NFL Picks: Our in-Depth Look at the NFC and AFC Title Games
In the corner of our office sits the team behind the supercomputer where all season long it has delivered us the best NFL picks, win probabilities, and fantasy football projections around.
With the NFL football postseason in full swing, they’ve headed off to Cabo but somehow left the screen unlocked. That got us thinking – can the supercomputer help guide us as to what will happen in the NFC and AFC title games this week, considering there’s no real underdog in action? Let’s see what it has to say.
- Philadelphia and Kansas City advance to Super Bowl LVII
- 49ers shut down Hurts running game, but made to pay in the air
- Supercomputer sees past Patrick Mahomes injury concerns and Chiefs defense dominates Burrow
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
- Kickoff: Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET – FOX
- Our NFC Pick: Eagles (70.0%)
- Our NFC Score Line Pick: Eagles 25, 49ers 21
- Our Best Bet of the Week: Jalen Hurts UNDER 47.5 rushing yards.
The 49ers and Eagles will collide for the second time in playoff history after San Francisco won the first meeting 14-0 in the 1996 wild-card game on a rain-soaked night in winds of up to 62 miles per hour.
We aren’t quite expecting the same at Lincoln Financial Field in terms of either weather or score line, although it will be tight with our supercomputer favoring the Eagles to come out on top this time around 25-21.
But it’s not just team-level football picks that our magical machine can spin out. We’ve also got the ability to bring you our player props for the game and some bold predictions along the way.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts
35 Attempts, 23 Completions, 262 Passing Yards, 1 Passing TD, 1 INT, 44 Rushing Yards, 1 Rushing TD
The challenge in this game for Hurts is whether he will be able to utilize his dual-threat capabilities against one of the league’s toughest defenses. San Francisco has allowed just 263 yards to rushing QBs across the season, with the longest individual rush being 22 yards.
Ok, Marcus Mariota was able to score a touchdown against them, but they didn’t have Nick Bosa in the lineup in Week 6 (remember those dark 3-3 days 49ers fans?). And our supercomputer believes that could be the difference in the NFC championship game. Hurts comes in under the expected 47.5 rushing yards line, although it is still backing him to score at least one touchdown on the ground.
Instead, Hurts will have to turn to his weapons downfield so it’s no surprise that our model’s prediction of 262 passing yards would be his sixth-best performance of the season, just behind his four-touchdown performance (285 yards) against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8.
It’s a high-caliber receiving corps he’s got to play with, but who is our supercomputer expecting to shine?
Dallas Goedert: 9 Targets, 6 Receptions, 73 Yards 1 TD
AJ Brown: 8 Targets, 5 Receptions, 71 Yards
DeVonta Smith: 8 Targets, 5 Receptions, 62 Yards
Quez Watkins: 3 Targets, 2 Receptions, 22 Yards
Zach Pascal: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 8 Yards
It’s not a surprise that Hurts has gone 15-1 as a starter this season when you’ve got this talent to throw to. Goedert’s performance (five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown) last week against the New York Giants has got our supercomputer all heated up (or maybe the long season is finally playing haywire with the processor), believing Hurts will checkdown to his tight end slightly more in the face of the on-rushing 49ers defense to record the most yards of any receiver and add yet another touchdown to his season haul.
As you would expect, it’s also tight to split the talents of Brown and Smith with both receiving an equal number of targets and receptions. Although our supercomputer does see Brown gaining more yards, it is backing Smith as the more likely to score a touchdown on Sunday. In fact, only one wide receiver has a better chance of breaking the plane this weekend, but we’ll get onto him in a bit.
Miles Sanders: 14 Rushes, 55 Yards, 1 Reception, 6 Yards
Kenneth Gainwell: 2 Rushes, 8 Yards, 2 Receptions, 11 Yards
Boston Scott: 3 Rushes, 11 Yards, 1 Reception, 4 Yards
The second-most rushing yards in Eagles postseason history (268) proved the key against the Giants, but our supercomputer has firmly dampened the flames on any hopes of that occurring this time out. Sanders, whose 1,269 rushing yards were a career high during the regular season, is picked to record his sixth-lowest total of the season.
3 Sacks, 1 INT, 343 Yards Allowed
If rushing the passer rush is your thing, then this might be the game for you. The Eagles’ 70 regular-season sacks (tied third for most in NFL history) were added to by another five against the Giants. Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham all have 10 sacks or more, making Philadelphia the first team in NFL history to have four different players hit that marker. The Eagles will add to that against the 49ers, but also give up their fourth-most yards (343) so far this season.
San Francisco 49ers: Brock Purdy
33 Attempts, 21 Completions, 256 Passing Yards, 1 Passing TD, 1 INT, 10 Rushing Yards
The NFC championship game won’t be the first time that Purdy and Hurts have met on a football field. The 2019 college football clash between Iowa State and Oklahoma remains the only time in the past 10 seasons that two Power 5 QBs both threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown.
