NFL Conference Championship Betting Trends: A History Lesson

The Vince Lombardi trophy and an NFL Wilson official Duke football with Super Bowl LVI logo are seen at SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl 56
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By now, you’ve probably heard that the San Francisco 49ers are in the NFC Championship Game for the 17th time in franchise history — more than any other team in either conference.

You likely also are aware that the Kansas Chiefs are making their fourth AFC Championship Game appearance in as many years — which is one more than their opponent this week, the Cincinnati Bengals, have made in franchise history.

But did you know that Cincinnati is the only one of this year’s NFL Conference Championship Game participants with a winning point-spread record in conference title tilts?

Or that no team in NFL history has lost more conference championship games than San Francisco (nine)?

Or that the straight-up winner is 44-6-1 ATS all time in the AFC Championship Game and … 44-6-1 ATS all time in the NFC Championship Game?

Well, now you do. And guess what? You’re about to learn a whole lot more, as breaks down NFL Conference Championship betting trends from all kinds of historical angles.

NFL Conference Championship Game Trends

Conference Favorites SU Favorites ATS Over/Under
AFC 38-13 30-20-1 19-16 (since 1988)
NFC 33-18 27-23-1 20-14 (since 1989)

Favoring The Favorites

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones (95) celebrates with fans in the stands after his team's overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills an AFC Divisional playoff game
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Let’s start by analyzing the above chart: NFL Conference Championship Game favorites are a combined 71-31 SU since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. Not even Paris Hilton needs a calculator to tell you that’s a 70 percent hit rate. (Well, OK, maybe Paris would need one.)

Favorites also have been money for bettors in this round, combining to go 57-43-2 ATS — that pencils out to nearly 56 percent.

Recently, though, underdogs have had their day in NFC Championship Game action, going 3-1 SU and ATS in the last four. That followed a 5-0 SU/4-1 ATS run by favorites.

Over in the AFC, however, things have been more chalky. Going back to the Colts’ thrilling 38-34 victory over the Patriots in January 2007, favorites are 12-3 SU and 9-6 ATS in AFC title games.

What about the home/road splits? Well, using the same 15-game sample in the AFC, home teams are on a 13-2 SU/10-5 ATS roll. The NFC has been a bit more balanced: The visitor has won and covered three of the last four meetings after the home team went 10-4 SU/8-6 ATS in the previous 14.

Going back to January 2000 — when the Rams defeated the Buccaneers 11-6 but failed to cash as a 14.5-point home favorite — NFC home teams are 14-8 SU but only 10-12 ATS.

It’s A Numbers Game

San Francisco 49ers running back Eli Mitchell (25) is stopped by Los Angeles Rams defensive back Terrell Burgess (26) after a 9-yard gain
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Of course, this year’s NFL Conference Championship Games have vastly different point spreads — Kansas City is a hefty 7-point home favorite over the Bengals; the Rams are laying 3.5 points at home against San Francisco.

So what does history tell us vis a vis those odds? Well, for starters, there’s a very good chance the Rams-49ers point spread won’t come into play. That’s because when the NFC title game line has been 3.5 points or less, the straight-up winner has covered the spread 22 times in 23 games.

The one exception may surprise you: While you undoubtedly remember “The Catch” — when Dwight Clark snagged Joe Montana’s throw-away pass to give the 49ers a 28-27 victory over Dallas in the 1981-82 NFC Championship Game — you probably don’t recall that the Cowboys covered as a 3-point underdog. (And, yes, no matter what he’s ever said, Joe Cool was trying to throw that pass out of the end zone!)

As for this year’s 49ers, they certainly would take comfort in knowing this fact: Although favorites of 3.5 points or less are 14-9 SU and 13-10 ATS in NFC title games, underdogs have won and covered the last three (all in the last four years).

What about the big number Kansas City is laying? Eh, let’s just say Bengals fans booking Super Bowl trips probably should make sure those trips are refundable. That’s because AFC title game favorites of 7-plus points are 16-4 SU. That said, those favorites are just 11-9 ATS — including 6-9 ATS in the last 15 when laying a touchdown or more.

The last big underdog to spring a conference championship game upset in either the AFC or NFC? The Baltimore Ravens, who went to New England in January 2013 and stunned Tom Brady and the Patriots 28-13 as an 8-point pup.

