NFL Best Bets: Experts Pick Chiefs-Ravens and Lions-49ers in the Championship Round

A trio of sharps look at this weekend's games that will decide the Super Bowl contenders

January 26, 2024 9:41 am
Lamar Jackson talks with Patrick Mahomes after a game.
Can Patrick Mahomes carry the Chiefs to the Super Bowl once again?
Cooper Neill/Getty

This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which football experts and handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the professional football season.

In our Championship Round edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN, and Mike Golic Jr. of DraftKings share their opinions on the pair of win-or-go-home games that will be played on Sunday to decide who will be heading to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas in February. Four teams enter, two teams leave.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Chiefs (+4, O/U 44.5) at Ravens

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Ravens listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. We’ve seen this line dip briefly to -3 and then rise back up to Ravens -3.5 or even -4 at some shops. The public is riding Baltimore with 55% of bettors laying the points. While Kansas City may not be “sharp,” they do offer excellent buy-low contrarian value. The Chiefs are only receiving 45% of bets in a heavily bet playoff game. Patrick Mahomes is 9-1 against the spread (ATS) as a dog in his career, including 3-1 straight up against Lamar Jackson. Playoff dogs are 6-4 ATS (60%) and 49-34 ATS (59%) since 2017. Shawn Smith, the lead ref, is 60% ATS to the road team historically. I learned my lesson in the Super Bowl to never bet against Mahomes as a contrarian dog. I shopped around and took Chiefs +4.

Gable’s Guess: I think there are some issues with the Chiefs, but they did play a pretty good game against Buffalo. I still can’t get some of the things we’ve seen from this team throughout the regular season out of my mind. The offense is not nearly as explosive as we’ve seen in previous years and it’s the defense that has been carrying them. We’ve seen Lamar Jackson flourish again this year and it’s more than likely he’ll win MVP. Being at home with the way things currently sit, I think the Ravens are a step above the Chiefs. They have better receivers and they’re going to be able to run the ball. I’m going to lay the points with the Ravens and take the under because these are two pretty good defenses.

Golic’s Gamble: This Ravens team is in some rarified air. The ’23 Ravens have joined the ’85 Bears and ’72 Dolphins as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to score 25+ PPG while leading the NFL in rush offense and scoring defense. They’re also alongside the ’07 Patriots as the only teams in NFL history with a 100+ point differential vs. playoff teams. They’re talented, versatile on both sides of the ball, and, maybe most importantly, finally healthy. The injury to Chiefs all-pro guard Joe Thuney looms large in a matchup that will be decided in the trenches. Forecasts are calling for rain and wind, which could keep scoring down. I’ll lay the points with the Ravens and go with the under.

IH Best Bet: Not betting against Mahomes in the playoffs. To win, he’ll need points. Chiefs + the over.

Missed Wide-Right Kick Leaves Bills Facing Tough Decisions
Buffalo has lost to the Chiefs three times in the last four years

Lions (+7, O/U 51.5) at 49ers

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the 49ers listed as a 7-point home favorite. The public is rushing to the window to grab the points with the trendy Lions. However, despite 66% of bets backing Detroit, we’ve seen the line remain frozen at 49ers -7 or even creep up to -7.5. The 49ers are only receiving 34% of bets but 55% of the money, a sharp contrarian bet split. Reading between the lines, it looks like sharps are laying the points with San Francisco. However, this is such a difficult handicap because a lot of my best system matches are on the Lions. Playoff dogs who missed the postseason the previous year are 4-2 ATS this postseason and 38-20 ATS (67%) since 2017. Dan Campbell is 36-17 ATS (68%), including 22-10 ATS (69%) as a dog and 11-4 ATS (73%) as an underdog of 6 points or more. Meanwhile, the 49ers are 0-6 ATS in their last six home games and Deebo Samuel is questionable. With conflicting data and systems, I’ll bypass the side and look to the total instead. The weather should be perfect with no wind and partly cloudy skies. The Lions are 12-7 to the over this season. Overs are 22-13 (63%) in the championship round since 2004. I’ll root for points and take the over.

Gable’s Guess: The Niners didn’t look great last weekend and the Packers were very much alive to pull off the upset, but San Fran escaped. I think we’re going to see a bounce-back game here from Purdy. Deebo’s being reported as 50/50 to play, so I lean toward him probably playing. Detroit’s secondary is their weakness, so the Niners should be able to get downfield and make some big chunk plays against them. The Lions have quite a few weapons on offense themselves, so I’m going to take the over. I think the Niners are a class above Detroit and they are at home, so I’ll lay the points.

Golic’s Gamble: I think the 49ers win, but San Fran being favored by a full touchdown or more has felt strange to me all week. The 49ers will certainly be able to adjust with this much notice should Samuel miss the game, but this is a team that got pushed around up front on both sides of the ball by the Packers last week. I expect a Lions ground game led by Jahmyr Gibbs to find plenty of room and keep things close against a 49ers front that has struggled to stop the run all year. Both teams should be able to score at a decent clip, provided the 49ers do a better job protecting Brock Purdy and the weather stays dry. Give me Detroit with the points as well as the over.

IH Best Bet: The over seems like the smart play. The Lions probably are not, but taking them anyway.

Last Week: 2-2, This Season: 50-40-4

Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate based on injuries, the weather and other factors. Double-check the odds before betting.

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