Saturday, March 2, 2024

NFL Conference championship cheat sheet: Uncertainty with Mahomes, odds and more

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Injuries to the NFL’s likely MVP and runner-up have led to a conference championship weekend that is making sports betting history.

Never before have we seen this much parity in the futures market with four teams remaining. All have Super Bowl odds over +200, which has never previously happened, and the range is only between +245 and +330.

Additionally, for just the third time ever, the point spread in each title game is below three points. However, it is the AFC Championship that has created the most frenzy, due to the health of Kansas City Chiefs star QB Patrick Mahomes.

Throughout the week, the Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have each been favored by as many as 2.5 points with the favorite flipping once. Wagers from respected bettors caused the market moves and both teams received support.

“I’ve never seen this much action on an NFL game this early in the week,” longtime Las Vegan and SuperBook head NFL oddsmaker Ed Salmons told ESPN. Typically the odds move in one direction throughout the week but sportsbooks have taken such high volume on both teams, which is rare.

Throughout the postseason, the 49ers were the NFC favorites, even though they did not have home-field advantage. However, after last weekend’s games, the Eagles opened as one-point favorites and respected bets on Philadelphia immediately moved the spread to 2.5. Jalen Hurts looked much sharper in the divisional round win, which was his second game back since missing two games with a shoulder injury.

Favorite Plays

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5, 46)

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field

San Francisco’s 12-game win streak (10-2 ATS) is as impressive as it seems. And to pull it off with a third-string rookie quarterback speaks volumes about their talented supporting cast and sophisticated coaching. However, I think this is where Brock Purdy‘s magical run ends.

He has looked pedestrian in his first two road starts (Seattle and Las Vegas) and this is an entirely different challenge with the Philly environment and high stakes. For all the attention San Francisco’s defense receives, Philadelphia’s does not. The Eagles rank second in defensive efficiency, just 0.2 behind the 49ers. They also have ballhawks in the secondary that will intercept Purdy, if he continues to throw dangerous passes. Frankly, he lacks the necessary accuracy and arm strength, which is why he lasted until the very last draft pick.

The 49ers front will pose problems for Hurts and the offense but the Eagles’ versatility with plenty of pass-catching talent will be the deciding factor. Head coach Nick Sirianni has been one of the most aggressive decision-makers all season, and I expect that moxie to prove beneficial.

Pick: Eagles -2.5

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5, 48)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium

As much as anyone, I understand the desire to bet this game. I really do. However, given that the league’s best player is not 100%, in addition to the potential of re-injury, it seems hard to justify a large wager of any kind.

With that being said, I need action, so I am looking to the under. It starts with Mahomes, who despite everyone overreacting to random practice video of his performing half-speed handoffs, I believe the right ankle sprain will limit him. Did others expect to see crutches in the pocket? Of course he was going to look somewhat normal. The concern is what happens at full speed after he is tackled around his ankles.

I also believe Cincinnati’s patchwork offensive line benefited last week from the snowy conditions, which prevented Buffalo’s pass rush from pivoting. I think the Kansas City front, which is stronger than many realize, will pressure Joe Burrow and disrupt the offense.

Pick: Under 48

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