The penultimate weekend of football for the 2022/23 season is upon us as Championship weekend arrives and what a weekend we’ve got in prospect, without doubt the 4 best teams in the league this season have made it to this round with the winners going on to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona in two weeks time. It looks like we’ll have spreads under 3 points in both games for the first time since 1998 with the Eagles currently -2.5 at home to the 49ers and the Chiefs now at -1.5 hosting the Bengals.
With such close games it will be tough to pick winners on each side, but I’ll see what I can find on the props and look for some perceived edges.
As always I’ve got the Draftkings contest running – https://www.draftkings.co.uk/draft/contest/140840172 – Always a bit of fun if you’re looking for some interest in the games, although it might not be needed with these contests.
49ers +2.5 @ Eagles: 45.5
The 49ers overcame a little adversity for the first time in weeks as they took care of the Cowboys in the Divisional round, good news for all neutrals as Dallas continued their record of relative failure in the last few decades. It meant 12 wins in a row for the 49ers and made it 8 in a row for the rookie QB. They face an Eagles team who strolled past their NFC East rivals and were essentially able to have a second bye week, so they come into this one quite fresh.
The headline for the 49ers has to be the emergence of Mr. Irrelevant, 7th round rookie Brock Purdy at QB, the kid has thrown the most post-season passes by any rookie without an interception and it’s not even close as he runs the Kyle Shanahan offense perfectly so far. His short career – 8 wins – 0 losses, 16 TDs – 4 Interceptions, but none in the last 3 games. On paper, it’s excellent, but he has been rather lucky in terms of INTs as players have been dropping them on a weekly basis, he’ll need to be tighter than that in this game. Having not watched much of him in the regular season I’ve been impressed with his mobility, he was under pressure a lot from the Cowboys last week and only took 2 sacks. Can he do it against the best pass rush we’ve seen in years? I’m not too sure.
The 49ers offense is predicated on a dominant run game and that’s the area they may well look at here, going up against the 21st-ranked Eagles run defense, both players will play, but Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell both come in nursing muscle injuries which could be a worry. McCaffrey has re-affirmed himself as the best RB in the league since joining the team and he’s scored at least 1 TD in each of their last 8 games, 5 on the ground and 4 through the air. Mitchell is a great foil for McCaffrey as well, and tends to led the team in rushing yards as the duo go about their work, he’s actually only scored 3 times in an injury-riddled year, but they do like him.
Two others to have a little look at in the rushing are Deebo Samuel, and Kyle Juszcyzk, both of whom could get a little work if the main backs look more injured than expected, Deebo especially can line up at WR or RB and will get carries. his rush line here? – 21.5 on Bet365 and WillHill, 22.5 on PaddyPower, might actually be a tad high, but he will get carries. No lines available on Juice, so it’s TD only on him I guess.
Deebo may well lead the team in receiving yards as they may have to rely on shorter connections and the yards-after-catch ability of their receivers, something which they excel in. The Eagles are the best passing defense in the league, especially on the outside, but they can be targeted over the middle, so Deebo and George Kittle may well be the players to look for here. Kittle led the team in rec. yards last week with 95 from 5 and his size is an advantage against the Eagles LBs. Brandon Aiyuk has had a good year with the rookie, but being covered by Slay won’t be easy for him, and Jauan Jennings seems to be the deep shot threat for the team.
Defensively they’re one of the better teams in the league, with DPOY in awaiting Nick Bosa leading the line with 17.5 sacks this season, some of the best LBs in the league in Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair and cornerbacks who do the job well, they ranked 2nd vs the Rush and 5th vs the pass in the regular season.
The Eagles come into this one in good health after an easy win against the Eagles last week and that could be important as the game goes on. They have accrued one of the best rosters in the league in both trenches and on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball as they look to win another Super Bowl, they are currently the favourites to do so.
Jalen Hurts came into last week with some questions of the health of his shoulder but he came through it without any worries and finished with one of his highest QBRs of the year, and of course another rushing TD, his 14th of the year. They might not have the most success running the ball against this defense, but one area the 49ers do struggle a little is the RPO game and with Hurts here the Eagles are the kings of it.
The running game will be mixed between Hurts, Sanders, Gainwell and probably a little Boston Scott as well (although he only scores against the Giants) – Sanders is the 1, but Gainwell lived up to his name and led the team in yards last weekend as all but Sanders found the endzone… annoyingly frequent occurrence for those of us who had Sanders in fantasy this year, he just seems to struggle to find the endzone.
