown and also keep quarterback Jalen Hurts in the pocket as Philadelphia is currently ranked fifth in the league in rushing at 147.6 yards per game. They will also want to keep running back Miles Sanders at bay who averaged just under five yards per game for the season. On offense Purdy will need to stay calm and collected and definitely not get hurt as the other two San Francisco quarterbacks are hurt in Garoppolo and Trey Lance and they will also want to try to get the ball down the field against the Eagles secondary which has the fewest yards per game this season on defense at 179.8 yards per game.
If the Eagles expect to win they will need to find a way to keep San Francisco's weapons at bay in McCaffrey and Deebo. If possible they should also try to make Purdy squirm and get hit a few times to get into his nerves. Our Pick: Eagles
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AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
Cincinnati @ Kansas City
Like the NFC title game that will be played after it, the AFC championship features two teams that played each other earlier in the season. It wasn’t that long ago either. Cincinnati hosted Kansas City in Week 17 of the regular season in a game that was the tale of two halves.
In the first half, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes threw two touchdown passes and RB Darrel Williams ran for two more and Kansas City led 28-14 at halftime. After the break, the Bengals defense held Kansas City to just three second half points. The offense, led by QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase, rallied and Burrow led a game-winning drive capped by an Evan McPherson field goal. Chase would finish the game with 11 catches, 266 yards, and three touchdowns. The Bengals won 34-31 on the game’s final play.
Last week, Cincy upset AFC top-seeded Tennessee 19-16 also on a final-play, walk off McPherson field goal. The Bengals defense came up big with three interceptions of Titans QB Ryan Tannehill, which was what kept Cincinnati in the game. The Titans sacked Burrow nine times. Interestingly, when the Bengals and Chiefs played in Week 17, Kansas City sacked Burrow four times.
The Chiefs have their own issues, namely, pass defense. In the first game against Cincy, they surrendered the 266 yards to Chase and last week in their dramatic win over Buffalo the Chiefs allowed Bills QB Josh Allen to throw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of regulation play. Kansas City and Mahomes had to win the game in overtime.
Both teams have been good against the number recently. Cincy is 6-0 ATS in its last six games and the Chiefs are 8-2 ATS in their last ten. What is interesting is that in conference championship games with a favorite of greater than a field goal, the favorite is 15-8 ATS since 2004. In such games where the two teams played each other previously that season, the favorite is 6-2 ATS. Take the Chiefs at home… KANSAS CITY 33, CINCINNATI 24
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
NFC: San Francisco @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams and 49ers played twice this season, since both teams play in the NFC West Division. The Rams won the division title despite losing both games to the 49ers this season. In fact, the Niners have swept Los Angeles in each of the past three seasons winning six games in a row over the Rams.
San Francisco needed a win in the season finale to make the playoffs. After dominating most of the game, the 49ers would need a field goal in overtime to win 27-24. The Niners outgained the Rams 449 to 265 and sacked Rams QB Matthew Stafford five times. They shut down the Rams offense in the second half, but LA was able to convert 7-of-10 third downs and 3-of-4 trips in the red zone.
In the other game this season, San Francisco picked off Stafford on the Rams first two drives, went on to run for 156 yards, and won easily 31-10. The difference on Sunday could be the play of Stafford. Over the first eight weeks of the season, the Rams quarterback was outstanding. He led the league in passer rating, but over the latter half of the season Stafford slumped. He threw 11 interceptions from Week 9 on and four of those were returned for touchdowns.
Stafford has played well in both Rams’ playoff games and it was his long throw to WR Cooper Kupp last week that gave the Rams a shot at a game-winning field goal. There is plenty of history with division opponents in NFL playoff games. Since 2003, the road team is 15-8-1 ATS. Home teams had failed to cover in eight straight playoff games featuring division opponents until this postseason. The team with the lower winning percentage is 14-6-1 ATS and the team that won the last game by a touchdown or less (like San Francisco) is 8-5 ATS.
