2024 NFL playoff picks: Ravens top Chiefs in AFC Championship thriller, Lions-49ers goes down to wire in NFC



As someone who has read every conspiracy theory ever published on the internet, which by the way, you should never do, I have finally found the one that is going to take the NFL down. 

We’re on to you Roger Goodell and your world is going to come crashing down this weekend when everyone learns that the NFL has been predetermining who’s going to play in the Super Bowl based on the colors of the Super Bowl logo.  

THE EVIDENCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF US AND IT’S CLEAR. This would be a like if a flat-earther actually sailed off the side of the planet, then we’d have to believe them. The logo is right there and it says that the Ravens and 49ers are going to play in the Super Bowl. There’s no way I can pick against it, so I’m not even sure I need to pick the games this week. At least that’s what I thought. 

After reading through 79 Taylor Swift stories over the past 24 hours — which is basically a normal Monday for me — I’m now convinced that the NFL’s actual plan is for a Lions-Chiefs Super Bowl and that they just used the logo thing to throw us all off, just like the people who buried all those fake dinosaur bones in the 1700s to make us all think that dinosaurs exist (because dinosaurs aren’t real, according to another conspiracy I read on the internet).  

Eminem vs. Taylor Swift. It’s truly the showdown we’ve all been waiting for. 

So should I go with Lions-Chiefs or Ravens-49ers? To figure out who I should pick, I decided to do my own research, because you can’t trust anything you read on the internet anymore. 

So what did I find out? 

The 49ers and Ravens both opened as favorites this week and one reason to like them is because they both played on Saturday in the divisional round. Teams that play on Saturday — which means they get one extra day of rest — have gone 19-9 in the conference title round over the past 13 years. To add to that, at least one team that played on Saturday in the divisional round has won at least one of the conference title games in 17 of the past 19 years, which means it’s highly unlikely that the Lions and Chiefs both win. So I’d like to apologize to either Eminem or Taylor Swift, because one of you will be flying home this week. 

The one-day advantage doesn’t sound like much, but just think about it like this: While the Chiefs were busy fighting for their lives in a one-score win over the Bills on Sunday night, the Ravens were sitting around tweeting out shirtless locker room photos. 

Not only are the Ravens and 49ers more rested, but they’ll both be playing at home this week, which is definitely a huge advantage in the conference title round. 

In eight of the past 10 years, the home team has won the NFC Championship game, and in what can only be described as a perfect coincidence, the home team has also won eight of the past 10 conference title games in the AFC (Advantage: 49ers and Ravens). 

So it appears those stats are in on the Super Bowl logo conspiracy, because they’re also telling me to take the Ravens and 49ers. Should I go with both 1 seeds to win or should I go rogue? Let’s get to the picks and see what happens. 

AFC and NFC championship picks

(3) Kansas City (13-6) at (1) Baltimore (14-4)

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (CBS) 
Current point spread: Ravens -3.5

For the first time in his career, Lamar Jackson is going to be playing in the AFC Championship game, and if he wants to win, all he’s going to have to do is beat the guy who’s been to the AFC title game so many times that the NFL is probably just going to name it after him: Patrick Mahomes.

The one thing I already know I’m going to love about this game is that we’re definitely going to see a shirtless Jason Kelce pounding beers while eating crab cakes. I mean, you can’t go to Maryland and not eat crab cakes. And you also can’t go to Maryland and not take your shirt off, so this is the perfect spot for Kelce. And I’m guessing Taylor will also be there. 

I hope so, too, Tiffany. 

OK, let’s move on. Although everyone spent all last week talking about the Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen showdown, that was just the appetizer. This is the main course: We’re getting Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line and the crazy thing is that I’m barely going to MENTION either of those guys for the rest of this pick and that’s because I think this is all going to come down to which defense plays better. 

Not only did the Ravens give up the fewest points in the NFL this year (16.5 per game), but they also led the league in sacks with 60. The crazy thing is that the Chiefs ranked right behind them in both categories, so we have the top two defenses in football and they’ll both be going up against their biggest test of the season. 

The Chiefs have to stop the most electrifying quarterback in the NFL. The Ravens have to stop the most talented quarterback in the NFL, and let me just say, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of trying to do either of those things. 

The Ravens’ best chance of winning is going to hinge whether they can pressure Mahomes. The Chiefs quarterback has been sacked exactly ZERO times this postseason and as the Dolphins and Bills both learned, if you can’t get to Mahomes, he’s going to burn you. There were only four games this season where Mahomes was sacked at least three times and the Chiefs went 1-3 in those games. As the team with the most sacks in the NFL, the Ravens are the one team that should be able to get after Mahomes. 

