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NFL Best Bets: Championship Round

Amon Ra St.Brown

NFL BEST BETS

Only four teams remain in the quest for the Super Bowl. Three of those teams are not a surprise, but the upstart Detroit Lions are looking to make their first ever Super Bowl appearance. The Lions are the only NFC team to never have made it to the big game and this is their first NFC Championship game since 1991, when Barry Sanders was in his third season. 

The Kansas City Chiefs are in their sixth consecutive AFC Championship game, winning three of their previous five appearances, all at Arrowhead Stadium. Their late-season offensive surge, to go along with their third-ranked defense, makes them a serious contender to make the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years. 

The San Francisco 49ers lost one of those Super Bowls to the Chiefs, but now they have Brock Purdy behind center, who showed he is capable of leading his team to a 4th quarter comeback last week against the Green Bay Packers. Purdy will get a second chance to shine in an NFC Championship game after exiting the game early last year against the Eagles, due to injury. 

Finally, the Baltimore Ravens have been the most dominant team in the NFL this season, They have the league’s best record at 13-4, (including a Week 18 loss to Pittsburgh where the Ravens rested their starters), and the highest average margin of victory (12.6), by far. Lamar Jackson is likely to win his second MVP, which would tie him with Patrick Mahomes. A win against the Chiefs would elevate Jackson to elite quarterback status, alongside Mahomes. 

The spread for these games is not surprising. My model has San Francisco -6.99 and the Ravens -5.59. However, it’s not always wise to bet solely on a betting model. I put a lot of data into my model and I think it does a good job of predicting outcomes, but one thing it cannot account for is the competitiveness of a player like Patrick Mahomes. I think that’s why we’re seeing the sportsbooks offering the Ravens anywhere from -3.5 to -4. Even at that price, the public is still heavy on the Chiefs. That’s because of the X factor that is Mahomes. No matter what the data shows, people don’t want to bet against him. I don’t blame them. Sometimes a gut feeling, or what you’ve seen with your own eyes, trumps what the data is telling you. It’s hard sometimes to decide which you should trust more. 

The spread for the Lions-49ers games aligns with my model perfectly. But, again, there are other factors to consider, like Detroit’s league-best record against the spread this year, and Jared Goff’s playoff experience. Can Brock Purdy handle the pressure of being in the NFC Championship game? The human element must be factored in and that’s what I will attempt to do with this week’s best bets. 

 

BEST BETS

Ravens -3.5 vs Chiefs

The first game this week is an epic showdown as the Baltimore Ravens go head-to-head with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Conference Championship. This game marks the Chiefs’ impressive sixth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship and their first one on the road. 

Mahomes, the highest-rated NFL playoff passer in history, leads a Chiefs team that not only has a strong passing attack but also features a running game and a solid defense. Over the past three weeks, the Chiefs have regained their offensive firepower against the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills. However, it should be noted that these opponents had their fair share of defensive struggles, which may have contributed to the Chiefs’ offensive success.

One weakness for the Chiefs is their vulnerability against the run. The Ravens, who are the best rushing team in the NFL, could exploit this. Last week, the Chiefs gave up a whopping 182 rushing yards to the Bills, opening up an opportunity for the Ravens’ ground game to make a big impact. Keep an eye on Lamar Jackson against a Chiefs defense ranking 29th in allowing rushing yards to quarterbacks.

The Ravens have the highest DVOA in the league and have been a defensive force throughout the season. They have allowed the fewest points in the league. The Chiefs’ struggles in the red zone on the road (7th worst) could be a game-changer. Facing the second-best red zone defense of the Ravens, the Chiefs will need to score touchdowns rather than settling for field goals to keep up.

One key difference in this matchup is the turnover margin. The Ravens, tied with San Francisco for the best turnover margin in the league, create a lot of turnovers. On the flip side, the Chiefs are 29th in turnover margin, so that could be a factor in this game.

The Ravens have an impressive 12-6 record against the spread, while the Chiefs stand at 11-7-1. However, Patrick Mahomes is an incredible 9-1-1 record as an underdog against the spread. The public is behind the Chiefs, with 74% of the cash going their way, but I’m sticking with the data in my model and going with the Ravens to cover. 

Lions +7.5 at 49ers

The Lions travel to San Francisco for the NFC Championship game. This marks the third consecutive NFC title game for the 49ers, and fourth in five years. This is the second NFC Championship game for both Jared Goff and Brock Purdy, but Purdy missed most of last year’s game due to injury. 

Detroit and San Francisco rank 2nd and 3rd in rush defense, but the Lions’ defense ranks 31st against the pass. They face a significant challenge against the 49ers’ offensive firepower. Over the last five weeks, the Lions have allowed an average of 374 passing yards per game, and have given up multiple touchdown passes in each of their past five games. The 49ers are ranked first in Offensive DVOA and lead the league in yards per game. A key factor for the 49ers is the availability of Deebo Samuel. The team is 0-2 when Samuel is inactive this year, but signs point to him playing this week.

Goff has a notable split in performance based on playing surface and location. With a 105.5 passer rating on turf, Goff’s rating drops to 82.0 on grass. Additionally, his home/road splits favor him significantly when playing at home. So, a road game on grass is not ideal. 

A potential advantage for Detroit lies in their ability to convert on third downs, ranking in the top 10 in third-down conversion percentage. San Francisco’s defense, ranked 27th in opponent’s third-down conversion percentage, provides an opportunity for the Lions to extend drives. Both teams have very good red zone offenses, although Detroit’s is notably stronger at home. This could play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the game, especially considering the Lions’ defensive struggles against the pass.

The Lions hold the best record against the spread at 13-6. Since taking over as Head Coach of Detroit, Dan Campbell boasts an impressive 36-17 record ATS, best among any head coach. On the flip side, the 49ers have struggled, going 0-6 against the spread in their last six home games.

With 72% of the betting money favoring Detroit, the Lions enter the game as a popular choice among bettors. I’m siding with the masses in this one and picking the Lions to stay within a touchdown.

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