NFL Betting Guide: Conference Championships
The high-stakes, single-elimination drama of the NFL's postseason is here.
We're down to the final four, and that means two games to decide which squads will represent each conference in Super Bowl LVI.
The afternoon game awards the AFC title. The surprise Cincinnati Bengals visit the Kansas City Chiefs fresh off a Houdini act to steal their divisional-round game from Buffalo. Then, the nightcap heads west to decide the NFC Championship at SoFi Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams host their bitter divisional rivals, the San Francisco 49ers.
In the most voluminous period of NFL betting, where is the sharp money? What do the wise guys think? Is the public on the wrong side? Let's find out.
Note: All lines come from NFL odds, and lines and/or projections may have changed since the publishing of this article.
Spread: Bengals +7.5 (-118)
Total: 54.5 (-110)
numberFire's model carries two-star conviction on the "under" of both championship-game totals, and I largely favor that side in both games. However, we're on our own with the spread.
That includes the AFC Championship at Arrowhead. Kansas City hosts this game for the fourth straight year. They're 2-1 outright against-the-spread (ATS) in their prior three games.
This year, Joe Burrow will look to keep Cincinnati's momentum rolling. The Bengals have had to win two gritty, ugly games to make it to this point. We know Burrow, Joe Mixon, and Ja'Marr Chase are capable. The Stripes' offense was 13th in numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics this season. It might be a surprise to many, though, that their defense was 14th in those same schedule-adjusted metrics.
K.C. is less balanced. Obviously, their second-ranked (per the model) offense is lethal with Patrick Mahomes running the show. However, their defense ranked just 22nd in the regular season, and allowing 50 points across two playoff games as a unit hasn't exactly quelled those concerns.
Ultimately, this game will be decided when Cincy has the ball. The Bengals' offensive line gave up 9 sacks last week, surrendered the third-most sacks in the league this regular season (55), and ceded a league-worst 35% pressure rate on the year. Kansas City has plenty of pass-rushing talent, but they've only recorded four sacks this postseason.
With an extra day of rest, I can't shake this notion: the Bengals played their worst offensive game in the past five weeks last week, and the Chiefs played their best offensive game in five weeks against a tremendous Bills defense. That's baked into this line, and getting a full touchdown, the value should those things regress every so slightly in the opposite direction lies with Cincy.
Per FanDuel Sportsbook, 69% of the bets are on Kansas City. That's always great to fade. I'll deploy a unit pretty comfortably on the Bengals +7.5 given the hook allotted at -118 odds. The Bengals also won a game outright against this team just four weeks ago in which they got off to a dismal start, so I'll roll with a quarter-unit flier on their moneyline (+275) as well.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bengals 27-24
Spread: Rams -3.5 (-110)
Total: 45.5 (-114)
Surely, this rivalry can't be one-sided forever, right?
Kyle Shanahan's 49ers have won six straight games over Sean McVay's Rams. Largely, Shanahan has had the quarterback deficit in all of those contests as well. Their last meeting three weeks ago was one of the most painful for L.A. in the streak; they blew a 14-6 halftime lead to lose in overtime and backed into the NFC West title with an Arizona loss in Week 18.
Many expected the Rams to be here. L.A. is the best cumulative team remaining in numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics from the regular season. They combine the model's seventh-ranked offense with its fourth-ranked defensive unit. However, they invited disaster last weekend by blowing a 27-3 lead to Tampa Bay before securing a late-game field goal to advance to this home game.
On the other side, almost no one had S.F. advancing outright past Green Bay. They can thank a timid Aaron Rodgers for that. Still, San Francisco posted the model's 10th-best offense and 9th-best defense this regular season, and by most accounts, they're getting better by the week. They're certainly not outmatched in this game.
Los Angeles has played games with their tickets this weekend because the 85% of fans in the stands three weeks ago at SoFi were in 49ers' red. Unfortunate news for them -- there are still a ton of Niners fans in the greater Los Angeles area. The atmosphere should still be closer to a 49ers' home game than not, yet the 3.5-point line in the Rams' direction would insist the opposite.
This one feels like a no-brainer to me. Most may say that Matthew Stafford is a significant edge, but in their prior two meetings, Stafford averaged just 0.08 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Jimmy Garoppolo posted 0.45. For context, Aaron Rodgers posted 0.28 this entire season and will likely win the MVP.
Kyle Shanahan just understands how to prepare for Sean McVay. His point differential on this streak is +51 over McVay. Considering the stadium is likely to be a 49ers' home environment once more, taking a field goal here seems like great value. Given the hook still exists, I'll put a unit on the 49ers' spread. If this line drops to just three points before you can snag it, just take the Niners' moneyline (+148) instead.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: 49ers 24-21