It’s coming down to the wire in the NFL season. The Lombardi Trophy is within the grasp of the four teams who will take part in Sunday’s conference championship games. Ahead of such a vital weekend, we sought out the insights of a couple of former NFL players: the BBCs Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora.
Now, with the season coming down to the wire, we had another opportunity to sit down with Jason and Osi and break down the matchups in the two conference title games. Below are excerpts from that conversation, in which Jason and Osi preview the AFC title game and the keys for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. You can see their thoughts on the NFC title game here.
18+ only. New customers only. Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.
On Patrick Mahomes’ greatness in the first four years, where he stands now, and potential legacy:
Jason Bell: Well, it’s all about what he does going forward. He’s got to win another championship to be considered one of the greatest. I mean, the reason we talk about Tom Brady with the greatest of all time, is because he wins when it’s on the line, in the biggest games. So we’re going to have to see Mahomes come away with more Super Bowls. We’ve talked about Aaron Rodgers for years being a fantastic quarterback, but we can’t talked about him being the greatest because he hasn’t won enough Super Bowls. The same will ultimately be true with Patrick Mahomes. It’s going to be all about championships with him.
On what Cincinnati must do defensively do to try to stop Mahomes, Hill and Kelce:
JB: What they’ve been doing probably pretty well in the playoffs, and that’s disguising coverages. Even though they’ve got good corners – in Chidobe Awuzie, they’ve got a great player and one of the top corners in the league – they cannot play man-to-man throughout this game.
I always like defensive coordinators that have a defensive back background, because you’ll see them disguise in a certain way that make sense. What they’re going to have to do with started at two-shell look and move late. And that’s what they’ve been doing. On that pick that they had in the beginning of the game (in Tennessee), you saw the safety come down and rob the route, just took it away. So it’s going to be all about that, passing off routes in zone coverage, understanding the route concepts, and understanding that, when you have something coming into your area, now you play that man-to-man in your zone. They’ve been doing well at that.
On Ja’Marr Chase representing both a massive deep threat and having the ability to come short and get yards after the catch, and the risk of keying in too aggressively on him, allowing huge games to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd:
OU: I think you’ve got to look for that. The Chiefs, I would expect, will not allow what happened a couple of weeks ago (Week 17, when Chase caught 11 of 12 target, for 266 yards and 3 TDs) to happen again. I expect a lot of double coverage, a lot of roll coverage towards Ja’Marr Chase. And that’s also going to leave wide open spaces for Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who are outstanding receivers in their own right.
Also, remember the tight end CJ Uzomah, who’s a very, very good football player, and the running back, Joe Mixon. It’s going to be a ‘pick your poison’ situation, as it always is whenever you’re playing against this Bengals team. And, of course, they have the quarterback who can actually get all those other players the football.
The best offenses, the best offensive coordinators, the best quarterbacks, they’re going to take exactly what the defense gives them. Whatever shell, whatever look the defense gives them, they’re going to take advantage of that. So, if it looks like they’re going hard on Ja’Marr Chase, and they’re going to double him and roll coverage that way, then you start looking for other players. But if they’re leaving making the same mistake they did a couple of weeks ago, and they’re leaving Chase in one-on-one situations, we all heard what Joe Burrow said, he’s just going to throw it up to Ja’Marr Chase.
On the Cincinnati Bengals’ aerial attack, Joe Burrow and Ja’marr Chase picking up where they left off in college, and how a defensive lineman (and, more specifically, the Chiefs) go about slowing it down:
Osi Umenyiora: From a defensive line point of view, I would say that those are two different approaches. If they go to the quick game, and try to get the ball out quickly and into Ja’Marr Chase’s hands, that doesn’t give us the ability to rush the passer the way we want to. If they’re sitting back there and trying to take deep shots, then, as a defensive lineman, you know that you have to get to the quarterback.
