NFL AFC & NFC Conference Championship Games Best Bets, Predictions & Odds: Lions push 49ers to the limit

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And then there were 4. We’ve arrived at the AFC and NFC Championship games, and come Sunday night we’ll know which teams will be fighting it out for the Super Bowl in just 2 weeks. The 49ers suffered a scare against the Packers last week and the Lions will no doubt be highly motivated to go in and pull the upset, while Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will have their eyes on defending their Super Bowl crown against the resilient Ravens.

The Pickswise NFL handicapping team has been on fire all season long, now boasting a 62-43 record with their NFL best bets, while our NFL picks are showing a profit of +52.1 units! Let’s keep riding that momentum and have another big Sunday. Here are our NFL AFC and NFC Championship best bets.

John Martin: Kansas City Chiefs +3.5 over Baltimore Ravens (-105)

There comes a time in every bettor’s life where he must make a choice. He has to take a hard stand. This is that time. The AFC Championship Game is set, and taken as a whole, it features the 2 best teams in the AFC. Both the Ravens and Chiefs have been a head above the rest. Both feature MVP quarterbacks. Both feature elite defenses and master coaching staffs. Baltimore has the most impressive resume in the NFL; they knocked off a fully healthy San Francisco on the road, they destroyed the Dolphins and they blew the doors off one of the hottest teams in the NFL in the Houston Texans last weekend. They are deserving of the stage, without a shadow of a doubt. But maybe it’s time we started thinking about Patrick Mahomes the way we thought about Tom Brady in his prime.

What would we have said about a Patriots team in 2006 getting 4 points against anybody? That’s an automatic bet – one you live with, every time. Mahomes is the closest thing we’ve seen to Brady since he retired, the way he elevates his team. While the Ravens’ defense is lightyears better and healthier than the Bills, you saw how Mahomes simply elevated his receiving corps. Marquez Valdez-Scantling, most known for that critical touchdown drop against the Eagles earlier in the season, made 2 huge catches. Travis Kelce looked like he was back to his prime form. Defensively, the Bills were able to run the ball at will in the first half, but Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo showed why he is one of the best to ever do it with his second-half adjustments. The Bills scored just 7 points and could not find anywhere near the same success as the first half.

Lamar Jackson is an incredible player, but he has never played in a game of this magnitude. This is Mahomes’ 6th AFC Championship Game appearance. When the margins are thin like they will be this late in the NFL season, that disparity matters. Sometimes, you have to roll with what you believe in – and for me, that is that there is no quarterback in the NFL better in high-leverage moments and games than Patrick Mahomes.

Chris Farley: Detroit Lions +7 over San Francisco 49ers (-110)

There are always a lot of reasons to support the San Francisco 49ers. Even though Brock Purdy wasn’t at his best last weekend (and that’s probably an understatement), the 49ers found a way. Why? Because they’re too damn talented. At every level, GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have built a championship roster. We saw that plainly and clearly last Saturday, when individual Niners made big plays to keep their team in the game. To Purdy’s credit, he was at his best on San Francisco’s final drive — a 12-play, 69-yard march that took more than 5 minutes late in the fourth quarter — leaving Jordan Love and the Packers barely more than 60 seconds to try and garner a comeback. You know how the rest of the story goes.

It all ended well for the NFC’s #1 seed, but that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned. 2022’s “Mr. Irrelevant” lived up to his name on Saturday, looking blatantly confused on early passing plays and air-mailing his receivers more times than anyone could count. Purdy ended with a respectable 23 completions and 252 yards, but the moment seemed awfully big for him. Bettors forget that he’s never played at this stage. Last season’s ascent to relevancy had to be fun for the guy, and it probably felt like he was playing with house money. But this year is different. Purdy has expectations on him, a heavy pressure to calmly lead his team through adversity while performing at the highest level possible, and he’s doing it for a roster that’s dying to finally win a Super Bowl. The 24-year-old is a mature kid, but that would be a lot for anyone to handle — even the most veteran QBs.

Now, it’s worth noting a few obvious things. The Niners lost Deebo Samuel early against the Packers. If Samuel can suit up this Sunday (there’s a 50/50 chance, apparently), he’ll make a huge difference. He’s arguably the most talented player on their offense, and it was obvious how much they missed him in key moments last weekend. Purdy also hasn’t thrown well in inclement weather, and his defenders will say that his small hands struggle with a slick ball. Okay…not ideal for a franchise QB. Luckily for Purdy, Santa Clara will be sunny and in the 60s this weekend — a much better scenario for productive offense.

Meanwhile, Jared Goff and the Lions don’t have or need the same excuses. We saw some inefficiency from their defense last Sunday, but overall the Lions have been clutch when the moment is biggest. It should be clear to everyone now that head coach Dan Campbell’s culture is working, and Detroit has played with the aggression and moxie of a championship team because of it. The Divisional Round was a showcase of how far this franchise has come. Goff was surgical (30-for-43, 287 yards, 2 TDs on Sunday), their run-game was effective in big spots and their defense made plays when it mattered. It was the same energy we saw in the Lions’ Week 1 victory over the Chiefs, or in their Week 18 win over the Packers’ last season, when they booted their rival out of playoff contention. Campbell’s team is built to play at their best in the toughest moments; I expect more of the same on Sunday.

The 49ers are a massive upgrade in competition from the Bucs, but Goff has been here before — conceivably 1 over-throw away from a Super Bowl win 6 years ago. We also know Campbell is an effective motivator, someone who has his men fighting hard and always battle ready. We can’t say that about Kyle Shanahan. Genius play caller? Probably. But we’ve seen the 49ers crack in the playoffs before, not to mention on a tough road trip (aka “adversity”) and 3-game losing streak earlier this season. I trust Purdy will play well, but will he play so well that Goff and an explosive Lions offense can’t keep up? Even if Samuel plays, I think not.

Prop Holliday: Christian McCaffrey over 35.5 receiving yards (-114)

Deebo Samuel’s status is up in the air, but even if he suits up, I’m going to assume he won’t be 100%. Many will be on Aiyuk and Kittle’s overs this weekend after seeing how Detroit’s defense has been “bend but don’t break” for everything underneath, as we’ve seen of late where teams are easily able to move into the red zone but fail to cash in. The Lions are a mixed bag against running backs. Their run defense is stout, but they’re allowing the 2nd-most yards per carry to opposing running backs 9.07 yards.

So far in the playoffs, we’ve seen Rachaad White and Ronnie Rivers have success underneath and if Deebo is out or at least hampered, Kyle Shanahan should find a way to get the ball into the hands of his top playmaker. In the 2 games this season that Deebo has missed, CMC went for 51 and 64 receiving yards. McCaffrey’s reception line is set at 4.5, which is one higher than I’d like to play it at, but pivoting to his yards given Detroit’s propensity to allow splash plays seems to be the safer bet. I’ll also be playing his alt-line of 50+ receiving yards for 0.5u at (+188). 1u on over 35.5 receiving yards.

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