Then There Were Four

NFL Conference Championship betting trends - Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; A San Francisco 49ers fans in costume in the stands during the first half of the NFC Wild Card playoff football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium.
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Team Conference Title
SU Record
Conference Title
ATS Record
Conference Title
Bengals 2-0 2-0 0-1
Chiefs 2-2 2-2 3-1
49ers  7-9 8-8 5-6
Rams 4-6 2-7-1 1-3 

As noted at the outset, San Francisco stands alone atop the conference championship game appearance leaderboard. With last week’s shocker at Green Bay, the 49ers broke a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fact, a week ago at this time, San Francisco had earned as many trips to the conference title game as the Chiefs, Bengals, and Rams combined. However, as you can see from the above NFL Conference Championship betting trends chart, the Niners haven’t exactly struck gold when reaching this point — at least lately.

Since back-to-back NFC title game triumphs in January 1989 and 1990 (the latter a 30-3 beat-down of the Rams), San Francisco is just 3-6 SU/ATS in Super Bowl-or-bust contests (and that includes a victory two years ago). During this stretch, the Niners are 1-2 SU/ATS on the road and 0-3 SU/ATS as an underdog.

As dismal as those numbers are, they look positively sterling when juxtaposed with the Rams’ NFC Championship Game results. Prior to their highly controversial 26-23 overtime win in New Orleans as a 3-point underdog three years ago, the Rams — both the Los Angeles and St. Louis versions — had been 1-7-1 ATS in NFC title games.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs and Bengals have combined for six previous AFC title game appearances. Kansas City’s first two came a quarter-century apart, and neither went well: a 30-13 loss at Buffalo in January 1994 and 37-31 overtime home loss to the Patriots three years ago. However, Andy Reid’s squad rebounded the last two years, rallying past both the Titans (35-24) and Bills (38-24).

Cincinnati is 2-for-2 both SU and ATS when getting to this point. The Bengals earned their only two Super Bowl trips — both against the 49ers — with double-digit home victories over the Chargers (27-7 in January 1982) and Bills (21-10 in January 1989).

And Now For Something ‘Totally’ Different 

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (right) runs for extra yardage after a catch as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (left) attempts to make a tackle
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While point spreads have been posted for every NFL Conference Championship Game, the same isn’t true for totals. In fact, to the best of our research, the first AFC Championship Game to feature an Over/Under was Broncos-Browns in January 1987. The initial NFC title game total appeared a year later with Vikings-Redskins.

Since bookmakers began posting title-game totals, the Over has hit more often than not in both conferences (20-14 in the NFC; 19-16 in the AFC). Recently, Over bettors have made a killing in the NFC, as 12 of the last 16 title games — including six of the last seven — have hurdled the total.

Given that the 49ers-Rams consensus total is sitting at 46.5, it’s interesting to note that seven of the last nine NFC title games finished with at least 47 combined points.

The AFC has been more of a roller-coaster ride from a totals perspective: From 2003-2011, eight of nine title games topped the total. The Under then cashed in the next five, but since 2017, the Over is on a 4-1 run, with the last three games going high.

The common denominator in those last three high-scoring AFC title clashes? The Chiefs. They hosted each shootout at Arrowhead Stadium, where fans witnessed combined point totals of 68, 59 and 62.

It’s no wonder, then, that oddsmakers opened the Bengals-Chiefs total at 50.5 — and it immediately got bet up to 54.5. But here’s the interesting twist: In the 51-year history of AFC Championship Games, the two participants have tallied more than 54 points in three straight years just twice (2003-2005; 2018-2020). It’s only happened once in the NFC (1994-96).

Number of times four straight conference title games have gone north of 54 points, in either conference: Zero.

(Starting to rethink that kneejerk Bengals-Chiefs Over wager, aren’t ya?)

Perfect Pairing?

NFL Conference Championship betting trends - Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV in Miami
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Finally, as we all know, parlay bets are extraordinarily difficult to hit. They’re also extraordinarily difficult to pass up when the NFL season reaches its Final Four.

So for those of you out there looking for some trend info to help you nail that two-teamer — or, heaven help you, four-teamer — take note of the following side/total combo statistics covering the past 34 years (NFC) and 35 years (AFC) of NFL Conference Championship betting trends:


  • Favorite/Over 11 times
  • Favorite/Under 7 times
  • Underdog/Over 9 times
  • Underdog/Under 7 times


  • Favorite/Over 14 times
  • Favorite/Under 7 times
  • Underdog/Over 5 times
  • Underdog/Under 9 times