January 27, 2023
For the gambling degenerates, here are my NFC and AFC Championship Game picks. To note, the team logos indicate who I think will win the game, not cover the spread. At the end of the picks, I'll note a few teams that I like based on the spread.
49ers at Eagles (-2.5): The 49ers are an impressive football team. They are riding a 12-game winning streak into the NFC Championship Game, and eight of those wins have come by at least two scores. Offensively, the Niners arguably have the best left tackle in the NFL, as well as a set of skill position players in Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk who can all make big plays with the ball in their hands. Defensively, they employ the best off-ball linebacker in the sport in Fred Warner, and the NFL's sack leader in Nick Bosa. Those two players are surrounded by a great supporting cast that as a group earned the No. 1 defensive ranking in DVOA in 2022.
But, they're not as good as the Eagles.
• Better offensive line? Eagles.
• Better defensive line? Eagles.
• Better wide receivers? Eagles.
• Better cornerbacks? Eagles.
• Better quarterback? Emphatically, Eagles.
If you were to go position-by-position, the only spots where the 49ers are very clearly better than the Eagles are at off-ball linebacker and running back, the latter of which might even be in question with McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell both dealing with soft tissue injuries. The Eagles have the superior roster at the most important positions on the field, and it's not even as if the spots where they're not a good could be considered weaknesses.
49ers No. 3 quarterback Brock Purdy deserves all the credit he has gotten for helping the Niners continue their winning streak into the postseason, but Sunday evening will be a major challenge. He'll be trying to avoid a pass rush that sacked opposing quarterbacks 75 times this season while throwing into a ball-hawking secondary in front of a very loud, liquored-up crowd unlike any he has ever seen. The magical run ends Sunday evening.
Bengals at Chiefs (-1): Joe Burrow is awesome, and I regretted picking against him last week in Buffalo. As I noted at the time, the Bengals' offensive line is very banged up.
• RT La'el Collins tore an ACL Week 16 and is done for the season.
• LT Jonah Williams is "week-to-week" with a dislocated kneecap suffered against the Ravens in the wildcard round.
• LG Alex Cappa is "week-to-week" with an ankle injury suffered against the Ravens Week 18.
The Bengals' offensive line will probably look like this, as it did in Buffalo:
My mistake in picking the Bills on that premise is that the Bills' pass rush just isn't very good without Von Miller. The Chiefs' pass rush, however, is great. Their 55 regular season sacks in 2022 were a distant second to the Eagles' 70, but 55 sacks would have led the NFL in 14 of the last 20 seasons.
Likely NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes will start this game, but should be hampered with a high ankle sprain, which is obviously a major concern. Still, I view these teams as being something close to equal at full strength, but the Bengals' backup-laden offensive line worries me more than Mahomes' ankle.
• Last 8 years, ATS: 343-290-13 (0.541)
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