You already know that’s not going to happen in this NFL game. Only in the playoffs has Purdy begun to use his feet, registering a season-high 16 yards in the wild-card round against the Seattle Seahawks. At 22 years old, he will be the youngest quarterback to start a conference championship game since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
It wasn’t a showpiece night for Big Ben on that occasion (14 of 24, 226 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; though it was the second-coldest game in Pittsburgh history at that time) and our supercomputer believes Purdy could be looking similar in terms of yardage.
Deebo Samuel: 7 Targets, 5 Receptions, 62 Yards, 2 Rushes, 13 Rushing Yards
Brandon Aiyuk: 7 Targets, 4 Receptions, 53 Yards
George Kittle: 6 Targets, 4 Receptions, 46 Yards
Jauan Jennings: 4 Targets, 2 Receptions, 29 Yards
After some Deebo magic in the wild-card round against Seattle (which left me wondering how he would have fared against the Green Bay Packers instead), it was back down to earth for Samuel against the Dallas Cowboys, which is probably why our supercomputer has slighted tamed thoughts on his predicted performance and doesn’t give him the highest probability of scoring a touchdown.
That honor falls to Kittle, whose 95 yards on five receptions against Dallas was his third-best performance of the season. With the Eagles expected to blitz Purdy from the start, Kittle could prove himself a very welcome security blanket when looking to get the ball away as quickly as possible.
Christian McCaffrey: 13 Rushes, 58 Yards, 4 Receptions, 41 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
Eli Mitchell: 7 Rushes, 30 Yards
He may have missed some practices ahead of the NFC title game, but there’s no way McCaffrey is going to miss out on this one.
Although slightly limited by that calf issue against the Cowboys, he still played in 44 of the 49ers’ 66 offensive snaps, even if he did run the ball just 10 times. Expect to see his workload increase on Sunday and he’s also projected to find the end zone in this one.
2 Sacks, 1 INT, 353 Yards Allowed
This will be the toughest task the 49ers defense will have faced this NFL season. But goodness, aren’t we all looking forward to seeing this? With so much talent on the offensive side of the ball, heads are going to have to be on swivels to keep the Eagles at bay.
As the supercomputer has already stated, we are expecting them to have some success in slowing Hurts on the ground. Just how many guys they will commit to doing so could open opportunities down the field, which is probably why the predicted 353 yards allowed here would be their third most of the season.
Our NFL Expert Pick
Philadelphia Eagles 25, San Francisco 49ers 21
Make no mistake about this, Purdy has been a sensation at quarterback for the 49ers. He’s thrown eight touchdowns so far in his NFL career when trailing by at least a touchdown. But how he’s going to cope in the face of a sack-hungry Philly defense is another matter.
And if you want an omen, the Eagles’ 31-point victory over the Giants (the surprising conquerors of the Minnesota Vikings) in the divisional round matched their largest playoff victory margin of all time. They would go on to win Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots on that occasion. Our supercomputer likes omens and sees the Eagles roaring into Arizona this time around.
No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs
- Kickoff: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. ET – CBS
- Our NFC Pick: Chiefs (74.5%)
- Our NFC Score Line Pick: Chiefs 24, Bengals 21
- Our Best Bet of the Week: Chiefs Defense to record four sacks
The first rematch of a conference championship game since the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in 2011 and 2012. And just like on that occasion when the two teams split the games, our supercomputer believes that the Chiefs will enact for revenge for last year’s defeat and book their spot at Super Bowl LVII.
This game is going to be close though, with the moneyline having fluctuated between the two teams throughout the week on various sportsbooks, so why is our supercomputer so straight-up sure that the Chiefs are going to come up on top? Let’s dive into the details.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
38 Attempts, 23 Completions, 349 Passing Yards, 2 Passing TD, 1 INT, 25 Rushing Yards
It appears our supercomputer might have stared a little too closely at Mahomes’ performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the last round of the NFL playoffs, rather than his performances across the season. He went 22 of 30 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, marking the fourth time in the postseason that he has achieved a 70% or better completion rate and thrown for multiple touchdowns.
Repeating it here would put him in rather elite company.
However, this ankle injury is bringing back memories of Super Bowl LV when he battled a toe ailment leading up to the game that did hamper him as Kansas City suffered a 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Our supercomputer refuses to believe it will halt his charge though. He’s projected to finish with his fifth-most passing yards of the season with a guarantee of at least two touchdowns as well.
Travis Kelce: 9 Targets, 6 Receptions, 87 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 7 Targets, 4 Receptions, 64 Yards, 1 TD
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 5 Targets, 3 Receptions, 48 Yards
Justin Watson: 4 Targets, 2 Receptions, 35 Yards
Kardarius Watson: 3 Targets, 2 Receptions, 20 Yards
Noah Gray: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 18 Yards
Skyy Moore: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 16 Yards
The wonderful thing about diving into our supercomputer at times is when it throws up something that just seems spooky. That was the case when we saw Kelce, No. 87, predicted to have 87 receiving yards.
