After a wild divisional round, it’s conference championship season in the NFL. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the time to write, but after finishing all my college applications, I’m back and ready to go. Let’s take a dive into the previous matchups between these teams, the keys to the games, and my predictions on who will make the Super Bowl.
AFC Championship: Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
Time: 1/30, 3:00 PM
Tale of the Tape: The Bengals beat the Chiefs 34-31 in Week 17. It was Cincinnati’s signature win, as they clinched the AFC North as a result of it. There’s one simple reason they won this game: the Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow has established himself as a young stud during the back half of this season. He passed for 446 yards (30/39 completions to attempts) and four touchdowns. 266 of those yards, 11 of those completions, and three of those touchdowns were to Ja’Marr Chase. That’s an incredible stat line, especially considering Chase is just a rookie. In fact, Chase’s entire first campaign has been phenomenal, and he may receive the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. The duo of Burrow and Chase won the Bengals the previous contest with the Chiefs.
So, the Chiefs must do anything in their power to shut down Ja’Marr Chase. Last Sunday, they did a nice job of locking up the Bills’ best receiver, Stefon Diggs. Diggs had just seven yards on the night. The problem is Bills receiver Gabriel Davis went for 201 yards that night. Another Bengals receiver like Tee Higgins could have an incredible game if the Chiefs focus all their attention on Chase. That’s just a risk you have to be willing to take if you’re the Chiefs, though because Chase is too special to disregard. The Bengals should have a great night offensively, but I expect the Chiefs to limit Ja’Marr Chase’s production.
Back to their previous matchup, the Chiefs had a respectable game on offense. Patrick Mahomes passed for 259 yards (26/35 completions to attempts) and two touchdowns. He spread the ball out, as he targeted 11 different receivers. They ran the ball well, too, going for 155 yards on 23 attempts as a team. It was a balanced attack for Kansas City, but not enough to take down the Bengals. My solution to this problem would be to give the ball to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce more. Those are the Chiefs’ two, star playmakers, so they should ride or die with them. The Bengals have a solid defense, but they shouldn’t have enough to hold both Hill and Kelce for a whole game.
Despite the previous game, I expect the Chiefs to win in a shootout. They’ve been here before, and their offense is red hot after last week’s comeback win.
Prediction: Chiefs win 38-31
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams
Time: 1/30, 6:30 PM
Tale of the Tape: This NFC West matchup has plenty of history. It’s been over three years since the Rams beat the 49ers. Since then, the Niners are 6-0 against the Rams. Kyle Shanahan’s teams have consistently outplayed and outsmarted Sean McVay’s teams. This season, the Niners beat the Rams 31-10 in a midseason game. SF controlled the game on both sides of the ball from start to finish. The defense picked Matthew Stafford off twice, and one of those picks was taken back for a touchdown by Jimmie Ward. Do-it-all receiver Deebo Samuel provided most of their offense, as he took 10 touches for 133 total yards and two touchdowns. Overall, it was a dominant win for San Francisco.
Their next contest was much closer, though. The Niners made a phenomenal, overtime comeback and won by a score of 27-24. Jimmy Garroppolo proved he can come up clutch in big moments in this game. Deebo Samuel had another great game with 140 total yards and a touchdown on 12 touches. The Rams did play better, though, but they could not run the ball. Sony Michel and Cam Akers combined for just 46 rushing yards on 26 carries. So, their offense was rendered one-dimensional, which led to a loss.
This issue for LA still hasn’t been solved. They now have Cam Akers back, but he looked absolutely putrid against the Buccaneers this past weekend. Sean McVay gave him a whopping 24 carries, and Akers only produced 48 yards and lost two fumbles. On the bright side, the Rams’ passing game looks good, as receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. are studs. However, it’s tough to make it so a Super Bowl with a run game that’s so stale.
So, I’m taking the 49ers in this game. The Niners obviously have the Rams’ number. Cooper Kupp needs to be kept in check, but outside of that, the Niners don’t have a ton to worry about on defense. On top of that, the Rams’ collapse in the divisional round is worrisome. Meanwhile, the Niners are riding high after their win against the Packers. The Rams will put up a fight, but the flaming-hot San Francisco 49ers should earn another shot at a Super Bowl.
Prediction: 49ers win 24-20