Just four teams remain in the race for the Super Bowl - the 49ers, Ravens, Lions and Chiefs. But by Monday morning that number will be down to two and the big game will be set in stone.
Now, results are never harder to call than late in the playoffs - where every game is the best vs the best - but that’s where we come in.
Today, we’ll be breaking down the two Conference Championship matchups, delving into the biggest factors that could decide who heads home and who keeps their Super Bowl hopes alive. As we make our predictions, we’ll also be providing the best possible odds on the market and exactly where to find them.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it…
Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens Preview
The Chiefs will head to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore this Sunday at 15:00 ET to take on the Ravens.
While the Chiefs have now made six Conference Rounds in a row, it was far from smooth sailing this year. Not only was the regular season a rocky road, but the Divisional matchup vs the Bills was a slugfest that they only escaped by the skin of their teeth - otherwise known as a missed field goal.
On the other hand, Lamar Jackson led Baltimore to the best regular season record in the league (13-4) and breezed through the Divisional Round with a 34-10 victory over the Houston Texans. The Ravens are playing at Championship level on both sides of the ball all year, so it’s no surprise to see them as 3.5 point favourites heading into this weekend.
Jackson now tops the odds for 2023/24 Most Valuable Player and for good reason. Not only did he throw for 3,678 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, but he also led the team with 821 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground.
Last weekend he continued his streak of dominance with a record breaking performance vs the Texans, as he became the first quarterback in history to log two rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, 100 rushing yards, and 100 passer rating in any game – regular season or postseason. Jackson has shown that even when he can’t rely on breakout stars Zay Flowers, Isaiah Likely and Justice Hill, he can still get the job done.
No.8 is backed up by a defense that led the league in sacks, ranked 6th in yards allowed and 1st in touchdowns allowed this season. So, they’re strong at the line of scrimmage, stacked in the secondary and tough in the middle.
All things considered, Mahomes will be facing his biggest challenge of the year. He’s constantly struggled with a below-par receiving corps, but the reassurance for Kansas is Travis Kelce showing up when it comes down to the wire.
After failing to find the end zone for 8 weeks straight, the future Hall of Fame TE put up two scores on the Bills. The 15-87 connection is stronger than ever in the postseason and will pose the biggest threat to Baltimore.
Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes are the best duo of all time! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/CaZdUsKgkR— Brad Henson Productions (@BradHensonPro) January 23, 2024
That being said, Andy Reid will need to establish balance in the offense if they want to move the chains. They must get Isaiah Pacheco going if they hope to find space in the passing game, and that’s a tough task against this Ravens front line. If all else fails, we might see some classic Mahomes magic, and Baltimore can never count that out.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense has had one of its best seasons ever - ranking 3rd in touchdowns allowed and first in total yards - but stopping Lamar & Co. for four straight quarters is almost out of the question. KC needs to consistently put points on the board if they want to stay in the game.
Other Key Factors:
If one stat tells you just how great the Ravens have been this year, it’s that they are the first in NFL history to beat at least 10 teams with winning records in a single season.
Ravens TE Mark Andrews is reportedly “trending in the right direction” to play this weekend, according to NFL insider Tom Pelissero. A huge plus for Baltimore.
Home field advantage is often a key factor in big games, but with 3 of the Ravens 4 losses coming at home, it may not be as influential as usual.
The weather forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain with a high temperature of 49. If anything, rain will favour the Ravens run game, but at 40% I wouldn’t let this decide your bet.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
As much as playoff Mahomes is a scary thing to play, Baltimore’s defense is as good as it gets. Now, I don’t doubt the Chiefs will put up a good fight, but I do expect them to struggle more than they did last weekend.
I’m taking the Ravens to win, but I’d take the +3.5 on the Chiefs spread. This game may well be settled by a field goal.
Best Moneyline Odds:
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Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers Preview
The Lions will travel to Santa Clara to face the 49ers and their home crowd in Levi’s Stadium at 18:30 ET this Sunday.
The Lions, who have been betting favourites in 16 of their 19 games this season, find themselves as big road underdogs, with the sportsbooks giving the Niners a touchdown lead with home advantage. Vegas may not be optimistic for Dan Campbell’s group, but there are a few positives that provide some hope for Detroit.
