NFL Conference Championship Best Bets
It’s hard to believe it, but there are only three games left of the 2022-23 NFL season. Hold your tears for now, though, as we have two delightful matchups in the conference championship games to break down. In this article, I’ll give you my best bet for the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Lineups site as we have tons of coverage for these games for you to enjoy. Our YouTube channel is also loaded with analysis revolving around the spreads, totals, player props, and Same Game Parlays for these games. Let’s get to work.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
On Sunday, we’ll see likely the two best rosters in the NFL square off in what should be a back and forth fight. Both teams have elite collections of offensive skill talent. For the 49ers, Christian McCaffrey joined Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. Meanwhile, the Eagles boast the trio of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert.
However, I believe the under on the total is the best play on Sunday. The Brock Purdy story has been an unexpected twist to this season, and while he’s passed most every test with flying colors, the Eagles present another new challenge. Purdy just played the second top-ten defense he’s faced all year in the Cowboys, and it wasn’t all roses.
Purdy was strong from a clean pocket as he’s been all season – he completed 88.2% of his passes from a clean pocket with a 105.6 passer rating. However, when Dallas got pressure on Purdy, he completed just 33.3% of his passes with a 49.0 passer rating. His decision-making hasn’t been terrible under pressure, but his accuracy has certainly faltered.
The Eagles have an elite pass rush. In the regular season, Philly finished with 70 sacks this year, the third-most of all time, and they were the first defense in NFL history with four players that finished with double-digit sacks. Haason Reddick (16), Javon Hargrave (11), Josh Sweat (11), and Brandon Graham (11) led the way in that historic effort.
Haason Reddick is one of the best free agent signings in Eagles history. pic.twitter.com/xokUaOGOUt
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) January 22, 2023
Kyle Shanahan is well aware of how that pass rush will create issues for his young quarterback, and he’ll be ready to combat it. To me, that means a heavy emphasis on the run game. The Niners have 30+ rushing attempts in each of their two playoff games so far, and Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell will see a heavy workload on the ground.
Over the course of the full season, the Eagles rank just 21st in run defense DVOA, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Since Week 11, when they added Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to the mix, the Eagles rank eighth in success rate against running back runs. Over the first 11 weeks of the season, they ranked just 28th in success rate allowed.
Still, running the ball will be a better course of action for the Niners than asking Purdy to drop back to pass consistently in this hostile environment against an elite pass rush. The run game will also allow the Niners to keep the ball away from Jalen Hurts. San Francisco ranks dead last in pace of play this season, and I don’t expect that to change here.
For Philadelphia, their run game faces perhaps its toughest task of the season. The 49ers rank second in run defense DVOA and EPA. Just two running backs have run for 60+ yards against them this season, and they allow 3+ yards before contact at the third-lowest rate in the league.
The 49ers are one of the best gap control run defense schemes I’ve seen in a couple years. They play their angles, attack blocking surfaces with great leverage with Hammer technique and box everything in with good edge control. Very reminiscent of the 2017 Eagles for me. pic.twitter.com/Yff6nAMSW2
— Honest NFL (@TheHonestNFL) January 27, 2023
The only defense that was statistically better than the Niners against the run was the Titans. They ranked 1st in both DVOA and EPA. When the Eagles faced them earlier this year, they had a 77.1% pass rate in the first half. We could see a similar approach here, particularly as opponents have a 62.1% pass rate against the 49ers this year, the second-highest in the league.
Where the 49ers are most vulnerable is against the deep ball. They somewhat surprisingly rank 24th in DVOA allowed on 20+ yard passes, and their secondary isn’t nearly as talented as their front seven. However, Hurts only attempted two passes of 20+ yards last week. Was that due to the game script or his shoulder injury? It’s hard to say.
Much will be made about Purdy not being tested to this point, but the same is true of Hurts to a degree. The Eagles weren’t trailing in the second half of a game this season until November 14, and that reality allowed them to lean heavily on their run game in a positive game script. When the going gets tough this week against an elite defense, can Hurts carry the load offensively?
I ultimately have lingering questions about both Purdy and Hurts. What I don’t have questions about, for the most part, are these defenses. They both rank top five in yards per play allowed and top three on first down specifically. Both offenses will likely have a hard time avoiding third-and-long situations, and I don’t anticipate long sustained drives.
As far as sides go, I lean towards the 49ers, but we’re in no man’s land with this spread. I’d rather wait and see if I can find a +3.5 or better live. However, I’m confident in this being a lower-scoring game between two elite defenses and two relatively unproven quarterbacks. It should be a fascinating chess match, overall.
