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NFL Conference Championship Weekend pick predictions

Chiefs vs. Ravens and Lions vs. Niners — are there road upsets in store?

AFC Championship - Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

We’re two games away from finding out who’s headed to Super Bowl LVIII. Though if you ask many, including most NFL analysts, and believe in conspiracy theories — well, the game’s already been set.

You know, that whole logo thing...

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But before we can get to Ravens vs. Niners... I mean, Super Bowl LVIII, there are two very important games to be decided. And I’ve made my decisions about who’s going to win.

All season long, I’ve discussed the idea of motivation, and that teams in need of rising up often do in the most difficult times (well, not you, Philadelphia Eagles). We saw it with the Buffalo Bills as they climbed out of a 6-6 pit that few believed was possible, even though we’d seen it before from other teams head coached by Sean McDermott. Well unfortunately, the Bills’ motivation couldn’t overcome other important factors last weekend, which includes the idea of luck. Absence of luck in the NFL often leads to defeat.

So what does this all mean for NFL Conference Championship Weekend? I believe it winning comes down equally healthy doses of motivation and luck. All four teams have made it this far not only because they’re supremely talented, but because they leveraged motivation and luck better than other teams.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts...

AFC Championship - Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs (13-6) at Baltimore Ravens (14-4) (3 p.m. EST | CBS, Paramount+, NFL+)

DraftKings Sportsbook bettors favor the Ravens slightly at -4.5, which is easy to understand given they’re at home and field the top-scoring defense in the NFL to complement a physical and dynamic offense. The current over/under is 44, while the Moneyline is at -218 for Baltimore, and +180 for Kansas City.

I could dissect dozens of matchups within this AFC clash, but one thing stands out above all others to me: experience. Often with experience comes the ability to more clearly observe chances to leverage motivation and luck. There might not be a hotter team right now than the Kansas City Chiefs. They played their best offensive football last weekend — which, admittedly still appeared flawed. But when it mattered most, they did what champions do: they outlasted their opponent in crunch time. To boot, they silenced those who said they’d never win a road game, or at least one in Orchard Park, NY.

Mahomes has gone on record stating that M&T Bank Stadium was one of the few places he had to use a silent count, but the noise in Highmark Stadium did little to disrupt him and those pair of tackles under such a large microscope. I don’t see Mahomes and the Chiefs’ ride ending here, not one game away from another Super Bowl.

Where things could go awry is if KC’s receivers rediscover their drops, and if tight end Travis Kelce isn’t able to impact the game the way he did against Buffalo. The Ravens boast a dominating run game, but I’m not certain it will make much of a difference today. The Bills ran for over 180 yards on Kansas City, yet found themselves trailing and unable to overcome that deficit with under two minutes to go. While quarterback Lamar Jackson is a different sort of dynamic with the football in his hands, if the Chiefs can spy him well enough to contain his running to that of the East-West variety, then he may force the ball into his receivers’ hands against the likes of L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie.

Score prediction: 31-20, Kansas City Chiefs over Baltimore Ravens

San Francisco 49ers v Detroit Lions Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Detroit Lions (13-6) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4) (6:30 p.m. EST | FOX, FOX Deportes, NFL+)

DraftKings Sportsbook bettors seems to generously favor the Niners at -7.5, though I don’t know if that’s more due to hype and far too many people somehow caught off guard by Detroit. The current over/under is 52.5, while the Moneyline is at -340 for the 49ers, and +270 for the Lions.

Among those who closely follow the NFL, the Niners boast a roster full of all-star talent, and also quarterback Brock Purdy. Saying it that way isn’t meant to disparage Purdy, it’s just that most are reserved in putting the term “all-star” next to a player picked last in his draft class. But it’s possible everyone just missed the mark on him — including SF, which waited until the very end — similarly to how things played out with Tom Brady. It’s a testament to the player Purdy is that’s he’s been so successful and defied odds within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system. But is he good enough to win on the biggest stage yet of his young career?

He might be. He might also be the league’s MVP when all’s said and done. If he continues to feed the all-star likes of Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and even Brandon Aiyuk, then Purdy certainly stands a chance to hoist the NFC Conference Championship trophy at game’s end.

But not so fast. Detroit, while undeniably talented and full of heart, somehow seems to disappear on most peoples’ radars. The Lions boast the best run defense in the NFL (per the final quarter of the season and playoffs) and that should allow them to meaningfully contain McCaffrey. You can’t stop the dual-threat RB, but simply wrapping up tackles and playing disciplined defense could prevent those huge chunk runs for scores. If they can somehow limit the damage on the ground, then it could force Purdy into passing situations he’d rather not see. Teams that get to Purdy early and often have shown that the 49ers aren’t invincible.

Yet still, this matchup seems to favor SF in every way. There’s no way Detroit can win. Right? Wrong.

Motivation and luck. And experience at the game’s most important position. There’s perhaps no team more motivated to succeed than Dan Campbell’s Lions. Detroit hasn’t won a conference championship game in 66 years. NFL football didn’t even look the same that many decades ago.

While he doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring, the Lions when to quarterback Jared Goff for good reason. He’s settled the team in big moments, and he knows what it takes to get to the big game. If Detroit is successful tonight, it’ll be due to Goff and his connection with slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, as well tight end Sam LaPorta, and a healthy dose of running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery. The more you look into the Lions’ depth chart, the more it tends to resemble the Niners a bit.

Will the Niners and their seemingly untouchable system falter one game short of the Super Bowl? I believe in the Lions, a team that plays with so much more than system proficiency.

Score prediction: 24-20, Detroit Lions over San Francisco 49ers

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