The Professor’s NFL Conference Championship Game Previews

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The Professor's NFL Conference Championship Game Previews

The NFL’s Divisional Round featured great drama in all four games, and the Conference Championships have the potential to amplify that, with an AFC matchup between the latest challenger (Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow) and the defending champ (Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes).

The NFC features the Rams’ tandem of head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford as they attempt to continue rewriting their narratives in a matchup with the division-rival 49ers, who are coached by Kyle Shannahan, who once mentored McVay and has sidestepped the usual need for a superstar quarterback in the modern game, putting together two Super Bowl contenders with a quarterback who has posted single-digit pass attempts in an NFL playoff win. It sets up for a great day of NFL football; this article will get you ready while discussing some of the specials available on DraftKings. Spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -7, Total 54.5)

The contrast between Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the AFC’s superstar quarterbacks makes for an interesting study. The NFL’s latest crop of transcendent young quarterbacks, headlined by Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert, have notably freakish athletic ability, which has affected the way the scouting community thinks about the development of the position.

Burrow is a throwback; he wins with his mind, which is one reason that Urban Meyer, a noted proponent of “bigger stronger faster”, could have an NFL Hall of Fame-caliber talent at quarterback on a college team and fail to see it.

Most young quarterbacks have their ability to develop stolen by overzealous youth, high school, and college coaches who believe they are making the team better by playing the chess match themselves instead of teaching their players the thinking, and the result is players like Mahomes, who said he could not identify defenses when he entered the NFL. Burrow was the opposite; from the day he stepped on an NFL field, he processed the game like a veteran, and his relative physical limitations were the cap on his game.

Burrow got stronger the same way that Mahomes gained mental aptitude, and the result is an AFC Championship that should feature exceptional play at the quarterback position, which is all NFL fans can ask for. DraftKings appears to agree, as they have loaded up their AFC Conference Championship Specials with passing and receiving props.

The Professor’s model has Mahomes and Burrow at a combined mean projection of 588.5 passing yards, which makes the over 600 at +150 an easy play. Ja’Marr Chase (79.4) and Tee Higgins (61.1) are easy plays for over 50, while Tyler Boyd comes in at a mean projection of 48.2, a reminder that he was prolific in December before a recent dry spell. At +330, the play for all three of them to top 50 is reasonable, as is the +200 prop for either Travis Kelce or Ja’Marr Chase to top 125 receiving yards, a number either could smash. Kelce and Tyreek Hill come in at a combined mean projection of 160.2 receiving yards, which makes the +195, a one in three proposition, on over 200 yards another reasonable number, and as Hill is most certainly a deep threat, the +450 for him to hit paydirt on a long score in a game set to feature fireworks looks like a worthy play.

There are times when promos aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, but over the past few weeks, DraftKings has put together several well-priced Special props, and if this game goes anything like the first matchup between Cincinnati and Kansas City, these bets could lead to a windfall.


San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (LAR -3.5, Total 46)

The 49ers have beaten the Rams six straight times, a streak that started in 2019 when Jimmy Garoppolo returned from a torn ACL and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl loss against the Chiefs the year after the Rams lost to the Patriots in the NFL’s championship game. Their respective Super Bowl losses played a role in their mutual pursuit of quarterback Matthew Stafford, so perhaps it was the four straight losses to Shannahan and the 49ers that led the Rams to make the push that won the Stafford trade.

A lot has gone right since the Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford, and it is a bit eerie that San Francisco is the last obstacle between them and a home Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers responded to their failure to acquire Stafford by trading up for rookie quarterback Trey Lance, only to see Garoppolo lead them to the brink of a second Super Bowl appearance, which creates a potentially awkward scenario for the 49ers, though Shannahan’s disinclination to feature his quarterback in playoff games indicates he would be willing to move on from Garoppolo even if the 49ers lift the Lombardi Trophy this season. The offense is about Shannahan’s use of pieces such as left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end George Kittle, and all-purpose weapon Deebo Samuel; in other words, his ability to play chess without a queen.

That is a markedly more difficult way to win, which is why Stafford and the Rams are 3.5 point favorites despite losing to the 49ers twice this season. San Francisco has shown they can win against teams that appear better equipped, but despite their experience in such situations, bettors remain skeptical of their ability to pull out the next win.

The model has Rams receiver Cooper Kupp at a mean projection of 98.4 receiving yards, but only projects the Rams to score 24.63 of the 46.83 points in the game, which makes the 33+ team points a dicey proposition when paired with another event at +400, particularly as the model indicates Kupp’s line is right around his average game projection. Deebo Samuel is in the midst of an outstanding season, but he has only posted one rushing and one receiving touchdown in two games, and given that San Francisco’s strategy relies on defense and ball control, lining up combinations of touchdowns is unlikely to be a profitable endeavor, even at +800.

Things look up with the Elijah Mitchell and Cam Akers prop; the Professor’s model has Mitchell and Akers at a combined mean projection of 138.5 combined rushing yards, a number that boosts to 163.5 if the Rams’ projected carry share is shifted so that it only considers the Akers-dominated game against the Bucs. At +170, the Professor’s model would pick this prop as the best of the bunch. Odell Beckham Jr. and George Kittle’s combined mean receiving projection is 112 yards, which makes this +175 on over 150 yards a less attractive play than the Kelce and Hill over 200 at +195 based on the yardage gaps, but a reasonable play for bettors looking for an extra way to spice up the NFC Championship.

Conclusion

This article previewed the NFL matchups for the coming week. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check him out on BeerLife Sports!

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.