<u>NFL CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND</u>
49ERS at EAGLES
3 p.m., Eagles by 2 ½, 46
HANK’S HONEYS: Ignore the recency bias, outside of evidence that Jalen Hurts’ shoulder is close to 100%. The Eagles are not going to do to the 49ers defense what they did to the Giants in that mismatch. Yet public bettors are all over the Eagles and that’s a red flag. For the most part this year, they’ve beaten teams with their explosiveness. They’re going to be in a dogfight this week and that’s the kind of game that favors the visitors. The 49ers’ wagon carries 12 straight SU wins into South Philly and they’ve done it with rookie QB Brock Purdy precisely by playing their type of game. Kyle Shanahan has been masterful at keeping Purdy out of bad situations where he might turn the ball over, helped by the wealth of weapons around him. The Niners can run — the Achilles heel of the Eagles defense — and TE George Kittle finds open spaces when Purdy is hurried — a key element against the NFL’s best pass rush.
On the other side of the ball there’s a best-on-best matchup between the Eagles’ O-line and the San Francisco front. But it’s the speed of LBs Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw that could make the difference against a team that runs so much RPO while defending the middle of the field where Hurts likes to go. The Eagles took full advantage of the second level of the Giants’ defense last week. It won’t happen here. Wink Martindale blitzed Hurts on over 40% of the snaps last week. The Niners don’t have to send extra men with their front. Will Purdy outplay Hurts? No, but he won’t have to outplay him. All that said, we love the under in what shapes up as the much uglier of the two games.
IF I WERE A BETTING MAN: Niners and the under.
BENGALS at CHIEFS
6:30 p.m., Bengals by 1 ½, 47
HANK’S HONEYS: We won’t know how effective Patrick Mahomes will be until he gets on the field, but for sure he’s not going to have the same mobility on that ankle. Much of the Chiefs’ offense is hinged on bootlegs and his improvisational throws outside the pocket, so if he’s compromised at all it’s going to limit what Andy Reid can game plan. There are no such questions about Joe Burrow. All he does is win. Similarly, when you look at the teams, the Chiefs are sometimes overvalued while the Bengals have to be the most underrated team in the league over the last two seasons. Here they are back in the AFC Championship game on the same field where they shocked the Chiefs a year ago. They’ve beaten the Chiefs SU three straight times, albeit by field goals, but they obviously have the formula and are masters at making adjustments.
Last week’s win in snowy Buffalo was a case in point as they overcame the absence of three starters on the offensive line and established the run with 144 rushing yards at a 7.6-ypc clip. That approach could work again this week against a pliable K.C. run defense. Joe Mixon missed the regular season matchup but Samaje Perine rushed for 106 yards in his absence. That will be key to keeping K.C.’s pass rush (55 regular season sacks) off Burrow. It’s true. Mahomes is otherworldly. It’s possible he plays through the injury and dazzles. He’s Patrick Mahomes. But we’re not going to sleep on Burrow in a big game. As for the over, these are first and foremost offensive teams. Even if Chad Henne has to step in, there should be more than enough points scored to push the total over.
IF I WERE A BETTING MAN: Bengals and the over.
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WEEK’S BEST BET: 49ers. Defense wins championships.
LAST WEEK: 2-2 ATS, 2-2 OVER/UNDER
PLAYOFFS: 5-5 ATS, 4-4-2 OVER/UNDER
BEST BETS: 1-1