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Austin Montgomery's AFC and NFC title game preview and predictions (Presented by Betfred Sportsbook)



We finally made it to Championship Sunday. What a year it’s been. This is the year we truly have the best four teams remaining. We have the lowest combined point spreads in a Championship weekend since 1998.


I just have a feeling we are going to get some All-Time classics on Sunday. We get a rematch in the AFC with Burrow vs Mahomes. Then we got two of the most likable quarterbacks in the NFL. Jalen Hurts and of course Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy. All four teams rank in the top 5 in total DVOA.


I can't wait to give the full breakdown for both of these games.


Overall it’s been a pretty good season for the column here. We are 51-40-2 overall and are 4-4 in the postseason.


So let’s end the column on a tremendous note.


As always, the picks are presented by Betfred Sportsbook - where you can earn up to $1,111 in free bets with your first $50 free bet.


Now, to the picks.


NFC Championship Game: San Francisco at Philadelphia (3:00 p.m. ET, FOX)


Spread: Philadelphia (-2.5)


Total: 46.5


A ticket to Arizona is up for grabs when the Philadelphia Eagles host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles and 49ers showed they are the best teams in the NFC. It’s going to be a battle between the league’s best offense versus the league’s best defense. The Eagles offense ranks 3rd overall in DVOA while the 49ers defense ranks 1st in DVOA. However, both units have not been tested much. The Eagles have faced the fifth easiest schedule of defenses and the 49ers have faced the eighth easiest schedule of offenses. So one of these units will have to show out here.


What Philly needs to do to win:


The key for Philly here is to get off to a strong start. The Eagles are second in EPA in the first half. The Eagles are tough to play against trailing behind. They can lean on the most efficient ground game in the NFL.


Most importantly, it allows their pass rushers to freely get after the quarterback.


The Eagles have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. They are going to have to play man. Brock Purdy has excelled in the quick passing game against zone defenses. This is going to be a physical game in the trenches. Philly ranks seventh in offensive line yards but they haven’t faced a front like San Francisco.


Meanwhile, the Eagles have the weapons on the outside to beat this San Francisco secondary. The 49ers defense ranks 11th in yards per pass attempt and they have been prone to giving up explosive plays. AJ Brown and Devonte Smith are going to have to show out. It’s going to be up to Jalen Hurts to make the right reads.


However, Hurts is going to have to make reads against zone coverage- the one thing he has struggled against this year.


Keys for the 49ers


First off, let’s put some respect on Brock Purdy’s name. Purdy has been doubted his entire playing career. He didn’t get his first Power Five football offer until the last week before National Signing Day. He started over 40 games at Iowa State. He has always been a baller. He’s making the guys that wrote his draft report look stupid. Purdy has thrown for 1,374 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the last month of the regular season.


Now to be clear, having the 49ers weapons around him certainly helps. The Philadelphia defense is going to be Purdy’s toughest test. He is going to face pressure, the windows are going to be tighter, and he is going to have to make some plays.


For San Francisco to be successful they are going to have to play 49ers football on offense. They are going to have to be stubborn and run the football. The Eagles give up 4.7 yards per rush ranking 24th in the NFL. The 49ers got Elijah Mitchell healthy on offense. I think the Christian McCaffrey and Mitchell tandem can be very dangerous here.


On defense the 49ers have to play their game. They have to rush four and play zone coverage. Most importantly they have to be able to play the run with only seven in the box. They have been able to do that all year. Demeco Ryans sends pressure the sixth least amount of times in the NFL.


If the 49ers defensive front wins the battle, they can stall this Philly defense.


The pick: 49ers ML or +3 if it gets there


Props: Sammy Watkins under 19.5 receiving yards; Jalen Hurts over 0.5 interceptions; Christian McCaffrey over 60.5 rushing yards



AFC Championship Game: Cincinnati at Kansas City (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS)


Spread: Kansas City (-1.5)


Total: 48.5


The rematch we have all been waiting for. Last week we learned Joe Burrow is that guy. Without three starting offensive lineman, Burrow went into Buffalo and won. Joe Burrow is 3-0 in road playoffs games. He is undefeated against the Chiefs. The Cincinnati defense stepped up to stop the explosive Buffalo offense.


Meanwhile, Kansas City literally limped to a finish against Jacksonville, with Patrick Mahomes playing on one ankle. The good news is, the Chiefs were able to move the ball with Mahomes limping on one leg. Videos of Mahomes surfaced with him running this week well.


The line opened with the Chiefs as an underdog then gradually flipped as good news started to pour in.


Bengals path to success:


As mentioned before, we know the Bengals are not intimidated going into enemy territory. Cincinnati had an NFL best 11-5 record ATS. Their defense has vastly improved. They have moved in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The Bengals do a really good job tackling in space. They can bring pressure. With Mahomes not 100% they are going to need to stop the run. They rank 9th in the NFL giving up just 4.2 yards per carry. On offense, the Bengals need to do what they did against Buffalo- get the ball out of Burrow’s hands quickly.


However, the Chiefs play a lot of man coverage. The windows are going to be tighter. It’s harder to complete the short throws the Bengals had a 70% success rate on against Buffalo. In last year’s game, the Chiefs had no answers for Chase. The star receiver had 12 receptions 266 yards and three touchdowns. The Bengals are going to need big plays from their star wideout.



Chiefs' path to success:


It all starts with Mahomes' health here. He is going to give it a go, but the Chiefs are going to need Maholmes' best. They are going to need to protect him. Expect a heavy dose of Jerrod McKinnon in the backfield. He is a great pass protector and a very productive receiver out of the backfield. Andy Reid is going to put in new plays to give Mahomes easy lay-ups early.


However, this is going to be the game where the defense steps up. Chris Jones is Kansas City’s best player on the defensive side of the ball. He is going to have to take advantage of playing inferior lineman. He has to get in Burrow’s face.


In each contest against the Bengals, the Chiefs have had a two possession lead at some point in each game. If the Chiefs get up, the defense can’t give it up. The Chiefs rank sixth in pressure rate since Week 13. They are going to have to get after Burrow and limit the Cincinnati rushing attack. The Chiefs defense allowed the Jaguars to pick up 144 yards on the ground. That can’t happen Sunday.


The Chiefs will utilize Travis Kelce. Kelce eats up zone coverage. Cincinnati is in the bottom half in the league at defending tight ends. Expect Kelce to eat.


Lean: Over 48.5


Props: Joe Mixon over 57.5 rushing yards; Ja'Marr Chase anytime touchdown; Travis Kelce over 73.5 receiving yards, Isaiah Pacheo under 50.5 rushing yards.


Teaser: 49ers +8.5 Cincinnati +7.5: FIVE UNIT MAX:


This my bet of the year. Both of these games are going to be epic. I think we get terrific value going through both the three and the seven. Both road teams are going to challenge on Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see two road victories. The 49ers have had the best defensive unit all year. I don’t think Purdy folds this week. Joe Burrow is a gamer and the best road QB we have seen in a while. The Chiefs aren’t 100%. I do think they are the better team overall. Let’s run this teaser.


You can follow Austin on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive


Remember the picks are presented by Betfred Sportsbook - where new users can bet $50 and get up to $1,000 in free bets.


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