Conference title games are most evenly matched in 25 years

Jan 24, 2023, 7:26 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 2:47 pm
Graphic shows AFC and NFC team matchups and predicts outcome in conference championships; 3c x 2 3/...

Graphic shows AFC and NFC team matchups and predicts outcome in conference championships; 3c x 2 3/8 inches

It’s been 25 years since both NFL conference championship games were this evenly matched from an oddsmakers standpoint.

The San Francisco 49ers are 2 1/2-point underdogs against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the NFC championship game, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

In the AFC title game, the Cincinnati Bengals are 1 1/2-point favorites on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The previous time both conference championship games featured spreads under 3 points was 1998. The Packers were 2 1/2-point favorites at San Francisco in the NFC game. The Broncos were 2 1/2-point favorites at Pittsburgh in the AFC matchup. Both road teams won.

The Eagles and Chiefs have history on their side. No. 1 seeds are 32-14 in conference championship games, but only 4-3 since the 2017 season when the Eagles became the last No. 1 seed to win a Super Bowl.

Home teams are 34-18 in the NFC title game, 36-16 in the AFC.

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San Francisco (15-4) at Philadelphia (15-3)

The 49ers have won 12 straight games, including seven in a row since rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy took over at quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo was injured.

The Eagles opened 13-1 behind Jalen Hurts, earned the No. 1 seed and a bye and dominated the New York Giants in the divisional round.

This game pits the two top defenses in the NFL, two of the best rushing offenses and plenty of playmakers on both sides. Miles Sanders, AJ Brown, Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert for the Eagles. Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk for San Francisco.

It should be a tough, physical game involving teams who are no strangers to reaching this point. The Eagles are in the NFC championship game for the seventh time in 22 seasons and are seeking their third trip to the Super Bowl in that span. They won it all after the 2017 season.

The Niners are making a record 18th appearance in the NFC title game, second in a row and third in four years. They’re 7-10 overall.

Home-field advantage is the difference in this one. Purdy has only made two road starts in Seattle and Las Vegas. Philadelphia is just different. The Eagles have hostile fans who won’t let up.

EAGLES 24-23

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Cincinnati (14-4) at Kansas City (15-3)

Joe Burrow is 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, including a comeback win in overtime last year in the AFC championship game also played in Arrowhead Stadium.

The Bengals are slight favorites because Mahomes has a high ankle sprain. He returned from the injury to help lead the Chiefs to a win over Jacksonville last week, but there’s no doubt it should limit his ability to do superhuman things on the field.

The Chiefs are making their fifth straight appearance in the AFC title game with all five at home. They’re 2-2 in that span with one Super Bowl victory.

Before last season, the Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years. Now, they’re 5-1 over the past two seasons with Burrow leading the way. He has plenty of help in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon.

Cincinnati’s banged-up offensive line held up well against Buffalo. The Chiefs will look to take advantage this week.

The Chiefs will have to protect Mahomes and give him time to stay in the pocket so he’s not trying run around on a gimpy ankle. Expect Mahomes to target fellow All-Pro Travis Kelce quite often. Kelce had 14 catches last week.

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo designed a scheme to confuse Josh Allen and held Buffalo’s dynamic offense to just 10 points. He’ll have to do it again against one of the top play-callers in the NFL.

Kansas City’s Andy Reid is coaching his 10th conference championship game, but only has one Super Bowl trophy on his mantel. He’s going to need Mahomes to be magical at some point.

If anyone can be spectacular with an injury such as the one he has, it’s Mahomes.

CHIEFS, 30-27

2022 RECORD

Last Week: Straight up: 4-0. Against spread: 2-2.

Season: Straight up: 179-101. Against spread: 140-135-5.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Conference title games are most evenly matched in 25 years