By: Brandon Silva
The conference championship games are finally here and we’re down to four. After the wildest weekend of football games in recent memory, the hype for this weekend is huge. This past weekend showed that no team should be written off or counted out as every single favorite besides Kansas City lost to the underdog in last play fashion. That’s right the Buccaneers, Packers, Titans, and Bills have all been eliminated from the NFL playoffs. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have been eliminated from the playoffs and for the first time in 12 years, the conference championship games will not feature either player.
Both games will feature a regular-season rematch or in the NFC’s case the third but most important game of this division rivalry. The AFC drew the early slot and the matchup between the visiting Cincinnati Bengals and the home Kansas City Chiefs will kick off at 3 pm on Sunday. These teams are fairly familiar with each other as they played in a week 17 thriller in which the Bengals walked away victorious. That game was played on January 2nd meaning the teams will have exactly 4 weeks in between their games. It seems like Cincinnati has been adopted by the country as the team they will be rooting for across this weekend and the duration of the playoffs. They are led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. Joe is one of the coolest and most exciting players in the NFL. He is so nonchalant on and off the field and that has contributed to his growing stardom. In their 34-31 victory over the Chiefs, he completed 30 of his 39 passes, totaling 446 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. Joe torched the Chiefs' defense and will look to do more of the same this weekend. That game can also be remembered as the Ja’marr Chase game as he totaled 11 receptions for 266 yards and 3 scores. The former LSU connection has brought their connection and trust to another level from their college days and they make up the most intriguing duo for a long time to come. Head Coach Zac Taylor has seemed to flip the Bengals around and the talks of him getting canned after his first year have surely gone out the window.
As for the Chiefs, they are coming off of an electric win against the Buffalo Bills that will most likely be remembered as the game of the playoffs. The Chiefs are no stranger to a shootout and it seems like that’s when they end up playing their best football. After kicking this year off to a rocky start, all faith in Mahomes has been restored as he has definitely reclaimed his throne as the best quarterback in the league. The Bengals defense did a great job of neutralizing the Chiefs' best offensive players in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in their regular-season meeting. Neither of them went over 40 yards in this game. I absolutely do not expect that to be the case again this weekend. The Chiefs will need both of these guys to be playing their best football to win the game this weekend. The Chiefs are currently 7 point favorites in this game. I like the Chiefs to win this game although I will be rooting for the Bengals. 7 point underdogs seem disrespectful to this Bengals team that has been the surprise of the postseason. My prediction for the game: Chiefs win 31-28 in a nail-biting victory.
The trilogy of Rams-49ers drew the night game and will kick off at 630pm on Sunday night. This is an intriguing matchup because of how different these teams are and the fact that the underdog 49ers won both of the regular season clashes between the teams. The first of these games played in November resulted in a 31-10 victory for the 49ers. That game was dominated by cornerback Jimmy Ward who picked off Matthew Stafford twice and managed to take one of them back to the house. The Niners got off to a fast 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back from there. The week 18 matchup was completely different than their first matchup. The Rams had already clinched a playoff spot by winning the NFC West, while the 49ers needed a win and a Saints loss to get the 6 seed. The Saints did their part and lost a must-win game. Now it was the Niners' time to get into the playoffs. They went down 17-0 early on after a pair of scores from Tyler Higbee. They battled back in the second half and were able to erase the 17-0 deficit. WR Jauan Jennings caught a 14-yard touchdown to send the game to overtime where Robbie Gould kicked the 49ers into the playoffs.
The 49ers are led by athlete Deebo Samuel. I say athlete and not wide receiver because this guy can do it all. He’s used all over the field, including a lot in the backfield. Deebo makes this offense so dynamic and demands so much attention that other players like George Kittle, Eli Mitchell, and Brandon Aiyuk are able thrive. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the most popular in the league or even among the fans, but he has continuously taken this team to play in big games. Kyle Shanahan has done an incredible job coaching this team and is looking to go back to the Super Bowl. The 49ers will look to keep the ball rolling and makes this their 7th straight win against the Rams.
The Rams should be coming into this game angry as no matter what they’ve done over the past few seasons they haven't been able to beat this division rival. They brought in stud Quarterback Matthew Stafford this past offseason and shipped Jared Goff to Detroit. Stafford has taken the Lions to the playoffs before but was never able to win a game. Stafford has already led the Rams to 2 postseason victories this season and is looking to bring the Rams to the Super Bowl. Cooper Kupp has emerged as a top wide receiver in the NFL this season and accomplished the triple crown of leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He is such a technical and smart player and that’s what makes him so dangerous. The Rams also won the Odell Beckham sweepstakes during his brief free agency period and this has proved to be an incredible signing. He has already scored 6 touchdowns this season since joining the team and has become an incredibly important piece of their offense. He seems to also be their favorite red-zone target. The Rams also miraculously got Cam Akers to return to this team just 6 months after tearing his Achilles. The Rams weapons look to help Stafford take this team to the promise land. Both of these defenses feature such special talents to the likes of the 49ers having Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, and Jimmy Ward while the Rams have Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey. I see this being a game where the defenses will have a major impact and the game will be close and low scoring for the duration of this battle. The Rams are 3 and a half point favorites despite winning a game vs the 49ers this season. I see the Rams breaking this losing spell and advancing to the Super Bowl with a 24-17 win over the 49ers.
If NFL fans are lucky enough the games this weekend will be half as good as the ones we got to witness last weekend. Sunday should be an action-packed day full of back-to back games in which both teams know that a trip to SoFi stadium in February is on the line. Will Joe Burrow and the Bengals shock the world by upsetting the Chiefs and going to the Super Bowl in just Burrow’s 2nd season? Will the Chiefs beat the kid and go to their 3rd straight Super Bowl with the goal of avenging last season’s loss? Will the 49ers get their 7th straight win over the Rams and go to their 2nd Super Bowl in the last 3 seasons? Will the Rams break their losing spell against the 49ers and be the second team in a row to be able to host the Super Bowl in their home stadium? These questions will be answered on Sunday. Make sure you enjoy the games this weekend and don't forget to place your bets!