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NFL Conference Championship Game Trends: Examining Over/Under results

Here’s a look at how totals have played out over the years in NFC and AFC title tilts

The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals will meet in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year Sunday. The two squads have played each other three times since October 2021, and all three games ended with 51 or more combined points. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals will meet in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year Sunday. The two squads have played each other three times since October 2021, and all three games ended with 51 or more combined points. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Read moreAndy Lyons / Getty Images

The NFL has been crowning conference champions since the historic AFL/NFL merger prior to the 1970-71 season. And during those 52 years, NFL oddsmakers have listed point spreads for every NFC and AFC Championship Game.

However, it wasn’t until the 1986-87 season that oddsmakers in Nevada — the only state where sports betting was legal until 2018 — began putting up totals for conference title games.

And even in that first year, only the AFC Championship Game had an Over/Under number. It was for a battle between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns that would come to be known simply as “The Drive”.

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Trailing 20-13 with 5½ minutes remaining in the game, Broncos quarterback John Elway led his team 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Denver eventually won 23-20 in overtime.

What few realize, though, is “The Drive” was historic for another reason: It was the first Over/Under-related “bad beat” in NFL Conference Championship Game history.

When Elway started “The Drive” on Denver’s 2-yard line, the game was safely Under the total of 38. By the time “The Drive” was over, so too was the total.

The following season, oddsmakers posted totals on both conference championship games and have done so ever since. The cumulative result from the past 35 years: More Overs than Unders in both conferences — but not by much.

Here’s a look at NFL Conference Championship totals trends, as well as how this year’s four participants — the Eagles, 49ers, Chiefs and Bengals — have done this season from an Over/Under perspective.

» READ MORE: NFL conference championship betting trends: Tracking 52 years of history

NFC Championship Game totals trends

While Elway’s heroics pushed the 1986-87 AFC title game Over the total, the first NFC Championship Game to feature a total never came close to the number.

In 1987-88, Washington captured the NFC with a 17-10 victory over Minnesota in a game that had a 45-point total.

It would be the first of four straight NFC Championship Games to fall short of the number — and way short, as the highest-scoring game of the bunch was San Francisco’s 30-3 rout of the Rams in 1989-90.

Since then, however, the Over has cashed in 20 of 31 NFC title tilts.

Most recently, the Over is on a 12-5 roll. And that includes last year’s 49ers-Rams contest in Los Angeles, which came up way short of the 45.5-point closing line. (The Rams won 20-17.)

During this 17-year stretch, the Under has cashed in consecutive NFC Championship Games just once. In 2010-11, Green Bay beat Chicago 21-14 (42-point total), and in 2011-12, the Giants beat San Francisco 20-17 in overtime (40.5-point total).

Looking at Saturday afternoon’s 49ers-Eagles showdown, sportsbooks have settled on a consensus total of 46.5.

Over the last 10 years, seven NFC title games have ended with at least 47 combined points. All three exceptions, though, involved either the 49ers or Eagles.

One was San Francisco’s game at Los Angeles last January. The other two: San Francisco lost 23-17 at Seattle in 2013-14 (total of 40.5) and Philadelphia beat Minnesota 38-7 in 2017-18 (total of 39).

As for this season, both squads come into the game with similar Over/Under results. Including playoff games, Philadelphia is 10-8 to the Over (6-4 at home), while San Francisco is 10-9 to the Over (4-4 on the road).

Historically, the Over/Under has split in the Eagles’ six NFC Championship Game appearances that featured a total (three Overs, three Unders). But if you throw in a 20-7 home win over Dallas in 1980-81 (no total posted), five of the franchise’s seven NFC title games have ended with 45 combined points or fewer.

All five were played in Philly. The final scores: 20-7, 27-10, 14-3, 27-10 and 38-7.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are 7-5 to the Under in their 12 NFC Championship Games that have featured a total. However, the Over/Under has alternated in their last five going back to 2011-12.

» READ MORE: NFL conference championship game odds: Early action favors Eagles, Bengals

AFC Championship Game totals trends

Beginning with the Broncos-Browns overtime clash in 1986-87, four of the first five AFC title games that had a total cleared the closing number.

The scales have more than balanced since then, as the AFC’s all-time ledger sits at 19 Overs and 17 Unders heading into Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs battle in Kansas City.

One trend that stands out when it comes to AFC title game totals: There have been a lot of streaks.

The Over started 4-1, then the Under hit in six straight and eight of 10 from 1991-92 to 2000-01. Then the Over went on a 9-1 run (including six straight from 2001-02 to 2005-06).

But in 11 years since, seven games have stayed low — including last year’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game.

The teams went to overtime in that one and Cincinnati prevailed 27-24, but the game fell short of the 54.5-point closing total.

Still, the last four AFC title games — all in Kansas City and all featuring Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — have cleared 50 points. Combined points in those contests: 51, 62, 59 and 68 (overtime).

Also, Cincinnati and Kansas City have faced off three times in the last 15 months. They combined for 65, 51 and 51 points.

So why is the total for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game (47.5) similar to that of 49ers vs. Eagles? Because of the ankle injury Mahomes suffered in last week’s playoff victory over Jacksonville.

All indications are Mahomes will play. But questions linger about his mobility, which is a big part of the presumptive 2022-23 NFL MVP’s game.

Then again, Mahomes had been healthy all year until the second quarter last week. Yet the Chiefs are 10-8 to the Under, including 7-2 at home.

However, that’s a bit misleading, because oddsmakers posted sky-high totals for most of Kansas City’s games this season (and every season since Mahomes has been a starter).

When comparing the Chiefs’ results to this week’s total, 10 of their games went Over 47 points.

What about the Bengals? They started the season with five straight Unders but have since gone 7-5-1 to the Over.

The Under is 6-3-1 in Cincinnati’s road games. And overall, the Bengals and their opponents have soared past 47 points just six times in 19 games.

Again, though, they have done so each of the last three times they played Kansas City.

» READ MORE: Super Bowl Odds: Eagles take over as favorites to win Super Bowl LVII, according to at least one sportsbook

It’s a ‘total’ tossup

Looking for an obvious recent trend to guide your Over/Under wagers for this weekend’s NFL Conference Championship Games? Can’t help you there.

Because over the past dozen years, there has been little consistency with totals in NFC and AFC title games.

Combined, there have been 12 Unders (seven in the AFC) and 12 Overs (seven in the NFC).

During these 12 years, the Over/Under split in each conference six times. But in the other six years, both games either went Over or both stayed Under.

Even those “doubles” were split equally in half: The Over hit in both games three times and the Under hit in both games three times.

Interestingly, though, the “double” has occurred each of the last three years. The 2018-19 and 2019-20 NFC and AFC Championship Games went Over the total, while both of last year’s contests fell short.

The last time the same total cashed in both games four straight years? It’s never happened.

Assuming that history holds up, we’re headed for one Over and one Under this weekend. Good luck figuring out which is which.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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