After the hectic Divisional round weekend, the AFC and NFC Championships are slated to take place this Sunday, January 30th, 2022. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, these games will be nothing less than intense, emotional roller coasters taking fans captive and keeping them glued to their TVs. Let’s take an in-depth look at the final two games before Super Bowl LVI.
AFC Championship Game – (4) Cincinnati Bengals @ (1) Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday January 30th, 3:00 PM (CBS)
Previous Matchup: Week 17 in Cincinnati, Bengals 34 – Chiefs 31
In the AFC, we have the Cincinnati Bengals heading to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. This will be their second matchup of the season and second matchup this month after their thriller on Jan 2nd in which the Bengals edged out the Chiefs with a field goal as time expired to win, 34-31. The Bengals finished the season 10-7, winning the AFC North for the first time since 2015. En route to the championship game, the Bengals defeated the Las Vegas Raiders in Cincinnati, 26-19, before heading to Nashville to defeat the number one seeded Tennessee Titans, 19-16, with a walk-off field goal in a late-game thriller. The Chiefs finished the season 12-5, winning the AFC West for the sixth season in a row. On their path to the Championship game, they trounced the Steelers in the first round, 42-21, before pulling off an epic comeback to beat the Buffalo Bills 42-36 in overtime in what was arguably the best game of the year with a walk-off touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce.
The AFC Championship will feature some of the NFL’s best young stars. The matchup between Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes will feature two quarterbacks ranked in the top six in passing yards with Burrow passing for 4,611 yards and Mahomes passing for 4,839 yards. These two also rank top eight in touchdowns – Burrow threw 34 and Mahomes threw 37. Both feature QB-Ratings over 98.0. These quarterbacks have been surrounded by some of the best skill players in the league. The Chiefs have WR Tyreek Hill. Hill ranks third in the NFL in receptions with 111 and seventh in receiving yards with 1,239. The Bengals have rookie standout WR Ja’Marr Chase. Chase ranks fourth in receiving yards with 1,455 and third in touchdowns with 13. Obviously both teams will be able to score, so the deciding factor will be whose defense can get the most stops. The Chiefs rank fourth in points per game, averaging 28.2, and eighth in points allowed per game, holding their opponents to an average of 21.4 points. The Bengals rank seventh in points per game, scoring 27.1 per contest, while they rank 17th in points against per game, allowing 22.1. Both quarterbacks are ranked in the top ten in interceptions, Burrow has 14 and Mahomes has 13, so whichever defense can take advantage of this lack of ball security will have the upper hand.
The Chiefs are favored 70 to 30 over the Bengals, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. In order for the underdog Bengals to win this game, they’re going to have to play at a high level. Minimizing stalled possessions and turnovers is essential while also maximizing their offensive prowess along with their defense playing excellent. The Bengals have been proving doubters wrong all year, but will their roar finally turn into a whimper?
NFC Championship Game – (6) San Francisco 49ers @ (4) Los Angeles Rams
Sunday January 30th, 6:30PM (FOX)
Previous Matchups: Week 10 in San Francisco, 49ers 31 – Rams 10; Week 18 in Los Angeles, 49ers 27 – Rams 24 (OT)
The NFC Championship will be this season’s third matchup and the second this month between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers beat the Rams both times this year, 31-10 on November 15th and 27-24 on January 9th. The latter of the two matchups is what advanced San Francisco into the playoffs. The Rams finished 12-5 and won the NFC West while the 49ers finished 10-7 at 3rd in the NFC West. On their way to the Championship game, the Rams stayed in LA to toss the Arizona Cardinals, who finished 2nd place in the NFC West, 34-11, before heading to Tampa Bay to dethrone the defending Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers 30-27. The 49ers traveled to and defeated the Dallas Cowboys 23-17, then traveled to Green Bay and handed the number one seed Packers their playoff exit ticket in a defensive showdown, 13-10, in a beautiful snowy wonderland. The Rams employ a flashy West Coast themed offense that looks to throw the ball and score points while the 49ers are a hard nosed zone schemed offense who look to dominate time of possession by predominantly running the ball.
The Rams, led by their star-studded offense, ranked 5th in the NFL this season averaging 273 passing yards per game. WR Cooper Kupp won the triple crown, finishing first in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns and was accompanied by WR Odell Beckham Jr., who rekindled his career in Los Angeles catching six touchdowns since he was acquired by the Rams mid-season. Matthew Stafford ranks third in passing yards (4,886), second in touchdowns with 41, and has a QB Rating at 102.9. The Rams defense also finished ranked third in sacks. Not to be outdone, the 49ers ranked 3rd in the league this season only allowing 310 yards per game. The 49ers look to utilize one of the most versatile players in the NFL, Deebo Samuel Jr., who has 1,405 receiving yards along with 365 rushing yards. San Francisco will look to feed their running back, Elijah Mitchell, who finished the season eighth in rushing yards with 963.
The NFC Championship will be a battle of two vastly different styles of football, but one thing is common, both of these teams will need a strong defensive effort to win this showdown. The odds are leaning towards the Rams according to ESPN FPI, 60 to 40, but the underdog 49ers are riding into town with high confidence. In order to win, they will need to find a way to slow down the high flying Rams offense, take advantage of Deebo Samuel’s explosiveness, be stingy with the ball, and control time of possession. The 49ers will take their hour flight down the California coast with the utmost confidence having owned the Rams lately, winning six straight matchups. Is this where the streak ends, or will San Francisco continue to own California?