The past two seasons have presented three of the better conference championship games, and it certainly appears we’re on our way to having two more memorable ones once again.
Remember what your mom and dad used to say back in the day: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s sort of our theme of the week in this championship round, as we’ll be left with just one game left in the 2022 season when Sunday turns into Monday. But how can this batch of final four participants not put together two thrilling shows? Because history tells us so. At least recent history.
While both conference championship games ended within three points of one another last year, only eight out of the previous 18 ended with a margin of a touchdown or less and only two were decided by three points or fewer (including that dreaded “no-call” game in the Superdome in 2018).
In other words, last year’s penultimate weekend of football was rare. Extremely rare, as a matter of fact. The last time both championship games ended within a field goal of one another came in January 2012, as New England beat Baltimore, 23-20, and the Giants topped San Francisco, 20-17.
The time before that? Try never. That’s as in never since the NFL and AFL merged following the 1969 season. In other words, in all likelihood, the oddsmakers have at least one of these spreads wrong. Maybe really wrong. But which one? Or both?
Let’s dive into the best play of Sunday, and see if we can find an edge. Enjoy the last day of the football year with multiple games in a single day! We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.
Any comments, questions, gratitude or hate mail is welcome at email@example.com.
NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of late Wednesday night) are provided by Caesars Sportsbook. We started the season with a mythical bankroll of $1,000. Our totals for the past week and the season are at the bottom of this column.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS BEST BET
HOME TEAM in CAPS
1 / NFC championship, San Francisco +2.5 (-105) over PHILADELPHIA
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday (Fox). THE BET: $42.
This might be the strangest championship ever for line movement, although not as much with this game.
On early Monday morning, after Philly opened at -1.5 and then bolted quickly to -2.5, I hopped on a 6.5-point teaser (where we’re 13-4 this year and won again last week) that included the Niners +9 and the Bengals +7.5. By Tuesday afternoon, the AFC line changed so drastically, that I was able to place another teaser with San Fran +8.5 and Kansas City +7.5.
However, the bettors and the linesmakers wisened up and made it impossible to tease anything with the AFC (and get value), as you’ll see below. In other words, the early bird gets multiple worms if you’re paying attention.
So now, we’re left with just one best bet, and although history doesn’t back up my pick here, I have to stick with what I have been saying for months: The San Francisco 49ers are the best team in football. If one were to simply look at last week’s games – and oh so many are – they immediately would jump on Philly. And I totally get it.
Jalen Hurts looked much better than I expected, and the Eagles’ running game was unstoppable as they ran through and over the Giants. Meanwhile, I thought Dallas was overrated heading into San Francisco for a fourth consecutive road game, and that they would get crushed.
Although I was right in picking the Niners to cover, it would be the Cowboys traveling to Philly this Sunday had Dak Prescott not turned back into Dak Prescott and Tony Pollard not left the game so early. Still, Brock Purdy made no big mistakes, and the 49ers' defense was as good as ever.
That’s why I like San Francisco in this one. (Well, part of it is because Aunt Mabel and all her bar buddies are all over the Eagles.) While it wouldn’t shock me if Hurts plays as well as he did last week, one can’t expect it against this completely different kind of defense.
Also, someone needs to tell me the most impressive Philadelphia victory of the season. They lost to the Cowboys and Saints with Hurts out, and they lost handily to Washington at home in Week 10. Before the final three games of the regular season (if you so choose to throw them out), they beat Chicago by five, rolled past the Giants and Titans (without Ryan Tannehill) and defeated Green Bay at home by seven before the Packers got on a roll.
They slipped past Indy, and … well … you get where I am going. I simply can’t put all that much stock in early romps of Minnesota and Pittsburgh, because they are not the same team now.
Meanwhile, since the 49ers got Christian McCaffrey in a trade, they have been nearly unstoppable. When the defense slips a bit (in a 37-34 win over Las Vegas in Week 17), Brock Purdy and the offense pick up the slack. When the offense can only muster 13 points (against the Saints in Week 12), the defense pitches a shutout.
When it comes down to it, I trust Kyle Shanahan, who has San Francisco in this game for the third time in four seasons over Nick Sirianni, who I am just waiting to do something really dumb at a really bad time.
Although the 1-seed has defeated the 2 four of the past five times they have faced off in the NFC title game – and the only outlier was the Rams being gifted a win in New Orleans in 2019 – I have to go with what I have seen over the past 10 weeks or so and not JUST LAST WEEK.
And that tells me San Francisco is going to win. (Please don’t turn into the rookie you are, Brock Purdy.)
SCORE PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Eagles 22. (Over 46.)
