Sunday should be a fun day for NFL fans who will gather to watch two conference championship games, order up a pile of chicken wings and mounds of smoked brisket and pulled pork, and sip on their preferred beverages.

Kansas City Chiefs on the road with a shot to take down the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens. Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson. MVP quarterback vs. MVP quarterback. The two league’s two strongest defenses at preventing points. Two future Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning coaches in Andy Reid and John Harbaugh. This is a classic Baltimore crab cake of a game.

In the NFC, we’ll watch America’s favorite team, the Detroit, take their upbeat Motown vibe to the San Francisco Bay Area in a bid to upset the top-seeded 49ers. Did you know that back in the day, two Lions players, Lem Barney and Mel Farr, provide background dialogue on Marvin Gaye’s hit, “What’s Going On?”

The victors advance to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl. We’ll have to wait until Feb. 11 for that one.

To this stage of the NFL postseason, I’m 7-3 in my picks against the spread (70%) and have hit on 80% of my prop bets. Let’s see if we can pick a couple of winners and do it again …

AFC Championship
Kansas City at Baltimore
2 p.m. STL time, on CBS
Betting Line: Baltimore is a 4-point favorite.
Over/Under Points Scored: 44.5
Computer Projection: Ravens, 25-20

Against the Spread Info You Should Know: The Chiefs are 12-3 ATS in their last 15 road games against above-average passing defenses including 2-0 ATS this season. And then there’s Mahomes, who has a 9-1-1 career mark ATS the spread when the Chiefs are underdogs. But KC is 1-5-1 ATS this season against opposing teams that have had more than six days rest. That applies to this one. And the Ravens are 8-2 ATS this season against teams with a winning record.

The Overview

Kansas City’s divisional-round upset win at Buffalo was impressive and exhilarating, but the Chiefs must venture into a more treacherous neighborhood on Sunday.

In the words of fictional Baltimore police commissioner Ervin Burrell, a character in HBO’s The Wire: “It’s Baltimore, gentleman. The Gods will not save you.”

The brilliant handicapping analyst Steve Makinen devised a system for evaluating Super Bowl contenders. He listed 27 categories that represent proven championship-winning traits. The 2023 Ravens are nearly perfect in this examination, meeting 26 of the 27 criteria.

The Ravens (14-4) are ranked No. 1 or near the top in many key areas: rushing offense and defense, pass efficiency on both sides of the ball, scoring offense and defense, and turnovers. This season their defense achieved the rare triple crown of leading the NFL in fewest points allowed, most sacks, and most takeaways. The Baltimore offense has a consistently good offense that avoided many of the struggles that slowed Kansas City’s offense this season. The Ravens rank 7th in the league in converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (61.8%) and the Chiefs are 17th at 54.8 percent.)

Lamar Jackson – who will win his second MVP award – is the most dangerous off-platform quarterback in the NFL. He can move around and strike for deep-ball connections and bewilder defenses with his breakaway running ability. And Jackson provides that extra pop in Baltimore’s rushing ability.

Baltimore has a great chance to slow the Chiefs down. The biggest edge for Baltimore is in the run game because the Chiefs defense is vulnerable there. And Lamar Jackson’s elusiveness and explosiveness as a runner gives Baltimore a high probability of creating havoc with big plays when he takes off and goes. It isn’t just scrambling; offensive coordinator Todd Monken has given Jackson more designed runs to give the defenses something else to worry about. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen hurt the Chiefs with his talent as a runner last week. Kansas City’s defense will be taking on the NFL’s two most terrifying running quarterbacks in consecutive weeks, and that’s a helluva challenge.

And Mahomes may once again feel the frustrating impact of low-quality receivers. In the recent history of conference championship games, teams that are superior in defensive pass efficiency are 26-16 straight up and 28-14 ATS (66.7%), including 11-2-1 ATS in the last 14. Sure enough, this season Baltimore was No. 1 in the league in yards allowed per pass.

Kansas City’s offense has taken a positive turn in the postseason, but they did it against two beat-up, beaten-down defenses (Miami and Buffalo.) That won’t be the case on Sunday. The Ravens are healthy. And (pardon the pun) ravenously hungry.

Tight end Mark Andrews is returning from an injury for this game, and Jackson will love having his favorite receiver to go to under pass-rush pressure. These guys seemingly read each other’s minds.

The 2023 Ravens and the 2007 New England Patriots are the only teams in NFL history with a plus-100 point differential when facing playoff-bound teams on their regular-season schedule.

Take The Under? Over the last 22 games in which the Ravens have been a home favorite, the Under is 12-9-1. And the Under is 11-2 in the last 13 games the Chiefs have played on grass fields. KC has also gone Under in four of its last five games, and five of its last seven.

Bernie’s Pick: Ravens 26, Chiefs 20.

Why I’d Be Right: Baltimore is the league’s best all-around team and has more ways to beat an opponent.