They will look for AJ Brown and Devonta Smith down the field who are one of the best duos in the league, there are not many who can cover Brown one-on-one and if the 49ers come up to stop the run I expect some deep balls in his direction. Weirdly, there is positive correlation with the receivers, when one does well, the other tends to as well. They might need a little more from Quez Watkins and the tertiary pieces though as the 49ers are one of the better teams in the league against the tight end, so while Dallas Goedert is up there with the best he won’t have any easy catches here.
Defensively they nearly had a record-breaking year in terms of sacks, falling just short of the 1985 Bears and they have endless depth there, led by Hassan Reddick who has been a fantastic free agency signing, it allows them to rotate and keep their pieces fresh and they will cause issues despite going up against a good offensive line. On the back end, the likes of Slay and CJGJ (Despite him being a dick) are some of the best in the league. While their defense hasn’t excelled against the run, it has got better in recent weeks and having Jordan Davis in there helps.
A very tough game to call, but I do feel that the Eagles will get enough pressure to cause issues, and their secondary won’t drop easy interceptions like the Cowboys did last week. So I’ve got to take them to win and cover the spread. I like the over 23 in the first half as both of these teams tend to get the scoring done early on.
Props-wise. I do like Gainwell over his rush yards, although rush and rec could also be taken, he is the backup, but 11.5 and 23.5 respectively isn’t a high line to eclipse. I don’t mind Purdy o8.5 either although the numbers don’t back it up so far in his career, he’ll likely be scrambling more than he has and he’s pretty quick.
There’s a lot of money in the states on Jalen Hurts o1.5 passing TDs and I’ve back it at 10/11, they have the ability to win on the ground or through the air and the “weakness” of the 49ers is the passing game, and I guess in that aspect I should be on AJ Brown anytime as well, best price in the mainstream books is 6/4 at PP/Betfair.
It is all leaning towards the Eagles, but they’re the team I think win, so they’re the ones I’m targeting for props.
Bengals +1.5 @ Chiefs: 48
The big news in this game all week has been the health of Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs. He was severely hobbled against the Jaguars, and I’ll admit I thought he’d be struggling to make it through the week with an ankle sprain, but he’s practised all week, seemingly without issue and looks like he’s going to be in here without much issue.
The Chiefs beat the Jaguars with Mahomes on one leg, showing they can do it in various ways with the run game helping out and Travis Kelce setting a post-season record with 14 receptions for the tight end as the defense stepped up to close out the game after causing a fumble from Jamal Agnew.
The Bengals dominated in Buffalo, but of course, it wasn’t anything to do with them being outstanding, it was the snow, their camouflage uniforms (including, apparently white helmets which looked distinctly orange) or the refs, or some other reason which caused them to look like the best team in the league with Joe Burrow dicing up the defense behind a make-shift offensive line which looked excellent.
The Bengals have won this matchup three times in a row, all but exactly by 3 points, and mostly on the back of defensive performances.
I am unashamedly a Bengals fan, I make that clear most weeks, so I’ll try and keep this as objective as possible. The offensive line is still the big worry for me, it did look fantastic last week, they dominated in both pass protection and run blocking as they blew open big gaps for the running backs, but this is a tougher test against Chris Jones who is one of the best in the league in the interior.
I don’t want to get carried away with Joe Burrow at QB, but… is he the
GREATEST EVER?! 2nd best in the league? Behind his opponent here? He’s right up there, and he just doesn’t lose in the playoffs, he’s the coolest player on the field in most situations and we know he can beat the Chiefs. He looked better than ever in carving up the Bills last week, got the ball out quickly and mitigated most of the pass rush before the snap each time he went out there.
It helps that he has probably the best trio in the league in Chase, Higgins and Boyd, backed up well by Hurst and the running backs in the passing game. Ja’Marr Chase missed a few weeks this year but still topped 1,000 yards and he’s scored in each of their playoff games, interestingly they gave him a carry on a jet sweep last week, something which they have seemed reluctant to do so far. Tee Higgins stepped up in his place when he was injured, and his size gives him good matchups against 2nd CBs and Boyd and Hurst are ever reliable in the middle of the field. Trenton Irwin will go over his rec. line if he gets a catch in this game too, he might do.