There’s simply too much favoring the Niners here. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is 27-18 ATS as an underdog. In San Francisco’s last 19 games as an underdog, they have won 12 of them outright and Shanahan is 7-3 SU and ATS against Rams head coach Sean McVay… SAN FRANCISCO 27, LA RAMS 26
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
The Bills will head to an AFC championship game for the first time since 1993. If you’re old enough old remember, Buffalo was led by QB Jim Kelly and company to a fourth consecutive Super Bowl that year. This year’s Bills, led by an MVP candidate at quarterback in Josh Allen, are looking to get to Super Bowl LV and win it unlike their 1990s counterparts that lost four straight.
The big question in Sunday’s AFC championship is the status of Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. The Kansas City quarterback left last week’s Divisional Round game in the third quarter after hitting his head on the turf. He entered concussion protocol and will have to clear it in order to play.
The Chiefs will be hosting the AFC title game for the third consecutive year. Kansas City lost to New England 37-31 in 2018 and beat Tennessee 35-24 last year. The Chiefs potent offense hasn’t scored more than 21 points since beating New Orleans 32-29 on December 20.
With the uncertainty surrounding Mahomes and Josh Allen’s record as a road underdog against the spread, this could be the perfect opportunity for an upset. Allen is 8-2-2 against the spread as a road dog and don’t forget Buffalo has now won eight straight games. The Bills have won all but one of those eight by 10 or more points. They will pull a huge surprise on Sunday… BUFFALO 28, KANSAS CITY 24
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
It’s another matchup of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the NFC championship game. Last week, the Bucs’ Tom Brady bested New Orleans Drew Brees. This week, Brady will take on Aaron Rodgers again. The two teams played back in Week 5 of the regular season.
In that game, Green Bay built a 10-0 first quarter lead then fell apart in the second quarter. Rodgers threw a pick-six and Brady tossed two touchdowns to give Tampa Bay a 28-10 halftime lead. The Bucs would limit Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to just 201 yards and go on to win 38-10.
The Packers have won their last seven straight and haven’t given up more than 18 points in their last four. The defense has performed well with the pass rush of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith – 16.5 combined sacks. The offense has been outstanding as Rodgers and company led the league in scoring averaging 31.8 points a game.
Aaron Jones (1,104 yards, 9 TDs) is one of the league’s best all-purpose backs and WR Davante Adams (1,374 yards, 18 TDs) is one to the top wide receivers. Brady has a solid cast of weapons as well with RB Ronald Jones II (978 yards, 7 TDs) and wide receivers Mike Evans (1,006, 13 TDs) and Chris Godwin (840 yards, 7 TDs). Add in TE Rob Gronkowski (7 TDs) and WR Antonio Brown (4 TDs in 8 games) and the Bucs can rival Green Bay on offense.
The Bucs have the better defense ranking first in the league against the run (80.6 ypg), seventh in total defense, and eighth in scoring. Still, it’s hard to bet against someone like Rodgers…especially when he’s playing at home and especially after his Packers put up 484 yards of offense on the NFL’s best defense – the Rams – last week.
In a 2020 season where home-field advantage was negated by the coronavirus, the Packers playing in January at Lambeau Field does provide an advantage. Rodgers has played extremely well at home. In games that Rodgers has started at Lambeau, the Packers are an amazing 66-10-1.
This will be the first conference title game that Rodgers will get to play at home. He and the NFL’s best offense will make the most of it... GREEN BAY 33, TAMPA BAY 28
2019/20 Divisional Round Predictions
Minnesota @ San Francisco
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins silenced critics, at least for a week, with his game-winning overtime touchdown pass that beat the 13-3 New Orleans Saints in the wild card round last week. Entering last week’s game, Cousins’ record in ‘notable’ games was not all that stunning. Now, Cousins will have to do it again against one of the NFL’s best defenses.
The 49ers were the NFL’s best pass defense and ranked second in total defense for the regular season. The one area where they were just average was against the run. That could be a factor this week as San Francisco faces Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook, who ran for 94 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints last week.
The Vikings played great defense against Drew Brees and WR Michael Thomas, keeping the latter out of the end zone. Brees finished with just 208 yards passing and one touchdown. Minnesota will have trouble with San Francisco TE George Kittle. Kittle is the most dominant tight end in the game since Rob Gronkowski and is the difference in the 49ers offense. With Kittle in the game, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo is much better.
