NFL Odds and Predictions: Expert Makes His Spread Picks for 49ers-Rams, Bengals-Chiefs On Championship Sunday
Getty Images. Pictured: Tyreek Hill, Joe Burrow, Jimmy Garoppolo and Cooper Kupp (left to right)
NFL Odds, Picks, Predictions
|Click on a matchup to skip ahead|
|49ers vs. Rams|
|Bengals vs. Chiefs|
Editor’s note: Sections labeled “analysis” were written earlier in the week and may contain stale information.
49ers vs. Rams Odds
|Kickoff||6:40 p.m. ET|
|Odds via DraftKings. Find real-time NFL odds here.|
- Final Spread Pick: Bet 49ers +3.5
- Initial Spread Pick: Bet 49ers +3.5
- More Bets: 49ers moneyline (+155); George Kittle over 55.5 receiving yards (+105), 75+ yards (+280), 100+ yards (+900)
We’ve been riding the 49ers for weeks now, correctly picking them to cover and win as underdogs against the Rams, Cowboys and Packers the last three weeks — and we ain’t stopping now.
I love how Kyle Shanahan teams match up with Sean McVay. We expect the Niners run attack to control the clock and their run defense to shut down the Rams on the ground, cutting L.A.’s offense off at its kneecaps. The 49ers have won six straight in this rivalry because of all the matchup advantages, and the Rams have no real home-field advantage at Sofi Stadium.
We waited for injury news and we’re mostly in the clear. George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo are good to go. Nick Bosa and Fred Warner are in the clear. The one name that’s still a worry is stud LT Trent Williams, but he’s expected to go. The Rams have a similar question mark in LT Andrew Whitworth, and his backup is out too, so the risk feels similar on both sides.
Kittle’s health is huge. He was great as a blocker in Week 18 when Trent Williams was out for the 49ers, helping them win anyway, so that’s a nice insurance policy. But I also expect a huge receiving game from Kittle. The Rams defense is soft over the middle, and that’s where Kittle makes his money. He’s killed the Rams in recent years, averaging six catches for 98 yards his last eight games against them with a TD in five of the eight.
I’m playing a bunch of Kittle overs this week. I’ll take the over 4.5 receptions (-130) since he’s done that in seven consecutive games against the Rams. I’ll also play the over 55.5 receiving yards (+105) and will nibble on a couple alternate overs at 75+ yards (+280) and 100+ yards (+900) at PointsBet. Kittle has games of 79, 100, 103, 109 and 149 yards over his last eight games in this matchup. He could have a really big game.
I’m betting the 49ers to cover, and I’m betting them to win outright on the moneyline at +155 and head to the Super Bowl.
One last thing — if you’ve been tailing me over the past month, you also have San Francisco futures tickets at +2500 to win the NFC and +5000 to win the Super Bowl, and you’re probably wondering whether to hedge at all. Read my full break down of why I’m still all in on the 49ers here.
Click the arrow to read Brandon Anderson’s full breakdown of 49ers-Rans from earlier this week
It’s a divisional rematch for the NFC title, and the Rams are happy to be here — and hosting! — but this is not the opponent they wanted to see.
The 49ers have owned the Rams, sweeping them in six matchups over the past three seasons. Sean McVay is 3-7 against Kyle Shanahan, both straight up and against the spread (ATS), and McVay’s Rams were favored in eight of the 10. Considering McVay is 44-32-2 (58%) ATS against all other coaches, per our Action Labs data, Shanahan and his staff appear to have his number.
These teams met in Week 18 with plenty on the line. The Rams were playing for a division title while the Niners needed a win to make the playoffs. Los Angeles jumped out to a quick 17-0 start but had only 123 more yards after that, 92 of them on one drive. San Francisco gave McVay his only loss ever with a halftime lead (45-1!) while sacking Matthew Stafford five times, stuffing the run game, and coming back to win in overtime.
The game was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated — the 49ers dominated 449-to-265 in yardage even without stud LT Trent Williams, but Rams magic on third down (10-for-17) and in the red zone (3-for-4) kept it tight.
In the Week 10 meeting, San Francisco dominated from the start, winning 31-10. The Niners controlled the clock with nearly double the time of possession, picked Stafford off on his first two drives, eliminated their run game and rumbled 44 times for 156 yards.
