Maggie and Nate’s Playoff Prognostication: Conference Championship Selections



Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2), defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) gesture toward spectators during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New York Giants, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

NFC Championship – (2) 49ers @ (1) Eagles – Sunday @ 3:05 P.M. on FOX

Nathan – 20-17 49ers

It’s the matchup NFL fans have waited for all season. It’s the top two teams in the NFC. Two teams whose rosters are loaded with talent but have yet to have defeated a legit opponent. This will be a difficult test for both sides. With many star players on the field, this game will entertain anyone who tunes in.

The Eagles are coming off of an impressive win in the Divisional Round, a game in which they ran for 268 yards and had the edge in time of possession. In a game that many believed could be close, the Eagles left no doubt, showing why they earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs. They were dominant on both sides of the ball, protected the football, and showed very little rust. On offense, they outgained New York by almost 200 yards while having eleven more minutes of possession. Defensively, the birds held the Giants offense to 227 total yards, a team that totaled 445 yards the week before. The Eagles pass rush got after quarterback Daniel Jones, sacking him five times and forcing him into throwing bad passes. Philly’s defense made it very difficult for the Giants offense to move the ball, who only picked up 13 first downs in the entire game, compared to 26 for the Eagles. This game got out of control very quickly, as Philly took their opening drive down the field for a touchdown and never lost momentum on their way to a 38-7 rout of the Giants.

For San Francisco, they had a tougher battle last weekend, but their defense was the star in their 19-12 win against the Dallas Cowboys. This game featured the biggest test for rookie quarterback Brock Purdy so far in his young NFL career. Facing a lot of pressure throughout, Purdy completed 19 passes out of 29 attempts for 214 yards while only being sacked twice. The most crucial stat line from this game was turnovers. The 49ers had two takeaways while only turning it over once. One of the takeaways for San Francisco set them up with a field goal, while the other took Dallas out of the red zone. Their one giveaway was costly, as it set the Cowboys up just outside the red zone and resulted in three points. The Niners defense was super efficient throughout the game, holding Dallas to only one touchdown in three trips to the red zone. The biggest concern for the 49ers, however, was the performance of CeeDee Lamb. The receiver hauled in ten receptions for a total of 117 yards. The week prior, Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf caught ten passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Improving the play of their secondary for the Niners is going to have to be a priority, as the offenses they will be playing will continue to be a tall task.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s showdown, it’s clear that the defenses will be the storyline for this game. With two offenses that are loaded with weapons, it’ll be up to the defenses to come up with a big stop or takeaway to put their squad in a position to win the game. These two teams came into the postseason ranked number one and number two in total defense, with the 49ers defense allowing the fewest points per game. The major strength for the Niners defense is their containment of the run game, where they finished second in the league, allowing fewer than 80 yards per game. This matchup against the Eagles’ fifth-best rushing offense is going to be an intriguing matchup. On the flip side, San Francisco’s rushing attack finished eighth-best during the regular season, while Philly’s run defense finished in the league’s bottom half in defending the run. In a game where time of possession is crucial, running the football will be a huge factor in controlling the clock, and given the matchups, I see the 49ers run game performing better than the Eagles, and helping lead them to an NFC Championship.

In the passing game, both teams were closer to the middle of the standings in yards per game. On the defensive side, though, the Eagles finished as the best defense against the pass, while San Francisco finished towards the middle. With a young QB under center, Kyle Shanahan may look to star tailback Christian McCaffery and receiver Deebo Samuel to carry a major workload running the football to open up more options in the passing game. Taking the pressure off of Brock Purdy will be necessary for the Niners in the passing game. He is going to have to face a pass rush from the Eagles that led the NFL in sacks during the regular season. He is going to be protected by a Niners offensive line that allowed the sixth-fewest sacks this season. It will be very important for the line of San Francisco to protect Brock Purdy so that he has time to find open receivers down the field. The issues will arise for the 49ers if Purdy is rushed on some passes. The Eagles secondary has taken advantage of rushed throws and will look to do the same again on Sunday afternoon.

