Just four teams remain in the fight to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Miami next month, and while it’s no surprise that top seeds such as the 49ers, Chiefs, and Packers are still in the hunt, it’s safe to say that few saw the Titans pulling off a pair of shocking upset road wins at New England and Baltimore to crash the party. Can Tennessee score yet another upset in Kansas City this weekend, or will the Chiefs reach their first Super Bowl since the 1969 season? Over in the NFC, will it be the 49ers or Packers that emerges from a showdown between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises? We’ll try to answer those questions and more with our NFL conference championship picks and predictions.
Also, be sure to check out our 2020 Super Bowl odds if you’re looking to bet on which team will win it all right now.
Can history–recent history–repeat itself? That’s the key question ahead of both conference championship matchups. The Titans pulled off a 35-32 home upset over the Chiefs back in Week 10, while the 49ers blasted the Packers two weeks later in a 37-8 win on Sunday Night Football. The blueprints for the victors in those first meetings are familiar ones. Tennessee relied on a bruising 188-yard performance from running back Derrick Henry, while San Francisco bullied Green Bay up front on both sides of the ball. So, will we see more of the same this weekend? Let’s look at the matchups, betting trends, and more to find out.
Titans vs. Chiefs
- Spread: Titans (+7.5), Chiefs (-7.5)
- Moneyline: Titans (+290), Chiefs (-345)
- Total: 52.5
- Date: Sunday, January 19, 3:05 pm, CBS
[sportsbook filters=”teams:Tennessee Titans,books:DraftKings”]
To say that conference championship games have not been kind to Andy Reid would be an understatement. A vast understatement. Reid’s teams are a dismal 1-5 in conference championship games, including four losses as a favorite, and such an inconvenient truth can’t be ignored this week.
Despite Reid’s brilliant 207-128-1 regular season record, his otherwise fantastic 21-year head coaching career has been defined by painful losses in high-stakes games. Now, he gets another opportunity to change the narrative with just two more wins, and it appears the stars have aligned in his favor.
The Chiefs are a strong 7.5-point favorite over the Titans despite losing that first matchup, and this time they will have a championship-starved sea of red at Arrowhead Stadium willing them on. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the 49ers outscored the Chiefs during the regular season, but there’s little doubt that Kansas City possesses an element of explosives that the field’s other remaining teams simply can’t match. That sets up a contrast in offensive styles this as the Chiefs’ dynamic play-making ability goes head-to-head against the Titans’ methodical and bruising ground attack.
Kansas City’s explosiveness was on full display last weekend when it quickly erased a 24-0 second-quarter deficit on the way to posting 41 unanswered points and becoming the first team in NFL postseason history to score at least 50 points after being held scoreless in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s offense once again relied on Henry to carry the load. He turned in an epic 195-yard effort on 30 carries against the Ravens, bringing his three-game total to 588 yards and five touchdowns. It didn’t matter that Baltimore outgained the Titans by 230 yards, won the time of possession battle, and had nearly twice as many first downs (the 0-4 on fourth downs and three turnovers also helped)–Henry was just that good.
Interestingly, No. 2 seeds have struggled in conference championship games in recent years. Since the 2003 season, they are only 7-14 and those struggles aren’t limited to matchups against top seeds. In fact, No. 2 seeds are only 3-5 at home in the championship round. That’s a less than stellar track record, though such teams have been slightly better at covering the spread with a 10-11 ATS record.
What about lower-seeded teams?
Wild card teams are 3-6 in conference championship games, including a 2-3 mark by No. 6 seeds. Wild card teams are also 3-6 ATS.
The Titans are riding a considerable amount of momentum into this weekend with a 9-3 record in games started by Ryan Tannehill, including a 16-point win over the Ravens last Saturday. That’s important because conference championship game underdogs are 3-0 ATS after winning in the divisional round by at least 15 points.
Tennessee should also find comfort in the lack of success by big postseason favorites. Postseason teams favored between 7-8 points are 11-17-1 ATS and only 2-4 ATS in conference championship games. On the other hand, postseason underdogs of at least seven points are 27-15-1 ATS after the wild card round and a solid 6-2 ATS in conference championship games.
Last week, I played myself by relying on some strong trend data that pointed to the Texans-Chiefs remaining under the total, and…that play was a loser by halftime. Not great.
Did I learn my lesson? Absolutely not. I just can’t ignore the following information:
- The under is 11-4-2 in open-air postseason games when the total is at least 51 points, including 3-1-1 in the conference championship round or later.
- The under is 36-24-1 in Reid-coached games at Arrowhead Stadium, including 16-8 in December and January. Since the 2003 season, it’s also 9-2-1 in Reid’s home postseason games.
Titans vs. Chiefs Pick
I’m aware of the Titans’ regular season win over the Chiefs and the 188-yard rushing performance turned in by Henry that day. I’m also aware that Henry is in the midst of a historically dominant stretch and his team has the look. You know the look—it’s the same look we saw with the 2017 Eagles.
Simply put, Henry has been outstanding at picking up yards after contact, and the Chiefs are one of the league’s worst teams at limiting it, so he’s going to get his. We probably also shouldn’t sleep on the Titans’ passing game. Tannehill hasn’t had to do much this postseason, but he’s made the throws when he’s had to and was the NFL’s top-rated quarterback in the regular season.
Still, the Chiefs don’t possess New England’s impotent offense and don’t figure to make a slew of early mistakes the way Baltimore did a week ago. Kansas City learned some hard lessons following its AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots last season, and I think those lessons will help here, so I’m taking the Chiefs to cover the spread. The Chiefs are 6-0-1 ATS since their first meeting with the Titans, and I don’t see them slowing down this week.
