How to play each total for championship Sunday

What goes up must come down. After offenses thrived during the high-scoring, entertaining games of wild-card weekend, the defenses made their presences felt in the divisional round. The eight teams averaged only 20 points per game, more than a full touchdown below last weekend’s 27.5. Those who felt the initial surge in scoring would create some edges for the divisional round totals were rewarded in a big way, as unders finished 4-0 last weekend.

Where does it leave us heading into the conference championship games? Most likely somewhere in the middle. The totals for each game are slightly above the average closing total of the regular season (43.8) and the league’s scoring average per game (44). The Eagles and 49ers’ top defenses are anchoring a total that is currently 44.5 at BetMGM. The Chiefs and Bengals, who have arguably the top two QBs in the league, are now sitting at 47 points.

Take the over with Burrow-Mahomes and grab the under with the Eagles-49ers? It wouldn’t surprise me if it were that simple because absolutely nothing surprises me after seeing 20 weeks of an NFL football season. However, there are key variables to consider. Patrick Mahomes was severely hobbled the last time he was on a football field, Jalen Hurts looked 100% healthy, and Brock Purdy didn’t like Dallas’ pass rush. Should we buy the dip and bank on scoring bouncing back? Let’s dive in and discuss the best ways to play each total.

Jalen Hurts and the Eagles were quite impressive in the divisional round. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Here is the recency bias game for me. Once everybody endured the three-hour rock fight between the Cowboys and 49ers, they left convinced this weekend’s game would play out the same way. I’ve got news for them: Jalen Hurts is not Dak Prescott. But this isn’t just about the Eagles. We are getting two top-five scoring offenses with a total reflecting an average-scoring game. Before Hurts’ injury, Philadelphia’s offense was 2nd in the NFL in EPA per play behind only Kansas City. If you think that’s impressive, the 49ers were No. 1 during the last five weeks with Purdy as the starting quarterback.

These are two very explosive offenses against strong defenses on paper, but there are questions about both units. No disrespect to either defense, but the NFL is built for offenses to succeed. If it’s strength on strength, the offense has the advantages. Also, according to Football Outsiders DVOA metric, San Francisco’s defense ranks first, while Philadelphia slides in at a respectable sixth. However, they have done it against the 28th and 31st easiest schedules, respectively. The Eagles defense gave up 40 to Dallas in its last big test, and the 49ers allowed 34 to the Raiders the last time they played on the road. Both defenses are very strong, but I’m betting on both offenses if you’re asking who controls the game. Take the over 45.5.

The total got immediately pushed down to 47 after opening at 48.5, which makes sense considering some uncertainty around Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain. However, the Chiefs QB took to Twitter last night to reassure fans he will be a go for Sunday.

We learned a few things against Jacksonville. It will be difficult to keep Mahomes off the field, and him playing doesn’t guarantee he will perform at an MVP level. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has caused Mahomes fits in the past, leading to three straight wins over Kansas City. However, Cincy’s smart enough to know they aren’t stopping the Kansas City offense, and the formula is to slow the Chiefs down enough so Burrow can outscore them.

Even when Anarumo’s plans worked well over his last three wins against Kansas City, the Chiefs scored at least 24 points each game. They also averaged 19.6 in the first half. That’s where I see the value. The first-half total is currently 23.5 at BetMGM. The Bengals offense has come out firing on all cylinders over the past five games, building big leads and scoring 18 points per game in first halves.

I’d rather bet on Andy Reid coming out hot after scheming up some counters for Anamuro’s defense than worrying about who wins the in-game adjustments. Plus, you would have to think Mahomes’ ankle will feel its best early in the game, so we’re limiting exposure to him aggravating it late. I am seeing a fast start for both teams, making the best approach trying to cash in early with the first half over 23.5.