Conference Championship Playoff Preview

Breaking down the AFC and NFC Championship games.

By the time Sunday evening rolls around, we will know who will play in Super Bowl LVIII. In the AFC, Kansas City tries to repeat as the champions but must go through the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, in the NFC, Detroit hopes to make their first Super Bowl appearance by upsetting the San Francisco 49ers. Our Conference Championship Playoff Preview looks at the games from a fantasy and sports betting lens.

Using our RDA* projections, we can break down each game to find the statistical edge that can give us a leg up in playoff fantasy and daily fantasy lineups. Also, we can determine the best bets to make.

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Kansas City Chiefs (13-6) at Baltimore Ravens (14-4)

Time: 3:00 Eastern

Line: Ravens -3.5

Total: 44.5

Money Line: Chiefs +170, Ravens -220

Kansas City Offense

The defending champs got by the Bills despite being out-gained and losing the time-of-possession battle 37-22. Patrick Mahomes compiled a 131.6 QB Rating in Buffalo, throwing for 215 and a pair of scores. Unfortunately for Mahomes, this Baltimore defense is much more formidable. The Ravens boasted the top-scoring defense in football and ranked third in limiting fantasy points to quarterbacks.

Additionally, the Chiefs still haven’t gotten much out of their wide receivers and Baltimore has surrendered just nine touchdown passes in 10 home games. Of course, you never count out Andy Reid and more Mahomes magic. Despite the tough matchup, Mahomes is still a viable option as a four-point underdog.

RB Isiah Pacheco ran for 97 yards and a score in Buffalo. Although the Ravens have the NFL’s top run defense, Baltimore allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of their last five regular-season games. Also, Pachecho played 72% of KC’s snaps last week and is a capable receiver. Pacheco’s volume looks good, but the potential absence of Joe Thuney is worrisome.

Rashee Rice has become the only reliable wideout in Kansas City’s offense. Baltimore allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to the position and will undoubtedly make Rice a priority, as the Bills did last week. Rice is the only wideout in Kansas City that can be viewed as better than a low-cost dart throw.

Those boom-or-bust options (with much more emphasis on BUST) for the Chiefs include Marquez Valdes-ScantlingJustin Watson, and Mecole Hardman. MVS and Watson play far more snaps. Kadarius Toney is OUT.

The only other viable pass-catcher for the Chiefs is TE Travis Kelce. Kelce broke out of this slump in Buffalo, snagging a pair of scores and carrying fantasy playoff leagues. Baltimore only surrendered three touchdowns to tight ends this season and Kelce had his lowest TD output in four years. However, he’s by far the safest bet for fantasy managers looking for a KC stack.

Baltimore Offense

As clutch as Kelce was last week, his performance pales in comparison to what Lamar Jackson did against Houston. Overcoming a bland 10-10 tie at halftime, Jackson rushed for 100 yards and totaled four touchdowns to carry fantasy lineups and his Ravens to victory.

However, the Chiefs present a tougher challenge. KC ranked second in the NFL in defense this season, including fourth versus the pass and second in points allowed. The modest over/under of 44.5 in an AFC Championship is indicative of the kind of battle this game is projected to be.

Jackson remains the best bet to lead the Ravens in rushing. Gus Edwards is the de facto starter. But Edwards isn’t much of a factor in the passing game and is highly touchdown-dependent. Justice Hill led the backfield in snaps (39) last week and could factor in as an outlet receiver. Dalvin Cook only played in garbage time. But Cook has three-down ability and looks like a sneaky DFS punt play.

Only two teams allowed fewer fantasy points to wide receivers than Kansas City. CB L’Jarius Sneed. Sneed is one of the top coverage corners in football and will pose a major problem for Zay Flowers. Sneed’s stellar play was integral in the Chiefs’ ability to consistently shut down opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Houston was able to limit Flowers to 8.1 fantasy points last week. Facing a far superior KC secondary, expecting a rebound seems like a tough proposition.

Odell Beckham only played 20 snaps last week. He was out-snapped and out-targeted by Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor.

If Mark Andrews can return, he’ll be a top-3 tight end in this slate. However, Isaiah Likely has fared very well in relief and is more than capable of making an impact. Projecting the Chiefs to slow down Baltimore’s wideouts makes both Baltimore tight ends viable plays in this game.

The Ravens have won seven of eight and their strengths match up well with Kansas City. I’m not sure that the Chiefs will be able to score enough points in this one. It feels like Lamar Jackson is finally poised to win the big one.