Being able to say which team is the best in the NFC confidently took work in the regular season. These two teams were the most complete rosters in the conference throughout the regular season. The 49ers carry a 12-game winning streak with them into Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday, an environment that is very difficult to win in. They have been in this scenario many times before, but not with a rookie as the starting quarterback. This team last year went into Green Bay and knocked off the top-seeded Packers, 13-10, in a game where the defense dominated a majority of the game. I expect San Francisco’s defense to be ready to go on Sunday. They looked much better this past weekend against the Cowboys than they did in the Wild Card game against the Seahawks. I also expect Kyle Shanahan to call an excellent game and draw up some plays that set up some big runs for CMC and Deebo. It will be very interesting to see how creative Shanahan gets with the plays he has the offense run.

In the one game the Eagles lost this year with a healthy lineup, they ran 34 fewer offense plays and had over 20 fewer minutes of possession time. Knowing this, I see the Niners attempting to play a similar game, running the ball and controlling the clock. Long, sustained drives for San Francisco would set them up to come out of South Philadelphia with the George Halas Trophy and a spot in Super Bowl 57. When it comes time for them to step up, I trust the 49ers defense to get going and make some big plays. I think they will bring a lot of pressure on Jalen Hurts and force him into some poor decisions that lead to short fields in which the offense will capitalize. This game will be a dogfight and one that could very well come down to a last-second field goal. The play of the 49ers as a team in the fourth quarter on their winning streak proved to be very tough to beat, and they will have another big fourth quarter on Sunday, to set up an exciting finish in the final two minutes. Regardless of who comes out on top, this game will surely entertain football fans from the opening kickoff until the final snap. This second-straight NFC Championship game appearance for the 49ers will yet again be a tightly contested battle, but I see them coming out on top this time and making it to their second Super Bowl in four years.

Maggie – 37-24   49ers

Conference Championship Weekend begins with the NFC title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.

The game begins at 3:00 p.m. on Fox. The current weather forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s with a slight chance of rain.

The 49ers were the number two seed in the NFC after going 13-4 in the regular season.  They would have had a bye during Wild Card Weekend in prior seasons, but the NFL made changes to the playoffs that only gave a bye to the number one seed. The 49ers beat their division foe, the Seattle Seahawks, 41-23 in the opening round of the playoffs, then got by the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 19-12 in the Divisional Round.  The game against the Cowboys was their lowest-scoring game since “Mr. Irrelevant,” Brock Purdy, took over as the starting quarterback due to an injury to Jimmy Garropolo.  Both of their playoff wins came at home in Santa Clara. They were 5-3 away from home this year, but two losses were in the season’s first three weeks.  The 49ers had the number one defense (22nd against the pass and 2nd against the rush) and 5th ranked offense (13th in passing and 8th in rushing) in the NFL this season.

The Eagles had a bye in the first round after claiming the number one seed in the NFC by going 14-3 in the regular season.  They beat the NY Giants last week in the Divisional Round 38-7, their third victory over the Giants this year.  The Eagles are 7-2 at home this year, with one of those losses coming without Jalen Hurts at quarterback due to injury.  The Eagles are a well-balanced team that was 3rd in total offense (9th in passing and 5th in rushing) in the NFL and only trailed the 49ers in defense (5th against the pass and 16th against the rush).

In games decided by 7 points or less, the 49ers are 2-1, while the Eagles are 6-1.  When scoring first, the 49ers are 6-3, and the Eagles are 10-2.  When leading at halftime, the 49ers are 9-2, and the Eagles are 12-1.

The oddsmakers have the Eagles as the slight favorite to win the game, which is not uncommon in the playoffs for a number-one seed.  However, the 49ers are coming in as winners of their last ten games.  If Brock Purdy can avoid making any rookie mistakes and their one-two punch at running back, Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell, are healthy, then look for the 49ers to come out victorious and head back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019-2020 season when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-20.

AFC Championship – (3) Bengals @ (1) Chiefs – Sunday @ 6:40 P.M. on CBS

Nathan – 27-20 Bengals

It’s Patrick Mahomes vs Joe Burrow in the AFC Championship game for the second straight season. Cincinnati overcame a 21-3 deficit last year to knock off Kansas City and secure a spot in the Super Bowl against the Rams, where they eventually fell to Los Angeles by a field goal. With a trip to Arizona to play in Super Bowl 57 on the line, we will see if Mahomes and the Chiefs can avenge their loss from last year. 

