Football is almost over. But don’t cry about that, cry about the subpar records this season from Jon Greenberg and Zac Jackson. Can they rebound for conference championship weekend? Don’t answer that, but enjoy their banter.
GREENBERG (4-3 last week, 62-68-2 overall): And then there were two. Games, that is. Four teams left, of course.
We’re down to our final weekend of real football before we get to the Super Bowl. Thankfully, we’ll get a few more shots of Taylor Swift and Co. in a luxury suite this week.
She has to be loving the life of a football girlfriend, traveling to exotic locations like Buffalo and Baltimore, hobnobbing with Ohio Valley celebrities like former Youngstown State basketball player Brian Radakovich, who is used to the bright lights of the Beeghly Center, and Canadian Football League icon Zach Collaros, both of whom were in the bustling Chiefs suite last week to watch the win.
Sure, most people were watching Jason Kelce rip his shirt off and chug beers and saying, “Is that famous actress Cara Delevingne?” But people from Steubenville were way more excited to see Radak (one of my younger brother’s closest friends) behind Kelce (he’s in the buffalo plaid shirt). And people from Steubenville and Canada were thrilled to see our favorite Grey Cup champion Collaros in the crowd.
Classic shot of former Big Red and Youngstown State basketball player Brian Radakovich (buffalo plaid shirt). https://t.co/8ctlR1lWCx
— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) January 22, 2024
(The connection is through Collaros, who was the Kelces’ roommate at quarterback at the University of Cincinnati. Read Justin Williams’ excellent oral history of those days here.)
As one of my friend’s daughters said to her Sunday, “If you know that guy (Radakovich) and he’s in the suite, does that mean I’m connected to Taylor Swift?” The answer, of course, is…
Now let’s get to the actual football.
Chiefs-Ravens is the early game and Baltimore is giving 3 1/2 points. I took Kansas City last week but I’m wondering if their new road playoff fortunes are over. Baltimore is nasty. The Ravens dominated the Texans and hit the team total over that you suggested. The total for this game is 44.5.
Where do you stand?
JACKSON (1-2 last week, not including a winning MAC hoops first-half under, 56-61 overall): My wife has spent more time this week watching Jason Kelce videos than she has talking to me, so we’re already winning. Last weekend, my column picks didn’t do much winning. On wild-card weekend, they were good — and in that pick draft I took the Ravens at plus money to win the AFC. I’m sticking with that.
This Ravens’ defense is swarming and multiple. Do I feel great about being against Patrick Mahomes? No, but I like having that defense on my side if I’m going to be. And I am.
Let’s try to draft some winners again, and I’ve decided that I’ll go first. I want the under 44.5 in Chiefs-Ravens. I think it’s going to be a slugfest and I think both offenses will have to fight for every inch. Three of the Ravens’ four touchdown drives last week covered at least 11 plays, and I just think that’s the shape this game will take. I don’t think this gets over 40 or 41 points. Mahomes will give the Chiefs a chance, but he’s not going to throw multiple 70-yard touchdowns.
GREENBERG: I’m ambivalent on that total, but I’ll draft under 51 in Lions-Niners out in Santa Clara. I think we’ll see a final score similar to San Francisco’s game last week against Green Bay, somewhere in the mid-40s. Detroit bars across the country will be hopping for that game. I have some other gambling thoughts on both contests, but I’ll let you go next.
JACKSON: As noted above, at the start of the playoffs I took the Ravens +125 to win the AFC. I’ll double back here with the Ravens +180 to win the Super Bowl.
I just can’t pass on that number given the way Jackson and the defense are playing. Not that either of the remaining games will be easy, but the Ravens seem to be built for the kinds of games these should be. They have the best kicker who’s ever lived in Justin Tucker, and they have experience across their roster and on their coaching staff. It’s just too good a number to pass on while I look at the other teams (and size up a Sunday prop for my next pick).
GREENBERG: I think I’m going with a simple Detroit +7 here. A fun related bet is Niners to win by 1-6 for +325. I see a close game and some Brock Purdy fourth-quarter heroics.
I think we’d all love to see the Lions make the Super Bowl — I saw the Steelers win a Super Bowl in their stadium, not to brag — but like most people outside of Michigan, I think San Francisco will advance, just not by a blowout.
I hope someone took my earlier suggestion last draft about a Niners-Ravens Super Bowl, because I forgot to actually bet it at the time.
JACKSON: I’m going with Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs over 22.5 receiving yards. I did a triple-take, because I think it’s nearly 10 yards too low.
Related: John Laghezza’s four best prop bets for Conference Championship weekend
Gibbs has gone over 40 receiving yards in both of the Lions’ prior playoff games. He’s electric, and what you want for this type of play is someone who can make the defense miss. That’s Gibbs. He’s used in the screen game by design, and where I think he can crush this number is if the 49ers get ahead and turn up the pressure on Jared Goff, forcing Goff to hit Gibbs in the flats.
Going back to the start of December, Gibbs is averaging just short of 14 touches per game. Games don’t come any bigger than this one (unless the Lions win and get to the next one), so I can easily see a path to Gibbs getting more touches — more targets, specifically — and using his elusiveness to basically get this over on one catch.
GREENBERG: Put on your hard hat and grab your lunch pail, buddy, because we’re rooting for running backs this week. I thought about a simple Gibbs +125 TD bet. Or an Isiah Pacheco +130 TD bet. Parlays are for suckers and losers and I’m at least one of those, so I’ll go with a parlay of those two each scoring a touchdown for +417 for my next pick. Both players have already scored a rushing touchdown in each of their two playoff games this season, so maybe I’m late on this idea, but I’ll let it ride. And while you’re thinking of touchdown parlays, an all-TE one of Travis Kelce and George Kittle is +362.
JACKSON: Last one for me is Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice over 59.5 receiving yards.
He kind of crashed back to earth last week, but that was just the second time since Thanksgiving that Rice didn’t get at least nine targets. And the crash came after he’d posted a 130-yard playoff game, his third 100-yard game since Week 12. Mahomes wants to go to Kelce first, obviously, but Rice has become far and away the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver. I think Rice ends up with at least 70 yards in this one.
GREENBERG: I was debating Christian McCaffery scoring two-plus TDs but it’s only +160, so it doesn’t seem worth it.
Looping back, I think I’ll close mine out with another conventional pick, Ravens -3.5. I really want to take the underdog Chiefs again, but I’m leaning heavily toward taking the favorite. As a Steelers fan I hate to say this, but it’s the Ravens’ year. So I also endorse your Ravens +180 bet.
(Top photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)