Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Cincinnati. The Bengals won 34-31. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

HOW TO WATCH NFL CONFERENCE FINALS

Mike Shara

Years from now, fans may look back on the past two weeks of NFL playoffs and realize two things: 1) Last weekend was the greatest weekend of playoff football in NFL history – we may already all know that, actually – all four games were won on the final play of the game, and 2) it may mark the end of one of the best quarterback eras in history, as well. Aaron Rodgers has probably thrown his last pass for the Green Bay Packers; Tom Brady is hinting he may finally retire, and Ben Roethlisberger is definitely hanging his cleats up forever.  It may have been the beginning of a seismic shift in the quarterbacking landscaping of the NFL, and the instant classic that took place last Sunday between Josh Allen’s Bills and Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs may come to represent the official passing of the QB torch to a younger generation (one that also appears to include Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow).

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday January 30, 2 pm ET, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MI
National Broadcaster: CBS

POINT SPREAD: Cincinnati +7.5 (PointsBet)
OVER/UNDER: 54.5 (FanDuel)
MONEYLINE: Kansas City -350 (BetMGM)

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As great as the Bengals’ story has been this season – playing their first conference championship game in over 30 years, etc. – they are unquestionably the underdog on Sunday vs. Kansas City. They will have to go on the road to one of the toughest places to win in pro football against a veteran team playing in its fourth consecutive conference championship game that appears almost pre-destined to reach their third consecutive Super Bowl. After an early season hiccup, the Chiefs have been steamrolling everyone in their path – winning 12 of their last 13 games, with the only loss being to – you guessed it – the Bengals in Week 16. Their win vs. an excellent Buffalo team last week may prove to be their real Super Bowl as they narrowly defeated what might be the best team they face in these playoffs. An inexperienced Cincinnati team’s best hope is for K.C. to be a bit hungover from that game, start sluggishly and play a bit of a letdown game after their monumental comeback win. That feels unlikely from such an experienced playoff team. As far as betting goes, Kansas City has gone just 1-4 against the spread in their last five games and, somewhat surprisingly, have only gone over that number in 4 of their last 9 games at home. On the other hand, Cincinnati is 5-2 against the spread as a road team this year and are 3-2 in their last 5 games ATS. It seems that most bettors agree that this will be a slam dunk for Mahomes and Co., as over ⅔ of public money is currently being laid on the Chiefs.


NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
Sunday January 30, 5:30 pm ET, So-Fi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
National Broadcaster: FOX

POINT SPREAD: L.A. – 3.5 (FanDuel)
OVER/UNDER: 45.5 (PointsBet)
MONEYLINE: San Francisco +155 (DraftKings)

So if I have this correct Josh Allen, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers all have to sit at home on the sofa this weekend, but… (checks notes) …someone named Jimmy Garappolo is still playing. All I can say is “huh”.  The real curio here is that I suspect the Rams might prefer to play the Bills or Packers or Bucs again instead of Jimmy G’s 49ers. San Francisco have won each of their last 6 meetings vs. L.A. – no small feat considering the Rams have lost just 18 regular season games in that time. That’s right – a full third of the Rams’ losses since 2020 have been to the very 49ers team they host Sunday evening. This doesn’t really compute when you compare rosters – L.A. has more star power, with about ten big name All Pros on their active roster, having basically surrendered all of their draft capital until 2059 in order to put this year’s team together. The strange thing is that it’s not like the Niners have played flawlessly in those six games – they committed 9 turnovers, just two less than the Rams and haven’t dominated with the run game as they’re capable of doing, never even reaching 160 rush yards in any of those games. The ‘home field’ crowd won’t be a thing at all – in fact, it’s probable there are more fans wearing gold and red than blue and yellow at So-Fi, which isn’t going to help the Rams feel any better about their lot in this matchup. The Rams did add huge talent in Odell Beckham Jr and Von Miller midseason this year, fortifying themselves for games exactly like this one, and their talent level certainly makes a win – even a blowout win – possible here, even if that doesn’t feel like it will happen. San Francisco will become the first team in NFL history to play 12 road games in a season Sunday and have won three elimination road games in a row. The 49ers have gone over the number in four of their last 5 games despite very uneven quarterback play, while the Rams have gone over just 3 times in their last 7 home games.

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