The key part for the Ravens is that this isn’t a T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett situation where you have one guy racking up all the sacks for your defense. The Ravens have three players who have recorded at least nine sacks and they had seven players who have recorded at least 3 sacks. They have a lot of guys who can get after the quarterback and defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald knows how to use them. 

If this was a regular season game, that would be enough to convince me to pick the Ravens, but this isn’t a regular season game. It’s the playoffs and the Chiefs offense has suddenly flipped the switch since the postseason started. Maybe they didn’t know where that switch was during the regular season, but they found it and flipped it, and they now look unstoppable. 

Since the start of the postseason, the Chiefs are averaging more points per game and more yards per play than they did during the regular season. A big reason for that is because Travis Kelce decided to show up after taking off the final few weeks of the regular season. Over the final three games of the year, Kelce averaged just 29.3 yards per game with zero touchdowns, but since the playoffs started, he’s turned into the unstoppable Kelce that we always expect to see: He’s averaging 73 yards per game with two touchdowns. 

The Ravens might be able to slow Kelce down, though. They only gave up three touchdown catches all year to tight ends, which was tied for the second-lowest number in the NFL. 

This game will mark just the second time in Mahomes’ career that he’s started a playoff game on the road. Although he won last week in Buffalo, he’ll now be heading to Baltimore, where things will likely be much crazier and Mahomes KNOWS that. The Chiefs QB recently admitted that Baltimore is one of only two stadiums that he’s played in where the crowd got so loud that he couldn’t communicate with his offensive line. 

It feels like crowd noise could actually be a factor, which isn’t something that Mahomes usually has to deal with. 

I don’t want to pick against Patrick Mahomes in this game and I don’t want to pick against Lamar Jackson, but I have to pick against one of them and I had a really tasty crab cake for lunch, so I’m going with … 

The pick: Ravens 23-20 over Chiefs
Record picking Chiefs games this season: 13-6 straight up, 11-8 against the spread
Record picking Ravens games this season: 8-10 straight up, 9-9 against the spread

If you want a more analytical approach to your NFL picks, then I highly suggest that you check out the SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year. Check it out if you want to know which side to bet for both games on Championship Sunday.

(3) Detroit (14-5) at (1) San Francisco (13-5)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (Fox)
Current point spread: 49ers -6.5

For the first time since the 1991 season, the Lions are in the NFC Championship game. If you’re wondering how long ago that was, let me put it this way: George H.W. Bush was still president (for eight more days), Vanilla Ice was the most famous white rapper on the planet and Chipotle didn’t even exist yet. Try to imagine living in a world without Chipotle. You can’t. It’s impossible. Where would we even get our burritos? I don’t even want to think about it.

Also, Vanilla Ice’s reign as the most famous white rapper ended when Eminem came along and Eminem happens to be a Lions fan, so this was all clearly destined to happen. 

In the 32 years since that initial NFC title game appearance, not much has gone right for the Lions. For years, they’ve been the laughingstock of the NFL, just like Detroit-style pizza has been the laughingstock of the culinary world, but let me tell you something, both are extremely underrated. 

If the Lions are going to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, they’re going to need to figure out how to stop the pass and they’re going to need to get that figured out soon. The Lions surrendered an average of 247.9 passing yards per game during the regular season, which was the sixth-worst number in the NFL and things haven’t gotten any better in the playoffs with the Matthew Stafford (367) and Baker Mayfield (349) both putting up huge totals.

Despite the huge performances from Mayfield and Stafford, the Lions still beat both of them and that’s mainly because their offense played well enough to win. This week though, if Brock Purdy goes off, it’s hard to imagine the Lions offense keeping up and that’s mainly because it will be going up against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The 49ers surrendered the third-fewest points in the league this year and they gave up the eighth-fewest yards. 

The upside for the Lions is that they have a one-two punch in Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery that might actually be able to run on the 49ers and if they can do that, then an upset is certainly possible. If the Lions get their rushing attack going, that will take a lot of pressure off of Jared Goff, who has thrived when he’s not under pressure. 

Also, being able to run the ball puts the 49ers defense on its heels. The 49ers are 3-4 this year in games where they surrendered at least 100 yards rushing and two of those three wins came against the Cardinals, so I’m not even sure those actually count (The other win came in the divisional round against the Packers in a game they almost lost). 

