NFL Conference Championship Predictions: Data-Driven Picks for Chiefs vs Bengals
Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images. Pictured: Kadarius Toney.
Bengals vs. Chiefs Odds & Picks
Billy Ward: Based on the spread and game total, true odds for the first score (by either team) being a field goal is roughly +138. That’s not quite enough for an edge, but there are reasons to believe it’s more likely with the 49ers.
San Francisco ranked 25th in fourth-down attempts this season, making them one of the least aggressive teams. Some of that is a strong offense staying out of fourth downs to begin with – but not all.
The Eagles defense ranks 11th in red zone touchdown rate, with the 49ers’ red zone touchdown rate on offense coming in at 20th. Finally, the 49ers rank 11th in field goal attempts per game, while Philadelphia ranks 31st.
Assuming the +138 chance of the first score to be a field goal is roughly accurate, that means the odds of the 49ers being the first team to kick one are significantly better.
The 49ers to kick the game’s first field goal — but not necessarily their first score — is -110 at FanDuel, if you want a slightly safer but lower return version of this bet.
Nick Giffen: Watkins lost some playing time last week to Zach Pascal. This resulted in Watkins playing the fewest number of snaps he’s played all year.
That’s likely because the Eagles are calling on Pascal to block more as he’s a significant upgrade over Watkins in that department. It was certainly needed against the Giants, who blitz at the highest rate in the league.
While the 49ers aren’t anywhere near the Giants, they still generate pressure at the 11th-highest rate in the NFL, just 1.4% lower than the Giants.
This isn’t just a one-game aberration. Three of Watkins’ four lowest snap counts this year have come in the last three games for the Eagles. In those games, he has just two catches in total.
He’s projected for just 1.4 receptions, which will keep him under 1.5 receptions 58% of the time. There’s value on this play down to around -125.
Billy Ward: Another corollary to my first bet on the 49ers’ first score being a field goal.
The Eagles are one of the most aggressive teams on fourth down. They’ve gone for it the fourth-most times despite their strong offense keeping them out of fourth downs and negative game scripts.
According to Nick Giffen’s models, they’ve attempted the fewest field goals relative to expectation in the NFL — by a wide margin.
The Eagles also have the third-best red zone touchdown rate on the season, while tying for the fewest field goal attempts per game. As 2.5-point favorites, they’re also somewhat more likely to score first overall.
Other sportsbooks have the Eagles to score first priced around this range, so we’re getting a bigger edge by keeping this one alive if the 49ers kick a field goal before the Eagles score.
Sean Koerner: The only Chiefs WR prop I’m showing value on is Toney under 35.5 receiving yards.
This may seem counterintuitive since I think the Chiefs are more likely to utilize Toney in their quick, short-passing attack. However, his usage is likely already maxed out as he will likely only run a route on about 30% of Patrick Mahomes’ dropbacks. I expect K.C. to use a lot more two- or three-tight end sets to ensure Mahomes gets max protection.
Toney has seen a target on 33% of his routes run over the past five games. That sort of target rate is unsustainable, and I think the Bengals will assume he’s getting the ball when he is on the field.
Toney is only averaging an aDOT of 1.4 over the last five games, and he will likely need a ton of volume to clear this number — he needed five catches to get to 36 yards last week.
The Chiefs have been using Toney more in the running game over the past two games, a trend I can see continuing. There is also a chance Mecole Hardman returns to action, which could lead to less snaps for Toney.
I’m projecting Toney’s median closer to 28.5 and would bet this down to 32.5.
Nick Giffen: As Sean Koerner pointed out on Green Dot Daily on Thursday, Mixon has ceded passing work to Samaje Perine in the playoffs.
Perine’s route run rate has jumped to 49% in the postseason, and he’s been operating in the two-minute offense instead of Joe Mixon.
Using Koerner’s 2.9 reception projection for Mixon, I simulated his receiving yards on each catch using a best fit distribution of his receptions, and adjusting that for the Chiefs’ poor pass coverage against running backs.
In doing so, I get Mixon staying under 23.5 receiving yards 61% of the time, so there’s quite a bit of value on this under.
Pick: Joe Mixon Under 23.5 Receiving Yards
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Billy Ward: Due to the remarkable similarity between the spreads and totals for both games, I was able to group them together in an effort to break down my favorite props.
For the analysis, I looked at all games over the past two seasons with a total between 45 and 50, and a spread of 2.5 or less.
One of the props that stood out was the “Team to score first wins game” offered by BetMGM. This negatively correlates with the total – high total games make each point less valuable so starting with a lead isn’t as impactful.
Additionally, closer spreads mean the team to score first is less likely to end up winning, since we expect more back-and-forth action.
I expect the team to score first in either of Sunday’s games to lose about 45% of the time, for fair odds of +122. With +140 offered, that’s about a 4% edge.
I’m also betting this in the NFC Championship Game, but the higher total and closer spread make this a slightly better bet here.
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