Both NFC home teams lost last week, but San Francisco went 6-2 at home this season. This should be a battle, but one that the Niners win… SAN FRANCISCO 22, MINNESOTA 17
Tennessee @ Baltimore
The Titans pulled one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory in beating New England in the wild card round. Derrick Henry ran all over New England gaining 182 yards on 34 carries. Will he be able to do the same against Baltimore? The Ravens did have the fifth-best run defense in the NFL during the regular season.
If Baltimore contains Henry, that would force Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill to become more of a factor. Tannehill threw just 15 passes against New England, but was one of the NFL’s best over the final 10 games of the regular season. Tannehill’s yards per attempt were the best in the league and Tennessee had the best red-zone touchdown percentage of any NFL team over the last 10 games of the season. Can that hold up against the Ravens?
The Titans caught New England at a good time. The Patriots had lost three of their last five games. Tennessee will not catch Baltimore by surprise. No. 1, they have to deal with Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. There has been only one NFL quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season. That would be Jackson.
Baltimore led the NFL in scoring averaging 33.2 points per game thanks to a powerful running game that averaged 206 yards per game. Having last week off allowed RB Mark Ingram to rest. He is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Even without Ingram, the Ravens will still be hard to stop… BALTIMORE 33, TENNESSEE 20
Houston @ Kansas City
Way back in Week 6 of the regular season, Houston beat Kansas City 31-24. That game was also at Arrowhead Stadium, so you know a Texans victory is possible. What one may not remember is that the Chiefs were without wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill, OT Eric Fisher, and DE Chris Jones. All are back this time.
The Chiefs did lose rookie safety Juan Thornhill to a torn ACL and that will put more pressure on S Tyrann Mathieu, S Armani Watts and CB Kendall Fuller. Houston QB Deshaun Watson and his top target, DeAndre Hopkins, connected six times for 90 yards against the Bills last week. But, Buffalo sacked Watson seven times and got 12 hits on him. Luckily, the Bills couldn’t score. Kansas City doesn’t have that problem.
Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes had another incredible season despite an injury that kept him out of a couple games. Mahomes still threw for over 4,000 yards (4,031) and 26 touchdowns. The Chiefs have all of their weapons back including TE Travis Kelce (1,229 yards receiving, 5 TDs), Hill (860, 7 TDs), and Watkins (673, 3 TDs). Running backs Damien Williams (498) and LeSean McCoy (465) give Kansas City enough in the running game.
Kansas City hasn’t lost since dropping a 35-32 decision at Tennessee on November 10. The Chiefs have won six straight and the biggest plus is the improvement in the KC defense since Week 6. Kansas City finished the regular season allowing 19.3 points per game. That was good enough for seventh in the league. Expect the Chiefs to get after Watson and the offense to score… KANSAS CITY 33, HOUSTON 22
Seattle @ Green Bay
Russell Wilson playing in Green Bay is not the ideal situation for the Seahawks. Wilson’s overall career passer rating at Lambeau Field is just 81.9. That is his lowest against any NFL opponent.
But, the last time Wilson and Seattle traveled to Green Bay in the postseason was for the 2014 NFC championship game. If you don’t remember, Wilson hit consecutive 35-yard passes, one to Doug Baldwin and the other to Jermaine Kearse, to beat the Packers. The pass to Kearse was for the game-winning touchdown and sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
Wilson has gotten even better since then and had himself one whale of a season. Wilson passed for 4,110 yards and 31 touchdowns throwing just five interceptions in the process. Wilson and Seattle made up for consecutive end-of-season losses by beating Philadelphia last week in the wild card round. Wilson completed 18-of-30 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown. He also was Seattle’s leading rusher with 45 yards on nine carries. That could be a problem.
Green Bay has a 1,000-yard rusher in Aaron Jones and Seattle finished 22nd in the league in rush defense. If the Packers are able to run the football, it opens up the passing game for QB Aaron Rodgers who threw for 4,002 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.
Interestingly, the Seahawks are 0-5 against the spread in their last five trips to Green Bay. With the Packers favored, you know what that means… GREEN BAY 24, SEATTLE 17
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