We slowly backed away from the machine when it spat that out, wondering if we needed to interrupt the piña colada cruise in Cabo, but a nervous peak at Smith-Schuster’s number and not seeing a No. 9 reassured us.
It really is a litany of targets that Mahomes has to work with at home, where the Chiefs have become the first team to host five conference championships when no other team has hosted more than three.
Jerick McKinnon: 6 Rushes, 21 Yards, 3 Receptions, 39 Yards, 1 TD
Isiah Pacheco: 13 Rushes, 56 Yards, 1 Reception, 10 Yards
If Mahomes’ ankle does impact his play, it will be important that the running game comes to the fore. Our supercomputer is expecting Pacheco to get the majority of the carries. His 728 rushing yards rank third in the NFL since Week 10, including that playoff performance against the Jaguars.
The Bengals should make it a little tougher for him this time out, so don’t be surprised if McKinnon, who had a fruitful performance in last year’s AFC championship game (95 yards), proves to be the difference on the scoreboard.
4 Sacks, 1 INT, 338 Yards Allowed
Let’s not forget here, KC defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have a chip on his shoulder after three straight losses to Joe Burrow’s Bengals. Could this be his perfect moment to strike?
The supercomputer seems a little unsure which way to turn on this one. The predicted yards allowed is more than Burrow’s career average against the Chiefs (327.3), but the Chiefs might be able to take advantage of Cincy’s banged-up offensive line that played well against the Buffalo Bills.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow
37 Attempts, 26 Completions, 280 Passing Yards, 2 Passing TD, 1 INT, 13 Rushing Yards
Our supercomputer pretty much only deals in numbers so to really understand how Burrow has continued to evolve as an NFL quarterback, it’s probably best you check out our analysis from earlier this week for a more in-depth understanding.
Burrow’s Week 13 performance against the Chiefs saw him register his second-highest passer rating of the season, and the supercomputer sees some similarities here, certainly with regard to passing yardage (286) and completions (25). He was sacked just once on that occasion while throwing two touchdown passes, but as we’ve just seen, it feels like the road to victory will be a little bit more difficult this time around.
If he does upset the applecart, Burrow will become just the fourth quarterback since 1995 to win six of his first seven playoff games and the 10th all time. He would also join Jake Delhomme as the only QBs in NFL history to win their first four road playoff starts.
Ja’Marr Chase: 10 Targets, 7 Receptions, 84 Passing Yards, 1 TD
Tee Higgins: 7 Targets, 5 Receptions, 61 Yards
Tyler Boyd: 7 Targets, 5 Receptions, 58 Yards
Hayden Hurst: 4 Receptions, 35 Yards
We often think about the NBA when it comes to big 3s. But maybe the trio of Bengals wideouts is about to change that. Chase, Higgins and Boyd combined for 21 of the team’s 35 receiving scores during the regular season, making them the NFL’s best wide receiver corps this season.
For those of you expecting an explosive performance from the trio with the potential for 100-yard games, it’s worth bearing in mind that back in December that Chase came closest to passing that mark (97), but no other Bengals player finished with more than 60 yards.
Our supercomputer is backing a similar trend in this one.
Joe Mixon: 14 Rushes, 52 Yards, 2 Receptions, 14 Yards
Samaje Perine: 4 Rushes, 17 Yards, 2 Receptions, 14 Yards
Is our supercomputer expecting lung-busting runs from the running backs? No.
But is our supercomputer expecting this group to have an impact on this football game? Yes.
As proven in the victory against the Bills last week, sometimes you don’t need your running game to do much more than repeatedly grind out those all-important yards that’ll help pick up first downs. Mixon did just that on eight occasions.
Maybe there will be additional chances for the pair if the Chiefs elect to focus on stopping Cincinnati’s passing attack, but don’t expect big numbers after the Bengals only averaged 95.5 rushing yards per game in 2022.
2 Sacks, 1 INT, 437 Yards Allowed
There might be just one elected Pro Bowler from the Bengals defense (Trey Hendrickson), but the unit has taken a particular liking in shutting down Mahomes in big spots.
Here though, our supercomputer just doesn’t see it happening that often. The predicted 437 yards allowed would be the second most the Bengals have given up over the course of their NFL schedule, with only the Cleveland Browns putting up more (440) in Week 8.
Our NFL Expert Pick
Kansas City Chiefs 24, Cincinnati Bengals 21
Another three-point spread between these two teams. but this time our supercomputer believes it will be Kansas City taking moving out to Super Bowl LVII with the chance of replacing the Los Angeles Rams as champions.
And do you want an omen for this matchup? The Chiefs are 7-0 in all playoff games since 2018 when recording at least 400 yards of offense. Our supercomputer projects them to eclipse that mark in this AFC championship game. You have been warned.
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