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Early leans for AFC, NFC Championship games

The AFC and NFC Championship Games get underway this Sunday and we’ll start getting the first injury reports on Wednesday. We’ve got early leans on picks against the spread for 49ers vs. Packers and Chiefs vs. Titans.

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs communicates with teammates during the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Conference Championship Sunday is fast approaching and soon we will know the participants in Super Bowl 54. The Kansas City Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans to open Sunday, and then the San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers in the evening.

Both guys are on Sunday, which means Wednesday brings the first practice participation reports of the week. We’ll see reports Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, followed by the final injury reports late Friday afternoon.

The injury reports are critical to making final picks, but before that information arrives, it’s helpful to set a baseline for making straight up picks and picks against the spread. These are early leans, with plenty of room to re-consider over the next few days.

Packers vs. 49ers (-7.5, 45)

Nine weeks ago, the 49ers thumped the Packers 37-8 in a game that saw Aaron Rodgers throw for only 104 yards, and Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams held to 83 yards on 3.5 yards per carry. The 49ers defense was suffocating and George Kittle was a beast in the victory.

The odds of us seeing that kind of performance from the Packers a second time is pretty low. The Packers have plenty of questions coming into this game, but they’re a good team that will learn from their previous mistakes.

This line opened at a touchdown and moved to 7.5 Tuesday afternoon. This seems like a game the 49ers either thump them by double digits, or we get a tight contest that comes down to the wire. The 49ers defense was impressive last week with the return of Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, and improved even further when Emmanuel Moseley replaced Ahkello Witherspoon at cornerback. That being said, this Packers team is better than the Vikings and should keep it close. I see a 49ers win, but a Packers cover, especially if it stays above an even touchdown. Similarly, I would lean under with the point total above the key number of 44.

Titans vs. Chiefs (-7.5, 52.5)

The Chiefs looked lost for the first quarter of Sunday’s Divisional round game against the Texans, and then looked like the best team in the league the rest of the game. They were never as bad as they were in that first quarter, but how about the highs they reached the rest of the way? They benefited from facing a Texans defense that ranked 26th in pass efficiency this year, so the huge run was only shocking in terms of how it diverged from the beginning of the game.

This week they face a Titans defense that ranked 21st in pass efficiency. The big injury question for now is the status of linebacker Jayon Brown, but even if he is healthy, the Chiefs are a tall task. My early lean is for the Chiefs to cover and end the Titans run in emphatic fashion. The Titans defense was impressive against Lamar Jackson, but the Chiefs have so many more weapons for Patrick Mahomes to throw to.

Derrick Henry faces a Chiefs defense that struggled much of the season against the run. He had a monster game in Week 10 when the Titans beat the Chiefs in Nashville, but the unit has played better in recent weeks. Kansas City’s defense as a whole is playing better, and should reflect in this game.

I just don’t think the Titans can keep up in this one. As such, I’m inclined to bet Chiefs -7.5. I was tempted by the over, but as this number goes up (from 51 to now 52.5), the under makes more sense to me. How that number in particular moves will be something to think on the rest of the week.

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