Football is a game of matchups, and this one has leaned heavily in San Francisco’s favor. The Niners have repeatedly shown they can run on the Rams with Shanahan’s system. Their defense has held its own, too. Coordinator DeMeco Ryans put on a masterclass in Green Bay this weekend, shutting down the league-leading Packers offense the final three quarters.
So what can we learn from the Divisional Round?
San Francisco didn’t have much offense but produced just enough when needed. Jimmy Garoppolo was poor, but Deebo Samuel and George Kittle made the big plays, and the defense and special teams did the rest. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead pressured Aaron Rodgers all game in an incredible defensive effort.
The Rams? Their game looked a lot like Week 18 against the 49ers. L.A. was awesome early and had myriad chances to put the champs away for good, but nearly blew the entire game with an incredible succession of fumbles and mistakes late. The Rams pass rush was in the Bucs backfield all game and never gave Tom Brady a chance.
Really, neither game should have been close. The Rams should have run away with it while the 49ers should have been blown out. That’s certainly how both games felt early. But those results may be buying us a little value.
Are we positive the Rams are awesome again? They felt more like an exhausted and banged-up defending champ sputtering to the finish line for the second half of the Divisional Round. And the Cardinals were awful in the Wild Card Round. The Rams D looked awesome in both wins, but the Bucs tackles were turnstyles, especially with Tristan Wirfs missing.
The Niners have the offensive line to keep the Rams pass rush at bay, even though the Rams rush leads the NFL in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. The Rams had four sacks against the Niners this season, but the Niners recorded seven themselves.
These playoff games are won in the trenches, and the Rams offensive line is the weak spot in this matchup. It will help if Andrew Whitworth returns after missing the last round, but Bosa and Armstead should put Stafford under pressure while Trent Williams et al. should hold their own.
Many wondered how the 49ers defense would handle the Packers offense, but it did just fine. The Niners ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA over the final eight weeks, leading the league in run D over that span. The Rams have gotten nothing from the run game, so that puts this all on Stafford beating the pass rush and getting to the secondary.
Cooper Kupp had 240 yards combined in the last two meetings with the 49ers and should be big again, but the Niners defense largely shut down the Rams for all but one quarter.
Don’t misunderstand what we’ve seen the last two weeks; the Rams offense is not suddenly “back.” It ranked only 14th in Weighted DVOA down the stretch, and it’s been fine — not amazing — against two defenses that faded late with key injuries. If the Rams win, it will be because of the defense again . And the Niners offense has had this defense’s number.
Sometimes the schemes and matchups just work, and until proven otherwise, that’s been the case on both sides of this matchup. The 49ers can run on the Rams and control the clock. And the San Francisco defense has handled Los Angeles’ attack.
Really, the metrics say San Francisco is every bit as good as Los Angeles, maybe even better since the Niners were missing key players for the middle chunk of the season. The Rams get the home game, but it sure sounded like a 49ers crowd at SoFi in Week 18, so I’m not sure there’s much home-field advantage to factor in, nor any weather.
That means we’re getting a couple free points on the line.
Then there’s the history of division matchups in the playoffs. Visitors are 15-8-1 (65%) ATS in division matchups since 2003, and home teams had failed to cover in eight straight until doing so in both such games this postseason. The team with the worse winning percentage is also 14-6-1 (70%) ATS and teams that won the last meeting by a touchdown or less are 8–5 (62%) ATS.
History tells us we give too much credit to the presumed “better” home team in these division playoff matchups.
History also tells us to trust Shanahan as an underdog and fade Stafford as a favorite. Shanahan is 27–18 (60%) ATS as a dog, including 2-1 ATS in the playoffs, and he’s won 12 of the last 19 such games outright. The 49ers are built to play as underdogs, controlling the clock with a run game and playing tough defense. As for Stafford, he’s still only 14-35-2 (29%) ATS against teams over .500 in November or later. That includes 7-8 straight up as a favorite, just 5-9-1 (36%) ATS.
If you’ve been following my picks this season, this one should not come as a surprise. I backed the 49ers to cover and win as Week 10 underdogs against the Rams, then did so again in Week 18. I picked them to cover and win against the Cowboys and Packers in the first two rounds, and I have Super Bowl futures on the Niners, too.
There’s just one thing that will keep this pick a “lean” for now: The injury report for San Francisco is cloudy at best.
