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NFL Conference Championship picks: Lions at 49ers, Chiefs at Ravens

Will either of the No. 1 seeds trip up with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

They say that defense wins championships.

If you doubt that, you probably shouldn’t look at the 2023 season rankings.

Spoiler: the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Francisco 49ers, were 1-2-3 for fewest points allowed this season having permitted their opponents to score a mere 280, 294, and 298 points, respectively.

That said, the “they” in the opening sentence doesn’t appear to include DraftKings Sportsbook which is currently offering 44 points as the Over/Under for the AFC Championship game and 51.5 points for the NFC Championship game.

Amusingly, and also somewhat crazily, I’m taking the Over in both games. I’m also taking the underdog in one of the matchups, but more on that later.

Let’s start with the battle of league MVPs.

. . .

AFC Championship, 12pm (CBS)

First things first . . . the Kansas City Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl Champions and will remain so for at least two more weeks.

Personally, I’m expecting the Baltimore Ravens to claim that distinction at about 7pm on February 11th, but . . .

I won’t be at all surprised if Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Taylor Swift, Isiah Pacheco, Joe Thuney, Chris Jones, Trent McDuffie, Harrison Butker, Andy Reid, and the rest of the Chiefs prove me wrong.

These two teams have played each other four times over the last six seasons, but this will be their first meeting since 2021.

The Ravens won the last matchup by a single point, 36-35.

The Chiefs won the other three: 34-20 in 2020, 33-28 in 2019, and 27-24 in overtime in 2018.

Statistically, these are how the two MVPs performed in those four games:

2018:

  • Jackson: 13 of 24 for 147 yards with 2 TDs, and a passer rating of 100.5
  • Mahomes: 35 of 53 for 377 yards with 2 TDs, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 91.5

2019:

  • Jackson: 22 of 43 for 267 yards with a passer rating of 70.6
  • Mahomes: 27 of 37 for 374 yards with 3 TDs, and a passer rating of 132.0

2020:

  • Jackson: 15 of 28 for 97 yards with 1 TD, and a passer rating of 73.1
  • Mahomes: 31 of 42 for 385 yards with 4 TDs, and a passer rating of 133.5

2021:

  • Jackson: 18 of 26 for 239 yards with 1 TD, 2 INTs, and a passer rating of 78.8
  • Mahomes: 24 of 31 for 343 yards with 3 TDs, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 131.5

TOTALS:

  • Jackson: 68 of 121 (56.2%) for 750 yards with 4 TDs, 2 INTs, and a passer rating of 78.9
  • Mahomes: 117 of 163 (71.8%) for 1,479 yards with 12 TDs, 2 INTs, and a passer rating of 119.1

Based on past performance, if the AFC Championship is decided by the QBs and their respective statistical performances, Mahomes and the Chiefs seem like the safer bet.

That said . . .

Lamar Jackson is almost certainly going to be named the league’s MVP on February 8th, which will be his second such honor (tying him with Patrick Mahomes), and that is certainly worth considering in this weekend’s heavyweight battle.

Then there’s this year’s stats . . .

  • Jackson: 307 of 457 (67.2%) for 3,678 yards with 24 TDs, 7 INTs, and a passer rating of 102.7
  • Mahomes: 401 of 597 (67.2%) for 4,183 yards with 27 TDs, 14 INTs, and a passer rating of 92.6

That’s a little bit closer, right? Heck, the completion percentage is identical and Jackson has the better TD-to-INT ratio and the better passer rating while only throwing for about 30 fewer yards per game than Mahomes.

How about the playoffs?

We’ll skip the completions, attempts, and yards since Mahomes has played twice as many games as Jackson, but check out these numbers:

  • Jackson: 72.7% completion rate, 121.8 passer rating
  • Mahomes: 62.5% completion rate, 101.8 passer rating

If you’re getting the sense that I think the AFC Championship game is going to be decided by the quarterbacks, you’re right.

Well, the quarterbacks and their supporting cast - which favors the Ravens, especially with TE Mark Andrews expected to provide an emotional boost with his return to the field (!!).

The Pick: Ravens to win and cover, Over 44 points.

Note: It won’t break my heart if I’m wrong since it would mean that the Seahawks would be able to interview Mike MacDonald next week instead of having to wait until after the Super Bowl.


NFC Championship, 3:30pm (FOX)

First things first . . . _______ the Niners, and GO LIONS !!!

This is the game that I’m picking the underdog in - because of an irrational yet deep-seated anti-Niner sentiment + the fact that the Detroit Lions are my second-favorite team.

Oh, and there’s actually a lot of on-field reasons for my belief that the Lions will be representing the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl, including:

One. Both teams finished the regular season with identical records of 12-5, but the Lions now have a better winning percentage than the 49ers (.737 versus .722).

Sure, it’s because the Lions have played (and won) one “extra” game, but facts are still facts and .737 > .722.

Two. Detroit had a better record on the road (6-3) than San Francisco had at home (5-3) . . .

. . . during the regular season.

Obviously, the Niners played at home last weekend (and barely won) so now their home record matches the Lions’ road record (sigh!).

Three. Dan Campbell is a better, more respected, nicer, more “cuddly” inspiring head coach than Kyle Shanahan is. (Hopefully Mookie doesn’t ask me for sources.)

Four. Jared Goff > Brock Purdy.

Yes, I’m ignoring the fact that Brock Purdy is one of five finalists for the MVP award. Sue me. Purdy ain’t winning MVP . . . at least not this year.

Statistically, Goff > Purdy.

  • Goff: 407 of 605 (67.3%) for 4,575 yards with 30 TDs, 12 INTs, and a passer rating of 97.9
  • Purdy: 308 of 444 (69.4%) for 4,280 yards with 31 TDs, 11 INTs, and a passer rating of 113.0

Um . . . never mind.

Purdy led the league in touchdown percentage (7.0%), yards per attempt (9.6), yards per catch (13.9), passer rating (113.0), and QBR (72.8).

Still, if I were picking a QB to build a team around or a QB to win an important game (ex. the NFCCG) and Goff and Purdy were the only two choices, I’d take Goof . . . I mean Goff.

__________

Okay, admittedly, my reasons for picking the Lions are a little flawed.

Well, the ones I’ve shared anyway.

At the end of the day (or in this case, the article), I just have more faith in the Lions pulling off an upset than I do in the Niners holding them off (or coming back) if the game is close in the fourth quarter.

Especially with SF WR Deebo Samuel at less than 100% . . . which he will be, even IF he suits up and tries to play.

More than anything though - - and it pains me a little bit to say this . . . I think Dan Orlovsky nailed the key to the game for the Detroit Lions:

Bottom line: The Niners ARE beatable and Detroit is certainly capable of pulling off the upset in Santa Clara.

The Pick: Lions win outright, Over 51.5 points.

Note: As with the AFC Championship game, it won’t break my heart if I’m wrong since it would mean that the Seahawks would be able to interview a candidate we all hope they’re interested in (Ben Johnson) next week instead of having to wait until after the Super Bowl.


Staff picks, courtesy of Tallysight: