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The Wednesday Watchman: Conference Championship Weekend

Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws a pass during the first quarter against the New York Giants during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills have been vanquished - without much of a fight either. While that is sad, we get to look forward to two great Conference Championship matchups. There is a pattern for these four remaining teams: young QBs. Three are still on their rookie deals. There is something to be said about using cap space on other positions while you can pay your young talent cheaply.

The Bengals have a chip on their collective shoulders. A game at Buffalo that should likely have been at a neutral site (because of the Damar Hamlin situation), turned into a Bills beating. Buffalo was exposed as inadequate on offense and defense. They failed to generate sufficient pressure on Joe Burrow behind his below-replacement-level offensive line.

They embarrassingly failed to generate points on offense against the likes of PFF's 68th-ranked cornerback, the coattail-riding momma's boy Eli Apple: "Over his time with Cincinnati, Apple has earned just a 55.4 PFF coverage [grade] and allowed a 101.5 passer rating into his coverage. He has just two interceptions but has been beaten for 11 touchdowns." Sorry Bills, maybe next year.

One-legged Patrick Mahomes can lead his guys to beat most teams in the league, but Cincinnati is among the best, so this game will be very interesting. The Chiefs are at home (again) for the conference championship, which leads us to this week's focus statistic.

Focus statistic

Since 2018, conference championship games have averaged 55 points per game. Those four games that the Chiefs hosted averaged 60 points per game.


This is simple. For the Bengals-Chiefs game, Mahomes will be limited by a high ankle sprain. The Bengals rank sixth in EPA defense vs the rush since Week 10. There should be no scrambles, more passing, and higher scoring than the current Vegas total of 47.5 implies. I will be on the over as long as the total remains below 50.

Mahomes is super-human. However, I am unsure about picking a side here. At the time of writing, the line is Bengals (-1). However, I expect this to continue to bounce around as various reports come out up until kickoff. If forced to choose, I would bet Cincinnati to pull off another road win. Who Dey got swag.

For the 49ers-Eagles game, we have two excellent defenses, two potent offenses, and two decent coaches. These chess match games seem to go under the total more often than not. The total is currently 46.5, which seems about right. You could easily imagine this game ending with final scores of 23-20 or 24-23. I would lean under.

The books have the Eagles favored by 2.5. Since the game is in the harsh confines of Philadelphia, I would take the proven QB over the seventh-round rookie. Eagles -2.5, please. Nice work Howie Roseman.


Look to roster the brand names this week. With air yards per reception numbers below 10.0, Travis Kelce and Juju Smith-Schuster get their catches in the short area, which could be helpful to their hobbled QB. Kadarius Toney is an interesting option for his playmaking yards after catch abilities.

The Bengals have proven that they will beat you however they please. Ja'Marr Chase is a great place to start when lineup building. He has averaged 12 targets per game since Week 10 and is a top WR talent. Tee Higgins is no slouch on the target front, either, averaging 7.29 per game in the same timeframe. Double-stack them with Burrow. There is a decent chance that Cincinnati plays with a lead, so even the horribly inefficient Joe Mixon is viable.

My top play this week is A.J. Brown. People will be down on him after his dud performance against the Giants (that we predicted), so hop back on the train. Since Week 10, the 49ers' defense is 24th vs non-slot WR like Brown while being ranked 1st vs the rush. DeVonta Smith is another great option.

For the 49ers, I like Deebo Samuel to again be used as the do-it-all playmaker. Since they will want to keep Jalen Hurts off of the field, top-tier RB Christian McCaffrey can pound out yards and catch passes to keep the chains moving with the best of them. George Kittle has had the eye and trust of Brock Purdy for weeks, there is no reason to think that their connection will stop now. Those are the only three players that I would trust from San Francisco.