These two teams met back in week 13 in Cincinnati, where the Bengals came out on top by a score of 27-24. In that game, the Bengals totaled 431 yards of offense, and picked up 26 first downs. The Chiefs had 349 total yards and 20 first downs. A major key for the Bengals win was a costly fumble by Travis Kelce in the fourth quarter that set up the Bengals with a short field goal in which they scored a touchdown. Similar to last year’s AFC Championship game, costly turnovers for the Chiefs led to points for the Bengals that proved to be the deciding factor when it was all said and done. 

The Chiefs began their playoff run at Arrowhead last weekend against the Jaguars, and put together a pretty solid performance. Patrick Mahomes went down mid game with an ankle injury, but backup quarterback Chad Henne led the offense on a 98 yard touchdown drive. Andy Reid has drawn up some highly creative play calls that have resulted in chunk plays for the offense. Kansas City totaled 362 total yards of offense and had zero turnovers. They also sacked Trevor Lawrence twice, while their offensive line didn’t allow one sack all game. Kansas City got a major performance out of tight end Travis Kelce, who hauled in 14 passes for 98 yards and two touchdown receptions. A major concern for the Chiefs was that they allowed 7.5 yards per carry to the Jaguars, and now have to matchup against a Bengals team that ran for 172 yards last weekend. 

For Cincinnati, they pulled off an impressive win in the snow in Buffalo Sunday afternoon. It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Bengals, who scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives and never looked back. They looked efficient right from the start and continued that throughout the entire game. Joe Burrow threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and Joe Mixon ran for 105 yards and a touchdown. On top of the great performance of the offense, the Bengals defense was impressive, too, holding Buffalo to its lowest point total for the entire season. This defense made the Bills offense look completely different than the dominant offense they were during the regular season. Josh Allen did not throw a touchdown pass, Stefon Diggs was held to 35 receiving yards, and the Bills as a team only ran for 64 yards. A major concern for the Bengals going into the Divisional Round game was their offensive line which was missing a few starters, but they played very well. The Bills only sacked Burrow once, and Cincinnati as a team ran for 172 yards. An overall dominant performance from Zac Taylor’s team set up this rematch from the 2022 AFC Championship game.

Looking ahead to this rematch Sunday evening, the play of both quarterbacks is going to have the biggest effect on the outcome of this game. Joe Burrow is currently 3-0 in his career against Patrick Mahomes, and has thrown for an average of 327 yards per game against the Chiefs, and will need another big performance to lift up the Lamar Hunt Trophy again. His top target, Ja’Marr Chase, looks to have another big role against the Chiefs, as he has averaged 139 receiving yards in his three career games vs Kansas City. For the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes has averaged right around 250 passing yards per game in his three matchups against Burrow. A big storyline to follow will be how Mahomes moves around the field during the game, as he is coming off a high-ankle sprain that he suffered in the Divisional Round win against the Jaguars. Regardless of how the ankle feels, Mahomes is sure to deliver some big plays for Kansas City at some crucial moments of the game. 

Offensively, both teams finished top 5 in passing yards per game, while both were in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards per game. For Sunday’s game, however, look for both teams to attempt to establish the run to control the clock and sustain long drives. The Bengals were able to do this very well against the Bills, and was a big factor in what helped them come away with a win. In last year’s game, the stats were very similar, except for time of possession, in which the Bengals controlled for over six more minutes than the Chiefs. Another key stat to remember from that game was the Chiefs turned the ball over twice, and the Bengals only once. Both turnovers from Kansas City were costly, as it resulted in ten points for Cincinnati, three of which came on the walk off field goal from Even McPherson that sent the Bengals to the Super Bowl. In their week 13 meeting, there was only one turnover, which was a fumble by Travis Kelce. That turnover led to what would eventually become the game-winning touchdown from the Bengals. A lot of pressure is on both quarterbacks this game to protect the football because any turnover that may happen on Sunday at Arrowhead could be very costly. 

