Farley’s Best Bets: Let the Narrative Guide You in Conference Championships

Sunday’s AFC and NFC Championship games are difficult to handicap. Some of that has to do with the teams – they’re all elite in their own way – most of that has to do with the lines. Lines this close make it hard to extract value, particularly when they’re not wrong.

The Eagles (-2.5) deserve to be slight favorites. They’ve been impeccable this season, and they have a true home-field advantage. The 49ers deserve respect, too, and that’s why the line is less than a field goal. I can’t dispute the oddsmakers.

The Bengals (-1) and Chiefs should be listed as virtually even. At this point, it’s highly unlikely either will become more than two-point favorites. That makes sense: Kansas City has a legitimate edge at Arrowhead Stadium, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals have won three straight against their rival. Again, I don’t disagree with the oddsmakers’ perception.

When matchups are this close, I often turn towards a handicapping approach I call narrative betting. Narrative betting simply means I’m evaluating the game from a more macro-perspective and paying closer attention to intangibles like setting, experience, coaching, game management and team styles.

At this point, we know who these teams are. We have all the data, we know their tendencies and we know their weaknesses. All that information is vital, but I don’t quantify it the same. Instead, I account for what I think matters most in how the game will play out, and that becomes the deciding factor in how I wager on the contest.

Below are the factors I’m putting the most stock in for the AFC and NFC Championship games. Based on how those factors manifest is what creates the narrative, and each narrative presents a way to bet with more clarity. After all, nothing is more important than “the why.”

49ers at Eagles (-2.5)

Total: 46.5

Key Factor: Neither quarterback has been in a situation like what they’ll experience Sunday, and both quarterbacks are facing a Top-3 defense.

Since neither quarterback has been in this situation before, they’re the single most important and mysterious factor leading up to this game. The Eagles and 49ers are relatively even in a lot of other categories. They both have fast, aggressive, talented defenses. They have superstar playmakers on offense. Their defensive and offensive lines are full of veteran, All-Pro talent. And their coaching staffs are full of proven winners, although I would give Kyle Shanahan and his group a slight nod in that element. Let’s dissect why each quarterback could be limited Sunday.

Why Purdy Will Probably Struggle

  • Brock Purdy is undersized and may not be athletic enough to escape an Eagles’ defensive line that’s No. 1 in sack rate by a wide margin. Astoundingly, Philadelphia’s front seven averages more than four sacks a game
  • This is easily Purdy’s toughest test as a first-year quarterback with only eight games played. Few rookie quarterbacks could handle the kind of pressure he’ll experience
  • Lincoln Financial Field is one of the loudest and most raucous venues in the NFL
  • Purdy has only played in two NFL away games. He led his team to victories against Seattle and Las Vegas, but both were only one-score games
  • Philadelphia only allows a league-best 5.4 yards per pass and 174.1 pass yards per game

Why Hurts Will Probably Struggle

  • This is easily the best defense Jalen Hurts has seen all year. New Orleans, Washington and Dallas highlight an unimpressive 2022 schedule of opposing defenses
  • The Eagles usually rely on their run game to take pressure off Hurts, but I’m not sure if they can on Sunday. The 49ers allow only 3.4 yards per carry and 79 yards per game on the ground, which is the second-best in the NFL
  • San Francisco’s pass defense is among the best, too, forcing interceptions on 3.46% of plays (third overall) and only permitting 6.4 yards per pass (11th)
  • Hurts will have to command long, sustained drives. The 49ers are No. 1 in opponent points per play (0.272)

X-Factor: 49ers’ Run Game

The Eagles rank 24th in opponent yards per carry (4.7), something that could haunt them on Sunday if the 49ers find their ground game early. That would take a ton of pressure off Purdy’s shoulders, allow the 49ers to sustain long drives and it could gravely affect the rhythm of Philadelphia’s offense.


Bets to Make

Purdy under 19.5 pass completions (-120)
Purdy has only completed more than 19.5 passes in two games this season, and both were in higher-scoring affairs (vs. MIA and vs. LV)

Hurts under 48.5 rushing yards (-125)
Hurts is averaging 50.7 rush yards per game, but that’s an inflated number. He had his biggest rushing games against bad defenses (DET, AZ, IND, GB, NYG)

Nick Bosa over 0.25 sacks (-165)
Bosa is the league leader with 18.5 sacks and has yet to snag one in the postseason; I think he chases down Hurts and gets one in a big spot Sunday.

