Chiefs and Rams look like favorites at the moment, but why? and why might the result be different?
There is nothing better than this. The weekend of the playoffs NFL produced four of the most entertaining division games of the entire season. All four were decided on the final play and all four featured elite-level quarterbacks. However, in the end, the 2021 season of the NFL is reduced to four teams.
The NFC Championship Game will have the San Francisco 49ers Y Los Angeles Rams at sofi stadiumheadquarters of Super Bowl LVIMeanwhile he AFC Championship Game will face the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. Matches will include three division winners and one wild card in the 14-team playoff format. You’ll hear everything you can imagine about them over the next few days, so for now, let’s break down the matchups.
Let’s explore how each team can win next week, identify the biggest things to watch for in each game, and update each franchise’s chances of winning the Super Bowl LVI.
(4) Cincinnati Bengals at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Chiefs -7 (53.5)
Football Power Index: Chiefs (69.5 percent) for 7
What to pay attention to: The Bengals clinched the AFC North in Week 17 with a big win at home over the Chiefs, a 34-31 win in which they burned through the Chiefs’ defense with 475 total yards. Quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdown passes and for a moment it seemed the Bengals had exposed the Chiefs’ permanent flaw. The Bengals have exceeded expectations all season, but winning the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium against a team that has played in the last two Super Bowls would be quite an achievement.
Why the Bengals will win: Simply put, Burrow is on a roll. He has completed 52 of 71 passes in the playoffs, with a completion percentage of 73.2%. That’s the highest rate of any player in his first two playoff games in NFL history, with a minimum of 50 attempts. He is also the first player in league history to complete at least 70% of his passes in each of his first two career playoff games, with a minimum of 10 attempts in each. He hasn’t been perfect, especially when he’s under heavy pressure. But when your strong quarterback switches to a higher gear in the playoffs, anything is really possible.
Why the Chiefs will win: No matter how well the opposing quarterback plays, the Chiefs can reasonably expect Patrick Mahomes to match or exceed the performance. When Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of regulation Sunday, Mahomes responded with 10 points of his own during the same time period. And when overtime rolled around, Mahomes reminded everyone who he is and remains the king, leading Kansas City to a big win. When you have the best player in the most important position, you have to feel really good about yourself!
X Factor: The Bengals offensive line. It’s a small miracle that Burrow walked off the field healthy Saturday at Nashville, let alone they won (Cincinnati won 19-16). The Titans sacked him nine times, including eight when they sent their standard four-man pressure. That was the highest sack total in an NFL playoff game using that many players in the past 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Bengals line won’t face as fierce a matchup as it did against the Titans, but it’s hard to imagine Cincinnati beating the Chiefs if Burrow comes close to a similar number of sacks.
(6) San Francisco 49ers at (4) Los Angeles Rams
Line: Rams 3.5 (46.5)
IPF Prediction: Rams (59.4 percent) by 3
What to pay attention to: The 49ers have dominated this NFC West rivalry for the past three years, winning six straight over the Rams. That includes a 31-10 win in Week 10 and a 27-24 overtime win in Week 18, during which the 49ers rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit. Can the 49ers do it a third time? Historically, it has happened more times than you imagine. Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, there have been 22 instances where a team that won both regular-season games, then met its rival in the postseason. The three-game sweep has been completed 14 times, most recently in 2017 when the Saints swept the Panthers. The 2020 Saints are the most recent team to lose the third matchup after winning the first two, against the Buccaneers.
Why the 49ers will win: There’s no question that the 49ers are comfortable playing against the Rams, and especially at SoFi Stadium. His Week 18 victory came in front of tens of thousands of 49ers fans who bought tickets from Rams fans in Los Angeles, a fan base that continues to grow. In fact, the Rams are concerned enough about it happening again that they’re reportedly limiting online ticket purchases to fans with local addresses. If you’re looking for more explanation, consider that the 49ers forced Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to four of his 17 interceptions this season. In his six career games against the 49ers, Stafford has thrown five interceptions (his teams went 1-5 in those games).
Why the Rams will win: There will be a lot of discussion this week about the Rams’ offensive options with Stafford, as well as wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. But we need to focus on the fact that the 49ers’ offense is coming off a pretty miserable performance in Green Bay, having made just a pair of field goals in a 13-10 win. And with wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) and left tackle Trent Williams (ankle) injured, the Rams’ defense has a good chance to control this game. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Von Miller give the Rams a clear advantage. They are coming off a 14-game pressure on Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Brady completed four of 14 attempts and had three sacks on those plays.
X Factor: The kickers. If the close nature of games during division weekend is a trend, kickers could play a key role in determining who goes to the Super Bowl. In that case, it’s worth noting that the 49ers’ Robbie Gould holds the NFL record for most field goal attempts (20) without a miss in postseason history. His streak of 20 consecutive field goals is the third longest in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The Rams’ Matt Gay had a breakout season, making 32 of 34 field goal attempts for a rate of 94.1%, second-highest in the league. But Gay, oddly enough, came up short on a 47-yarder that would have made Sunday’s 30-27 victory at Tampa Bay a little less harrowing.
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The details that will define the Conference Championship Games, under the magnifying glass