NFL playoff predictions: Early Championship Sunday picks and odds.
We’ve reached the Final Four. Welcome to Championship Sunday. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’ll have the best pair of football games. I’m betting both favorites make it to the Super Bowl. Chiefs versus. Ravens Prediction Chiefs vs. Ravens odds: Ravens -3.5, over/under 44.5.
The Chiefs were able to sneak past the Bills owing to Patrick Mahomes’ sorcery and explosive plays. But don’t be tricked. Last Sunday, the Bills walked up and down the field. Buffalo had a 61% run success rate, rushing more than 180 yards at nearly five yards per carry.
The Bills finished with 368 total yards and 27 first downs, dominating the Chiefs’ front seven on every drive.
And that’s been the Chiefs’ problem all season: their rush defense stinks. Kansas City is ranked 27th in Rush Defense DVOA and 28th in EPA per Rush allowed.
Only four NFL defenses allowed more yards per run than the Chiefs (4.5).
This bodes poorly for Baltimore’s dominating rush-first offense.
The Ravens top the league in rush rate (51%), relying on Lamar Jackson’s rushing skills to finish third in EPA per Rush and Rush Success Rate.
The Bills are a similarly dominant rush offense, but they do not rely as heavily on the run game.
This season, only the Bears had more yards rushing than the Ravens (2,720).
Baltimore, like Buffalo last week, will dog walk Kansas City’s front seven.
Kyle Hamilton in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Getty Images
However, the difference in this game will be on the defensive side of the ball.
Sean McDermott’s tenure has been marked by overly passive defense in critical moments. In important games, the Bills tighten up and allow too many easy chunk passing plays, as they did last week.
Baltimore’s secondary is among the league’s top. The Ravens are second in EPA per Dropback Allowed and second in Pro Football Focus’ Coverage Grades.
Led by star safety Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens allowed an elite 26% completion rate on passes 20 yards or more downfield, allowing only two touchdowns and intercepting six passes.
Mahomes can outscore his rush defense against a McDermott-led defense, but I doubt he can do the same against Mike Madonald’s incredibly well-coached team.
For example, consider how the Ravens dominated CJ Stroud and Houston last week. Stroud completed 19 of his 33 pass attempts for a measly 175 yards, and the Texans never reached the red zone.
Marcus Williams, Geno Stone, and Kyle Hamilton COMBINED vs. Texans:
– 5 targets
– 2 receptions
– 5 yards pic.twitter.com/XSLVwO35hz
— 𝗥𝗮𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘀 𝗡𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝙇𝙄𝙑𝙀 (@LIVERavenNation) January 23, 2024
If it weren’t for the punt return touchdown, the Texans would’ve finished with three points.
I don’t expect the Ravens to hold Mahomes to only three points, but they should play well enough to generate a few stops while Jackson and Co. control the ball with highly successfully rush-heavy drives for 60 minutes.
I’m happy laying a field goal and the hook with the home squad in that scenario. The Ravens look the part of a Super Bowl champion, and they’ll show it on Sunday.
Chiefs vs. Ravens pick: Ravens -3.5
Lions vs. 49ers prediction
Lions vs. 49ers odds: 49ers -7, Over/Under 51
Time/TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX
I want to bet on the Lions.
The story is spectacular. The offense is dominant and balanced under Ben Johnson’s tutelage. The front seven is rock solid behind stud pass-rusher Aidan Hutchison.
Alas, I can’t trust Jared Goff on the road in outdoor conditions.
In the comfy confines of the Ford Field Dome, Goff completed 70% of his passes for 19 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 107.9 rating.
In his nine road games, he completed 64% of passes for only 11 touchdowns, six interceptions and an 89.4 rating. Goff was sacked six more times on the road than at home.
Goff is a sniper who can complete passes in perfect conditions – i.e., a clean pocket in a dome.
But you put him up against Nick Bosa in Levi’s Stadium, and he’s no longer an elite NFL quarterback.
Unfortunately, the Lions need him to be an elite quarterback.
They’ll run the ball fine against San Francisco’s legitimately bad rush defense (and all-around front seven), but Goff must generate chunk passing plays to keep up with Kyle Shanahan for 60 minutes.
Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers lines up to run around the edge during an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers. Getty Images
Especially because Detroit’s secondary is horrendous. The Lions rank bottom-seven in EPA per Dropback and Pass Success Rate allowed.
They rank 29th in Pro Football Focus’s Coverage grades, with Cam Sutton and Kindle Vildor ranking outside the top 100 among 130 qualified cornerbacks in overall grades.
Say what you want about Brock Purdy, but Shanahan knows how to scheme offense with him under center.
The Niners rank first in the NFL in EPA per Dropback and Pass Success Rate – Purdy generates .10 EPA per Play more than the second-best quarterback.
They have no shortage of weapons that will run freely all over the field against Detroit’s lackadaisical defensive backs – even if Deebo Samuel can’t play this weekend.
The Niners generated the second-most yards after the catch in the regular season, while the Lions allowed the ninth most.
YAC leaders each season #49ers #NFL pic.twitter.com/8ECErNQWod
— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) December 17, 2023
Detroit’s run to the NFC Championship game will be remembered, but the clock has struck midnight on the Lions. The secondary has too many holes for the Niners to exploit, and Goff can’t keep up in outdoor conditions.