On the defensive side of the ball, both of these franchises found themselves in the middle of the league in total defense. Both defenses, however, have been playing great over the past few weeks, and look to continue that this weekend. A big factor to consider is Mahomes’ ankle injury and how the offense looked last week while he was playing through that injury. The Bengals need to take advantage of this and get after him as quickly as possible each time he drops back so that he can’t get outside the pocket and find open receivers down the field. We saw last week that when Mahomes was forced to stand in the pocket, he didn’t look the same. He had some bad throws, and the plays couldn’t last long enough for anything to open up. Trey Hendrickson and the Bengals pass rush need to get pressure on Mahomes if they want to win this game. On the flip side, the Chiefs will look to Chris Jones as their primary rusher to try to take advantage of a banged up Bengals line. What we have seen, however, is that Joe Burrow will stand in the pocket and deliver tight-window throws even with people in his face. If they give him enough time in the pocket, he’ll be able to push the ball downfield to Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, just like he did last week against the Bills. 

In what is set up to be a fantastic battle, the Bengals enter as the hotter team and have been playing their best football throughout the course of their ten-game winning streak. Looking to extend it to 11, Cincinnati will have to look to their defense and offensive line to step up and play their best game of the season. With the Super Bowl revenge tour still going on for the Bengals, this game doesn’t worry them by any means. They’ve been in this spot before, but as bigger underdogs. While they had to overcome a 21-3 deficit last year, I don’t see it ever getting close to that margain if the Chiefs even have a lead. I believe the Bengals will take their first offensive possession all the way down the field for an opening drive touchdown, and that in turn will get their defense going. I have a touchdown victory for the Bengals, but I could easily see this getting out of hand fast. Burrow is undefeated against Mahomes, and with clearly having the better team and more momentum, that undefeated streak will continue, and the Cincinnati Bengals will be back in the Super Bowl for the second straight season. 

Maggie – 31-29  Bengals 

Conference Championship Weekend ends with the AFC title game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

The game begins at 6:30 p.m. on CBS. The current weather forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 20’s with a small chance of rain/snow.

The Bengals enter as the number three seed in the AFC after going 12-4 in the regular season. They beat division foe the Baltimore Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs by a score of 24-17. They easily beat the Buffalo Bills 27-10 in the Divisional Round in a rematch of the week 17 game that was canceled due to the injury to Damar Hamlin. Joe Burrow has lots of weapons on offense, including Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon. Their offensive line that has several backups playing held up well against the Bills. The Bengals were the 8th ranked offense (3rd in passing and 29th in rushing) and 16th ranked defense (19th against the pass and 7th against the run).

The Chiefs had a first round bye due to their 14-3 record in the regular season.  They beat the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 27-20 in the Divisional Round. While they won the game, they did get a scare when Patrick Mahomes was forced to leave the game for a bit with a high ankle sprain. He left the stadium in a boot, but was listed as a full participant in practice this week. I spoke to a former college football player at Kutztown. He said when he suffered a high ankle sprain that he was out of action for four weeks. Many people thought the Chiefs offense would take a step back after trading Tyreek Hill in the offseason to the Miami Dolphins, but they proved everyone wrong.  Mahomes still had Travis Kelce to throw to, plus some other players came up big this season, like running backs Isaac Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon.  The Chiefs were the number one offense (1st in passing and 20th in rushing) and ranked 11th in defense (24th against the pass and 8th against the rush).  The Chiefs were 7-1 at home this year.

In games decided by 7 points or less, the Bengals are 5-3 while the Chiefs are 7-3.  When scoring first, the Bengals are 9-0 and the Chiefs are 10-0.  When leading at halftime, the Bengals are 8-0 and the Chiefs are 9-1.

The oddsmakers have the Chiefs as the favorite for this game, but not by much. The Bengals, winners of their last eight games, have won the last two meetings against the Chiefs, 27-24 at home in week 13 this season and 34-31 in last season’s Conference Championship Game. If the Bengals come out like they did against the Bills last week and Patrick Mahomes is still bothered by the high ankle sprain, there is no reason why the Bengals won’t come out victorious and head to their second straight Super Bowl.