Coach’s Picks: Best Bets Against The Spread, NFL Conference Championship Games

Each week, Coach Kevin Kelley will give a coach’s perspective and provide analysis for a few games against the spread throughout the 2022 NFL season.

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)

What a truly amazing run by the 49ers over the last four years. This will be their NFC-leading 18th NFC Championship Game appearance and their third in four years. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch together have put together some awesome talent on both sides of the ball, except at quarterback.

They have one of the better receiving corps in the league with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Ayuk, Greg Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. They have the best offensive lineman in the league in Trent Williams. With Nick Bosa at defensive end and Fred Warner holding down middle linebacker, their front seven is one of, if not the best, in the entire NFL.

But they don’t have that quarterback that they will need when it goes bad, or it gets tough. He has played fine. They have won seven in a row with him at the helm and he has not made any game-killing mistakes. Last week, finally against a good defense, they were held to their lowest yards per play with Brock Purdy starting. But he has not been asked to win the game and if they are going to beat the Eagles, Purdy will have to win it for them. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

On defense, everyone is pointing to the fact that the Eagles are a good defense, currently at No. 6 overall by DVOA, but not even in the top 20 versus the run in DVOA. Sure that is their biggest weakness and a strength of San Francisco’s. These guys attack the line of scrimmage like some great defenses we have seen over the years and they get after you when you have to pass (first time in NFL history with four different players with 10 sacks or more). They do give up some runs but they get you in passing situations and that’s where trouble starts. The problem for most teams is they can’t score on the 49ers defense which allows that offense to run the ball and not necessarily have to throw even when maybe they should.

The difference this week is the Eagles do score. They led the NFL in percentage of drives ending in a touchdown and overall drive scoring percentage. They did this against a much tougher schedule of defenses.

Their run game, which the 49ers are good against, is just as different as the 49ers is with Jalen Hurts on the RPO where he can hand, run, or flip it out to a receiver based on numbers or on reaction of OLB or DB. It’s different from anything they are used to seeing on Sundays or in practice.

Hurts has been on big stages. He has played with a chip on his shoulder since leaving Alabama and it has served him well. The Eagles got him defense-changing receivers in DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown. The defense changes because you simply cannot allow them to go one-on-one with you. Smith will outrun you and Brown will use that big body or outrun you. So you just can’t afford to cheat that safety too far down in the box. And if they do, the Eagles do not mind going over the top at all and San Francisco was No. 27 in giving up touchdown passes over 20 yards. 

And the play-action pass off side-moving runs, i.e. jet sweeps, outside zones, they both get Warner going aggressively sideways and the deep ins and crossers have been very good versus them. I have full faith that the Eagles offensive staff have seen that and are going to use it on top of their already potent offense.

I think this game plays out and San Francisco finds themselves in situations they haven’t been in much, third and long, and playing from behind somewhere in this game. Without that play-action of their own offense in those two situations, we are going to see the rookie come out in Purdy. Shanahan has done a great job and to get here with your third string quarterback is amazing. He is a tremendous play caller and game-changer as a coach. But Eagles win this and I think by double digits. Give me the Eagles -2.5.

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Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5) at Kansas City Chiefs

The line tells me all I need to know. We all know about Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes. They have literally shredded each other’s defense over their past three games (all in the last 12 months) more than any other quarterback has done to them.

But it has been a tale of two halves. As our Sharp Football Staff pointed out earlier this week, the Chiefs have outscored the Bengals 59-41 in the first half of their three games. The Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 48-19 in the second half, though. I’d rather have that deficit and the second half adjustments that the Bengals seem to make on both sides of the ball. Is it luck, is it that the Bengals have the Chiefs’ number, or is it the coaching staff making adjustments and getting the players to execute them? I’ll take the latter, Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins to score on a final drive if we need to do so. 

Can Mahomes do that? Sure. And Travis Kelce has been showing up all year long. But eventually the sidearm throws that are off target lead to interceptions, the lack of the over the top speed that they have overcome well, and the lack of a defense (currently at No. 17 in the NFL) will get you beat.

This Bengals team is the team that can do just that. The Bengals defense has improved a lot over the last two years and are barely out of the top 10 coming in at No. 11. They are equally solid against the run and pass while Kansas City is No. 20 versus the pass and No. 15 against the run. So which are they going to cheat to and stop? If they bring a man down on defense, Cincinnati will run on them with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. A little-known fact about the Bengals is that they rank No. 7 in offensive rush DVOA. Another little-known fact is that the Kansas City defense is No. 29 in making contact with the running back behind the LOS. There are simply too many ways for the Bengals to put together drives. 

Teams used to be able to give Burrow problems playing a lot of two high mix. He has conquered that. Then they gave him problems with a pass rush and with the blitz. They conquered that. Leave Chase one on one and blitz and see what happens. Roll the coverage to his side and let Boyd and Higgins run free.

I hate that it seems like the world is on the Bengals but they have the better quarterback, better overall receivers, a better defense, better defensive coaches, and a 10-game win streak coming into the game. Oh, and they have won three in a row against Kansas City. 

I will take the Bengals ML and I will take the Bengals team total OVER 23.5. I have no idea how they don’t get to 30 unless they just don’t have to do so. 

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