This past weekend might have been the greatest in NFL history, and that is no exaggeration. All four games were decided on the final play, both number one seeds were knocked out, and each game was somehow better than the last. The Divisional Round truly had it all: an all-time great game between AFC heavyweights in Kansas City, a defensive battle in the snow at Lambeau Field, a nearly historic comeback spoiled by Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp in Tampa Bay and a rookie kicker stepping up to hit all four of his field goal attempts including a 52 yarder as time expired in Nashville.
All eight teams have a case for why they should have won, but only four teams can advance, and now those four teams will compete for the two spots in America’s most popular sporting event, the Super Bowl.
AFC Championship Game:
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday 3 p.m. ET
The Kansas City Chiefs are red hot, winning an astounding 11 of their last 12 games, including one of the best games in NFL history last week versus the Buffalo Bills. With just 13 seconds left, the Chiefs had the ball at their own 25 yard line, needing something incredible to save their season. Patrick Mahomes found his star weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, on consecutive plays, picking up a total of 44 yards in just 10 seconds. Those two plays were enough to set up a 49-yard field goal to send the game to overtime, which Harrison Butker converted with ease. Patrick Mahomes would then march his offense down the field and finish the game with a perfect back shoulder throw to Travis Kelce.
This game served as a great representation of why the Chiefs should be the favorite to win the Super Bowl: Their offense is simply unstoppable. They recorded a whopping 552 total yards and 30 first downs against the NFL’s number one defense. No team remaining has a defense that can contain the Chiefs, so how could anyone challenge them? As great as the Chiefs are offensively, their defense is far from elite, allowing the sixth most yards during the regular season. Defense has been their kryptonite for a few seasons now, as elite offenses continue to pick them apart.
The Bengals are certainly an elite offense, averaging 27.1 points per game in the regular season. Three explosive stars headline the Bengals’ offense: quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and running back Joe Mixon. These three make up one of the best trios in the NFL, most notably leading the Bengals to a 34-31 victory over… the Kansas City Chiefs in week 17 of the regular season. The Bengals have all the ingredients needed to beat the heavy favorites, but they will need to be firing on all cylinders to have a chance if the Chiefs keep up their current level of play. The Bengals’ previous game versus the Tennessee Titans was far from their best performance, as Joe Burrow failed to score a single touchdown and the team registered just 19 points.
Prediction: All signs are pointing to another exciting and high scoring football game, but in the end, a red hot Mahomes will be too much for the Bengals’ mediocre defense.
Final Score: Chiefs 34, Bengals 27
NFC Championship Game
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
Sunday 6:30 p.m. ET
Neither of these teams were supposed to be here, yet here they are. The San Francisco 49ers pulled off a shocking upset over the team that was then a Super Bowl favorite, the Green Bay Packers. Despite a poor performance from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and the 49ers offense as a whole, they were able to win through dominant defensive and special teams performances. Their defense limited the likely MVP winner Aaron Rodgers and the most clinical offense in the NFL to just 10 points, while their special teams forced a blocked punt touchdown late in the fourth quarter, tying the game. The 49ers were able to pull through on a last second field goal, ending the game with a victory despite their offense being limited to just six points. On the verge of making it to their second Super Bowl in just three years, the 49ers rely on their dominant run game and suffocating defense, often needing little help from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who sometimes seems to be more of a problem for his own team than for the opponent. This game was emblematic of the 49ers philosophy, allowing the run game and defense to carry the team through the mud and towards victory. Despite the fact that they aren’t an incredible team, they are a tough matchup for anyone.
The 49ers will be facing off against the Los Angeles Rams, a divisional opponent whom they’ve beaten twice this season. But this time could very well be different. The Rams are coming off a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which they nearly blew a 27-3 lead. After the Rams’ fourth fumble of the day, the Buccaneers were able to tie the game on a nine-yard run from Leonard Fournette with just 42 seconds remaining. Momentum was completely in the Buccaneers’ favor, and what at one point seemed to be a guaranteed victory for the Rams was now looking like a historic failure. All hope was not lost, though, and two throws from quarterback Matthew Stafford to star wide receiver Cooper Kupp picked up 66 yards, giving kicker Matt Gay a chip shot field goal to win the game. Despite a nearly embarrassing loss, the Rams will be advancing to the NFC Championship, and that is all that matters. They were able to beat the defending champions and quarterback Tom Brady, who is considered by many fans to be the greatest of all time.
Prediction: Both teams are defensively sound and functional on offense. Despite the 49ers beating the Rams in both of their meetings this season, Matthew Stafford is a much better quarterback than Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Rams possess an absurd amount of star power. The 49ers will be able to keep it close, but the Rams will prevail.
Final Score: Rams 27, 49ers 24