(No official bet)
Sunday at 5:30 p.m. (CBS)
KANSAS CITY (Pick) 24, Cincinnati 18: As I said in the previous prediction, I don’t think I have ever seen a line move up and down in a few days more than this one. It opened at Kansas City -3 in some places, came down to 2.5 in about 3 minutes and by the time I woke up Monday morning, it was 1.5.
By Tuesday afternoon, Cincinnati was favored, and it rose as high as -2.5 before quickly coming back down. The fallback to pick ’em tells me a whole lot more than the early shift to the Bengals. It tells me Patrick Mahomes’ injury isn’t as bad as what our eyes witnessed last Sunday.
All that being said, trends seem to still favor Cincinnati. Joe Burrow is now 3-0 against them, including last year’s AFC championship game, and he is coming off one of his most dominating performances in his short NFL career – smoking the Bills last week in the snow of Orchard Park.
So why do I like Kansas City? It’s simple. For the past two seasons, the Bengals were the underdog in all those games against the Chiefs and Bills. They were SUPPOSED to lose. Now, just about every Mabel, Joe and Beau thinks it’s going to be the other way around.
Mahomes has been told all week – and you know he’s watching and listening – why he CAN’T win. “Even if he plays, he won’t be able to move.” “That Cincinnati defense shut down Josh Allen and the potent Bills offense.” “The defending AFC champs have this team’s number.”
You can bet against a Mahomes with an attitude if you like, but I will not.
Steve Spagnuolo, with all his flaws as a defensive coordinator, knows how to blitz. He thrives on it. And that Bengals’ half-baked offensive line, which wasn’t a factor last week against an overrated Buffalo defense, will most certainly come into play here.
Burrow’s quick throws will become forced throws. Joe Mixon and Semaje Perine have been effective, but they’re going to have to be way more than that Sunday, and I don’t think they have it in them.
Meanwhile, rookie running Isiah Pacheco has become a real weapon for the Chiefs, and he will be much more competent than anything the Bills threw at the Bengals last week.
I said before the season I thought Kansas City and San Francisco were going to the Super Bowl, and there is nothing that has convinced me to change my mind now. (Under 47.)
HOW WE DOIN’?
Note: TIES ARE NOT COUNTED IN MY RECORD, which could result in a different total of games in the “straight up” and “against the spread” categories, as well as with totals.
Divisional round best bet: 1-0 (+$50). All games against the spread: 2-2 (.500). Straight up (no spread): 2-2 (.500). Over/Under totals: 2-2 (.800).
Best bets: 2-1 (+$10). All games ATS: 5-5 (.500). All games straight up: 6-4 (.600). Over/Under totals: 6-3 (.667).
FINAL REGULAR SEASON
Best bets: 52-37 (.584; +$284). All games against the spread: 134-125 (.517). Straight up (no spread): 157-107 (.595). Over/Under totals: 143-123 (.538).
(click on week to view)
Divisional round: 1-0 best bets (+$50); 2-2 ATS; 2-2 straight up; 2-2 over/unders.
Wild card: 1-1 best bets (-$40); 3-3 ATS; 4-2 straight up; 4-1 over/unders.
Week 18: 3-2 best bets (+49); 11-5 ATS; 11-5 straight up; 6-10 over/unders.
Week 17: 3-2 best bets (+66); 6-7 ATS; 10-3 ATS; 5-8 over/unders.
Week 16: 3-2 best bets (+39); 6-9 ATS; 10-5 straight up; 10-5 over/unders.
Week 15: 3-2 best bets (+$37); 3-11 ATS; 7-8 straight up; 11-5 over/unders.
Week 14: 1-4 best bets (-$74); 5-8 ATS; 8-5 straight up; 8-5 over/unders.
Week 13: 1-4 best bets (-$70); 9-6 ATS; 7-7 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.
Week 12: 3-2 best bets (+37); 11-4 ATS; 12-3 straight up; 8-7 over/unders.
Week 11: 1-3 best bets (-$81); 5-7 ATS; 9-5 straight up; 7-7 over/unders.
Week 10: 2-3 best bets (+$16); 7-7 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.
Week 9: 4-1 best bets (+52.40); 9-2 ATS; 9-4 straight up; 5-8 over/unders.
Week 8: 4-1 best bets (+$69); 9-6 ATS; 13-2 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.
Week 7: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-9 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 9-5 over/unders.
Week 6: 4-1 best bets (+$62.60); 9-5 ATS; 8-6 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.
Week 5: 3-2 best bets (+$2); 10-5 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders.
Week 4: 4-1 best bets (+$37); 9-6 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders.
Week 3: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-11 ATS; 8-8 straight up; 8-7 over/unders.
Week 2: 4-1 best bets (+$57); 7-9 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 12-4 over/unders.
Week 1: 3-2 best bets (-$15); 8-8 ATS; 6-9 straight up; 10-6 over/unders.
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