SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Sunday’s NFC Championship game looks set to be an enthralling battle between arguably the best two all-around teams in the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles have sat atop the conference standings for practically the entire season, with their 14-3 record seeing them comfortably win the super-competitive NFC East. They have been dominant on both sides of the ball, allowing the third-fewest yards of any team in the regular season while gaining more yards than all but the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts has played at an MVP level all season, and two of the Eagles’ three losses came when he was injured, with backup Gardner Minshew starting in his place. Hurts led Philadelphia to an impressive 38-7 rout of the New York Giants last week.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have reeled off 12 consecutive wins, including eight since rookie sensation Brock Purdy took over as their starting quarterback. The so-called ‘Mr Irrelevant’ – who was the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft – has shown incredible poise in passing for 1,854 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions across eight games.
Purdy was efficient in a 19-12 win over the Dallas Cowboys last week in which the 49ers’ elite defence shone. He failed to record a passing touchdown, however, against the first good defence he has faced since becoming the starter.
Philadelphia’s defence is even better than Dallas’, so Purdy is set for by far the toughest test of his young career. As impressive as he’s been to date, it’s tough to trust a seventh-round rookie in a road playoff game against the regular season’s best team.
After a very slight dip late in the season, the Eagles look like they’re peaking just at the right time, with last week’s performance against the Giants looking pretty ominous for the rest of the Conference finalists.
In what could be an all-time classic, take the Eagles to cover.
Best bet: Eagles -2.5
CINCINNATI BENGALS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
After a 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, the Chiefs are in the Conference finals for the fifth straight year. It’s an incredible achievement for coach Andy Reid, and for Patrick Mahomes, who has reached this stage of the postseason in each of his five seasons as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.
Mahomes was in typically electric form to begin the Divisional Round win over Jacksonville, but he suffered a high-ankle sprain in the first quarter saw him adopt a more conservative style of play for the rest of the game.
He’ll tape it up and play through it this week, but this injury would undoubtedly see him miss at least a couple of weeks had it occurred in the regular season, and he’s sure to be limited come Sunday.
The Chiefs could get away with Mahomes not being 100 per cent against the Jaguars, but the Bengals are another proposition.
They reached the Super Bowl last year – beating the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game – and look to have got even better in 2022. Cincinnati dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in last week’s 27-10 road win over the Buffalo Bills, and third-year quarterback Joe Burrow is playing at a level comparable to Mahomes at his best.
The Bengals are the hottest team in the NFL, having won 10 straight games dating back to Week 9, including a 27-24 victory over Kansas City in Week 13.
This would be a tough test for the Chiefs even with Mahomes fully healthy, but the MVP favourite’s ankle injury looks to have swung the chances firmly in the Bengals’ favour.
With the odds suggesting this is a 50-50 game, take the Bengals on the money line.
Best bet: Bengals money line