Jason La Canfora's early 2023 AFC, NFC Championship Games picks: Back the Bengals, plus totals and more best bets
Another week with immediate line movement. It seems to be all the rage these days. Of course, some uncertain injury situations are driving that, the health of Patrick Mahomes's ankle first and foremost.
I can't help but wonder if at least one of these games gets out of hand. Anyone else feeling like we get an outcome of more than one score in this round? Perhaps I'm alone in that, but I could see problems arising for the Chiefs and 49ers if they are not able to get off to a quality start. Playing from behind might not be kind to either team regardless of all they have already accomplished this season.
Perhaps these numbers fluctuate more as the week goes on – I'll be back on Friday to take another look at them, and delve deeper into prop market then – but here is what stands out to me as we sit midweek.
Bengals -1 at Chiefs
Take the Mahomes situation out of it. Say he is himself. I still see this as a game played around 27-24, with the Bengals getting the lean from me. They have the secret sauce to make Mahomes and Andy Reid seem all too human human. It's been a struggle for the Chiefs to keep their offense rolling against this team, and the Bengals have beat them in the fourth quarter of all three games they have played over the last three years. They did it when it was a must to spy Mahomes, mush-rush him and worry about him scampering for 13 yards on third-and-12. Now, they aren't going to have to worry nearly as much as that outside-the-pocket, spin-around-and-run element that has been so vital to the Chiefs' offense in these big spots. The Bengals have yet to allow more than 24 points in a playoff game over the last two years (they have allowed 24 just once). Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is a second-half genius and this is a very familiar opponent.
Not only do the Bengals have no fear going to Arrowhead, I think they actually relish it. Burrow is the best fourth-quarter quarterback in the game (he's outscored Mahomes 10-0, 10-3 and 3-0 in the fourth quarter in their meetings) and they mitigated the offensive line issues last week by pounding the ball on the ground – as they did against the Chiefs in Week 13 – and throwing it 46% of the time within five yards of the line of scrimmage (their second-highest such rate of the season). That should work here, too. They are already an elite time-of-possession team and that slow pace will work here as well against a defense that is hardly elite. The Bengals excel at winning tight games – especially this time of year. They are 13-5 against the spread and I am quite bullish on that improving on Sunday.
Bengals Over 23.5 Points (-120)
So we've established that Burrow can move the ball on the Chiefs, and that the Bengals have been able to stay balanced against them. And this version of the Chiefs defense might be the worst they have faced to date. Kansas City allowed 33 passing touchdowns this season – the most in the NFL – and the Bengals have a full assortment of offensive weapons that will leverage them in all quadrants of the field. Burrow can navigate the offensive line issues, his footwork is impeccable and they can win with yards after catch if need be.
The Bengals live in 11 Personnel – only Zac Taylor's mentor, Sean McVay, uses it more – and the Chiefs have no answers for it. Here's how Burrow fared vs. K.C. in 11 Personnel (three games): 76/100, 885 yards, eight TDs, zero interceptions for a rating of 128.96.
K.C. has faced more dropbacks than any team over the last two years (regular season and playoffs) and ranks 27th in opposing QB rating, 24th in completion percentage and has yielded a whopping 55 TD passes,11 more than any other team. The cold won't bother Burrow – he's won the 11 coldest games he's played in and just sleighed his way through a snowstorm in Buffalo. I believe Taylor's offense can throw to a lead here and then grind its way to at least 27 points over the course of four quarters against a compromised defense.
Eagles – 2.5 vs. 49ers
Maybe it's public and maybe it's chalky, but as much as I loved the 49ers to beat the Cowboys by at least a touchdown last week, I feel just as strongly that the Eagles do just that to them this weekend. Brock Purdy is getting exposed. He's yet to play a road game anything like this one. Yeah, he played at Seattle (a team the 49ers owned this year) and at Las Vegas (which was basically a 49ers home game). Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game is quite a different deal. This Philly pass rush will get to him, and the 49ers will need to play a helluva lot better on both sides in the trenches than they did last week against a far inferior Dallas team.
Dak Prescott got to run around a bit last week; Jalen Hurts will take that to another level Sunday. Nick Bosa hasn't looked right to me over the last few weeks and anything less than a stellar start from the 49ers front four could lead to this game getting out of hand. San Francisco suffers against the deep ball, and this Eagles offense is bombs away, ranking in the top five in key downfield metrics. AJ Brown had seven touchdown catches of 25 yards or more himself. Philly's premier offensive line will allow Hurts to chuck it downfield and the underbelly of this secondary will be exposed. Also, the 49ers are not the same on the road as they are at home – they haven't been on the road since Jan. 2, by the way – and have lost away to the Bears, Falcons and Broncos, by the way. I thought the Eagles might be a little tight last week at home against a familiar foe, and they were anything but that. I suspect they pick up from where they left off.
49ers Under 22.5 Points (-105)
Did I mention that Purdy seems to be flinching and hitting the wall? And he's on the road against a team that's produced 75 sacks thus far and has a crazy deep defensive line rotation? Oh yeah, and take a look at the Eagles' run-stuffing stats over the last six weeks; they plugged that hole by signing Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh and getting Jordan Davis back. I think it could be tough sledding for the 49ers' run game. And while Kyle Shanahan's offense lives and dies with YAC, well, the Eagles' secondary is top-notch, they tackle their rears off, and they keep things in front of them. Philly just doesn't give up free yards. I'm guessing that Shanahan gets really conservative here with his rookie QB. He'll play not to lose (and will still lose by more than a field goal anyway), which will lead to the Niners having an early deficit and the Eagles cruising and playing keepaway in the option game. I think this is more like a 1-2 TD game for San Francisco with a field goal or two sprinkled in.
Check back later in the week for player props and a same-game parlay!
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