Garoppolo is nursing thumb and shoulder injuries. Bosa and Fred Warner played this past weekend but went into it questionable. Williams is playing hurt and struggled. Kittle and Samuel both limped off on the final drive. That’s basically a “who’s who” of their most important players.
I expect all of them to go, but we’ll wait to make sure before going all-in on the 49ers again. I’m less worried about the spread since I’ll almost certainly be playing the moneyline again, and if we lose a little value there, it’s likely because the injury report looks clean. That’s a fair trade worth waiting for.
Once we get the green light, we’re backing San Francisco all the way.
Pick: Lean 49ers +3.5
Bengals vs. Chiefs Odds
|Odds via DraftKings. Find real-time NFL odds here.|
- Final Spread Pick: Lean Chiefs -7
- Initial Spread Pick: Lean Bengals +7.5
- More Bets: Second quarter over 16.5 points
Like Patrick Mahomes at the line with eight seconds left and one play to save the season, I’m calling an audible. I bought out my lean on Bengals +7.5, and I’m riding with the Chiefs -7.
The injury report looks pretty clean. That’s good news for the Chiefs since I was concerned Tyrann Mathieu would miss, as he’s such a linchpin for this secondary. Kansas City’s secondary should be healthy, and that was the weak spot I worried about with the Bengals passing attack so strong.
I also can’t get over how impossible the path was for the Bengals to steal their win over the Chiefs earlier this month in Week 17. Just look at all the things that had to go right for Cincinnati to steal that one:
- An all-time game from Ja’Marr Chase with 11 catches, 266 yards and three touchdowns, including one bomb TD on a broken coverage and another short pass taken the distance through bad tackles and angles.
- 264 yards after the catch (YAC) from the Bengals, including an absurd 8.8 YAC/reception, plus 449 yards from Joe Burrow and 0.61 EPA per play — a higher level of play than either Mahomes or Josh Allen last week.
- The Chiefs blew three 14-point leads, scored three second-half points, and got only 65 yards from 17 targets to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
- A Chiefs’ 89-yard kick return TD called back just before the half that might have put the game away.
- A hilariously awful penalty game for the Chiefs with 10 penalties for 83 yards, including four penalties against Chase and Tee Higgins for first downs, plus holding penalties that took away 100+ yards and multiple scores for K.C.
The Bengals needed ALL of that just to get to a tie game late and then still needed to convert a third-and-27, then get two questionable penalties after the two-minute warning that allowed them to run nine consecutive plays from inside the 2-yard line and run out the clock for the winning field goal and no chance for Mahomes to get the ball back.
If all of that doesn’t scream REGRESSION to you, I’m not sure you understand the point of regression. First, this game is in Kansas City and home field is thought to most directly impact refereeing, so the Bengals will not get those lopsided game-changing calls. Second, Mahomes will play better with a healthier offensive line and the Chiefs offense will not be held to three points again for an entire half. Third, Joe Burrow destroyed the Chiefs’ blitz last game, so I expect defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to learn from his mistakes and trust his four-man pass rush to get home against a line that allowed nine sacks just a week ago. That should limit those outlier explosive Bengals pass plays.
Look, everyone agrees the Chiefs are the better team here. Kansas City is by far the better team on offense and special teams and has a massive coaching advantage — the defense might well be better too. The Chiefs are very likely to win. The question is whether they’ll cover.
Earlier in the week, with Mathieu hurt and after seeing an exhausted Mathieu-less defense give up so many points to the Bills, I was ready to trust the Bengals to cover the back door at +7.5. But with the line dropped to a key number at -7, with Mathieu healthy, and knowing Burrow and the Bengals are not the Bills in any way, I’m switching sides
Mahomes is 7-3 against the spread (ATS) lifetime in the playoffs. He breaks all the rules. Even if the Bengals go up early, the Chiefs can erase a lead in a play. Those three ATS losses came in a Super Bowl with no line, in an overtime loss to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and against the Browns when Mahomes got hurt. If Pat stays healthy, the Chiefs take care of business. I’ll trust them to do so here.
I do have one other prop angle. Both defenses ranked in the bottom five in Defensive DVOA in the second quarter, and both offenses ranked top six in that stanza. I expect plenty of points with both offenses so explosive and firing on all cylinders right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things start out slow. Both teams are coming off emotional, exhausting wins, Zac Taylor has played conservatively, and the Bengals are not great in the first quarter. I’ll play the second quarter over 16.5 at BetRivers to cover that angle.
