NFL Championship Round Preview
And Then There Was Four
After a pulsating Divisional round, I'm not sure how the NFL Championship Round will match the excitement of the Divisional Round. We had all four games end on a walk-off score for the first time. As we get ready to decide who will face off for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LVI, the anticipation grows by the minute.
Before we get started, there is a lot to talk about around the NFL. First off, long-time Saints' HC Sean Payton announced he would be stepping down after 15 seasons. Payton said in a press conference that he would likely retire but will further evaluate potentially coming back next season, but right now, it is unlikely. Payton's career record as head coach is 152-89, and his greatest accomplishment was leading the Saints to their first Super Bowl appearance and victory in 2010.
Payton isn't the only one calling it a quits as Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger also is hanging up the cleats after an 18-year career in the NFL. Big Ben spent all 18 seasons with the Steelers and is a two-time Super Bowl Champion. Roethlisberger was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch in his prime, as his big frame made it hard for opposing teams to bring him down. His ability to extend plays was second to none, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Yes, he probably should've retired two years ago, but Big Ben will go down in history as one the greatest QBs I've ever watched. What a career for Big Ben!
Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the preview!
AFC Championship Game
4) Cincinnati Bengals vs. 2) Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS, Line: KC -7.0
I don't think anyone expected Bengals to be at this point, but here we are! I can speak for almost every football fan when I say that it's tough to root against someone like Joe Burrow. I mean, look at the dude; the man is oozing with confidence, and to top it all off, he backs it up with his play on the field. From the moment he won the National Championship in 2019, there was no denying his greatness, and he has certainly proven himself this season.
A big reason for Burrow's success is his supporting cast. Burrow didn't take long to reconnect with former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase. The rookie wideout has taken the league by storm and is the first rookie to record back-to-back 100-yard games in the postseason. Not to mention, Cincy's offense is exceptionally balanced, with RB Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, CJ Uzomah doing their jobs as well.
Cincy's defense has been middle of the pack all season, but they stepped up in a big way last week against the Titans. Players like Eli Apple and Mike Hilton continue to make big plays for the defense, while Trey Hendrickson continues to reak havoc in the pass rush. Also, how can I not forget about the man of the hour, Evan McPherson? I have to show some respect to a former Florida Gator. The rookie kicker continues to be automatic and has already drawn comparison to the great Justin Tucker! Can Money Mac continue his success in Arrowhead? It could come down to another McPherson kick to send the Bengals to their first Super Bowl since 1988.
I'm not sure how the Chiefs can recover after what possibly could go down as the most fantastic playoff game ever played. Patrick Mahomes threw for 188 yards in the final two minutes of the game alone, as the Chiefs rallied to defeat the Bills last week. I knew that heading into that game; the winner would likely be the favorite to win the Super Bowl moving forward. I'm not sure if a team can compete with Patrick Mahomes and this offense. Yes, I know there was some concern about Mahomes mid-season, but this is the playoffs, and there is no one better in the playoffs than Patrick Mahomes.
The big concern for the Chiefs heading into this game is the defense. Tyrann Mathieu suffered a concussion during last week's win and was forced out of the game early on. Josh Allen torched the defense in his absence, and the Bills almost won the game. HC Andy Reid said that Mathieu practiced on Wednesday, and he said that he's doing well and has a chance to play on Sunday. Without Mathieu in their secondary, the Chiefs will be left vulnerable to the deep threat, which Burrow will quickly exploit.
This is also a revenge game for the Chiefs, as their last meeting ended with the Bengals clinching the AFC North in week 17.
I don't see the Bengals coming into Arrowhead and defeating the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is too good in the postseason, and he knows how to get it done. I'm not overlooking this Bengals team; I don't see them pulling out the win. I see this game being high-scoring, but I think Mahomes is just too good. I see the Chiefs winning the game, but I will be rooting for the Bengals. WHO DEY!!
Jake's Pick: KC -7.0
NFC Championship Game
6) San Francisco 49ers vs. 4) Los Angeles Rams
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, Line: LAR -3.5
The San Francisco 49ers being in this position may shock many people, but not me. The Niners earned their way into the postseason by defeating the Rams in the season's final week. They followed that up by going into Dallas and beating a team that many people thought was a Super Bowl contender. Then, they marched into Lambeau Field and ended Aaron Rodgers' time in Green Bay. Now, they have a chance to make it to their second Super Bowl in three years. All they have to do is get past the Rams, yet again.
In this postseason, the Niners haven't exactly played the most glamourous football, as HC Kyle Shanahan seems to have lost a little confidence in QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Still, somehow, someway, they've figured out a way to get the job done. Thanks to guys like Trent Williams controlling the o-line and Nick Bosa dominating the defensive line, they've won their games by being the more physical team.
It will be essential to keep an eye on that injury report leading up to this game, as guys like George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Trent Williams were banged up in last week's win. Both Kittle and Samuel will play on Sunday, but Williams didn't practice on Wednesday. However, Shanahan expects Williams to suit up, as does Williams.
On the other hand, the Rams withstood a near-improbable comeback from Tom Brady last Sunday, as they coughed up a 24-point lead, only for Matthew Stafford to save them at the end. In his first year with the Rams, it's incredible to see Stafford win two-straight playoff games after spending the last 11 seasons with Detroit and not winning a single playoff game.
It also helps when you have an offense that consists of triple-crown winner Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckam Jr. Since arriving from Cleveland, OBJ has burst onto the scene and has stepped up after Robert Woods tore his ACL.
For head coach Sean McVay, nothing would please him more than finally getting past Kyle Shanahan. The two coaches know each other from their time at Washington. In 2013, Sean McVay served as the tight ends coach, while Shanahan was offensive coordinator. Despite having the best winning percentage in the NFL, McVay is 0-6 against Shanahan's Niners, including the last two matchups. This will be the third time this season when these two rivals face off against one another. Can Sean McVay finally get past his former counterpart at Washington, or will the master continue to better his former pupil? Kirby Smart was able to get past Nick Saban in the National Championship a few weeks ago, so the stage is set for McVay to beat Shanahan.
The Rams may have more talent than the Niners, and they may have the better QB, but the Niners continue to win the big games, and Shanahan's game plan has worked to perfection. For the Rams to get past the Niners, they have to beat them at their own game, which means they have to win in the trenches. However, there's just something about this Niners team that makes me think they will win this game. The Rams are the better team, but I think the Niners will find a way to win due to utter grittiness.
Jake's Pick: SF +3.5
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Jake Klausner covers all things sports for ThePyrrhic.com. Keep your eyes peeled for NFL Analysis, World Series Recaps, and more from Jake.
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