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NFL championship game picks: Fly, Eagles, fly (into the Super Bowl)

Can the 49ers contain a mobile quarterback like Jalen Hurts? (Rich Schultz/AP)
5 min

A 1-1 weekend during the second round of the NFL playoffs did not improve anything, as I’m now 6-8 as Neil Greenberg’s replacement. Time to start winning on a more consistent basis, starting with Sunday’s conference championship games, one of which features a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game.

As noted below, the line for the Bengals-Chiefs game is in flux, as bettors and oddsmakers monitor the news about Patrick Mahomes and his injured ankle.

All times Eastern.

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (-2½)

3 p.m. | Fox, Fox Sports, Fox Deportes

Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -2½

Even though the 49ers beat the Cowboys last weekend, a bit of the shine came off San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy. His 53.1 QBR was his second lowest in his seven career starts, and his 87.4 passer rating was his lowest. Purdy didn’t throw any interceptions, but he also led the 49ers to only one touchdown, averaged only 7.4 yards per attempt (the lowest of his seven starts) and completed just 4 of 12 passes under pressure, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt on those throws.

Suffice to say, Dallas had the best defense Purdy had seen up to that point. The Eagles’ defense is even better.

Philadelphia had 70 sacks in the regular season, the most in one season since the 1989 Minnesota Vikings, and registered a sack on 11.4 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, best in the NFL by a significant margin. (The Cowboys, for what it’s worth, ranked third and sacked Purdy twice.)

The Chiefs and Bengals meet again. These title game rematches are rarer than you think.

In terms of DVOA, the Eagles ranked second in the NFL against No. 1 wide receivers, fourth against No. 2 wide receivers and sixth against tight ends during the regular season. San Francisco pass catchers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle combined for 57.4 percent of the 49ers’ receptions, and when Purdy is on the field, that percentage barely changes (all the more remarkable considering Samuel missed three of Purdy’s seven starts because of injury). Christian McCaffrey is San Francisco’s only other true receiving threat, and he was dealing with a calf contusion late in Sunday’s game. He seems likely to play, but he might be asked to carry a greater load if the Eagles can shut down Purdy’s top three options.

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Flipping sides, the 49ers rank second in the league in rushing defense (79 yards allowed per game, including the playoffs). But how much of that is because teams simply didn’t run a whole lot against them (22.9 attempts against per game, a sliver behind the Titans for the fewest in the league), and how much because San Francisco played a whole lot of mediocre rushing teams? The 49ers played only three teams that ranked in the top 10 in terms of rushing DVOA during the regular season — the Falcons, Chiefs and Raiders — and gave up at least 112 rushing yards to each of them. (They gave up more than 100 rushing yards only one other time in the regular season.)

The Eagles rank first in rushing DVOA, and San Francisco has not seen an opposing quarterback who can scramble as the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts can. Frankly, the 49ers didn’t play many quarterbacks who are a consistent threat to run with the ball. It’ll be a new wrinkle for them to solve at the worst possible time.

I think the matchup sets up extremely well for the Eagles, particularly when they’re giving less than a field goal. Philadelphia flies into the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals (-1½) at Kansas City Chiefs

6:30 p.m. | CBS, Paramount Plus

Pick: Ja’Marr Chase over 82.5 receiving yards (FanDuel)

Seeing as how we probably won’t have a true idea about how Patrick Mahomes’s injured ankle is feeling until he trots (or limps) onto the field Sunday evening, it’s probably best to steer clear of any bet that could be affected by the Chiefs’ quarterback and instead target a prop involving the other side of the ball. In this case, I like the Bengals’ star wide receiver to have a big game.

Kansas City has struggled to contain its opponents’ No. 1 wide receivers all season, ranking 31st in terms of DVOA against opposing top wideouts. The Chargers’ Mike Williams (eight catches, 113 yards, one touchdown) and Keenan Allen (five catches for 94 yards), the Bucs’ Mike Evans (8-103-2), the Raiders’ Davante Adams (8-197-2 in two games), the Bills’ Stefon Diggs (10-148-1), the Jaguars’ Christian Kirk (16-157-3 in two games), the Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy (8-73-3) and the Seahawks’ DK Metcalf (7-81) had big games against the Chiefs.

So did Chase, who had seven catches for 97 yards Dec. 4. As a rookie in 2021, he torched the Chiefs for 266 receiving yards and three scores in the teams’ regular season meeting and added six catches for 54 yards and another score against Kansas City in last season’s AFC championship game.

Chase has gone over this number seven times in 14 games this season, with six of those occasions coming over his past nine games. He’ll get there again.