The NFL playoffs’ conference championship round schedule for the 2024 season has two great matchups, and we’ve got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys and a bold prediction for each matchup.
Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a game projection. Analytics writer Seth Walder picks out each matchup’s biggest X factor, Matt Bowen identifies a key game-planning matchup to watch in both games, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Finally, Walder and Eric Moody give us final score picks for both games. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for an exciting weekend of NFL playoff football.
Let’s get into the full conference championship slate, including Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson and Brock Purdy vs. Jared Goff.
Jump to a matchup:
KC-BAL | DET-SF
3 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: BAL -3.5 (44.5)
What to watch for: This game marks the first playoff meeting between Mahomes and Jackson. In the regular season, Mahomes is 3-1 against Jackson, which is the most wins of any starting quarterback against Jackson (regular season and playoffs). In their most recent meeting in 2021, Jackson beat Mahomes and the Chiefs by rushing for 107 yards and scoring three touchdowns, including flipping into the end zone for the winning score. — Jamison Hensley
Bold prediction: The Ravens and Chiefs will combine for at least 45 points. These were the top two teams in the regular season in scoring defense, with Baltimore leading the way at 16.5 points allowed per game and Kansas City right behind at 17.3. But Jackson and Mahomes will be too good to stop, and each team will top 20 points. — Adam Teicher
Stat to know: Steve Spagnuolo has been the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator since 2019. In that time no team has allowed more rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks (26) in the regular season than the Chiefs.
Matchup X factor: Mahomes’ scrambling ability. The Chiefs have had a rough time in the passing game all season long, and it’s only going to get tougher against Baltimore, which allowed the second-lowest open score to opposing receivers (ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics) and recorded the most sacks in the league (60). Mahomes is a very effective scrambler and will have to generate production with his legs on Sunday. — Walder
Game-plan key: Kansas City’s defense loves to use man coverage in the red zone, especially inside its own 10-yard line. Baltimore offensive coordinator Todd Monken should have some answers there, with Jackson’s receivers running crossers and delaying their releases. The Ravens were eighth in red zone efficiency, scoring a TD on 61.8% of their trips inside the 20. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Injuries: Chiefs | Ravens
Officiating note: Referee Shawn Smith’s regular-season crew threw the third-most flags in the NFL this season, an average of 14.8 per game. Smith has also made an above-average number of roughness calls. He threw the third-most flags for roughing the passer (eight), and overall his crew ranked No. 1 with 25 unnecessary roughness calls. — Seifert
Betting nugget: Mahomes is 3-1 outright and 2-2 against the spread against Jackson. Three of the four meetings went over the total, with each matchup combining for at least 51 points. The average for the previous four over/unders was 52.4 with none lower than 49.
Moody’s pick: Ravens 25, Chiefs, 21
Walder’s pick: Ravens 26, Chiefs 20
FPI prediction: BAL, 63.6% (by an average of 4.6 points)
Matchup must-reads: Chiefs are headed to the AFC title game with a new identity … Ravens’ run to AFC title game vs. Chiefs fueled by surprises … Thuney unlikely to play vs. Ravens … Jackson expects ‘heavyweight fight’ vs. Mahomes
How J.J. Watt would try to stop Lamar Jackson
J.J. Watt tells «The Pat McAfee Show» how the Chiefs’ defense should try to slow down Lamar Jackson.
6:30 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: SF -7 (50.5)
What to watch for: This is a matchup of the established playoff favorite (the 49ers) against the upstart postseason underdog (the Lions). San Francisco will be making its NFL-record 19th conference championship game appearance. Detroit is in just its second conference title game of the Super Bowl era and first since the 1991 season.
But this game also has all the makings of a heavyweight fight between two of the league’s most physical teams. How the Niners’ run defense — which ranks 25th in rushing yards allowed (128.6) and 28th in yards per carry allowed (4.8) since Week 15 — holds up against the Lions’ two-headed rushing attack of Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery will go a long way in determining whether Detroit can spring the upset. — Nick Wagoner
Bold prediction: Gibbs will rush for a touchdown in his third consecutive playoff game. Sony Michel, Tim Hightower, Jamal Lewis, William Floyd and Tony Dorsett are the only NFL rookies with touchdowns in three playoff games, but Gibbs will become the sixth to accomplish the rare feat. — Eric Woodyard
Stat to know: The 49ers have been the toughest team to tackle in the NFL this season, leading the league in yards after contact (95.3 per game). In the NFC Championship Game, the Lions’ defense will look to put a stop to that, as it leads the league in yards after contact allowed per game (63.5).
Matchup X factor: Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions’ pass defense is the weakest unit left in the playoffs, ranking 30th in EPA per dropback over the course of the season. Hutchinson is one person who can change that in a flash, and he has been a different player in the postseason with a 29% pass rush win rate — more than double his regular-season number. He also has 8.0 sacks in his past four games. Detroit, the underdog, needs something special — a strip sack, perhaps? — from Hutchinson to put this game back on level terms. — Walder
Game-plan key: Detroit has to get Purdy off-schedule with pressure. Including the playoffs, Detroit has registered a blitz rate of 28.3% on first and second down, which ranks in the top 10. The Lions simply can’t let Purdy throw in rhythm or allow coach Kyle Shanahan to control the tempo. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Injuries: Lions | 49ers
Officiating note: Referee Clete Blakeman’s regular-season crew took to heart the NFL’s midseason emphasis on offensive offside penalties, throwing a league-high five such flags. It was ranked second in the NFL in flags (53) related to defensive pass coverage: illegal contact, defensive pass interference and defensive holding. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Lions are 13-6 against the spread, the second-best mark behind the Raiders (12-5). Overs are 12-7 in Lions games. The 49ers are 9-9 against the spread with overs going 10-8.
Moody’s pick: Lions 31, 49ers 28
Walder’s pick: 49ers 34, Lions 24
FPI prediction: SF, 74.1% (by an average of 8.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Lions turn attention to 49ers after ousting Bucs in playoffs … Purdy on playoff struggles: ‘It’s a new game’ … Campbell links winless 2008 Lions to success of 2023 team … Samuel, Williams provide 49ers with leadership