The battle for the AFC comes down to Kansas City and Baltimore.
The two teams will face off Sunday, as the host Ravens are favored by 3.5 points.
This weekend will mark the third time that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been an underdog in the playoffs since he’s been a starter in the league. Last weekend’s divisional round game against Buffalo was the second time.
In that contest, Mahomes & Co. covered the spread by beating the Bills 27-24.
In Super Bowl futures, K.C. is third on the board at +450.
Coming off a 34-10 victory over Houston, the Ravens are led by Lamar Jackson, the player who fans, bettors and analysts project will win the regular season MVP, the second of his career.
The Ravens have the second-best odds to win the Super Bowl at +170.
What are the best bets to make for the AFC Championship Game?
Our experts — Chris “The Bear” Fallica, Sam “Sammy P” Panayotovich, Geoff Schwartz, Jason McIntyre and Will Hill — are here to help.
Let’s dive into their picks.
CHRIS “THE BEAR” FALLICA
Patrick Mahomes Passing Yards — Over/Under 243.5
Mahomes and the Kansas City offense might find the going a bit tougher this week than it did against the injured shell of a Bills defense last week.
Coverage will be tighter, the pass rush will be stronger, and we might see a lot of designed pass plays turn into scrambles, which will reduce that pass yardage total.
If Baltimore gets a big lead, that could change things. But I think the Kansas City defense will keep the Chiefs in the game, and we’ll see a bit of a complementary game plan, where K.C. controls the ball in an effort to keep Jackson and the Ravens off the field.
Correlated plays would include Mahomes rushing yards Over and the game total Under.
PICK: Patrick Mahomes Under 243.5 passing yards
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Travis Kelce receptions — Over/Under 5.5
I had Kelce Over 5.5 receptions against the Bills, and he finished Under with five.
Yes, those five catches were crucial because he converted multiple first downs and reached the end zone twice. But “only” five receptions against a beat-up Buffalo back seven is a tad alarming, considering the Chiefs now have to face the Ravens’ outstanding linebacker and safety group.
I expect Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to take away Kelce as a first option for Mahomes because Baltimore has great coverage defenders. And let’s be honest, Kelce, at the ripe age of 34, is clearly not as swift this season.
It’s also worth noting that Travis is no longer the every-down player he has been in the past. Now, after a big catch, he tends to find himself on the sideline for a few plays.
I don’t expect him to be a high-volume pass catcher on Sunday.
PICK: Travis Kelce Under 5.5 receptions
Patrick Mahomes rushing attempts — Over/Under 4.5
Mahomes will need to make plays with his legs for the Chiefs to win.
The Ravens have an elite pass rush, so Mahomes will have plenty of opportunities to scramble while escaping the pressure. There’s often no one to cover the quarterback if he’s on the move.
I also expect Kansas City’s passing game to struggle at times against Baltimore’s secondary. If receivers are not open, Mahomes will be forced out of the pocket to try to create yards.
Also, any kneel downs by a quarterback count toward rushing attempts. Give me the Over.
PICK: Patrick Mahomes Over 4.5 rushing attempts
Zay Flowers receptions — Over/Under 4.5
Kansas City’s defense just doesn’t allow the No. 1 receiver many chances to catch the football.
In the Chiefs’ last four games, they allowed Stefon Diggs to catch four, Tyreek Hill five, Ja’Marr Chase three and Davante Adams just one.
Why? L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City’s No. 1 cornerback.
Sneed has given up one touchdown all season (to Hill), and when facing Diggs last weekend, he allowed one catch in 25 one-on-one matchups.
He’s going to shut down Flowers.
PICK: Zay Flowers Under 4.5 receptions
Jackson rushing yards — Over/Under 63.5
Kansas City has an excellent pass defense, and the Chiefs will take away Jackson’s ability to use his arm, so he will resort to running the football when the pass game struggles.
Plus, the Chiefs rushing defense is without some interior linemen and possibly one of its linebackers in Willie Gay, and that’s not going to be helpful in trying to stop Jackson.