Joe Mixon hit 100 yards last week, he’s been up and down this year but showed he can still do it when things go well and he was very aggressive behind the offensive line last week, he’s been more involved in the passing game as they get the ball out quick to help Burrow. Samaje Perine showed last year he was an able backup and has been better this year, he may get more snaps in pass-blocking and was also involved out of the backfield last week too with 5 receptions.
Defensively they don’t have many studs, but are surely one of the best coached with the apparently unpronounceable Lou Anorumo in charge, it has been his work which has won the games against the Chiefs in recent years. Trey Hendrickson will get pressure, Mike Hilton is one of the best CB-blitzers in the game and Trey Flowers has done well in restricting Travis Kelce in recent matchups between the two. It’s Vonn Bell against Juju as well, which will be fun. 13/8 for Hendrickson Sack is generous.
So it seems that Patrick Mahomes is in good health, but I do worry about a re-aggravation for him. He’s the best in the league and I said many moons ago, will probably go down as the best ever once his time is up, he’s made the conference title game 5 years in a row, every year since he was a starter and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing him as he topped 5,000 yards this year and is surely the regular season MVP. The growth away from Tyreek Hill and having to find other targets has been smooth as he hit 9 different players with a reception last week.
The run game has been good for the Chiefs in recent weeks with rookie Isiah Pacheco running hard, 12 for 95 on the ground last week for him, and he looked good in the regular season game against the Bengals as well. Jerrick McKinnon has been taking short passes to the house as their offensive line has been fairly dominant this season. 9 players with a reception – 7 players with a rush attempt last week, the Chiefs are fun to watch.
The main target for the Chiefs, as everyone knows is Travis Kelce, 14 for 98 and 2 TDs last week as he found space 7 yards down the field and got first downs, he’s had a top of 5 in the 3 games against this Bengals team though, and they obviously know he’s the man to stop if you want to win. That may open things up more for Juju Smith-Schuster although the Bengals are keenly aware of him as well. Kadarius Toney could be a star in this offense when they fully work him in, and it wouldn’t shock me if he showed up big here. MVS is a good downfield threat and they should have Mecole Hardman back as well to add even more there.
The backup TE’s are tough to pick, but Blake Bell and Noah Gray have both found the endzone this year, there’s a chance one of them gets the QB sneaks if they get to the goalline and want to try and protect Mahomes’ ankle.
They’re fine on defense, 20th vs the pass, 15th vs the run according to DVOA, but the pass rush should get home with Chris Jones in the middle of that line along with Karlaftis, Frank Clark and former-Bengals Carlos Dunlap who’s still pretty good.
My goodness, it’s impossible to call this one. It really could go either way. Of course, I think the Bengals and I’ll be dealing with a couple of hours sleep at work tomorrow, hopefully in buoyant mood. They can win, they have done well against this opponent, but it’s always tough to go against Mahomes, not to mention how tough it is to make a 2nd Super Bowl in two years. – I’m leaning Bengals. I’m leaning to the over, but it could be lower scoring as well.
The Bengals have received the ball first for the last month or so and as such tend to get out to leads, they’ve not conceded a first-quarter TD for 9 games now, and their record when leading after the 1st is fantastic. You can get +0.5 on first-quarter spread, something I’ve been pushing for a while, and the news is out on the Bengals receiving the ball… now 1/3 on Skybet – But you can get the Bengals to receive, get the first 1st down and Mixon to have 30 rush yards at 4/5 on the Request-a-bet section.
As above for the first quarter – Bengals +0.5 at 5/8 or so at WillHill.
Player props? I like Perine o2.5 receptions at plus money – 21/20 now, and I don’t mind Juju o3.5 receptions although that’s a very short price, I think they concentrate on Kelce and that will leave more for the others around him. I do think Pacheco tops his 47.5 rushing yards line as well.
As for TD scorer – It seems remarkable that you can get Chase at plus money – 21/20 on Bet365, I’ve said Toney all year, he’s around 11/4 to find the endzone, at a bigger price you’re looking at Bell or Gray at 20/1 and 9/1 respectively if you want a long-shot.
And that will do it for 30 of the 32 teams in the league.
I’ll be back next week with either a Super Bowl preview or a stupid punts post depending on what’s available next weekend.
Should be some cracking games #WHODEY.
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