NFL picks against the spread: Chiefs-Bengals highlights a fantastic final 4

This NFL final four is as competitive as any in recent memory, and perhaps ever. The two games have the lowest combined point spreads ever for a conference championship weekend. Any of the four teams can win it all, shown by the small gap in Super Bowl odds from the favorite to the fourth-best odds.

That makes for some great football the rest of the postseason. It also makes it tough to pick games.

The AFC championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs is a fantastic matchup with Patrick Mahomes' ankle providing a crucial variable.

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We saw Mahomes suffer a high ankle sprain last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars and limp around in the second half. He was still good enough for the Chiefs to win, but the Bengals aren't the Jaguars. Cincinnati won at Arrowhead Stadium last season, looks like a team focused on winning a Super Bowl after giving one away in the final minutes last season, with as much confidence as any team left in the field. It will be hard to beat them if Mahomes isn't effective, and he wasn't himself in the second half last week.

However, the reports on Mahomes have been positive. He practiced in full on Wednesday, which is a great sign. He looked to be moving well. The last time Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain, in the 2019 season opener, he had 443 yards and four touchdowns the next week against the Oakland Raiders. The Bengals are way better than that Raiders team and this time Mahomes' injury is to his right plant ankle and not his left like it was in 2019. However, maybe the Mahomes injury has been overblown a bit.

Perhaps the Bengals' three-game winning streak over the Chiefs has been overblown too. Let's look at all three games:

2021 regular season, 34-31 Bengals win at Cincinnati: The Chiefs led 28-24 into the fourth quarter. Zac Taylor made an odd decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in a tie game in the final minute and was twice bailed out by Chiefs defensive penalties (the first one was offset by an offensive holding call).


2021 AFC championship game, 27-24 Bengals win at KC: The Chiefs led 21-3, famously, and the game was tied into the fourth quarter. The Chiefs had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line inside the final two minutes of regulation but were held out of the end zone, settled for a field goal, threw an interception on the first drive of overtime and lost.

2022 regular season, 27-24 Bengals win at Cincinnati: The Chiefs led 24-17 going into the fourth quarter. A rare Travis Kelce fumble and a missed field goal in the fourth quarter flipped the game.

The Bengals deserve credit for all of those wins, but each one was a coin flip in the fourth quarter. Does the fact that the Bengals won all three mean they have the Chiefs' number? Probably not.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) meet again in an AFC championship game. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) meet again in an AFC championship game. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

The Bengals are a very good team. They're probably better than last season's team that almost won a Super Bowl, though the offensive line injuries that were such a big deal last week haven't magically gone away. That's still a problem, even if the Buffalo Bills couldn't take advantage of it. It's a bit odd how one good game caused us all to stop talking about it.


The line moves at BetMGM for the AFC championship game have been fascinating too. The Chiefs opened as a 1.5-point favorite, all the early money poured in on the Bengals and they kept moving all the way to a 2.5-point favorite. There was another line move to Chiefs +1, and then it came back to Chiefs -1. You won't see many line moves like that for a huge game like this.

The Bengals are a good team but I will back Mahomes and the Chiefs at home. I think Mahomes won't be 100 percent but will be hyper-focused and lift his level to overcome the injury. Cincinnati is clearly capable of winning too, but on a tough conference championship weekend, I'll ride with Kansas City -1.

Eagles (-2.5) over 49ers

Another tough game to pick because it's hard to go against either team. They're both excellent. But I liked the Eagles as my top Super Bowl future bet before the season started, and they've done nothing to change my mind. They have been the NFL's best team since Week 1, and they reminded us last week how good they are.


No matter what you think about the New York Giants, they were a playoff team and the Eagles demolished them. It's hard to beat an opponent 38-7 in the NFL playoffs. Jalen Hurts answered a lot of questions about his shoulder; he might not be 100 percent but few players are in late January. If anything it's the 49ers' injuries, particularly with Christian McCaffrey's calf, that bear watching on Sunday.

The Eagles have shown all season, and did again Saturday, how balanced they are. They have a fantastic offense and defense. And within the offense there's balance. They can run it as well as anyone and if you take that away, they can beat you passing it. It'll be a lot harder to do that against an excellent 49ers defense, but the Eagles are an elite offense. It'll be a great matchup.

And we have to talk about Brock Purdy. It's not fair to Purdy to keep moving the goalposts. It has gone from "he hasn't faced this situation on the road" to "he hasn't been in a playoff atmosphere" to "he hasn't face a defense like Dallas." He just keeps passing tests. But it's also fair to wonder if this great rookie story does have at least one rough patch. Everyone else's has, as shown by the fact that no other rookie QB has ever thrown more than 14 passes in a postseason without an interception. Purdy is up to 59 passes without an interception. Purdy is on a great roll, but is he going to be that much of a historical outlier? Maybe, but the 49ers probably aren't going to win in Philadelphia if he's not.

The 49ers are a very good team and perfectly capable of winning it all, but the Eagles have shown time after time this season they're legit and deserve the respect as the best team in the NFL over the course of the season. Let's go with a Chiefs-Eagles Super Bowl matchup.

Last week: 3-1
Playoffs to date: 9-1
Season to date: 147-128-4