Kansas City’s defense tends to allow mobile quarterbacks to escape the pocket with poor rush lanes. Joe Burrow and Josh Allen have both routinely run the ball well against the Chiefs in the postseason. I expect Jackson to run it well on Sunday.
PICK: Lamar Jackson Over 63.5 rushing yards
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Ravens -2.5 First half spread
Travis Kelce Anytime Touchdown Scorer
It’s been a while since a No. 1 overall seed was this undervalued in the playoffs. That’s a testament to the staying power of Mahomes and Andy Reid. They’re a damn monetary magnet, especially as a ‘dog.
Since September 2018, Kansas City is 9-1-1 against the spread when catching points. And while I truly understand the appetite, I’m swiftly going the other way.
Baltimore’s defense is elite, and it’s a major step up in competition from those Miami and Buffalo units that were decimated by injuries. The Ravens led the entire NFL with 60 sacks, and they will pressure the pocket at will.
Rather than mess around with laying points for the whole game, I’ll cut it down the middle and bet Baltimore in the first half. Let’s get ahead of Reid’s halftime adjustments and avoid fourth-quarter Mahomes at all costs.
Meanwhile, Kelce has scored a touchdown in 10 of his last 12 playoff games. I vividly remember him being -140 or higher last postseason and I want to say he was in the -160 range in last year’s Super Bowl.
Plus money for him to score Sunday? Sign me up please.
PICK: Ravens -2.5 1st half
PICK: Travis Kelce (+115) anytime TD
Ravens Team Total — 44 points
Gus Edwards Anytime Touchdown Scorer
Rashod Bateman First Ravens Touchdown
I took a small piece of KC +3.5 when the line came out, but I like the Ravens to win the game.
Yes, Mahomes is 13-1 in the postseason against QBs not named Tom Brady. And yes, the Chiefs played their most complete game of the season last week on the road against a beat-up Bills defense.
But, If you like K.C. here, it’s either due to recency bias after the win in Buffalo or because it’s Mahomes in an underdog role. It can’t be because of the season-long metrics — those all favor the Ravens.
The Chiefs offensive success in the playoffs came against middling defenses — 19th (Dolphins) and 11th (Bills) in DVOA — and they now must face No. 1 on the road.
To make matters worse for K.C., Baltimore is getting CB Marlon Humphrey back from injury. Sure, he’s been hurt this season and hasn’t played at the level of prior years, but his return gives them flexibility to move Kyle Hamilton around. The rookie is a Swiss Army Knife who can match up with Rashee Rice in the slot or Kelce. And K.C. losing All-Pro guard Joe Thuney makes the left side of the line very susceptible.
The Ravens love to step up in class — they’re 8-2 against playoff teams this season, with blown leads against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs are just 3-4 against playoff teams.
Last week, I was on the Chiefs ML, but had concerns they’d get blown out.
K.C. rebounded nicely in the playoffs after an up-and-down season, but the wheels may fall off here in a 37-16 defeat.
PICK: Ravens ML and Over 44 points scored by both teams combined
PICK: Gus Edwards (+105) anytime TD
PICK: Rashod Bateman (+1200) first Ravens TD
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Chris “The Bear” Fallica has covered sports for nearly three decades. While college football has been his focus, he also enjoys the NFL, Soccer, Golf, Tennis, MLB, NHL and Horse Racing, with an “occasional” wager on such events. Chris recently won the inaugural Circa Football Invitational and finished in the Top 10 of the Golden Nugget Football Contest. He’s a multiple-time qualifier for the NHC Handicapping Championship. Remember, “The less you bet, the more you lose when you win!” Follow him on Twitter @chrisfallica.
Geoff Schwartz is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He’ll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.
Jason McIntyre is a FOX Sports betting analyst who also writes about the NFL and NBA Draft. Before arriving at FOX Sports, he created the website The Big Lead. Follow him on Twitter @JasonRMcIntyre.
Will Hill, a contributor on the Bears Bets Podcast, has been betting on sports for over a decade. He is a betting analyst who has been a host on VSiN, as well as the Goldboys Network.