There are only four teams left in the playoffs of the 2022 NFL season as we head into the conference championship round. Fresh off a win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, the 49ers will face the Eagles, who dismantled the Giants on Saturday, in the NFC Championship Game. And after beating the Bills on Sunday, the Bengals will try to get back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Kansas City beat Jacksonville on Saturday to kick off the divisional round despite Patrick Mahomes’ sprained right ankle.
Let’s take a look at that exciting conference championship schedule. To get you ready for next week’s slate, Brooke Pryor selected the top things to watch out for in each game, and Seth Walder explored how each team can win to advance to Super Bowl LVII. Let’s start on the NFC.
Note: Odds and lines of play are via Caesars Sportsbook. Game projections are via ESPN’s Football Power Index.
SF-PHI | CIN-KC
NFC Championship Game
Sunday, January 29, at 3 pm ET (Fox)
opening line: HPI -2 (45.5)
FPI projection: PHI, 64.4% (by four points)
What to watch: This is how it was supposed to be. We have the two most dominant teams in the NFC meeting with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ers and Eagles haven’t met this season, so it will be a clean slate for each side. Philadelphia has the advantage of a more experienced quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who has a great supporting cast that includes wide receivers DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown, tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders. But he is still recovering from a sprained right shoulder that he suffered more than a month ago.
And while the 49ers are on their third starting quarterback in Brock Purdy (the 2022 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant), Kyle Shanahan’s friendly quarterback system, and the 49ers’ plethora of offensive players: tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey among them, make San Francisco’s offense pretty potent even with a rookie quarterback. There’s an outside chance that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is also ready for the NFC Championship Game, but Purdy has helped the 49ers get this far after the veteran suffered a broken foot in Week 13. Purdy, however, hasn’t faced a defense like Philadelphia’s unit, one that held teams to a league-low 5.5 net yards per pass attempt and 3,057 passing yards in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the 49ers defense allowed a league-low 6.4 yards per pass attempt and 3.4 yards per carry and had 20 interceptions to the Eagles’ 17. In a game this close, it might come down to experience, and while the 49ers have been to a Super Bowl more recently than the Eagles, Hurts’ relative experience to Purdy’s could make all the difference.
Why the Eagles will win: The 49ers have the only roster that can even compare to the Eagles, but in terms of the entire 53-man roster, Philadelphia still has the edge. That is especially evident in the trenches. The Eagles have a superior pass-blocking win rate and rushing win rate, and Haason Reddick (17.5 sacks, including postseason) should be set for another big day. He will be facing Mike McGlinchey, not Trent Williams. And while the 49ers’ offense has been excellent for the most part with Purdy at the helm, no one doubts who the better quarterback is in this matchup. It hurts, and it will matter.
Why the 49ers will win: The unique attributes of San Francisco’s offense will limit the effectiveness of the Eagles’ normally dominant defense. That much of the 49ers’ receiving production comes from McCaffrey, Samuel and Kittle will mitigate the effect of the superb cornerback duo of James Bradberry (who led all corners in fewest yards allowed per play, according to NFL Next). Gen Stats) and Darius Slay. And running back Nick Bosa can beat Jordan Mailata, who ranked 56 of 64 in pass-blocking win rate this season.
AFC Championship Game
Sunday, January 29, at 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
opening line: KC-2.5 (49.5)
FPI projection: KC, 65.2% (by five points)
What to watch: Bengali chiefs. Patrick Mahomes. Joe Burrow. Arrowhead Stadium. Super Bowl bunk on the line. He feels a bit like déjà vu, doesn’t he? But while the circumstances are similar, these two teams are not the same groups that met a year ago for a thrilling overtime in which Cincinnati rallied from an 18-point deficit to clinch its first Super Bowl trip in 33 years. Including the Bengals’ 27-24 win in Week 13, these two teams have played three times since the start of the 2021 season, with Cincinnati winning by three points each time.
Mahomes, who is 1-3 in his career against the Bengals, has a high ankle sprain (confirmed by an MRI), according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Even with limited mobility, he completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards and two touchdown passes in the second half of Saturday’s divisional-round win over the Jaguars, and said he looks forward to playing the Bengals. In the December meeting between Cincinnati and Kansas City, the Bengals defense held Mahomes to 16 of 27 completions (223 yards and one TD pass), his fewest completions of the season.
Meanwhile, Burrow was 25 of 31 for 286 yards, two touchdown passes and one rushing, becoming the first quarterback to beat Mahomes three straight games. Burrow got a big boost in that game with a 106-yard rushing performance from running back Samaje Perine. Against the Bills in the divisional round, Joe Mixon was the great rusher for the Bengals with 105 yards and a touchdown. But we also need to call attention to Cincinnati’s defense, which held the Bills to just 10 points and 8 yards in the first quarter.
Why the Chiefs will win: A banged up Mahomes is still a top 10 quarterback. Yes, the injury will limit it. But Mahomes will still have an elite pass protection line helping him, along with plays from head coach Andy Reid and tight end Travis Kelce, who caught 14 passes against eight different defenders in the Chiefs’ playoff win over the Jaguars. right now.
With a heavy two-high defense, the Chiefs can limit the threat of Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase catching deep shots down the sideline. But the real defensive key will be defensive tackle Chris Jones, who posted 79 passer rush wins in the regular season, 26 more than any other defensive tackle. Can he blow up the lackluster Bengals offensive line, which ranked 31st in pass-blocking earned rate this year before Sunday?
Why the Bengals will win: The Bengals have an advantage that no one expected: the best quarterback. Burrow is superior to an injured Mahomes, and that shifts the offensive advantage to Cincinnati. Chase and Tee Higgins also have the advantage over the Chiefs’ corners. Chase had 97 receiving yards in the Bengals’ win over Kansas City in December. And in Sunday’s win over the Bills, Burrow proved once again that he can get past his offensive line by getting the ball out quickly (2.5 seconds on average, according to NFL Next Gen Stats).
And if the Bengals are the better offensive team with limited Mahomes on the opposite sideline, that would give them the advantage in all three phases. The Bengals ranked ninth in the EPA for play on defense before shutting down Josh Allen and the Bills, while the Chiefs ranked 15th. And Kansas City has had the worst special teams efficiency of any team this season.