Best Bet: Under 46.5 Points
AFC Championship: Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
The Bengals and Chiefs face off again on Sunday for the fourth time in the past two seasons. Cincinnati has taken the previous three matchups, but they’ve all come right down to the wire. The Bengals have won each by three points while the Chiefs led in the second half in all three and didn’t trail in any of them entering the fourth quarter.
Kansas City has had more offensive success against Cincinnati than any other team over the past two years, averaging 2.82 points per drive against them. That’s the most of any opponent. However, there’s been a clear delineation between the first and second halves in those three matchups.
The Chiefs outscored the Bengals by a combined 18 points in the three games while averaging 7.7 yards per play on offense. However, in the second halves, the Bengals have outscored them by 29 points and the Chiefs have averaged 5.0 yards per play. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s halftime adjustments have stymied the Chiefs in all three matchups.
For this game specifically, it’s impossible to ignore Patrick Mahomes’s high-ankle sprain. The line opened with the Chiefs as 3-point favorites, which is right around where it should be if Mahomes were fully healthy. However, a ton of money has hit the Bengals throughout the week, and they spent some time as favorites before settling with the Chiefs at -1.
Mahomes is uniquely dependent on his mobility as a passer, which is somewhat concerning here. He had 116 passes on the run, the second-most in the NFL, and 851 passing yards on the run, the most. He also had 117 passing attempts from outside the tackles and 99 extended pass attempts (4+ seconds after the snap), both of which were the most in the NFL.
Without his mobility as a major factor, Mahomes will likely be more reliant on the quick passing game in the middle of the field at the short and intermediate levels. That will be particularly true given Cincinnati’s run defense. With D.J. Reader in the lineup, the Bengals have been a different beast against the run. Check out these splits:
- With Reader (Weeks 1-3, 11-19): 5th in run defense EPA, 3rd in explosive run rate allowed
- Without Reader (Weeks 4-10): 26th in run defense EPA, 23rd in explosive run rate allowed
DJ Reader was moving guys last week. @KlipDraw pic.twitter.com/4VMTtccAjr
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) January 18, 2023
The Chiefs don’t have Tyreek Hill anymore, though, and the receiving corps as a whole has been underwhelming. Travis Kelce is coming off a massive game, but the Bengals are excellent against tight ends – they rank fifth in DVOA against the position and have allowed them just a 66.7% catch rate, which ranks seventh in the NFL.
The same can’t be said about the Chiefs in defending the Bengals’ best weapon. Ja’Marr Chase has seen a massive opportunity share since returning from his injury in Week 13, leading the team by far with a 31.5% target share and a 40.6% air yard share. The Chiefs are ill equipped to slow him down in the passing game.
Kansas City ranks 31st in DVOA against WR1s this season and they have allowed a 5.7% touchdown rate on all wide receiver targets, which ranks second-worst in the NFL. They have relied on two rookie cornerbacks – Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson – as their starters on the boundary, and Chase has a huge leg up on both guys.
Joe Burrow locks onto Ja’Marr Chase when he sees man coverage across the board. Chase with a strong move at the top of the route, works back to the football and shows his YAC ability. pic.twitter.com/Kz3mQvtwMx
— Kendell Hollowell (@KHollowell_) January 27, 2023
The Bengals still have issues upfront on their offensive line with Jonah Williams, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins all ruled out. However, they showed us the game plan last week. Joe Burrow ranks second behind only Tom Brady in time to throw this season at 2.49 seconds on average, and by getting rid of the ball quickly he was only sacked once.
This isn’t a Kansas City pass rush that presents a ton of issues, either. It’s worth noting that Chris Jones, their best pass rusher, didn’t register a sack on Burrow in either of the last two matchups, and as a team the Chiefs only have six sacks through their last three games against the Bengals.
Jones had a masterful 15-sack season and ranked third in the NFL with 83 total pressures. However, edge rushers Frank Clark and George Karlaftis were both graded as below-average pass rushers by PFF and no player on the team other than Jones had a pass-rush win rate over 14%. As a result, Burrow should have plenty of time in the pocket, particularly with the Bengals’ quick-strike approach.
The Chiefs’ defense simply doesn’t have enough answers for this Bengals offense. Kansas City ranks 19th in points per drive allowed while Cincinnati ranks 10th. The Chiefs are allowing a 23.2% touchdown rate, the seventh-highest, while the Bengals allow the fourth-lowest at 17.1%. The Bengals will ultimately be able to finish more drives with touchdowns.
The storylines for this game will revolve around narratives. “Joe Burrow owns the Chiefs.” “Patrick Mahomes isn’t healthy.” “The Bengals are the hottest team in the NFL.” None of that matters that much to me. What matters is that the Cincinnati defense has far more answers for the Kansas City offense than the inverse, regardless of how healthy Mahomes is. Ultimately, that proves to be the difference in this game.
Best Bet: Bengals ML