Since we only have two games to cover this week, let’s take some time to ask a few burning questions about each game to help us shape the bet slip. This is the time where it becomes important to remember that you don’t want to just pick bets at random. You want a game narrative for each game and however you answer these burning questions will critically inform your game narrative.
NFC Championship- 49ers +2.5 over Eagles
Burning Question #1: Will Brock Purdy be Mr. Irrelevant or Mr…Relevant?
Brock Purdy has been a revelation for the San Francisco offense down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, well him and the addition of all-world athlete Christian McCaffrey. It’s undeniable, though, that Purdy looked vulnerable against the Dallas Cowboys last week, only managing to guide one touchdown drive, and that with the assistance of an incredible concentration play by George Kittle. That being said, he is a smart player and he has the tools around him to succeed. The key for Purdy is to neither allow the ferocious Philly pass rush to keep him behind the chains nor let them force him into bad turnovers. The “Mean Green” are capable of doing that to Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks, much less last pick of the draft QBs, but if Brock can get the ball out quickly and make good decisions, which I think he can, then he gives the rest of this San Fran roster a chance to go win the ball game.
Burning Question #2: Can the San Francisco defense keep Jalen Hurts in the pocket?
Jalen Hurts progression as an NFL quarterback from last year to this year has been incredible. He’s an improved passer. He’s also much better at using his considerable speed and running ability to set-up a downfield pass attempt, as opposed to just taking off to run. This San Francisco defense is loaded with speed and talent, but they are most vulnerable over the top, which means that if Jalen can extend plays that Devonta Smith and A.J. Brown will be set up for chunk plays over the top of the defense. San Francisco has got to find a way to pressure Jalen Hurts while also keeping him in the pocket to avoid giving up cheap, big plays.
Burning Question #3: Which elite offensive skill player can bend the game to his will?
Here’s my hottest take of this weekend: we will look back on this game as a paradigm-shifting game for the way we view championship roster building. The days of simply trying to find the best quarterback in the league and let everything else fall into place are numbered. It would be foolish to say that having a Pat Mahomes doesn’t make you an automatic contender, but only one team can have them. Far smarter, and more attainable, is trying to build a stellar defense and a unique collection of offensive skill players to make life easier on your quarterback, whomever he may be. We will look back on this playoff game as the one where we started to realize that teams like the early-Russell Wilson Seahawks are more sustainably built contenders than hoping you get the next Brady or Rodgers or Mahomes. Back to the question at hand, the two skill players that are going to be the “x-factors” for this game are Devonta Smith and George Kittle. Looking back at the second question, I think Devonta Smith is setup to be the receiver to take this game over if the Eagles win. With how San Francisco plays and what their strengths are, I think they will find ways to keep A.J. Brown underneath their umbrella and fly to him after the catch to keep him from ripping off big runs after the catch. Devonta Smith though is a revelatory route runner and has a knack for putting himself in the right position to be both open and findable for Jalen Hurts. That puts him in prime position to slip behind the San Fran secondary for big gains and settle into open areas of turf on the plays when Hurts has to extend plays. On the other side, we’ve already discussed that one of Brock Purdy’s keys is to get the ball out of his hands quickly. That could be to McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel or Elijah Mitchell out of the backfield, but even better will be hitting George Kittle vertically as he quickly slips through the middle of the Philly defense.
Overall, I still think San Francisco is the better team. I’m a little nervous with the game being in Philadelphia, but even though Philly looked unstoppable last week they haven’t had to move the ball on or stop a team as complete as San Francisco all year. My only trepidation goes back to question one. If the Philly pass rush can make Brock Purdy uncomfortable for 60 minutes, then they might can force him to make enough mistakes that the rest of San Fran’s roster can’t overcome.
AFC Championship Game- Bengals +1 over Chiefs
Burning Question #1: How limited will Pat Mahomes be?
It really sucks that the most important question about this game is about the health of Pat Mahomes’ ankle. His high ankle sprain visibly limited him against the Jaguars last week, but the Chiefs were still good enough to take down the upstart Jaguars. This week we will see what Pat Mahomes can do against a Bengals pass rush that has been really good. Furthermore, he will be pressed to keep up with a Cincinnati offense that has been lights out.
Burning Question #2: Can Chris Jones and company exploit Cincinnati’s offensive line injuries enough to force the Bengals into making mistakes?
Chris Jones is the singular star on this Kansas City defense. They have plenty of solid starters that are unheralded due to their prodigious offense, but Chris is the star. Fortunately for Kansas City, he will line up against the most vulnerable part of Cincinnati’s offense, the injured offensive line. If he can get in Joe Burrow’s face or negate the Bengals ability to run the football, then he might can force the Bengals into long-down situations and keep Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd from having the time to get open and wreak havoc.
Overall, I just don’t feel comfortable with Mahomes ankle like this trying to keep up in a track meet against a Bengals offense that has torched better defenses than the Chiefs.
Special Bets I Like
Special #1: A two-point attempt in both games +500
Both of these games are likely to be close, which makes it likely that a team ends up in a situation where it’s advantageous to go for two. Admittedly, I would feel much better about this bet if Doug Pederson were coaching in this game.
Special #2: Ja’Marr Chase and Brandon Aiyuk 200+ combined receiving yards +600
This is the longest shot I’m on for the week, but as someone betting the Bengals and 49ers this seems like a good “narrative” bet to sprinkle some on. It’s hard to imagine the Bengals win without a decent showing from Chase, and Philly’s defense is good enough to force second and third options to step up….like Brandon Aiyuk.
Special #3: Travis Kelce 75+ receiving yards AND George Kittle 50+ receiving yards +280
The 49ers and Chiefs both have very good, but very different reasons to keep their All-Pro tight ends focal points of the offense this weekend. In Kansas City’s case, limiting the amount of moving, running and potential contact for Pat Mahomes will be a forethought, which means quick crossing and seam routes to Kelce will feature prominently. As for San Francisco, limiting the amount of time the ball sits in Brock Purdy’s hand minimizes the impact Philly’s pass rushers can have and mitigates the chances of a back-breaking sack or interception. As we saw last week, that mean quick east-west passes to McCaffrey and Samuel and then up-the-seam looks to Kittle. Fortunately, he probably only needs to catch two or three of those to hit the 50-yard mark.
Playoff Record: 6-4
Playoff Special Record: 1-3
Cover Photo Courtesy of Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images