Ravens -3.5

Detroit Lions (14-5) at San Francisco 49ers (13-5)

Time: 6:30 PM Eastern

Line: San Francisco -7

Total: 51.5

Money Line: Lions +270, 49ers -340

Detroit Offense 

This is Detroit’s first road trip since Week 17 when they lost in Dallas by a controversial single point. We’re all aware of the home/road splits for Jared Goff. They were not as pronounced in 2023, but Goff must overcome that narrative if he hopes to keep Deroit’s season alive.

Overall, San Francisco ranked eighth in defense and 14th versus the pass. The Niners picked off a league-leading 22 passes. However, a lot of that was gamescript-related. The 49ers allowed the third-most attempts due to playing with a lead often. Our RDA+ projections have Goff as the lowest-scoring signal-caller this week. But he makes an interesting option as a contrarian DFS option.

Detroit will attempt to establish their running game to set up play-action opportunities downfield. However, San Francisco ranked third against the run. Expect David Montgomery to get the first drive and act as Detroit’s power back. The Niners did not allow a 90-yard rusher all season and only surrendered eight rushing scores to running backs. Montgomery will get his opportunities, but his ceiling is capped.

Conversely, the 49ers ceded 90 receptions to the position in the regular season, which was the fifth-most. That opens the door for Jahmyr Gibbs to make an impact as a change-of-pace runner and receiver. Gibbs has produced eight touchdowns in his last seven contests and also has snagged all eight of his targets in the postseason.

Amon-Ra St. Brown leads our Week 21 RDA* projections. St. Brown has topped 21 fantasy points in five of his last six outings. It’s also a plus matchup for the dynamo as San Francisco struggled with No. 1 wideouts at times this season. Additionally, St. Brown has not been hampered by the home/road split curse. We expect ARSB to top 18 points once again.

There may also be some DFS value in some of Detroit’s ancillary receivers. Josh Reynolds has scored double-digit points in both of the Lions’ playoff games. Jameson Williams lacks consistency but has a high ceiling.

TE Sam LaPorta caught 9-of-11 targets last week and remains a locked-in elite fantasy option, regardless of matchup.

San Francisco Offense

Brock Purdy did not play well last week but the Niners still managed to win. They may not be able to survive in the same manner against a surging Detroit squad. Like Goff, Purdy tends to excel in front of the home crowd. Helping matters will be a choice matchup against a secondary that yielded the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.

The Lions struggled against the pass (27th) but stopping the run was a whole different issue. Detroit ranked third versus the run and allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs. And it doesn’t matter in this game. Christian McCaffrey is still projected to be the highest-scoring non-QB this week. The only issue is his prohibitive salary which makes him a difficult, but necessary start in DFS.

Deebo Samuel (shoulder) was able to get in a limited practice session on Thursday. That bodes well for his potential availability. However, even if he does start, Samuel could be limited or even used as a decoy. If that transpires, Bradon Aiyuk could benefit from a few extra looks against a secondary that ceded the third-most fantasy points to enemy wideouts. UPDATE: Samuel will play. That gives San Fran two top-5 options this week.

If Samuel is out, Jauan Jennings is an intriguing value. Kyle Shanahan likes to use Jennings on runs when Samuel is absent. Additionally, Jennings caught 5-of-6 targets for 61 yards against the Packers playing 63% of the Niners’ snaps.

Detroit was a little better at defending tight ends but still allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to the position. That bodes well for George Kittle. Our RDA* projections have Kittle outscoring Travis Kelce in Week 21.

Detroit is 5-1 ATS in their last six. Meanwhile, San Francisco has failed to cover in their last five games at Levi’s Stadium. The Lions are riding a ton of momentum and Dan Campbell is 13-4 against the spread as an underdog of 4-plus points. It would be a great story to see the upstart Lions finally make it back to the title game for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Lions +7

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About Jody Smith 460 Articles
With over a decade of winning experience, Jody is a well-known fixture in the fantasy football community. He was named Fantasy Pros’ **Most Accurate Ranker** previously and was the site’s Top NFL over/under totals picker with a record 65% accuracy in 2020, while also ranking 5th in the country with a 55% against-the-spread hit rate. Jody has written for many sites over the years including Pro Football Focus, FantasyPros, CBS Sportsline, FantasyData, and is a regular contributor to the Fantasy Index magazine expert’s poll, draft, and auction. Jody’s experience ranking and projecting player performance will help prepare the Fulltime Fam for their big draft days as well as answers they can trust on Sunday for those ever crucial Who Do I Start questions.