Bleacher Report's Expert AFC, NFC Championship Game Picks

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 28, 2022

Bleacher Report's Expert AFC, NFC Championship Game Picks

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    After an action-packed divisional round with both No. 1 seeds going down and a spine-tingling overtime finale, the NFL's conference championship matchups will feature a potential long-term quarterback rivalry and a divisional battle with two brilliant, offensive-minded head coaches. 

    Our NFL experts—Connor Rogers, Ian Kenyon, Wes O'Donnell, Gary Davenport, Brent Sobleski and Maurice Moton—enjoyed last week's games because their consensus picks against the spread went 3-0 (all underdogs), with Sobleski running the table on a perfect 4-0 weekend. The six-man crew boasts a 6-1 record on consensus picks for the playoffs.

    The Kansas City Chiefs are sizable favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals, but is it smart to bet against the latter, who won a Week 17 matchup (34-31) between these teams?

    The 49ers have rewarded bettors who took them on the moneyline in the previous two games. Will their playoff magic run out at SoFi Stadium? Do they still have good value against the spread? 

    Let's see if our analysts doubled down on underdogs and how they broke down the conference championship games.

    Lines are from DraftKings as of Thursday, Jan. 27, at 6 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info. Information on public betting trends courtesy of the Action Network.

No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals (12-7) at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (14-5)

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow
    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe BurrowJeff Dean/Associated Press

    When: Sunday 3:00 p.m. ET

    Where: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

    TV: CBS

    Referee: Bill Vinovich

    LineKansas City -7

    Expected attendance: 72,936

    Cincinnati Bengals injuries to watch: Quarterback Joe Burrow (knee) and wide receiver Tee Higgins (thumb) popped up on the injury report, though both went through full practices Wednesday. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou, who returned to action last week after missing a game, logged a limited session with a knee issue Wednesday. Defensive end Cam Sample missed the first practice of the week because of a groin injury.

    Kansas City Chiefs injuries to watch: Aside from safety Tyrann Mathieu, who's sidelined while in concussion protocol, the Chiefs have several key players who went through a full practice despite injuries, including running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) and Darrel Williams (toe), wide receivers Tyreek Hill (heel) and Mecole Hardman (hip), guard Andrew Wylie (elbow), defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (back), and cornerbacks L'Jarius Sneed (knee), Rashad Fenton (back) and Charvarius Ward (neck).

    In a nutshell: While some people believe Patrick Mahomes will see Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in more duels in the future, we shouldn't overlook an in-conference rivalry between him and Burrow. Cincinnati's second-year signal-caller isn't as flashy when compared to Mahomes, but he plays with great confidence and poise. Like they did last week against the Bills, the Chiefs will face an electric offense that features a rising star at quarterback. Prepare for another high-scoring battle. 

    Random tidbit: Between Burrow's College Football Playoff run at LSU during the 2019 season and this year's NFL postseason, he's won four consecutive playoff games, which underscores his clutch play in big moments.

The Pick: No Consensus

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    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick MahomesDavid Dermer/Associated Press

    O'Donnell: The Bengals have scored three touchdowns in two playoff games. Evan McPherson has kicked eight field goals. They've surrendered 11 sacks in the last two weeks, nine of which came against the Tennessee Titans last week. Cincinnati, for all the fun it's been, is lucky to be here. Meanwhile, Kansas City is playing in its fourth straight AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead. That isn't luck. The Chiefs won the de facto AFC title game last week against the Buffalo Bills, and they'll teach the Bengals a lesson in this game that Cincy can grow from in years to come.  

    Chiefs 34, Bengals 24


    Kenyon: The Bengals have narrowly escaped games for over a month. They haven't won a contest by more than one score since their win over the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens in Week 16. That luck runs out Sunday at Arrowhead when they face a red-hot Chiefs offense that has put up 84 points in its last two games. Patrick Mahomes played perhaps the best game of his career last week. If he plays anywhere near that level Sunday, there's no reason to believe the Bengals can match that with the way their offensive line has failed to protect Joe Burrow. 

    Chiefs 34, Bengals 24


    Rogers: Four weeks ago, Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas City, arguably the best performance of his young career. Does he have that kind of magic in him again? It's a lot to ask, but the Bengals have everything going for them at exactly the right time. Yet on the other side, not even a near-perfect performance from Josh Allen was enough to take down the Chiefs.