As for the total, both of these teams hit the under in more than half of their games this season, plus it has been a fantastic play at Arrowhead Stadium since Reid took over. The contextual data also suggests open-air postseason games with high closing totals tend to stay under. After a wild Kansas City win in which we saw a combined 82 points scored last week, I don’t believe we’re going to get a similar offensive output this time around. I’ll take this one to stay UNDER 52.5 points.
Packers vs. 49ers
- Spread: Packers (+7.5), 49ers (-7.5)
- Moneyline: Packers (+290), 49ers (-345)
- Total: 45
- Date: Sunday, January 19, 6:40 pm, FOX
[sportsbook filters=”teams:Green Bay Packers,books:DraftKings”]
There’s no shortage of storylines leading into this matchup between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises. The 49ers are two wins away from a sixth Super Bowl title, while the Packers are seeking their fifth. Kyle Shanahan would love for nothing more to get a shot at erasing his sins committed in the Falcons’ 28-3 Super Bowl 51, while at 36 years old, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is running out of cracks at earning his second Lombardi Trophy.
Green Bay comes into this game winners of six in a row, but it’s hard to look at this matchup and not focus on its last loss, one that came back on Nov. 24 at San Francisco. The 49ers, who finished in the top five in both total offense and total defense, annihilated the Packers, 37-8, that night. Green Bay was 1 for 15 on third down, including 0 for 13 with Aaron Rodgers on the field. The 49ers outgained the Packers by 141 yards and limited Rodgers and company to only 2.8 yards per play, including an astonishingly poor 1.9 yards per pass.
How can the Packers flip the script this time around? First, they must do a better job of protecting Rodgers who took five sacks. That’s much easier said than done against a San Francisco defense that racked up 48 sacks in the regular season and six against the Vikings in the divisional round. Green Bay must also find a way to get wide receiver Davante Adams open in space. Adams had seven catches in the first meeting but totaled only 43 yards (6.1 ypc).
Defensively, stopping George Kittle must be the priority (shocker, I know). The stud tight end hauled in six passes for 129 yards and a touchdown back in November, and it’s going to be a long day for the Green Bay defense if he can replicate that performance.
It’s hard to debate that Green Bay doesn’t have the talent advantage at quarterback, but San Francisco should feel good about what Jimmy Garappolo has brought to the table since heading west. All he does is win–a 20-5 record (.800 winning percentage) serves as proof.
The 49ers should also feel good about the performance of top seeds in conference championship games. Since the 2003 season, No. 1 seeds are 17-5 overall (12-10 ATS) and 12-1 (7-6 ATS) in games they are favored by at least four points.
What about when two top seeds get together? Glad you asked. No. 1 seeds are 9-4 (6-7 ATS) against No. 2 seeds in conference championship games.
Still, it’s not all bad news for the Packers.
I’ve mentioned the Nov. 24th meeting a few times now, but how much stock should we put in that game before making our bets this time around? Not much, really. Teams that won the previous head-to-head matchup by 14+ points are only 13-22 ATS in rematches that occur after the wild card round and 2-6 ATS in conference championship games.
Some of the trends mentioned in the Titans-Chiefs preview also apply to this game as well. Again, teams favored between 7-8 points are 11-17-1 ATS and 2-4 ATS in conference championship games. From a broader perspective, teams favored by at least seven points are 25-37-1 ATS in the postseason and 15-30-1 ATS after the wild card round.
I also strongly advise bettors to keep an eye on where the money is going as kickoff nears. Postseason underdogs of at least seven points that are getting less than 50% of the public action are 27-13-1 ATS and 20-6-1 ATS after the wild card round, which shows that sportsbooks know the public wants to bet on big favorites in big-stakes games. The trend data, however, overwhelmingly shows that these teams have been a bad bet over 15+ seasons.
Finally, if you are sleeping on Rodgers after his miserable performance at Levi’s Stadium in November, well, don’t. He is 11-5-1 ATS in 17 career postseason starts, including a strong 6-2-1 ATS as an underdog.
As for the total, it’s hard not to like the under after watching the 49ers dominate with a ball-control run game and dominant defensive effort a week ago, but the over is 18-11-3 in conference championship games since ‘03, including 10-5-2 when the total is set at 45 points or less. It’s also 7-4-1 when both teams enter allowing less than 19 points per game.
Packers vs. 49ers Pick
I’m taking the 49ers to win the game, but I expect it to be a much closer contest than the first meeting. San Francisco’s defense is healthier and flexed its muscle a week ago against Minnesota, but Aaron Rodgers is not Kirk Cousins–and let’s not forget the 49ers’ defense yielded 26 points per contest over the final nine games of the regular season.
Big underdogs have been good postseason bets, and I suspect that Green Bay, which has covered three of four games as an underdog this season, and Rodgers can make enough adjustments to put up a championship-worthy fight. One matchup that gives me some confidence about that outcome is the Packers’ second-ranked red zone offense going up against the 49ers’ spotty red zone defense. Green Bay finished 66% of its regular season drives inside the 20 with a touchdown, while San Francisco ranked 20th in the NFL at preventing red zone touchdowns. Also, keep in mind that while the 49ers are a profitable 10-6-1 ATS this season, they are 1-6-1 ATS as a favorite of six points or more.
With the added benefit of being able to go against the public money on a big favorite—a trend that has been extremely profitable dating back to the ’03 season—I’ll grab the Packers with the 7.5 points.