Pro Picks is a weekly column where AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi shares his picks for upcoming games. For all previous Pro Picks, head here.
The underdog role has worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes. The San Francisco 49ers have odds in their favor.
Two of the four teams facing off Sunday are quite familiar with these stakes.
The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs are in the AFC championship game for the sixth straight season, but going on the road for the first time in that span.
They’ll take on the No. 1 seed Ravens, who are here for the first time in 11 years. The city of Baltimore is hosting an AFC title game for the first time since the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders in 1971.
The Ravens are 3 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
However, the Chiefs are 8-3 as an underdog in Mahomes’ career.
The No. 1 seed 49ers are making their third consecutive appearance in the NFC championship game and fourth in five years. They host the Detroit Lions, who haven’t reached this point in 32 years and have never played in a Super Bowl. The 49ers are 7-point favorites.
The Ravens and 49ers have history on their side. No. 1 seeds are 34-14 in conference championship games, including 2-0 last season when the Chiefs went on to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
Home teams are 35-18 in the NFC title game, 36-17 in the AFC.
If the 49ers and Chiefs advance, it'll set up a Super Bowl rematch. Kansas City won that one four years ago.
KANSAS CITY (13-6) at BALTIMORE (14-4)
Line: Ravens minus 3 1/2
Mahomes led the Chiefs to a comeback win over Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round in his first career playoff game on the road aside from Super Bowls.
The two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP has embraced the challenge and now faces the league’s stingiest defense. The Ravens gave up an NFL-low 16.5 points per game and the sixth-fewest yards at 301.4 per game. They have standouts at every level of defense, including defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen and safety Kyle Hamilton.
All-Pro QB Lamar Jackson also has a tough task going against a Chiefs defense that gave up 17.3 points per game in the regular season and held the high-octane Dolphins to only seven points in the wild-card round. Led by All-Pro edge Chris Jones and All-Pro slot cornerback Trent McDuffie, Kansas City was No. 2 in yards, holding opponents to 289.8 per game. But the Chiefs were 18th against the run and the Ravens have the league’s top rushing offense led by Jackson, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.
Jackson is 1-3 against Mahomes. But he has led the Ravens to 11 wins over winning teams with nine of those by at least 14 points, including last week’s 34-10 victory over Houston. The past five home teams in a conference championship coming off a victory of at least 20 points all won.
But the Chiefs are 9-1-1 against the spread as an underdog with Mahomes, including eight outright wins.
Something has to give.
Maybe Taylor Swift and Jason Kelce will be the good luck charms for the Chiefs. Travis Kelce caught two touchdown passes last week with his pop star girlfriend and All-Pro brother watching in a suite.
Pro Picks likes an upset.
DETROIT (14-5) at SAN FRANCISCO (13-5)
Line: 49ers minus 7
Jared Goff and the Lions are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl. If the 49ers play the way they did last week against Green Bay, Dan Campbell’s team will be going to Las Vegas.
Brock Purdy and the 49ers weren’t sharp on a rainy night against the Packers, but their QB delivered in the clutch to lead a comeback win and bring them back to being a win away from the Super Bowl. Purdy should get his chance to throw against the Lions, who had the NFL’s second-best run defense but were 27th against the pass. He’ll need Deebo Samuel, who is uncertain to play because of a shoulder injury.
All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey had a big game last week and is also dangerous as a pass-catcher so the Lions can’t simply focus on stopping the run.
Goff led the league’s No. 2 passing offense, throwing to All-Pro wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and standout rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. He’s got David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs in the backfield, too.
But the Lions averaged five fewer points per game on the road and the field in San Francisco is a slower track. Plus, they’re facing one of the league’s best defenses led by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner and star rusher Nick Bosa.
Pro Picks expects the 49ers to bring their best after getting routed in Philadelphia in last year’s NFC title game when Purdy suffered a significant elbow injury.
Last week: Straight up: 3-1. Against spread: 2-2.
Playoffs: Straight up: 5-5. Against spread: 4-6.
Regular season: Straight up: 168-104. Against spread: 144-118-10.
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