Many times in our lives we throw out the word “greatest.” We use it, in my opinion, too often and in a way that the word has lost a lot of its meaning. So, when I tell you that this past weekend was the greatest playoff weekend ever, know that I fully mean it. Both conferences saw their top-seeded team fall at home. We were 13 seconds away from having both of the number 2 seeds being knocked out. After going 1-5 in the super wild card round, the away teams went 3-1. The one away team that lost was Buffalo when they were 13 seconds away from winning.
All four games were dramatic and had wildly entertaining finishes. The first three games all ended with a game-winning FG as time expired. The fourth and final game went to OT after a furious number of points were scored in the last two minutes of the game. That match-up would be settled by a game-winning touchdown. This is just a watered-down version of what happened this weekend. But trust me it was one that will live long in the memory. So now let’s look forward to championship weekend.
#4 Cincinnati Bengals @ #2 Kansas City Chiefs
For the fourth year in a row the Chiefs will be hosting the AFC Championship game. This time around they will be hosting the upstart Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals snapped a 31-year drought of winning a playoff game in the wild card round. They then went to Tennessee and slayed the number 1 seed in the conference to get to this game. The Chiefs swept aside the Steelers in the wild card round. Then they outlasted the Bills in one of the greatest playoff games in recent memory. So, who will take that next step and reach the Super Bowl? Only one way to find out!
Let’s start with the Bengals, who have surpassed even the most die-hard fans expectations. Among the four teams in their division, they were the least picked team to win the AFC North. Yet when the dust settled it was the Bengals who roared at the top. Then they won not one, but two playoff games which for Bengals fans must’ve felt like an extra Christmas. Of course, since the Bengals have made it this far, why not and try to win it all, right? Well, that’s exactly what starting QB Joe Burrow will be thinking. With weapons Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon, this offense has the firepower to keep up with the Chiefs.
Defensively they will have their hands full as the world witnessed Patrick Mahomes play one of the best games of his career. The defense so far has stepped up this postseason. But like many before them, slowing down Mahomes is no easy task. Forcing turnovers will be the key to winning this game. The Bengals offense can certainly keep up but stealing a few possessions from KC will go a long way. Let us not forget that the Bengals beat the Chiefs earlier this season.
Of course, the Chiefs haven’t forgotten about that loss and will be looking for revenge. Due to the loss, the Chiefs fell out of the number 1 seed and the reward of a first-round bye. This likely kept the two teams from playing against each other last week. Regardless of the past the Chiefs are in top form and will be backed by their home crowd. Mahomes needs no introduction, and neither do his top weapons Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Being one game away from going back to the Super Bowl, expect the Chiefs offense to put up a bunch of points as they will be hungry to get another crack at the title.
The concern for the Chiefs will be their defense. Josh Allen is no doubt one of the best QBs in the league. But the ease in which he took apart their defense last week should be concerning. Especially since Burrow is a great QB in his own right. No one doubts the Chiefs ability to score, but if they can’t consistently stop other teams from scoring. it will eventually be their downfall. Whether that happens this postseason or next year remains to be seen. One advantage the defense will enjoy is the home crowd as they get quite loud. That might be just enough for this defense to make some plays.
Verdict: Chiefs 34 Bengals 31
#6 San Francisco 49ers @ #4 Los Angeles Rams
As if these two division rivals couldn’t hate each other even more. This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season. The previous two games were won by the Niners who snuck into the playoffs thanks to that second victory. Now these teams will battle again for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Will it be a three-game sweep for the Niners? Or will the Rams ultimately have the last laugh? Let’s break it down.
The Niners have a feeling of destiny, as they were fortunate to even be in the playoffs. A last-minute touchdown late in the 4th quarter against the Rams saved their season. To properly thank the Rams, the Niners are looking to finish them off completely. To do so, the Niners will do what they do best: a physical game-plan offensively to wear down opposing defenses. They will be heavily relying on Deebo Samuel to make impact plays. Starting QB Jimmy Garappolo must avoid turning the ball over. A clean game is the best formula for success.
Having already played the Rams twice this season there shouldn’t be anything that the Niners defense hasn’t already seen. So, it will be imperative not to get drawn into making mistakes. As we saw last week the Rams can and will try to throw deep. Avoiding the big plays will limit the Rams quick score ability. Nick Bosa will need to get consistent pressure on Matthew Stafford to disrupt the passing game. The Rams have been sloppy with the ball and the San Francisco defense will want to take advantage.
The Rams come into this game after surviving one of the biggest meltdowns in recent history, blowing a 27-3 lead in the 2nd half before escaping with a game winning FG. One of the main reasons for the comeback was the four fumbles that they lost. The Rams offense has shown that they can be explosive. They’ve also shown that they can be stagnant and turn the ball over. In the last couple of games, the Rams have been really good for one half and not so good for the other. If the offense clicks for the full game, not many teams can beat them.
The Rams defense has some real star power in their ranks. They will need them to step up to force the Niners into mistakes. The Rams graded as the best run defense this season, and that will surely be put to the test. The key for the defense will be to ground the running game to a halt. If they can make the Niners one dimensional, they severely limit their opponents. Garappolo can make plays, but if he’s being heavily relied upon then mistakes will likely happen. Keep an eye out for how well the Rams deal with the run.
Verdict: Rams 30 Niners 24
Last Week: 1-3