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)
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|
|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 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.
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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.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)
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.
|Power Rank: Overall||8th||1st|
|Power Rank: Defense||20th||13th|
|Power Rank: Offense||3rd||4th|
|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.