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NFL playoff matchups: Chiefs vs. Ravens, Lions vs. 49ers

There are two exciting games in the 2024 NFL playoffs conference championship round schedule, and we have all the information you need to prepare for the weekend. For every game, our NFL Nation correspondents provide us with the most important information along with a daring prediction.

Every game also comes with a betting nugget and a major stat to know from ESPN Stats & Information, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes beyond the data to estimate the outcome of the game. Seth Walder, an analytics writer, analyses the largest X factor for each matchup; Matt Bowen highlights a crucial game-planning matchup to monitor in both games; and Kevin Seifert provides us with officiating information. Lastly, we have the final score predictions for both games from Walder and Eric Moody. To assist you in preparing for an entertaining weekend of NFL playoff football, all the information you want is conveniently located in one place.

Now let’s tackle the whole conference championship schedule, which has Brock Purdy taking on Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes against Lamar Jackson.

Chiefs-Ravens

3 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: BAL -3.5 (44.5)
What to look out for: This will be Mahomes and Jackson’s first postseason encounter. Mahomes has the most victories of any starting quarterback (including regular season and postseason) versus Jackson, going 3-1 against him in the regular season. Jackson defeated Mahomes and the Chiefs in their most recent matchup in 2021 by running for 107 yards and scoring three touchdowns, including a touchdown flip into the end zone. Hensley Jamison

Big prediction: The Chiefs and Ravens will score at least 45 points combined. These two clubs led the league in scoring defence during the regular season, with Kansas City coming in second with 17.3 points allowed per game and Baltimore taking the lead at 16.5. However, each team will score more than 20 points, and Jackson and Mahomes will be too talented to stop. Adam Teicher

Important fact: Steve Spagnuolo has been the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs since 2019. The Chiefs are the only club in that period to have given up more running touchdowns to quarterbacks (26) during the regular season.

The scrambling prowess of Mahomes is the matchup X factor. All season long, the Chiefs have struggled in the passing game; against Baltimore, who registered the most sacks in the league (60) and gave up the second-lowest open scoring to opposing receivers (per ESPN’s receiver tracking analytics), things will only get worse. Mahomes, who can scramble rather well, will need to produce with his legs on Sunday. — Walder

Key to the game plan: In the red zone, particularly when it is within its own 10-yard line, Kansas City’s defence relishes using man coverage. Given that Jackson’s receivers are prolonging their releases and running crossers, Todd Monken, the offensive coordinator for Baltimore, ought to have some answers in that regard. The Ravens scored a touchdown on 61.8% of their trips inside the 20, ranking ninth in red zone efficiency. Visit ESPN+ to read more. — Bowen

Chiefs | Ravens injured.

Notes on officiating: With an average of 14.8 flags per game during the regular season, referee Shawn Smith’s team threw the third-most in the NFL this year. Smith has also made more harsh calls than the typical player. With eight flags for roughing the passer, he threw the third-most for the offence, while his crew was rated first overall with 25 calls for unnecessary roughness. — Seifert

A nugget of information for bettors: Mahomes leads Jackson 3-1 straight-up and 2-2 against the spread. With each clash totaling at least 51 points, three of the four matchups went above the allotted amount. The preceding four over/unders had an average of 52.4, with none of them falling below 49.

Moody’s prediction: Chiefs 21, Ravens 25,
Walder’s prediction: Chiefs 20, Ravens 26
BAL: 63.6% (by an average of 4.6 points) is the FPI forecast.

Lions-49ers

6:30 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: SF -7 (50.5)

What to look out for: The 49ers, the long-time favourites in the playoffs, will face the Lions, the newcomers to postseason underdog status. San Francisco will play in their record-tying 19th NFL Conference Championship Game. Detroit is playing in its first conference championship game since 1991 and just its second in the Super Bowl era.

However, this matchup also has all the ingredients for a heavyweight bout between two of the physically strongest teams in the league. Whether Detroit can pull off the upset will mostly depend on how well the Niners’ run defence, which has ranked 28th in yards per carry allowed (4.8) and 25th in rushing yards allowed (128.6) since Week 15, holds up against the Lions’ two-headed rushing attack of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. Wagoner, Nick

Big prediction: In his third straight postseason game, Gibbs will dash for a touchdown. The only NFL rookies with touchdowns in three postseason games are Tony Dorsett, Sony Michel, Tim Hightower, Jamal Lewis, and William Floyd. Gibbs will be the sixth to pull off this extraordinary accomplishment. Eric Woodyard

Know this statistic: With 95.3 yards after contact per game, the 49ers top the NFL in terms of the hardest team to tackle this season. This is something the Lions defence, which leads the league in yards after contact allowed per game (63.5), will want to stop in the NFC Championship Game.

Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson is the matchup X factor. With an EPA per dropback of 30th throughout the season, the Lions’ pass defence is the worst remaining unit in the playoffs. With a pass rush win percentage of 29% in the postseason—more than twice that of the regular season—Hutchinson is one guy who can quickly alter that. In his last four games, he has also racked up 8.0 sacks. The underdog Detroit needs something unique—maybe a strip sack? from Hutchinson—to restore parity in the match. — Walder

The idea behind Detroit’s game plan is to put pressure on Purdy to go off-pace. Detroit has a first- and second-down blitz percentage of 28.3%, which is in the top 10 when the playoffs are taken into account. The Lions are just unable to enable coach Kyle Shanahan to set the pace or let Purdy throw with rhythm. Visit ESPN+ to read more. — Bowen

49ers and Lions injuries

Notes on officiating: The NFL’s midseason focus on offensive offside penalties was well-received by referee Clete Blakeman’s regular-season crew, who flagged a league-high five such incidents. In terms of defensive pass coverage flags (53), including illegal contact, defensive pass interference, and defensive holding, it was rated second in the NFL. — Seifert

Nugget of wisdom: The Lions have a 13-6 record against the spread, which is second best behind the Raiders’ (12-5) record. Lions games have 12-to-7 overs. With overs of 10-8, the 49ers are 9-9 against the spread.

Moody’s forecast: 49ers 28, Lions 31,
Walder’s selection: Lions 24, 49ers 34
FPI forecast: SF, 74.1 percent (averaging 8.5 points).

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