Both Teams to Make a First Down on Their First Drive: No (+110)
This is all about the pressure they’ll feel after kickoff – at least one team should go three and out.

Under 46.5 (-110)
Based on how good both defenses are and how challenging it’ll be for both young QBs, this is one of the traditional bets that make sense.

Bengals at Chiefs (+1)

Total: 47

Key Factor: The unstoppable nature of both quarterbacks and Kansas City’s added motivation.

Two of the hottest teams in the NFL clash in the late game Sunday. The Bengals have won 10 games in a row and have only failed to cover against the spread (ATS) in two of those contests. The Chiefs have won six in a row. They would have won 12 in a row, but a Week 13 loss to the Bengals stifled their momentum.

Both offenses have dynamic talent, and both defenses have enough playmakers to limit good offenses in most cases. I don’t think their defenses will experience much success on Sunday, though. Let’s discuss the below factors and why they’re so important when handicapping this contest.

Why Both QBs/Offenses Should Thrive

  • Burrow has been nearly flawless. Since the Week 8 embarrassment at Cleveland, Burrow has led his team to 10 straight wins, and he’s thrown 21 TDs and only 6 INTs
  • Since the Chiefs’ loss in Week 10 against Cincinnati, Patrick Mahomes has been on a tear. He’s put up 13 TDs, 4 INTs and an average QB rating of 105.6 through six games
  • Both QBs played a bit below their average output in Week 13 (Burrow: 286 yards, 2 TDs; Mahomes: 223 yards, 1 TD), yet their offenses still totaled 51 points
  • Kansas City has failed to pressure Burrow during the past two meetings, earning only one sack for seven yards in each game
  • Both offenses are top seven in points per game (KC: 1st – 29.1, CIN: 7th – 26.7)
  • The competition alone between two of the top QBs in football should enhance each thrower’s performance in an “I’m the best QB in football” scenario

Why Chiefs, Mahomes Have Extra Motivation

  • Mahomes has never beaten a Burrow-led Bengals; Joe “Cool” is 3-0 against Kansas City
  • The Bengals are calling the Chiefs’ home stadium “Burrowhead,” something Chiefs’ stars like Travis Kelce will look to use to their advantage
  • Last year, the Bengals knocked off the Chiefs in the same exact situation: the AFC Title game at Arrowhead Stadium
  • The Chiefs are currently underdogs at home. I’m certain Mahomes and his teammates will take that personally

X-Factor: Bengals’ Offensive Line

Last week, the Buffalo Bills played a curious style of defense, rarely attacking Burrow with aggressive blitz packages and giving Cincinnati’s wide receivers space off the line of scrimmage. That didn’t work as Burrow sliced and diced the Bills’ defense, and the Bengals took an early 14-0 lead.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid acknowledged Chris Jones and the Chiefs’ defensive line has struggled to get to Burrow in these big games before. Something tells me they’ll have a more nuanced game plan to make sure they don’t only bring him down one time on Sunday.


Bets to Make

Mahomes under 0.5 INTs (-105) and Burrow under 0.5 INTs (-135)
In Mahomes’ last seven playoff games, he only has five INTs. He had two INTs last time in last year’s postseason matchup with Cincinnati. That presents a point of correction. In six playoff games, Burrow has only thrown 2 INTs.

Chiefs over 23.5 points (-110)
The Chiefs have only failed to eclipse 23 points in three games this season.

First Quarter over 9.5 points (-110)
Both QBs will look to make an instant statement in this big game, and I don’t think they’ll feel any pressure – they’ve both proven they’re ice-cold in these high-pressure moments.

Over 47.5 (-110)
This line is ticking up, and it should. The weather looked grim early in the week but now it looks more amenable to points (12 mph winds, partly sunny, cold). Based on the narrative neither QB will be stifled often in this contest, I love the over.

WATCH: Bengals Own the Chiefs

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