Cincinnati and San Francisco will look to keep the wild run going Sunday, again as a fairly decent underdogs against a pair of favorites in the Chiefs and Rams, who are peaking at the right time. Both of these conference title game spreads are scary, for basically the same reason. As good as the two underdogs are, the two favorites have extremely high-octane offenses and quarterbacks playing some really high-level football over the course of the postseason.
That's the backdrop for two of the final three games of the 2021 NFL season, which is hard to believe. How can they live up to last weekend, arguably the greatest weekend in professional football history, featuring four walk-off games, three of which were won by underdogs, two of which were pretty substantial 'dogs in the Bengals and 49ers?
Another remarkable aspect of this Conference Championship Sunday? For the first time since 2009, neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers will be playing on the penultimate NFL weekend (Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez were helming the squads then).
This is also the first time since 2010 where neither No. 1 seed made the final weekend of matchups.
All NFL odds are via Caesars Sportsbook
NFL Conference Championship Picks
Bengals at Chiefs
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
The Chiefs are the first team in the history of football to host four consecutive conference championship games, a particularly remarkable feat since K.C. played in the same conference as the Tom Brady-led Patriots for two of those years and, even moreso, because Patrick Mahomes has only been a starter ... for four years. The Bengals are making their first championship game appearance since 1988.
And they're headed to Arrowhead to play one of the most dangerous playoff quarterbacks we've seen. Mahomes is 8-2 in the postseason in his career, with two losses to Brady. At home, he's absolutely absurd.
The only home loss on his resume is against Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots, in overtime, in a game they win if Dee Ford doesn't line up offsides. Anyway, long story short is you probably shouldn't bet against Patrick Mahomes at home in the playoffs.
Kansas City profiles as a substantially better overall team than the Bengals. Through last weekend the Chiefs are fifth in DVOA and the Bengals are 19th. The Chiefs are fully healthy on offense, more or less. The silly idea the "NFL figured out the Chiefs" thing that was floating around earlier this year seems antiquated, to put it nicely. Mahomes and Andy Reid adjusted, Mahomes is being patient with stuff underneath and the Chiefs have plays designed to take advantage of underneath looks and let their playmakers do what they do in space.
The only real argument for the Bengals is Joe Burrow. And, honestly, it's a pretty good argument.
Burrow, as I've noted plenty of times, is now 8-0 in "must-win games." He obliterated the College Football Playoff, and has won two massive regular season games (at Baltimore, vs. this same Chiefs team) and now two playoffs games. The box scores generally indicate the Bengals have no business winning, but they find a way to advance anyway.
Last time around, I predicted the Bengals would win 35-31, while John Breech nailed the prediction absolutely correctly at 34-31. I think it's my turn this week.
The pick: Bengals 35, Chiefs 31
Props, Best Bets: Bengals +7, Ja'Marr Chase anytime TD
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49ers at Rams
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
The prevailing theme to this game isn't how the Rams and Matthew Stafford are playing incredible football, despite sneaking past the Buccaneers and Tom Brady last weekend after squatting on a massive lead. The Rams dominated both the Cardinals and Bucs in really impressive fashion. Next up is the one big hurdle for Sean McVay: beating Kyle Shanahan.
Quick aside -- I'd be remiss not to point out my year-old take about Stafford and the Hall of Fame now that he's two wins away from actually locking down a gold jacket. Beating the Niners and then either Mahomes or Burrow is a hard ask. If he gets there he's earned it. I see people out in these streets trying to claim this take and it's MINE, dangit. `
Matthew Stafford is rolling out for a Week 17 Detroit Lions game with zero playoff implications and multiple injuries.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 3, 2021
I have a hot Matthew Stafford take and you're going to hate it but....
He's a Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the toughest dudes ever to suit up.
Anyway, the Rams under Sean McVay are winless against Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers. The 3.5-point spread for the 49ers makes me think Vegas wants us all on San Francisco. The Niners swept the regular season series. San Francisco is a bad matchup for the Rams because the L.A. defense is designed to snuff out superstars on the other side of the ball and punish questionable offensive lines.
The 49ers have plenty of stars but no alpha the offense runs through. Deebo Samuel isn't someone you can just put Jalen Ramsey on. Using Ramsey on George Kittle works pretty well with Ramsey playing more in the slot, but George Kittle is used in run blocking so much it's not necessarily maximizing his skillset.
My heart's rooting for Stafford and my brain is sending off a Spidey Sense signal the Rams might be ready to break through. Maybe they get us the Chiefs-Rams Super Bowl we've been waiting on for a few years now. My wallet wants a 49ers-Bengals matchup and I picked just that before the playoffs. I can't possibly lay down now.
The pick: 49ers 24, Rams 21
Props, Best Bets: 49ers +3.5