NFL playoffs: Vegas believes some classics could be coming
PHILADELPHIA - If Vegas oddsmakers are correct — and there's a reason those casinos are huge and luxurious — then football fans are in for a treat this weekend.
The NFL's conference championship weekend is here: The Philadelphia Eagles will host the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC title while the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC. Both games are Sunday.
The gambling odds are tight for both games, though both home teams have a slight edge. The Eagles are a 2 1/2-point favorite while the Chiefs are favored by 1 1/2 points, according to odds from FanDuel Sportsbook.
The winners will meet in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
All four teams have legitimate reasons for confidence Sunday:
— Let's start with the Chiefs. Kansas City has arguably the top quarterback in the sport with Patrick Mahomes under center. He's battling a high ankle sprain that he suffered during last week's win against the Jaguars, but the All-Pro selection went through a full week of practice to prepare for the Bengals.
"It’s about being a competitor," Mahomes said this week. "You want to be out there, especially in these games."
Mahomes gets a lot of the publicity, but he also has help. Tight end Travis Kelce is among the game's elite while defensive tackle Chris Jones had 15 1/2 sacks this season.
— Now we move to the Bengals, who are coming to Kansas City with loads of hard-earned confidence. The two teams are playing for the fourth time in under 400 days and Cincinnati won the previous three meetings — all by three points.
Quarterback Joe Burrow has been at his best against Mahomes, including his comeback win in last year’s AFC title game. He’s coming off a season in which he set Bengals records for completions (414), pass attempts (606) and touchdown passes (35).
The Bengals haven't lost since Halloween, winning 10 straight.
— Over in the NFC, the Eagles and quarterback Jalen Hurts have had a dream season. Hurts is having a breakout, MVP-caliber year and its hard to top the pass-catching duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, who both easily topped 1,000 yards receiving. Linebacker Haason Reddick leads the defense with 16 sacks.
Also, the game is in Philadelphia. That's a place where fans can get a little — what's the polite word — enthusiastic?
Hurts is battling a sore throwing shoulder, but it didn't seem to be a problem in last week's dominant win against the Giants.
"I’ve felt better, but it doesn’t really matter," Hurts said. "I’ve got to get it done."
— And finally, the 49ers. They have won 12 straight games, including seven in a row since rookie Brock Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick, took over at quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo was injured.
Purdy is set for perhaps his toughest test yet Sunday, when he faces an Eagles defense that led the NFL with 70 sacks and must deal with an imposing road environment. But Purdy isn't easily rattled and the 49ers have a loaded roster that includes running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive end Nick Bosa.
Here are some other things to know during the postseason:
WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles, 3 p.m. EST, Fox
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, CBS
NO NEED FOR NEUTRAL
The AFC title game would have been played in Atlanta next weekend if the Buffalo Bills had beaten the Bengals, under a rule adjustment approved by NFL owners.
The league decided on the unique conference championship neutral site setting because the Bills (13-3) finished the season a half-game behind the Chiefs (14-3) after their game at Cincinnati was canceled on Jan. 2 when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field.
Hamlin has since been making a remarkable recovery and attended Sunday's game in Buffalo, waving to fans from a stadium suite.
In the end, all the Atlanta hypotheticals weren't needed. That's because the Bengals and Burrow are rolling. Cincinnati beat Buffalo 27-10 and is one win away from playing in a second straight Super Bowl.
"Better send those refunds," Burrow said, referring to the 50,000 or so tickets already sold for a game that will never be played.
WHAT'S FORMAT FOR PLAYOFFS?
This is the third straight year of the current playoff format, which included the top seven teams from both the AFC and the NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn't win their division are the wild-card selections. That's why it's fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.
The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round — that's the Chiefs and Eagles — while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during the wild-card weekend.
The NFL re-seeds teams after each playoff round. That means no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team always travels to the highest-seeded team.
There are four rounds to the playoffs: The wild-card round was Jan. 14-16, the divisional round was last weekend, the conference championship games are this Sunday and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona, at the home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals.
AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow and Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta, Dan Gelston and Mitch Stacy contributed to this report.