Los Angeles Times’ NFL writer, Sam Farmer, examines this week‘s conference championship games. Lines according to FanDuel. Last week’s record 3-1. For the playoffs, 7-3. Using point spreads with the scores Farmer had predicted, the record against the spread last week would have been 3-1. For the playoffs, 4-6. All times Pacific:
NFC championship: No. 2 San Francisco at No. 1 Philadelphia
When: Sunday, noon, Channel 11. Line: Eagles by 2½.
How 49ers can win: Christian McCaffrey’s calf bruise is slightly concerning, but a healthy Elijah Mitchell makes up for that. The 49ers need to chip away with the run the way they did in the second half against Dallas. Keep doing what they’re doing with Brock Purdy, who has yet to look like a rookie. Defensively, stop the run — nobody does it better — and keep everything in front of you. No monster plays.
How Eagles can win: On both sides of the trenches, Philadelphia is as good as it gets. Try to establish the run and don’t put the entire game on the arm of Jalen Hurts, and that includes making him part of the running game. Still, against the New York Giants, Hurts didn’t look bothered by his shoulder. On defense, limit the big play. San Francisco has so many guys who can hurt you in space. Don’t let those 20-yard throws turn into 40 or a touchdown.
Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy combined for 11 touchdowns when they played for Oklahoma and Iowa State, respectively, and matched up in 2019. On Sunday, they battle for a Super Bowl berth.
Pick: It’s so hard to pick against San Francisco, which has won 12 in a row. Purdy has played out of his mind. Still, Hurts looks healthy and the Eagles have just as many weapons, especially with DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown. The 49ers might struggle to run consistently against that Philadelphia defensive line to really take advantage of their playmakers, and that could be the difference. EAGLES 24, 49ERS 21
AFC championship: No. 3 Cincinnati at No. 1 Kansas City
When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Channel 2. Line: Bengals by 1½.
How Bengals can win: Everything runs through Joe Burrow, but sticking with the ground game and Joe Mixon helps. If that patchwork offensive line plays as well as it did at Buffalo, the Bengals will be fine. Defensively, take advantage of the limited mobility of Patrick Mahomes, and that means getting big games from defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. Mahomes is good from the pocket but not nearly as he is with those off-schedule throws. Bengals can be a little weak in the secondary at times, but their linebacker play and defensive line are so good, that makes up for it.
How Chiefs can win: Mahomes has to be able to move around a little bit, if only to buy an extra half-second in the pocket. Kadarius Toney could be a key because he can turn small plays into explosive ones. Defensively, the Chiefs need to get after Burrow and hit him. Whether that’s Steve Spagnuolo drawing up a bunch of blitzes, Chris Jones having a big day, whatever, they have to rattle Burrow. Stop the run, and the Chiefs aren’t great at that. Latch on to that energy in the building, which the Chiefs will do, because Arrowhead Stadium is a really tough place for visiting teams.
Joe Burrow has never forgotten his hometown of The Plains, Ohio, and the feeling is mutual — residents love and support the Bengals quarterback.
Pick: The Bengals beat Kansas City three times in the 2022 calendar year, so they aren’t intimidated. And with Mahomes hopping around on a high-ankle sprain that makes it really tough for the Chiefs. Kansas City is going to fight and hang in there, and they’re too well coached to get trampled, but Cincinnati has the momentum here. BENGALS 27, CHIEFS 21
Honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his “long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football,” Sam Farmer has covered the NFL for 25 seasons. A graduate of Occidental College, he’s a two-time winner of California Sportswriter of the Year and first place for beat writing by Associated Press Sports Editors.