NFL PLAYOFFS: We’re down to four in the quest for Super Bowl LVIII, and one glorious Sunday is all that remains in the journey. It doesn’t get much better than the day we’re about to have: first, it’s the AFC Championship game in Baltimore, where the top-seeded Ravens will have to beat the conference’s Final Boss, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. It’s a game of contrasting styles that features perhaps the two best quarterbacks in the league in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and yet something tells me it’s going to be the play of the defenses that determines the outcome.

Then we’re off to San Francisco, where the 49ers, who have been the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl for about 8 weeks now, will look to put the Detroit hype train to rest. Dan Campbell’s Lions are surely the people’s choice at this point– the lovable loser that finally caught a couple of breaks and is now just one win away from the unthinkable. Will we finally see something that longtime Lions fans have waited a lifetime for?

Here are a few thoughts on both games:


Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -4, 43.5)

Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have faced off four times but haven’t met since 2021, and never in the playoffs. This is a classic matchup of differing styles– Baltimore plays a physical, run-first brand of football that is somewhat rare in today’s NFL, while the Chiefs have helped define modern football with their wide open, creative attack that tests all levels of a defense. Speaking of defense, while the quarterbacks may be soaking up all the press attention ahead of this one, these teams both have championship-caliber defenses, with the Ravens allowing the fewest points in the league (16.5 ppg) and the Chiefs ranking second in both points allowed (17.3 ppg) and yards allowed (289.8 ypg).

This is the best defense that Kansas City has had in the Reid/Mahomes era by a wide margin, but the Ravens will present a unique challenge with their league-leading rushing attack (156.5 rush ypg), spearheaded by the ever-dangerous Jackson. It’s worth noting that since defensive coordinator Steve Spagnualo took over the Kansas City defense in 2019 no team in the NFL has allowed more rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks than the Chiefs. Though it’s been a couple of years, the last time Jackson faced Spagnualo’s Chiefs he rushed for 107 yards and 2 TDs, including the winning score in a 36-35 classic. I highly doubt we’ll see that many points in this one, especially since the Kansas City offense has been a shell of its former self this season. This will be one of the toughest tests of Mahomes’s storied career considering what he’s working with: no game-breakers on the perimeter, an aging Travis Kelce who is having his worst season in years, and on the other side of the ball a stout Baltimore defense that excels at disguising blitz packages and coverages and making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Mahomes is remarkable, but it feels like he’ll be outgunned in this one. Prediction: Baltimore 27, Kansas City 14


Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers (SF -7, 51.5)

The Niners have looked like the league’s best team for the past two months but the season almost went up in flames against Green Bay last week, with a late 4th-quarter touchdown drive saving the day in a 24-21 thriller. Star receiver Deebo Samuel injured his shoulder in that game and early in the week was thought to be questionable for this one, but he has since been taken off the injury report, and when asked on Friday by a reporter how he plans on protecting the shoulder in this game, Deebo responded “I ain’t protecting nothing”. Well… ok then. Enough said. Let’s get it on!

The Detroit offense has been terrific all season and they’ve kept it going in the playoffs, averaging 27.5 ppg in wins over the Rams and Bucs. They’ll be facing a 49ers defense that has been great at times but looked awfully vulnerable against the Packers last week, surrendering 136 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry to a Green Bay backfield that doesn’t have quite as much juice as the Lions’ Montgomery/Gibbs tandem. With Jared Goff playing at an extremely high level and Amon-Ra St. Brown giving Detroit a true No. 1 option outside, the Lions certainly have the goods on offense to make this one interesting, and their defense is one of the best in the league against the run, so they might (emphasis might) be able to slow down the otherworldly Christian McCaffrey. The question, then, is whether young 49ers QB Brock Purdy can step up and deliver against a vulnerable Lions secondary that ranks 27th in the NFL against the pass, surrendering 247.4 yards per game through the air and a miserable 7.8 yards per pass attempt. With the exception of a couple shaky moments late in the season, Purdy has looked the part of a cold-blooded champion, but he’s never had the lights shine this bright before, and football is a funny game whose violent nature can sometimes make young quarterbacks perform in unusual ways. If the Niners can’t keep Aidan Hutchinson out of Purdy’s lap, this is going to be a difficult game for them to win. But they’ve done good job in protection all year and I expect Kyle Shanahan to have no trouble devising ways to attack the leaky Detroit secondary, giving San Fran an edge here. I do expect a close game, however. Prediction: San Francisco 31, Detroit 28

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