    Much like that game, I think the winner of the AFC Championship Game will come down to whoever has the ball last. Mahomes and Co. are masterful at that, leaving little reason to doubt yet another Super Bowl appearance for them.

    Bengals cover, but the Chiefs move on. 

    Chiefs 37, Bengals 34


    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: None

    Consensus score prediction: Chiefs 35, Bengals 28

No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (12-7) at No. 4 Los Angeles Rams (14-5)

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    Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp
    Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper KuppKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When: Sunday 6:30 p.m. ET

    Where: SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles

    TV: Fox

    Referee: Carl Cheffers

    LineLos Angeles -3.5

    Expected attendance: 71,500

    San Francisco 49ers injuries to watch: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continues to play through a thumb injury, but he practiced in full Wednesday. Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas (knee) didn't suit up in the divisional round, but he went through a limited session Wednesday. Defensive end Nick Bosa and center Alex Mack started the week with a rest day. Trent Williams didn't practice Wednesday, though head coach Kyle Shanahan seems optimistic about the left tackle's availability for Sunday. Running back Elijah Mitchell (knee) missed practice as well. However, he missed a session at the beginning of Wild Card Week and still suited up against the Dallas Cowboys.

    Los Angeles Rams injuries to watch: Safety Taylor Rapp, who's missed the last two games while in concussion protocol, returned to a limited practice Wednesday. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth also logged a limited session after he sat out the divisional round because of a knee injury. Keep an eye on his replacement, Joe Noteboom (chest), defensive lineman Greg Gaines (toe) and wideout Van Jefferson (knee), all of whom missed the first practice of the week.

    In a nutshell: The Niners have had the Rams' number in recent years, winning six consecutive meetings and seven of the last 10 matchups. The Rams haven't beaten the 49ers since the 2018 campaign, when they advanced to Super Bowl LIII to face the New England Patriots.

    Random tidbit: Against a high-scoring Rams offense, the 49ers need more from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the 2021 playoffs. In fact, his completions, completion rate, passing yards and passer rating have been on the decline in every start since Week 16.

The Pick: No Consensus

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    49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel
    49ers wide receiver Deebo SamuelTony Avelar/Associated Press

    Moton: Rams head coach Sean McVay will finally knock off the 49ers with a boost from midseason acquisitions Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., who have made an impact in the postseason. Over the last two outings, the former has two sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble with a recovery. Meanwhile, the latter has recorded 10 receptions for 123 yards and a score along with a 40-yard pass completion.

    While the Rams' near-collapse against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round raises some doubt about this team, quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to turn the ball over in this playoff run. If he continues to avoid turnovers, the Rams will come out on top, but not enough to cover a 3.5-point spread. 

    Rams 27, 49ers 24


    Sobleski: This choice has as much to do with Jimmy Garoppolo as it does with the Rams. Frankly, Garoppolo is the worst quarterback among the remaining four, and his performance through the first two weeks of postseason play doesn't inspire great hope.

    Head coach/offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans do a wonderful job scheming and placing their respective units in a position to succeed. The Niners are always well-coached and ready with a new wrinkle to throw an opponent off its game. 

    However, the explosiveness of the Rams offense with Stafford leading the way provides a significant edge in this contest. Maybe the 49ers could apply consistent pressure as they did against the Green Bay Packers, but left tackle Andrew Whitworth's expected return this weekend will help Los Angeles.

    Rams win and cover over the Niners.

    Rams 31, 49ers 17


    Davenport: I was sorely tempted to take San Francisco outright here. The 49ers have owned the Rams of late, including a win at SoFi Stadium in Week 18. In that game, the Rams succeeded in doing what they tried really hard to do last week in Tampa—blow a big lead. And as a friend of mine who bleeds red and gold put it, these Niners exhibit a Freddy Krueger-esque unwillingness to die.

    He has a point. But just like in the last two rounds, I can't do it. 

    The Rams are a better team. Their offense is better. Their defense is better, although the gap between the two squads is smaller there. The Rams have the superior quarterback in Stafford. And it's hard to beat a team three times in the same season.

    The 49ers will keep it close, and if the Rams make the mistakes they did against the Bucs, it's entirely possible that San Francisco wins. But if the Rams can survive four turnovers on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs, they can snap their losing streak against a gutsy but flawed Niners team. 

    Rams 23, 49ers 20

    Unanimous consensus ATS pick: None

    Consensus score prediction: Rams 27, 49ers 20


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