The Lions passing game has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta leading the charge. Versus the Bucs, Goff went 30/43 for 287 yards and 2 touchdowns, but most importantly, no turnovers - an issue that the former Ram has struggled with in various games throughout the season.
JARED GOFF TO AMON-RA ST. BROWN 👀— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 21, 2024
THE LIONS LEAD BY 14 🔥pic.twitter.com/PYLInoML06
That being said, Goff will take on one of the best pass defenses in the league this weekend. The San Francisco 49ers finished No. 6 in EPA allowed per dropback and gave up the fifth-fewest yards per attempt (5.9), with opposing QBs logging an average passer rating of just 79.2 versus San Francisco.
With that in mind, Campbell’s best approach could be attacking the 49ers on the ground. San Fran has been susceptible to the run this year or at least a little less stingy than usual, giving up 4.2 yards per carry and finishing 26th in EPA allowed per handoff. That means shorter gains with the clock ticking, which could be an issue if we see a negative game script for Detroit.
But last week’s performance by Aaron Jones vs the 9ers could point to good things for the Lions run game. Jones recorded 108 rushing yards in Santa Clara, breaking one long for 53. Now, we all know about the explosivity of Jahmyr Gibbs, so don’t be surprised if he racks up the yards on Sunday as the focal point for Detroit's offense.
As for the Niners, their offense certainly wasn’t as efficient last week, but Brock Purdy still showed up when it mattered most - putting a touchdown drive together to take the lead with a minute left.
San Fran’s star-studded offensive unit spells disaster for Detroit. The Lions stop unit has been suspect all year but truly started to lag in the second half of the schedule, dipping to 27th in EPA allowed per play since Week 10.
Worst of all, Campbell hasn’t found a fix as that form has carried into the postseason, with the Lions giving up a total of 833 total yards in the past two matchups for an average of 7.2 yards allowed per play. Yet, somehow, the defense gave up just 23 points in each of the wins over the Rams and Bucs.
The question is, will that hold up against the most efficient offensive squad in the NFL? The defense may come together in the red zone, but McCaffrey is as lethal as it gets when he gets a shot at 6 - boasting the lowest anytime touchdown odds in the entire league week-on-week.
Christian McCaffrey was -310 to score a touchdown 🔒— SportsBettingDime (@SBD) January 21, 2024
You knew it was coming pic.twitter.com/LJ9brojRK4
And the run game is just one concern of many for Detroit…
Brock Purdy has been one of the most consistent and reliable passers of the year, with Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel piling on the threats to the secondary - not to mention CMC’s elite level as a receiver out of the backfield.
All in all, San Francisco finished the regular season ranked No.1 in Offensive DVOA and EPA per play - the two most respected advanced metrics - while averaging a league-high 6.6 yards per play.
If Kyle Shanahan is hoping for a worry-free game, he’ll certainly need to run a smoother operation than he did in the Divisional Round. Especially considered the two sure-fire interceptions that were dropped by Green Bay - one of which would have been taken to the house.
Other Key Factors:
The Lions average offensive scoring falls off in outdoor games and it’s been over 50 days since they competed in an outdoor venue. Goff & Co. have scored an average of just 17.8 points in its five games in open-air stadiums, compared to 30.75 average points indoors.
San Francisco has held its opponents to 21 points or less in 13 of their 18 games this season, with 7 of those results coming at home.
49ers top pass catcher, Deebo Samuel, is still yet to be confirmed for Sunday as he recovers from a shoulder injury he took on in the Divisional Round.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers
Whether Deebo Samuel suits up or not, San Francisco still has the edge in this matchup. The defense is top-tier in both phases and the offense that can threaten through the air and on the ground. Put the two together and you get one of the most complete units in all of football.
Meanwhile, Detroit may have some explosive stars on both sides of the ball, but the defense is prone to giving up chunk plays - as we witnessed with Mike Evans 174 receiving yards last week - and the offense will be facing its toughest challenge yet.
I’m taking the favourites once again - Niners to win by at least a 7.
Best Moneyline Odds:
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(Header Image Credit: Darren Yamashita - USA TODAY Sports)