Thursday, July 18, 2024

2024 AFC, NFC championship game picks: Ravens hold off Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs; 49ers get back to Super Bowl

We’re entering the last NFL Sunday before the Super Bowl. It’s exciting, yet also sad in a way. Both of the No. 1 seeds  — Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers — have made it to Championship Sunday, and will face off against the challengers — Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions, both No. 3 seeds in their respective conferences. 

Patrick Mahomes was victorious in his first-ever road playoff start in Buffalo, while the Lions have now won three in a row, including a victory over their former quarterback Matthew Stafford in Super Wild Card Weekend.

The NFL script writers foretold in their color scheme that the 49ers and Ravens will be facing off in Super Bowl LVIII. Are they correct? Let’s discuss who I’m taking against the spread. As always, thanks to the CBS Sports Research Team for making me sound smart. 

All NFL odds via SportsLine consensus odds.

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (-4)

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

Here we go. Lamar Jackson has won each of his past four starts by 14+ points, while Mahomes has lost four starts by 14+ points in his entire career. Everyone views this matchup as Lamar vs. Mahomes, but I really look at it from the other side. This is the Ravens defense vs. the Chiefs defense.

The Ravens were the first team ever to lead/co-lead the league in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways. The Ravens and Chiefs rank No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring defense, making this the first conference championship game between the top-two scoring defenses since 2004.

I was dumb enough to doubt Mahomes against the Buffalo Bills, but he, Isiah Pacheco and Travis Kelce ended up victorious. Mahomes is actually the first quarterback ever with zero sacks and zero turnovers in three straight playoff starts. Baltimore’s defense provides a much different test than the Buffalo defense, however, and the Ravens are statistically a better offense. So yes, I’m going to be dumb enough to pick against Mahomes again.

The Chiefs defense is impressive, but containing this Ravens offense is such a tough task. Jackson is playing effectively as both a passer and runner, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards plus Dalvin Cook are quite the running back room, Zay Flowers is a fun playmaker who can make defensive backs miss at the third level and then Mark Andrews is returning to the lineup. I hate 3.5-point lines, but I’m taking Baltimore. 

The Ravens are 6-0 SU and ATS this season against teams that entered the matchup three or more games above .500. Their average win margin in those games? A whopping 26.2 points. Baltimore is also 10-3 ATS in its last 13 playoff games. There are plenty of trends that say not to bet against Mahomes as an underdog, but I’m ignoring those — maybe at my own peril. 

Projected score: Ravens 26-20 in OT
The pick: Ravens -3.5

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (-7)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (Fox, fubo)

I’ve been painted as a Lions hater because I had a running column this year attempting to sort out contenders and pretenders throughout the course of the regular season. I saw the Lions as a top-10 team in the NFL during the season, but does that make them a contender? I think the offense is loaded, but the defense always worried me. I watched their 38-6 loss to the Ravens, the 41-38 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and their losses to the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears closely, and it had me wondering if they were in that same tier with Baltimore or San Francisco. Now, they get a chance to prove it.

The Lions had home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and they made the most of it. The win over the Los Angeles Rams was impressive, and then the win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was probably expected. Now, they hit the road to play outside for the first time since Dec. 10! We aren’t expecting rain in California like last week, but this is still a road game in just a little bit cooler weather than Detroit’s dome provides. The Lions haven’t won a playoff game on the road since 1957. 

As for the 49ers, Deebo Samuel has no game designation with his shoulder injury, and will play. This is big, because the 49ers are 14-1 when Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey and Samuel all play the entire game. The 49ers didn’t look very polished on either side of the ball last week against the Packers. I’m assuming they will this week. The reason I have the 49ers winning this game is because Purdy’s passing attack works off timing routes/anticipation. The Lions secondary can be taken advantage of, especially when you consider the amount of playmakers San Francisco has. Will the 49ers key on George Kittle dominating at the second level and rely on his YAC? Maybe the 49ers will feature Brandon Aiyuk against Cam Sutton. Then there’s that McCaffrey guy, who can do everything. 

I would consider buying a full point just to be safe. It’s probably worth the price, but either way I have the 49ers winning this matchup. Kyle Shanahan is 5-0 at home in the playoffs. 

Projected score: 49ers 35-24
The pick: 49ers -7.5

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