What is worth betting in Sunday’s pair of NFL conference championship games?
Betting analysts Eric Moody, Tyler Fulghum, Seth Walder and Aaron Schatz are here to provide their thoughts and help you make smart wagering decisions.
Note: Odds by ESPN BET.
Do you expect the Chiefs to move the ball on this Ravens defense, and how are you betting this game?
Schatz: I expect the Chiefs to have some success moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, even though Baltimore ranked No. 1 in defensive DVOA during the regular season. There’s no question that Patrick Mahomes has always played at his best in the postseason. The question is more about how well his teammates will play. Can Marquez Valdes-Scantling hold onto the deep ball? Can Travis Kelce get that open when he’s covered by Kyle Hamilton or Roquan Smith instead of backup Bills linebackers? The Chiefs were probably a little underrated this year, but the Ravens were a juggernaut: fifth all-time in regular-season DVOA, with seven wins of 14 or more points against teams with winning records. A Ravens win is far from a guarantee, but even with the Mahomes Magic, I think this line is too low and I’m happy to go with Ravens -3.5.
Fulghum: Listen, sometimes in sports you just have to say, «I Know Better.» I am a person who firmly stands by the process of trusting mathematics and numbers to guide us to the most probable predictive guess. The DVOA numbers for this Ravens team are literally historically good. They’re objectively an elite team in all three phases. However, I Know Better than to bet against Patrick Mahomes when he is being given points, especially if I’m being afforded more than a field goal. Chiefs +4.0 is the play (I am even comfortable betting Kansas City on the money line +170) because Mahomes is inevitable. He has won eight of the 11 games he’s played in the NFL as the betting underdog — which is absurd — and he’s 9-1-1 ATS in those 11 games. Sometimes in sports we just know better than numbers, and betting on Mahomes to defy mathematical probabilities is one of those cases.
The Lions come in clicking a bit more than the 49ers, who escaped with the win against the Packers last week, yet the 49ers are touchdown favorites. Does the spread surprise you and how are you betting this one?
Moody: It is surprising to see the spread. I’m backing the underdog Lions (+7) here. Don’t underestimate Detroit on the road outside of Ford Field. The Lions are 13-6 against the spread this season and 2-1 as an underdog. Given some of the red flags the 49ers have shown against quality competition at home, this game will be closer than the spread suggests. The 49ers might also be without Deebo Samuel following an unimpressive win over the Packers in the divisional round. San Francisco is 0-6 against the spread in its past six games at home. The Lions are one of four franchises that have yet to make it to the Super Bowl. Head coach Dan Campbell has them one win away from changing that. Since Campbell has been the Lions’ head coach, Detroit is 16-4 against the spread as an underdog of four or more points. The Lions could win this game.
Fulghum: The spread does not surprise me, in fact, it further validates my belief that the 49ers are the team that is going to win the Super Bowl this year. I am comfortable betting San Francisco -7 in this spot. Yes, the Lions have been a very fun story all year long. They are a legitimately good football team. But the San Francisco 49ers are a legitimate juggernaut. I see no way in which the Lions are able to contain the 49ers passing attack whether Deebo Samuel is healthy or not. I struggle to see Jared Goff and the Lions’ offense matching the level of efficiency they were able to maintain against the Rams and Bucs while playing in the comfortable confines of Ford Field. The 49ers also have the situational advantage of an extra day of rest. Perhaps this is confirmation bias since San Francisco was my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, but I truly believe they are going to win and cover this game.
Walder: I just can’t get past these numbers: In terms of EPA per play the 49ers’ passing offense ranks first and the Lions’ passing defense ranks 30th. That is a huge, huge, huge mismatch. Brock Purdy is coming off a rough game but it was in the rain and I’d rather trust the sample of the larger season. The Lions have had a nice run and are a good football team. But I’d like to bank on either 49ers -7 or 49ers team total over 29.5.
What’s your favorite player prop bet Sunday?
Moody: Rashee Rice OVER 58.5 receiving yards. He has surpassed this line in six of his past 10 games. Over that time frame, Rice has averaged 8.0 targets per game. In the divisional round against the Bills, in which Patrick Mahomes had only 23 pass attempts, Rice caught all four targets for 47 receiving yards. The Ravens’ secondary is formidable since they allow the fifth-fewest passing yards per game. However, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and Mahomes will certainly try to exploit one defensive tendency of the Ravens. Baltimore has used 2-high safeties on 71.2% of its defensive plays this season, the second-highest percentage in the league. Against 2-high safeties, Rice has had a great deal of success creating separation while catching 81.4% of 59 targets and gaining 339 yards after the catch.
