On Sunday afternoon, four of the best teams face off for their respective conference championship and a trip to Super Bowl 57. The first game to kick off will be the NFC Championship Game between the San Fransisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles at 3:00 PM Eastern Time in Philadelphia. Following that game will be a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs at 6:30 PM in Kansas City.
NFC Championship Preview
In a highly anticipated matchup, the 49ers and Eagles will battle for the NFC crown. Each team had outstanding seasons but in different ways.
San Francisco 49ers Journey
San Francisco is in the NFC Championship game for a second consecutive season thanks to twelve straight wins fueled by a great defense, a huge trade for a star running back in October and a once unknown rookie quarterback who has become a star. Their first round pick from the 2021 draft, Trey Lance earned the starting job over Jimmy Garappolo after training camp. Unfortunately, Lance’s season ended very quickly after he suffered a fractured ankle in week two against the Seattle Seahawks. The team also suffered from the loss of running back Elijah Mitchell in early October due to a knee injury. That’s when general manager John Lynch acquired star running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey led the team in rushing yards with 746 and scored six touchdowns.
As the starting quarterback, Garappolo went 7-3 throwing 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions. However, he also suffered an injury at one point this year. On December 4th, he suffered a broken left foot and has not played since then. That left the door open for the 7th round draft pick and the last player drafted in the 2022 draft. His name: Brock Purdy.
Ever since Purdy took over the starting job, the 49ers have gone undefeated and Purdy has been flawless throwing 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the final five and a half regular season games. The offense finished the regular season ranked fifth in most rushing touchdowns and fifth in total yards. The 49ers defense has also been a big part as to why they have been so dominant this year ranking first in fewest points and fewest yards allowed. Their defense is led by star defensive end Nick Bosa who accumulated a league leading 18.5 sacks this season.
Philadelphia Eagles Road
The Philadelphia Eagles made a big trade of their own acquiring Tennessee Titans star receiver AJ Brown during the 2022 draft and it catapulted the entire offense to new heights, particularly MVP candidate Jalen Hurts. All the Eagles did was go 14-3 during the regular season and earned the NFC’s number one seed. They won their first eight regular games and made it look easy. The Eagles offense ranks third in most points scored per game averaging 28 and first in most rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Jalen Hurts led the team in rushing touchdowns with 13. With the Niners ranking atop the league in fewest points and fewest yards allowed, something has to give this weekend.
The Eagles defense has a stout secondary led by cornerback CJ Gardner-Johnson and defensive end Brandon Graham. The defense ranked first in the fewest passing yards allowed and second in the fewest total yards allowed. With that being said, who’s going to win this game?
I believe the Philadelphia Eagles will win this game because of their rushing attack led by Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders. Additionally, this will be Brock Purdy’s first road postseason start and I believe the moment will be too big for him. He has not turned the ball over very often but that changes on Sunday because the Eagles will force the 49ers to throw the ball early and often.
AFC Championship Game
The AFC Championship game is a rematch of last season’s overtime thriller in Kansas City between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City is looking to avenge last year’s 27-24 overtime loss. The Bengals got the better of the Chiefs in week 13 winning 27-24.
Cincinnati Bengals Journey
The Bengals had another outstanding season finishing 12-4 and won the AFC North despite their Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills being canceled. They were led by quarterback Joe Burrow who had a great season, throwing 35 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions and 4,240 yards. They are currently on a ten-game winning streak, the latest victory being a dominant 27-10 performance against the heavily favored Buffalo Bills. As a whole, the offense ranked top eight in both total points and total yards and second in most touchdown passes to only their AFC Championship opponent: the Chiefs.
Cincinnati’s two biggest playmakers on offense are running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Jamar Chase. Despite only playing 12 games, Chase accumulated an impressive stat line for the season: 87 catches for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns. In the week 13 game against Kansas City, Chase caught seven passes for 97 yards. Mixon missed the game due to injury but backup Samaje Perine filled in the starting role just fine running for 106 yards on 21 carries. The defense also stepped up too. In overtime, linebacker Germaine Pratt forced a fumble on a Travis Kelce catch and run that gave the ball back to Cincinnati which led to the game-winning field goal which led to their fourth straight win at the time.
The defense finished sixth in fewest points allowed and fourth in fewest passing touchdowns allowed. With Kansas City’s high powered offense, something has to give.
Kansas City Chiefs Journey
What else is there to say about the Kansas City Chiefs other than “they’ve been here before”? This is their fifth consecutive AFC Championship game appearance which is an NFL record. This might be the most impressive yet because they did this without their former number one weapon, Tyreek Hill. Hill was traded to the Dolphins in the off-season and the offense did not miss a beat. They steamrolled their competition to a 14-3 record in the regular season and were the AFC’s number one seed. They are coming off a win in the AFC Divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-20.
For the season as a whole, they were nothing short of unstoppable ranking first in the NFL in total points, total yards, and passing touchdowns. They were led by the likely MVP Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes finished the year with 41 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and 5,250 yards. Their biggest playmakers this year were tight end Travis Kelce and running back Isiah Pacheco. Kelce caught 110 passes for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pacheco out of the backfield rushed for 830 yards on 170 carries and also had five touchdowns. Mahomes’ safety net this year was running back Jerrick McKinnon. McKinnon caught 56 passes for 512 yards and 9 touchdowns.
On defense, the crew was led by linebacker Nick Bolton, who finished second in the NFL in total tackles with 180. The team’s main turnover creator was cornerback L’Jarius Sneed who led the team with three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Look for him to follow the Bengals’ main receiver, Jamar Chase all day As far as rankings go, the Chiefs finished near the bottom of the league in pass defense but finished fifth in fewest rushing yards allowed and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed.
I am picking the Chiefs to get their revenge on the Bengals. Both offenses will put up a ton of yards and points so expect another shootout. I believe this game will come down to the Chiefs’ defense. If they can create a turnover or two off of Joe Burrow, that will be a big difference. Buckle up for a fun conference championship Sunday.