It feels like Gibbs could be the key to this game. The 49ers have struggled this year to stop running backs from catching passes out of the backfield — they gave up 90 catches for 625 yards to running backs, which ranked in the bottom-eight of the NFL of both categories — and if they can’t stop Gibbs, that could turn into a huge offensive spark for the Lions. 

Of course, the 49ers have an even deadlier offensive weapon out of the backfield in Christian McCaffrey, who will be getting one of his biggest tests of the season. The NFL’s leading rusher will be facing a Lions defense that surrendered the second-fewest rushing yards in the league this year. The Lions feel like the one team that could actually slow McCaffrey down. 

The more I think about it, the more I think that this game is going to come down to whichever QB makes fewer mistakes. The Lions went 4-4 this season when Goff threw at least one pick, but 10-1 when he didn’t. As for the 49ers, they’re not much better when Purdy is turning the ball over: They went 2-4 in games where Purdy threw at least one pick, but 11-0 when he didn’t throw any interceptions. 

I’m not sure which QB I trust more and that also applies to the two coaches in this game. I trust Kyle Shanahan’s offense more, but I trust Dan Campbell’s in-game coaching more.

One big issue looming over this game is the availability of Deebo Samuel. The 49ers star injured his shoulder against the Packers and it’s not clear if he’s going to play. Samuel missed two games this year and the 49ers went 0-2 in those games. 

Before this postseason started, the Lions had gone 32 years without winning a playoff game and they ended that drought. They went 32 years without a conference title game appearance and they put an end to that drought. And now, they have a chance to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

I feel like this game is going to go one of two ways: Either the 49ers are going to destroy the Lions and win by double digits or Detroit is going to get to its first Super Bowl by stealing the win in a close game. The Lions haven’t won a road playoff game since 1957, they haven’t won in San Francisco since 1975, but this feels like a team of destiny. I can’t pick against destiny. 

The pick: Lions 27-24 over 49ers
Record picking Lions games this season: 12-7 straight up, 9-9-1 against the spread
Record picking 49ers games this season: 12-6 straight up, 11-7 against the spread

Last Week

Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the Lions would advance to their first NFC title game in 32 years by scoring exactly 31 points in a win over the Buccaneers and guess what happened? The Lions advanced to their first NFC title game in 32 years by scoring exactly 31 points in a win over the Buccaneers. The one thing I didn’t predict is that the Buccaneers would completely give up on the game with 36 seconds left. 

As you can see above, after Detroit took a knee on third down with 36 seconds left, the Bucs could have used their last timeout, but instead, Todd Bowles apparently decided he wanted to take the timeout with him on vacation this offseason. I have no idea where he’s going on vacation, but I hope he takes some pictures with that timeout and shares them on social media. 

Worst pick: All I’m going to say here is THANK GOD THE TEXANS SEASON IS OVER. I mean, I’m not sure I could have mentally handled picking another Texans game. If you didn’t read my picks regularly this year, I was probably the worst person in the country when it comes to picking Texans games. It became a running joke with the joke being on me. Houston played 19 games this season and I went 4-15 picking those games. In Week 13, I went 12-1 picking against the spread and guess who I missed? Actually, you don’t even have to guess, because we already know: It was the Texans. I am over the Texans. I am going on a 30-day hiatus where I won’t be talking about the Texans or any word that starts with the letter “T,” that’s how jilted I am right now. This is called a cleanse and my life coach said if I don’t do this I might grow to resent the Texans for the rest of my life. TOO LATE. I’M ALREADY THERE. 

Alright guys, unless I decide to do a Pro Bowl pick — and I probably won’t — I’ll be on a one-week hiatus, which means you should circle Feb. 5 on your calendar (or tattoo it on your ankle), because that’s when my Super Bowl LVIII pick will be rolling out. If you can’t wait that long, then I suggest following me Twitter or even Instagram. I’ll be in Las Vegas for Super Bowl week and I can guarantee you everything that happens in Vegas will not be staying in Vegas that week because I’ll be sharing it on social media. 

If you want don’t want to wait until Feb. 5 to hear from me, you can sign up for the daily NFL newsletter that I write for CBSSports.com. Just click this link and enter your email and then BAM, I’ll be in your inbox five days per week. 

Picks record

Straight up in divisional round: 2-2
SU overall in playoffs: 5-5
Against the spread in divisional round: 2-2
ATS overall in playoffs: 6-4

Final 2023 regular season record
Straight-up:
 164-108
Against the spread: 137-125-10


You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably reading conspiracy theories on the internet. 





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