Schatz: Allow me to agree with Eric on Rashee Rice OVER 58.5 receiving yards. On top of Rice’s success and the desire of the Chiefs’ offense to get him, instead of other receivers, the ball, the Ravens had a relative weakness covering No. 1 receivers, ranking «only» 12th. That weakness will be exacerbated if Marlon Humphrey is unable to go because of his calf injury.
Fulghum: Here are the stat lines for the past five quarterbacks who have faced this Detroit Lions defense:
Week 16 — Nick Mullens: 22/36, 411 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT
Week 17 — Dak Prescott: 26/38, 345 yds, 2 TD, INT
Week 18 — Mullens: 30/44, 396 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Wild-card round — Matthew Stafford: 25/36, 367 yds, 2 TD
Divisional round — Baker Mayfield: 26/41, 349 yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Given that 345 yards is the lowest amount allowed by Aaron Glenn’s defense over the past month, I will happily bet on Brock Purdy OVER 276.5 passing yards. Purdy was far from his best against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, but the wet weather is a legitimate reason why. It clearly affected his accuracy on more than a few throws. Fortunately for the 49ers, the weather forecast for Sunday is pristine. It will be warm with no precipitation, providing optimal conditions for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Samuel’s potential absence is a concern, but even if he’s not available the Niners can still shred this pass defense.
Walder: Nick Bosa UNDER 0.5 sacks (+105). Bosa will be facing Penei Sewell, one of the best tackles in the NFL. That’s tough enough, but Jared Goff is also one of the more sack avoidant quarterbacks with a 4.7% sack rate that trails only Josh Allen and Mahomes. All of that sets up an unfriendly environment for Bosa, who last recorded a sack on Dec. 17, to land one. My model makes the under -126.
Is there anything else you’re betting on Sunday?
Moody: Christian McCaffrey OVER 36.5 receiving yards. The Lions defense allowed the second fewest rushing yards per game during the regular season, and that trend has continued into the playoffs. McCaffrey has a significant advantage as a receiver out of the backfield against Detroit’s linebackers and I’d be shocked if 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t exploit that weakness. McCaffrey’s averaged 36.1 receiving yards per game for the 49ers in the regular season and playoffs. Regardless of Deebo Samuel’s availability, this line represents McCaffrey’s floor, but not his ceiling.
Moody: Travis Kelce OVER 5.5 receptions. There might be even more opportunities for Kelce underneath against a Ravens defense that relies heavily on 2-high safeties. The rapport between Kelce and Patrick Mahomes is undeniable. That being said, the veteran tight end could make league history against the Ravens. Kelce is close to being the NFL’s all-time leader in postseason receptions. He’s only six receptions away from tying Jerry Rice’s record of 151 catches. Kelce has averaged 9.1 targets and 7.2 receptions per game in the playoffs in his career.
Schatz: Gus Edwards anytime touchdown +140. The Chiefs’ run defense was only 27th in DVOA and it was dead last allowing a conversion rate of 80% on short-yardage runs. In particular, the Ravens have a big advantage running power concepts, where they were successful 8% more than the average offense while the Chiefs were successful 15% less often than the average defense. That’s a call for the Gus Bus right there. Sure, Lamar Jackson can take it in himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens are on the goal line a couple of times and Edwards is going to get a couple of chances to put it into the end zone.
Fulghum: It at least needs to be pointed out if you did not know that the very obscure «second-half UNDER» is 17-2 this season in Kansas City Chiefs games. That’s a hit rate of almost 90% with this bet! It has been an absolute printing press. Now, this is assuredly a scary proposition to make when two QBs as dynamic as Jackson and Mahomes are on the field in the fourth quarter of a football game, but the trend is alarming. If you’re so inclined to give it one more shot, the second-half UNDER 22.5 (-115) is out there.
Walder: Roquan Smith OVER 2.5 assists (-145). I forecast Smith for 4.3 assists so I’m willing to eat the -145 here. Yes, the Chiefs are probably the most pass-heavy team relative to expectations, but Smith has also gone over this line in 15 of 17 games this year. The odds are in our favor.