After an NFL wild-card round that lived up to its name, the divisional round brought a little more convention — all four games were decided by at least seven points, and the only upset was courtesy of a Cincinnati team that nobody should be fading in January.
To that point, the Bengals find themselves as underdogs once again ahead of this weekend’s AFC Championship game against the Chiefs, while the Eagles are slim favorites over the red-hot 49ers in Sunday’s NFC title game. Here are the early odds for each matchup from BetMGM and our initial read on both games:
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NFL conference championship odds and predictions
San Francisco 49ers (-3, 45.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles
I’ve written plenty about how historically dominant these 49ers have been during their 12-game win streak and how they had overtaken the Eagles in the betting market after a strong start to the postseason. Still, I can’t help but feel like we jumped off the Philly bandwagon too soon after Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury, which doesn’t seem to be hindering him much at all.
The Cowboys defense gave rookie Brock Purdy some issues last week, limiting him to 214 yards and zero touchdowns for the first time in his young career while nearly baiting him into a couple of critical errors. The issue for Dallas was an offense that couldn’t generate enough explosive plays and was plagued by two predictable Dak Prescott interceptions and some questionable offensive play calls.
I don’t have those concerns with this Eagles offense and with Hurts, who has 38 total touchdowns to just six interceptions in 16 starts and played a sharp game on Saturday. Philly’s offense has been the NFL’s most unsolvable puzzle all season long, and while the Giants’ defense was more of a roadblock than a real test, that win still quelled concerns about whether Hurts’ injury would rob us of what we had come to expect in the regular season.
We haven’t seen the Niners face a rushing attack quite like the one they’ll see on Sunday, and we haven’t seen Purdy slice up a defense as good as this one. You can make a compelling case for either side, but my early lean is on the host Eagles to extend their 8-1 home record under Hurts.
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Cincinnati Bengals (-1, 47) vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I was shocked when the Chiefs opened as 3-point favorites at some books for a whole host of reasons — namely that Patrick Mahomes looked like a shell of himself after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s win over the Jaguars.
That alone is enough to have serious doubts about Kansas City’s ability to win this game against a Bengals defense that flummoxed Josh Allen on Sunday and allowed the sixth-fewest points in the regular season (20.1 points per game) against a brutal schedule. That’s to say nothing of the fact that Cincinnati has beaten the Chiefs in three straight meetings and is playing like a team that can adapt to any challenge on both sides of the ball.
This is a much bigger test than the one Kansas City faced last week, and it’ll take everything Mahomes has in him to match wits with Joe Burrow and Co. Based on what we saw last week, that may not be much, as the former MVP’s mobility was seriously hampered and his trademark escapability — the biggest scare for anyone fading the Chiefs — was sapped.
I’d expect the Bengals to throw the kitchen sink at Mahomes and take away the easy outlets (i.e., Travis Kelce) that ultimately buried Jacksonville in the divisional round. What’s left is a matchup that favors Cincinnati in just about every way, and one we’ve already seen play out on this exact stage with a much healthier Mahomes. The Bengals are 21-5 against the spread in their last 26 games and really ought to be favored in Sunday’s high-stakes rematch.