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NFL Conference Championship: Dates, schedule, format and predictions

By Tayyib Abu

Published: 15:00, 27 January 2022

The race for Super Bowl LVI immortality is down to four teams. The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs halved the field while offering four incredible football games – three ended with a walk-off field goal, and the other ended in overtime.

Amidst the upsets, drama, chaos, and passion, the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs emerged victorious. This final four will contest the AFC and NFC championship titles this Sunday. Only two will move on and play for the ultimate prize on February the 13th.

Bengals-Chiefs face Week 17 rematch

The Bengals and Chiefs played each other only a few weeks ago. It was an intense game that saw the Bengals wipe out a 14-point deficit to come back and win. The victory also confirmed the Bengals’ first division title since 2015. .

Former LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase amassed 266 yards on 11 receptions with three touchdowns. The Chiefs’ defense couldn’t contain Chase. Their man coverages got torched as Chase won most of his one-on-one matchups. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuola came in for heavy criticism after his defense crumbled.

Chase’s success allowed Joe Burrow to shine. The second-year quarterback threw for 446 yards and posted a passer rating of 148. It was an exemplary performance. For the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes enjoyed a typical game throwing for 259 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Andy Reid’s side didn’t do a lot wrong; the Bengals found a way to make stops on defense and get their ball to the offense.

For Sunday’s game, the Chiefs hold home advantage – Arrowhead Stadium is a fortress. Tactically, the Chiefs must cover Chase a lot better. Spagnuola may opt to double Chase or use a deep safety as protection in the deep third of the field. Burrow and Chase led the NFL in deep targets during the regular season. It is a critical component of the Bengals’ offense as it allows them to flip field position and get the defense off-balance.

For the Chiefs, they’ll want to move the ball around early and stay away from a talented Bengals secondary that features Mike Hilton, Jesse Bates, and Vonn Bell. That trio can make game-changing plays, and turnovers play a massive role in playoff games. If the Chiefs get Mahomes in rhythm and spread the ball around to their talented weapons, they could build momentum.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is renowned as an offensive genius. He’s spent two decades coaching in the NFL, from offensive coordinator in Green Bay to head coach in Philadelphia, and now the leading man in Kansas City. His experience and innate knowledge of offensive systems have helped power the Chiefs to four consecutive AFC Championship games.

For the Bengals, they are aiming for a maiden Super Bowl title. The organisation has played in two Super Bowls, and they are desperate to get to a third. Cincinnati is a vibrant city; they love their sports teams and love football. Moreover, Ohio is a football heartland; the modern NFL can trace its roots to Ohio, and the Bengals would love to bring a championship back to the state.

NFC West foes meet again

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers complete a 2021 season trilogy on Sunday evening. The last time the top three seeds were eliminated before the Championship Round in the NFC was in 2008-09. The fourth seed Arizona Cardinals, hosted the sixth seed Philadelphia Eagles on that occasion. It is a rare occurrence. However, the Rams and 49ers deserve to be here.

Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers are 2-0 against the Rams this season. Furthermore, the Rams have failed to defeat the 49ers since 2018. Shanahan and McVay know each other very well, they worked together in Washington under Kyle’s father, Mike and the younger Shanahan certainly holds the advantage over his former colleague.

One of the keys to victory for the 49ers is the multi-dimensional Deebo Samuel. Samuel is one of the most versatile players in the NFL. He can play as a traditional receiver outside the numbers, slot, and auxiliary running back. That skillset allied with Shanahan’s innovative playcalling makes the 49ers’ offense challenging to stop. Now back in home-state conditions, the 49ers should enjoy the cool Californian weather over the frigid climate in Green Bay they experienced last Saturday.

In the Rams’ corner, they too boast an outstanding offensive player. Wideout Cooper Kupp enjoyed a phenomenal 2021 season as he won the receiving Triple Crown. Kupp led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The former fourth-round pick became the first receiver to achieve the feat since Steve Smith Sr did it in 2005. His relationship with Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is incredible, and it’s helped Kupp hit new levels.

Kupp is a versatile catcher with tons of grit and physical aggression. Kupp is the Rams’ offensive spark plug, and he’ll need another big performance if he wants to play in the Super Bowl.

One player in a strange situation on Sunday is 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. GM John Lynch traded up in the draft to select Trey Lance – the former North Dakota State Bison is the future in San Francisco. But, Garoppolo is a competent quarterback with tons of winning experience under his belt. Garoppolo didn’t do a lot in the win over the Green Bay Packers, although it isn’t wholly relevant.

Two weeks ago, Garoppolo led the 49ers to a victory after they erased a 17-point lead against the Rams. For all of his flaws and inconsistencies, Garoppolo has a habit of winning. His time in California has an expiration date; he could wipe it out if he helps the 49ers win it all.

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Conference Championship Playoff Schedule

*All times are GMT/UK

Date Time Match Up Location
Sunday 30/01/22 8:00PM Chiefs vs Bengals Arrowhead Stadium
Sunday 30/01/22 11:30PM Rams vs 49ers SoFi Stadium

Predictions

Arrowhead Stadium is a fortress, and after his recent comments, Joe Burrow may be in for a rude awakening in Kansas. The Chiefs understandably open up as favorites against the Bengals. Both teams’ defenses possess talented players, but they are also vulnerable. The Chiefs torched the Bills’ number one defense last week; they can do the same to the Bengals.

For the Bengals, they must ruffle Mahomes. The Chiefs’ offensive line is outstanding, with rookie Creed Humphrey anchoring it in the middle. The Bengals require star free agent signing Trey Hendrickson to enjoy a big game. His constant pressure could force Mahomes to feel uncomfortable.

The Chiefs will put plenty of pressure on Burrow when the Bengals hold possession. The Tennessee Titans made life hellish for Burrow; however, the young quarterback never buckled and still made big plays. Burrow’s poise is remarkable, and everyone knows how clutch Mahomes is. These two quarterbacks are ice-cold. It could be another titanic battle, but the Chiefs’ experience will get them into a third Super Bowl.

The NFC Championship game is equally difficult to predict. The Rams are the more talented side, yet the 49ers have their number. Many analysts view Sean McVay as one of the greatest problem solvers in the NFL, although he can’t solve the 49ers. Shanahan curates custom-built game plans that negate his team’s weaknesses. It will be a fascinating tactical matchup between two of the best head coaches in the league.

The Rams will want the game to rest on their quarterback, while the 49ers may wish for their quarterback to play a limited role. Both quarterbacks are exceptional talents, capable of great moments and bad moments. It could come down to which quarterback makes fewer mistakes, which should favor the Rams.

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