NFL Picks – Conference Championships 2024

Lamar Jackson’s feet are the recipe for success against the Chiefs and I continue to not believe in the Lions. Sorry.

I rallied to go 4-0 in the Divisional Round. It’s been nice to look my kids in the eye again.

Last Week:   4 – 0 – 0
Playoffs:       4 – 6 – 0

Sunday, January 29

(3)Chiefs at (1)Ravens [3:00PM ET, CBS]
As you watch Lamar Jackson and (to a lesser extent) Patrick Mahomes scramble around the field Sunday, please consider my proposed rule change in regards to sliding quarterbacks. The balance has shifted too far in protecting quarterbacks. It’s to the point where sliding is a huge advantage to the offense. A quarterback can even pretend to slide and then keep running or slide at the latest moment possible in order to draw an additional 15 yards from penalty. Instead of that nonsense, let’s do this. When a quarterback slides, the ball is placed three yards behind where his slide began. This does two things. First, it makes a quarterback far less likely to slide and second, it makes the quarterback an actual football player again. I’m completely fine with protecting quarterbacks (and everyone else) from headshots, but they are on the football field. Tackling them in a legal fashion shouldn’t be penalized unless the quarterbacks also have something to lose by sliding. Thank you and goodnight.

Anyway… I didn’t love what I saw from Baltimore in the 1st half last week. They looked petrified for most of it. Lamar Jackson seemed tight and it was almost as if they were all waiting for things to fall apart in the playoffs again. San Francisco survived playing poorly while Baltimore, and especially Jackson, survived the haunting of recent playoff failures.

I love Patrick Mahomes in these situations because he’s unflappable. He’s going to get hit a ton Sunday but he’ll battle and be fine. It’s the rest of the Chiefs I worry about. The Ravens have athletic linebackers to contain an already sluggish Travis Kelce. Outside of Rashee Rice, Kansas City doesn’t have a significant threat to the Ravens strong secondary.

This may sound asinine considering one quarterback was last year’s MVP and the other will be this year’s MVP, but I think both defenses will aim to make the other offense a one-dimensional passing unit. That’s right, the Chiefs will hope to make Jackson beat them with his arm and the Ravens will dare Patrick Mahomes to produce with a lackluster group of receivers. Outside of Mahomes, Isiah Pacheco is currently the Chiefs best offensive player. Take him away and Mahomes is alone. Mahomes alone is still great and taking him out won’t come easy, but I think it’s Baltimore’s best avenue to a Super Bowl berth.

For the Ravens to win this game, I think Lamar Jackson has to set himself free and not try to be the “ideal quarterback.” I thought the Bills were most potent last week when Josh Allen was taking off downfield. Jackson must do the same. If it’s it there, take it and do not hesitate. Jackson will always be one of the fastest players on the field. The Chiefs have played two straight games in below freezing temperatures, one of them as intense as a playoff game can get. Their bodies are sore. Jackson and most of the Ravens had two weeks off prior to last week AND they have an additional day’s rest because they played on Saturday. Work that defense to death. If there’s seven yards, go take it. It will frustrate them, it will fatigue them and it’s Baltimore’s most potent form of offense. Kansas City wants Jackson in the pocket.

Ultimately, I think the Ravens are too much for this scrappy but outmatched version of the Chiefs. With that said, I’m taking the points because Mahomes is the scariest postseason killer since Michael Jordan. CHIEFS +4

(3)Lions at (1)49ers [6:30PM ET, FOX]
Last week I said the Lions would win by 17+ because the Buccaneers were bad and faced one of the worst teams in the NFL over the final six weeks in the Wildcard round. I was wrong, kind of. The Bucs were better than I gave them credit for, but all last Sunday proved was that the Lions were stepping in. Stepping in? Yes, stepping in.

Like I’ve said all season, the Lions are a good team, but they are not a legitimate NFC contender. They were always destined to be a notch below the 49ers, Cowboys and Eagles. However, the Eagles completely imploded, the Cowboys choked in the Wildcard Round and someone had to step in to go to San Francisco and take on a 49ers team lucky to still be around. Is my assessment fair to Detroit? No, not at all, but I think it’s accurate.

The Lions should have dismantled that Buccaneers team last week and they couldn’t do it. Detroit threw the football 43 times despite Jahmyr Gibbs averaging 8.2 yards per carry. I get being aggressive but there’s a fine line between aggressive and reckless and Detroit is often on the wrong side. I thought the Buccaneers did Detroit a favor by abandoning their run game as well. Yes, the Bucs were a bad run team but the Lions were bad Sunday against the run and Tampa let them off the hook.

The Lions deserve to be here, but that doesn’t convince me they’re capable of winning the NFC Sunday night. No, the 49ers are going to win the NFC because even without Deebo Samuel, the Lions secondary is no match for what Kyle Shanahan can do.

San Francisco was beatable last week. Green Bay had them on the ropes but could not deliver the knockout blow. The 49ers made Jordan Love antsy and Love gifted them two bad interceptions as a result. Love and the Packers even had the lead for all but their final possession of the 2nd half. The Lions won’t be so fortunate.

The 49ers are going to work the Detroit linebackers in the passing game by getting the ball in the hands of Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle early (and Samuel if he plays) and let them punish the Lions with yards after the catch. This will force Detroit to pinch defensive backs, subsequently weakening their already weak back end. Brock Purdy struggled for much of last week but he’ll find Brandon Aiyuk open downfield as the game progresses. At that point, a one dimensional Lions offense will find itself pressing and that’s where the Jared Goff mistakes will come. I wish it weren’t so, but the 49ers are headed back to the Super Bowl. 49ERS -7.5

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