NFL Conference Championship Weekend: Darius Butler's favorite bets of the week

Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) scrambles with the ball as guard Trey Smith (65) defends against Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris (96) in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The divisional round of the 2021 NFL playoffs gifted us with one of the greatest ever weekends of playoff football. Every single game came down to the wire, with three games finishing with a walk-off field goal and the other with a touchdown in overtime.

My divisional-round picks went 1-1, taking my record to 32-28 on the season. We correctly backed the Cincinnati Bengals to cover against the Tennessee Titans and came agonizingly close with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what could have been Tom Brady‘s last ever NFL game.

Here are my betting picks for Conference Championship Weekend.

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San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

SUNDAY, JAN. 30 | 6:30 P.M. ET | FOX

Despite the seemingly unending narrative around the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback, I have more trust in Jimmy Garoppolo than I do in Matthew Stafford this weekend — even though Stafford is the more talented quarterback.

Quarterback J. Garoppolo M. Stafford
PFF Grade 73.9 83.4
Passer Rating Clean 102.0 112.4
Passer Rating Under Pressure 74.8 81.6
Big-Time Throw % 2.00% 5.46%
Turnover-Worthy Play % 4.91% 3.68%
Power Rating 2.5 6.0
Power Rating Rank 17th 7th

Unlike Stafford, Garoppolo just isn't asked to do all that much in his offense. The 49ers quarterback has thrown just 7.7 yards down the football field on average, a full yard shy of Stafford's mark (8.8), and he's attempted just 36 throws of 20-plus yards all year, which pales in comparison to Stafford's 73.

This gives the Niners quarterback a much safer floor than Stafford — if he has to do less, there are far fewer opportunities to make a game-breaking mistake.

Kyle Shanahan will take the ball out of Jimmy G's hands, let Deebo Samuel do his thing from the backfield and focus on getting tight end George Kittle open over the middle of the field.

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And then there's the defense, which will be able to pressure the Rams quarterback without blitzing, giving the team the added benefit of having an extra man in coverage. The Niners have earned an 82.3 team pass-rush grade when sending four or fewer pass-rushers this season, the third-best mark in the league, and their 34.0% pressure rate on those snaps ranks second.

Defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans will have spent all week crafting a game plan that nullifies Cooper Kupp from the slot. And if that game plan holds, the Rams are going to need a huge game from Odell Beckham Jr., who managed just four catches for 36 yards across two games against the 49ers this season.

I would feel comfortable taking the 49ers moneyline, but I just couldn’t turn down getting 3.5 points in a game where the underdog is 2-0 in this matchup this season.

PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)

SUNDAY, JAN. 30 | 3:00 P.M. ET | CBS

Make no mistake, Joe Burrow has had an extraordinary 2021 season. The Bengals quarterback enters the AFC Conference Championship as the highest-graded quarterback in the NFL, and he has repeatedly come in clutch for a team that was once a playoff laughing stock.

Team Metrics
Bengals Chiefs
Power Rank: Overall 8th 1st
Power Rank: Defense 20th 13th
Power Rank: Offense 3rd 4th
SOS Played 28th 12th
Avg Offensive Snaps 65.5 71.7
% Run Plays 38.3% 32.0%
% Pass Plays 61.7% 68.0%
EPA Per Run -0.16 -0.11
EPA Per Pass 0.10 0.22

Pound for pound, there is no better quarterback in the league than Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, but Joe Burrow has the ability and the weapons to go score for score.

Rookie wideout Ja'Marr Chase will likely face double coverage all game, and Higgins and Boyd will dominate one-on-one against a secondary that has allowed a 114.5 passer rating this season, the fifth-worst mark in the league.

This Chiefs secondary tried their best to give away the game last week against a Buffalo Bills receiving corps that is nowhere near as explosive as this Bengals outfit. If the Bengals can keep Burrow clean, he will keep this thing close.

And give me the over 54.5 while you’re at it.

Darius Butler is a former NFL free safety. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He has also played for the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.

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