Click the arrow to read Brandon Anderson’s full breakdown of Bengals-Chiefs from earlier this week
We get rematches in both conference championships — and both were played earlier this month.
The Bengals and Chiefs kicked off the new year in Week 17, and it was a wild one. The Chiefs did anything they wanted early, scoring three quick and easy touchdowns. But Ja’Marr Chase played the role Bills WR Gabriel Davis did in the Divisional Round, lighting up the Chiefs defense with an electric 11-catch, 266-yard, three-touchdown performance to keep the Bengals in the game.
Joe Burrow was an absolute monster at 0.61 Expected Points Added (EPA) per play — Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen were both at 0.51 in Sunday’s game, for reference — and the Bengals defense allowed only three second-half points as they came all the way back to win at home, 34–31.
It was one of those games in which the last team with the ball wins, and the Bengals held the ball for the final six minutes, walking it off with 0:00 on the clock. The offenses combined for 889 yards and never turned it over. And Cincinnati clinched its division in front of a rabid Jungle crowd.
The question is which half of that first meeting we should learn from.
Early on, these looked like teams from two different weight classes, like the Bengals didn’t belong on the same field. The Chiefs led by 14 points three times in the first half, but the Bengals kept fighting back, and the Chiefs had no answer for Burrow and Chase. All game, Burrow threw 50/50 balls to his receivers in man coverage and trusted them to win, and all game long, they won.
Every time the Bengals needed a play down the stretch, Burrow gave his receivers a shot, and they answered.
The truth is that both halves are telling.
The Chiefs are the superior team, but you already know that. When they’re on, they’re unbeatable — even when Josh Allen scores two touchdowns in the final two minutes. There’s nothing any team can do about God-mode Patrick Mahomes.
It’s telling that the Bengals needed God-mode Burrow — plus a heap of penalty luck aided by home-field advantage — to barely eke out a win last time. But they did it, and the Chiefs defense had no answer late.
They did sack Burrow four times — remember, he got sacked nine times this past weekend — but it matters that the Chiefs couldn’t stop the pass, especially since Tyrann Mathieu is so key to this defense and is now in the concussion protocol. The late improvement defensively for the Chiefs came with Daniel Sorenson buried in the depth chart.
There’s little doubt the Chiefs are better. They’re far better offensively, and might even be better on defense at this point. The Bengals are reminiscent of the Atlanta Hawks or Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA — they made runs to the Conference Finals with good-not-great teams that lucked into favorable draws and made it further than expected.
The Bengals’ metrics are mostly average, and squeaking by average Titans and Raiders teams doesn’t change that. The Chiefs also have a massive coaching advantage with Andy Reid vs. Zac Taylor that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But that’s why this line is so high.
The Chiefs should win, but can they cover?
This line opened at -6.5, quickly climbed to -7, and now sits as high as -7.5 at some books (check real-time NFL odds here). The Chiefs are coming off an exhausting, emotional overtime win with 30 fewer hours of rest. And the absence of Bengals DT Larry Ogunjobi is less worrisome against a Chiefs offense that doesn’t run much while Mathieu’s absence looms large.
The Bengals have played in 11 one-score games this season. That is a whole lot of close games. The way they’ve passed the ball down the stretch, they’re never out of a game, and certainly not out the back door. And while Mahomes is awesome, he’s only 13-15-1 (46%) against the spread (ATS) as a favorite of more than a touchdown, so we can’t just blindly back him when the number is this high.
There’s certainly a version of this game in which the Chiefs run away with it. The Bengals offense ranks 29th in first quarter DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and the defense ranks 28th in second quarter DVOA. The offense ranks 25th on the road while the defense ranks 31st on first downs. And they’re still over-committed to their inefficient run game on early downs.
The Bengals could bury themselves early.
Conference championship favorites of more than a field goal are 15-8 (65%) ATS since 2004, and that includes 6-2 ATS (75%) for favorites that lost a previous matchup that season.
This late in the playoffs, the heavy favorite usually wins.
This line is a touch too high at -7.5, though. Under -7, I’d be tempted to ride with Pat. Past the key number, I have to follow the Bengals’ trend in one-score games and believe the back door will be open against a Chiefs secondary that sure didn’t look like it had any answers against the Bengals or Bills.
This pick is just a “lean” for now, but I’ll tentatively take the points and see if the Bengals can give us a game.
Pick: Lean Bengals +7.5
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