Time to figure out what I’m doing with my investment dollars Sunday for the NFL and NFC Championship Games. It’s almost always a fun day of football watching – and even more entertaining when you can win some dollars. So far this postseason I’m 8-2 straight up and 6-4 against the spread.

The matchups are terrific, featuring a four-team field that represents the closest point-spread gap in the conference-championship round in the history of official NFL betting markets. The point spreads in both games are set at less than a field goal.


San Francisco (15-4) at Philadelphia (15-3)

Sunday, 2 p.m. STL time on Fox.

Betting favorite: Eagles by 2.5 points.

Analysis: This matchup is so tight that I’m inclined to take the points and go with the underdog – no matter who the underdog is. So that means a wager on San Francisco, right? I’m not so sure. Based on their most meaningful metric at Football Outsiders (I’m a believer), the 49ers have been superior to the Eagles over the past two months. The key metric, DVOA, has San Francisco rated No. 1 overall, No. 1 on defense, and No. 1 on offense since Week 2 of the regular season – and that rating got stronger when the Niners acquired running back Christian McCaffrey. San Francisco hasn’t lost since Oct. 23, and the winning streak has reached 12 in a row.

Ah, but rookie NFL quarterbacks that have started a conference title game are 0-4, so Brock Purdy will be going against the Eagles and history. Purdy is 8-0 as San Francisco’s starter, but he was shaky early against the Cowboys in the division round and this will be the most difficult test he’s encountered so far. The Eagles lead the league in sacks (70), bagging the most in a season by an NFL team since 1989. They can get to the quarterback without blitzing and have the league’s top-ranked passing defense.

The 49ers have a nasty defense and the league’s best set of linebackers. They play the most rugged defense in the NFL. They have a versatile and valuable set of playmakers on offense. All of that is very real, and great, but Purdy takes on added importance this week because of Philly’s defense, home field, and the inherent pressure that comes with a hostile road environment.

The strategy used against Purdy during his unbeaten streak has been all about sending as many attack dogs as possible to harass him into mistakes. But Dallas pressured Purdy on nearly 50% of his dropbacks last week and he handled it well. There were two first-quarter sacks (no more after that) and Purdy smartly threw the ball away when it made sense. Expect Philadelphia to get after him – that’s what the Eagles do best – but when Purdy wasn’t pressured last week he completed 16 of 19 passes for 190 yards.

Purdy should benefit from McCaffrey and a diverse cast of runners; the Eagles allowed 4.6 yards per rushing attempt this season and were ranked 17th overall in defending the run. That isn’t a problem for the Niners; they’re the No. 1 rush defense according to Football Outsiders and gave up only 3.4 yards per carry. Philadelphia plays strong defense but hasn’t gone against an offense that has this many playmakers. (McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk.) And Niners coach Kyle Shanahan is a smart play caller who has shown he can win and thrive with a QB3. He’s also 19-10 against the spread as a road underdog in leading the 49ers.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts is having an excellent season – 15-1 as a starter – and a formidable set of receivers. But the Eagles haven’t been challenged by the top defense in the league – until now. We can’t be sure how Purdy will deal with all of this, and that makes me nervous, but …

Bernie’s Pick: 49ers 20, Eagles 18



Cincinnati (14-4) at Kansas City (14-4)

Sunday, 5:30 p.m. STL time on CBS

Betting Favorite: Chiefs by a point, but that could change by kickoff.

Analysis: The point spread has fluctuated all week, with the sports books and bettors adjusting to reports on Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his highly publicized high ankle sprain. The right foot. His plant-and-throw foot.

I’m gonna keep this one simple. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are awesome. From a gambling standpoint, they’ve been happy to play the underdog role, at times going crazy in playing the “disrespect” card. But even though the Chiefs (for now) are favored by a point, plenty of money has been flowing on the Bengals. But they’re back to playing the underdog role again, and this is what they live for.

The Bengals have defeated the Chiefs three times in a row. A fourth consecutive victory over an excellent opponent seems improbable. But even though Andy Reid has such a brilliant mind as the orchestrator of an offense – one of the best coaches in league history – I don’t know how much the ankle will restrict Mahomes as the game goes on. He’s played well on an injured ankle before – throwing four touchdown passes against the Raiders in 2029 – but the Bengals have an excellent defensive coordinator in Lou Anarumo, and he’s gotten the best of Reid in the Brain Bowl contest between the teams.

Anarumo has managed to stay a step ahead of Reid and Mahomes by making fast, on-the-fly adjustments. After confusing the Chiefs by dropping eight defenders in coverage on 18 of Mahomes’ dropbacks in last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Bengals did that only five times when they played KC late during the 2022 regular season – and on those plays Mahomes completed only 1 of 4 passes for six yards and a sack. Mahomes isn’t easy to get to – just 11.4 percent of his pressured dropbacks this season have ended in sacks.That’s the lowest rate among qualified QBs. But will he be more vulnerable this time?

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo is regarded as one of the best blitz-schemers in the league, but he hasn’t rattled Cincy quarterback Joe Burrow. This season Burrow is No. 2 among regular starting quarterbacks against the blitz (per Pro Football Focus) with his 63 percent completion rate, 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and a lot of big plays. No wonder why, in his three games vs. KC, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has 25 receptions on 29 targets for 417 yards and four touchdowns.

Are the Bengals in the Chiefs’ heads? In the three losses to the Bengals the Chiefs squandered leads of 18, 14 and seven points and led every game through three quarters. Will that be a factor on Sunday?

The Bengals have won 10 in a row, are fearless on the road, and have allowed only 15.7 points per game over their last six. They’re at their best defensively now. And Burrow and his receivers are in peak form. Cincinnati is also ranked 6th in the league in defending tight ends in the passing game.

Bernie’s pick: Bengals 27, Chiefs 24.

Thanks for reading …

Pardon my typos; had to write in a rush.

Enjoy your weekend!


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

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