Why I’d Be Wrong: Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo cranks up his usual diabolical array of blitzes and pass-rush lane changes to confuse Lamar Jackson … and Jackson has a clunker. And the Ravens make the mistake of leaving the backyard gate open for Mahomes to grab a backdoor cover and/or upset win. Jackson’s rating against the blitz on third down was among the very worst in the league this season. And Spags is a blitz master,


Lamar Jackson over 10.5 carries. He’s rushed at least 11 times in four of his last six games and will find open space against KC’s defense. And I think he’ll go over 65.5 yards rushing for another prop-wager success.

Isaiah Pacheco over 13.5 carries: If there’s a soft spot in the Ravens’ defense it could be this: 18th in EPA allowed per rush and 25th in run-stop win rate. Opponents have had little success in throwing against the Baltimore defense and turn to the run as an alternative. Andy Reid will go with one back and two or even three tight ends in this game. KC leads the NFL with 47% of runs to middle since Week 13 and is 7th this season in EPA on middle runs. But the Chiefs won’t have their excellent injured guard, Joe Thuney. That’s a concern.

Justin Tucker (Baltimore) over 1.5 field goals. No explanation necessary.

NFC Championship
Detroit at San Francisco, 5:30 STL time, FOX.
Betting Line: The 49ers are a 7.5 point favorite.
Over/Under Points Scored: 51.5
Computer Projection: Niners, 28-20

Against the Spread Info You Should Know: Detroit is 10-0 in its last 10 games against high-scoring teams including 3-0 this season. The Lions are 8-1-1 ATS in the last 10 games as an underdog (2-1 this season.) And San Francisco is 2-8 in the last 10 home games against above-average rushing defenses.

The Overview

The Lions can win this one. They pose a problem for the 49ers because they do an outstanding job of running the ball behind a strong offensive line. The Lions can go inside with the physical David Montgomery, or turn the fast Jahmyr Gibbs loose on pitches and other outside zone runs. Since Week 9 the San Francisco defense is 28th in rush defense EPA, and are mired in the bottom 10 in success rate allowed on run plays. You can absolutely move the ball on them and drain the clock, slow the game, and shorten it. In other words: an underdog-winning formula.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell will be aggressive on fourth downs. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan’s decision making tends to be conservative. He tends to keep other teams in the game and doesn’t put enough trust in his offense. The Lions are ranked among the league’s top five in rushing success rate, and they’re a top-eight unit in passing offense.

Who has the higher pass-pressure rate? Detroit. The best in the league. Who is better against the run? Detroit.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff throws it better indoors than outdoors, but Sunday’s weather shouldn’t unsettle him; it’s expected to be sunny with a high of 70 degrees.

The big challenge for the Lions is stopping the pass. They’re terrible in pass defense, especially on the deeper throws. San Francisco ranks No. 1 in explosive passing plays, and Detroit’s defense is dead last in preventing explosive pass plays. Brock Purdy and the Niners will get their shots against that porous pass defense – but the Lions can limit the number of opportunities by keeping the 49ers off the field with heavy-run, time-consuming possessions.

And while it would be a surprise to see all-purpose offensive machine Deebo Samuel (shoulder) sit this one out, how effective can he be?

San Francisco is very good … but there’s just a whiff of overrated here. The Niners are 3-6 ATS at home (fourth-worst in the NFL) and worst and the Lions 7-2 ATS on road (second best).

Bernie’s Pick: Lions 27-23. But really, I’m just aiming for a cash-in against the spread. And if the Lions can run the ball with gusto, they should cover. They’ll need to force a couple of turnovers.

Why I’d Be Right: Since Week 8 San Francisco is 0-6 ATS at home with a minus-56 cover margin. The sportsbooks have a habit of overrating the Niners.

Why I’d Be Wrong: Going back to his LA Rams days, Jared Goff is 3-6 against the 49ers in his career. He’s lost five in a row to Sunday’s opponent and in the five defeats Goff has seven touchdowns but also seven turnovers.


Detroit’s Jameson Williams: over 29.5 combined receiving rushing yards. He’s cleared that yardage total in four of his last five games.

Jared Goff over 0.5 interceptions: come on. He’ll throw one INTs, right? He was picked off at least once in four of Detroit’s five losses this season and San Francisco’s defense has grabbed at least one INT in eight of their last ten games.

San Francisco’s George Kittle over 23.5 yards for a longest reception. The tight end has done this in six consecutive home games and had a long catch of 32+ yards in five of six games. The Lions this season have given up nine completions of 25+ yards to tight ends and rank 24th in yards per attempt on throws to TEs.

Kittle over 57.5 receiving yards: he averages five receptions for 86 yards in his home games this season – and has 76 or more yards receiving in five consecutive home games.

Jahmyr Gibbs over 9.5 carries. He averages 12 rushes per game on the road, and is explosive on outside runs. Late in the regular season SF has struggled to contain pitch plays and outside-zone runs.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the games!


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

Some of the trends and point-spread data were sourced from VSIN, Sportsline, and other wagering-info sites.