And there then were four. Thirty-two teams entered the season with hopes of winning the NFL’s ultimate prize at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, Nevada. Only four of them still have that chance, as we are down to the conference championship round. The Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers will represent the NFC on Sunday and the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens will represent the AFC.

The winners will head to Sin City. The losers will head home and reflect on what could have been. Before we get to that point, we have a lot of time to handicap these two games and dissect every little detail about the spread, total, moneyline, and the prop betting options.

 

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Here are some opening thoughts on the games:

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (-3, 45)

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

The Chiefs will participate in their sixth straight AFC Championship Game, but this will be the first one on the road, as Patrick Mahomes and his squad will head east instead of looking forward to playing at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes passed his first career playoff road game test in the 27-24 win over the Bills, as Tyler Bass channeled his inner Scott Norwood and pushed a game-tying kick wide right.

The rested Ravens played on Saturday last week, so they will have a little bit of extra recovery time for Sunday’s game. They also dominated the second half against the Texans, whereas the Chiefs went down to the wire with the Bills. Will that provide an advantage for Baltimore in this matchup?

It was all about the defense for the Chiefs against the Bills, as the game got to 51 points, but the KC defense held Josh Allen and his teammates to just 4.7 yards per play, as Allen’s legs were much more effective than his arm over the course of the game. It will be up to that unit to bottle up Lamar Jackson, who accounted for four touchdowns in the win over the Texans.

These are two extremely well-coached teams with mobile quarterbacks and good defenses, so it will be really intriguing to see which way the bettors take this game. My initial guess is that -3 is going to be the sweet spot here, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see some books show Baltimore -3.5 early in the week to see if that’s the right number.

Based on the Bills’ performance in the Divisional Round and how the Ravens played for the duration of the season, saying that Baltimore is just a half-point better than Buffalo seems a little bit light on the surface. Whether or not influential bettors agree with that take will determine if this line makes its way north of the key number or not.

The really early forecast for this one shows that winds could be picking up on Sunday morning, so that bears watching as far as the total goes. There is a chance of precipitation based on the forecast several days out, so that will be another thing to monitor here.

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5, 51)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

The NFC Title Game is the late game on January 28, as the Lions and 49ers play out in Santa Clara, California at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers are -6.5 after being -10.5 against the Packers last week. Is it fair to say that there is a four-point gap between the Lions and their division rivals? Has the market overreacted a little bit to all the trouble that the 49ers had with the Packers or is this line pretty fair?

If Green Bay was able to capitalize in the red zone, especially in the first half, that game could have gone very differently and the Lions wouldn’t have to fly three time zones west. Jared Goff could be playing indoors. But, Goff, who played his college football at Cal, could get very lucky here with temperatures in the low 70s and sunny conditions in the forecast. The Lions haven’t played outside since Goff’s atrocious performance in Week 14 at Chicago. Suffice it to say that the conditions look a lot different here.

Will a positive weather forecast encourage some Lions action, given that the biggest knock on Detroit’s offense is Goff’s inability to play in cold weather? Will bettors expect the 49ers to flip the script and look like the team that they should after having a game to shake off the rust of essentially back-to-back bye weeks?

There is also the injury to Deebo Samuel that hangs like a dark cloud over this line. Samuel is said to be in a good position to play this week, but the 49ers clearly missed him and Christian McCaffrey also dealt with some muscle discomfort. San Francisco played a pretty poor game against Green Bay and got by. Will they do the same if they aren’t sharp against Detroit?

When you get down to two games, there are a lot of “What If?” questions that you ask early in the week because these lines are going to be very sharp and very efficient. You try to figure out every possibility and every potential pitfall for the two teams.

With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder how Detroit’s defense does here against a 49ers team that was far and away the best offense by EPA/play during the regular season. Is a 6.5-point head start enough if the defense does struggle?

I guess we’ll wait and see how bettors treat this number. The line against the Packers eventually went from -9 or -9.5 to -10.5 by kickoff, so the 49ers got some love late in the week. Will it be a late-arriving crowd on San Francisco again or was last week’s performance enough to leave bettors a little bit concerned?

As far as the total goes, more points were expected than what was scored in the Packers/49ers game, but the Packers left a lot of points on the field. The 49ers weren’t terribly sharp on offense and still got to 24. The Lions were an excellent red-zone offense during the regular season and a shaky defense. My initial thought is that we get some of the points this week that we were missing last week.