I think you saw the Tennessee Titans do that last week to perfection. Tennessee should probably gave won that game, given the amount of pressure that they put on the Cincinnati Bengals, who don’t have that good of an offensive line. And I think they [the Bengals] noticed that, which is why they went mostly to that quick game, trying to get the ball out of Burrow’s hands, and allow his playmakers to make plays.
From a defensive line standpoint, playing against somebody who’s getting rid of a ball really quickly can be very frustrating. We really hate that. We prefer the guy to sit back there and try to take those deep shots.
JB: Kansas City is going to have to understand that they can’t do what they like to do. Spagnuolo likes to play man-to-man, covered with those corners, taking shots, and really trying to bring pressure. But that’s what happened last time these teams met, and they (K.C.) got burned. So they’re going to have to relax and play more zone coverage. That’s why Tyrann Mathieu is so key in that secondary. He’s that robber in the middle of the field. When he’s on the field, they get a lot more turnovers. And that’s going to be the biggest components of this game, because Joe burrow is extremely accurate on intermediate throws. So you’re going to need Tyrann Mathieu to come down there and be a robber, but you also don’t want to leave those corners out there in man-to-man coverage too long, because the Bengals have just got too many weapons.
On the Bengals’ offensive line issues:
OU: I know we’d like to focus on the big of the quarterbacks and all of the skill positions and all of that, but the offensive line is every bit as important a part of a team. Because you can have all the weapons, but if your offensive line can’t block properly, as you get deeper into a season, you’re going to come up against defensive linemen and a defensive schemes that can expose those flaws, and you’re not going to be able to rely on Burrow to dig you out of those holes the same way. That can only take you so far. So if they can shore up that offensive line – which is a very difficult thing to do, because it’s really not easy to find really good, solid offensive lineman – but if they’re able to do that, then you’re looking at a team that’s going to compete for the foreseeable future.
JB: What’s amazing is you look at what Kansas City has done. I mean, after the Super Bowl last year, I think the owner or the GM came out and apologized to Patrick Mahomes and said that they’d get it right. And they totally fixed their offensive line last offseason, and they’ve gotten it right.
Osi has said this, and I’m thinking about this matchup the same way: I’ve never seen a team with this many glaring weaknesses on the offensive line win a Super Bowl. When I look at this matchup for the Bengals, I got to look at what Osi said and think that it’s going to be hard to find a way to circumvent that issue.
On the significance of Joe Mixon to the offense:
JB: He’s the key! You have to run the ball. And it’s all about attempts. What I mean by that is, you don’t want those guys on the offensive line just set and pass blocking all day. You need to get them going forward, teeing off on those runs, so that when they do have to pass block, they have some advantage. We know that’s their weakness, but they’ve got to run the ball, to establish a little physicality and take that heat off of that front coming at them.
On what fans should expect from the championship games:
OU: Well, you there’s just no way it’s going to be as good, right? I mean, last weekend we saw, literally, the best weekend that we’ve ever seen in terms of a Divisional Round playoff.
I think these are going to be battles. You look at San Francisco, you look at L.A., these guys know each other very, very well, they play in the same division. Then, you look at Kansas City and you look at Cincinnati. I mean, Kansas City just got destroyed by Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, and gave up almost 500 yards of offense… it was ridiculous. So K.C., they’re going to be looking for redemption there. It won’t be last week, but you can expect some fantastic games.
JB: Yeah, you had the quarterbacks last week that did it. All right. They were the highlights. I mean, they didn’t make a mistake! if you protect Joe Burrow, you might be able to get a little bit of that, because Burrow and Mahomes could really go at it.
On the other side, in the NFC, we get to see a matchup for the NFL purists, which is all about the schematics. These two coaches know each other. Let’s see what they do! Let’s see who’s got the better plan. So that’s going to be very interesting. And, once again, it’s on the line, man! The players are not leaving anything on the field. This is different. That’s what makes it so exciting. When it comes down to the final four, people they elevate their games to another level because it’s over after this. You don’t have tomorrow.
Who actually wins these games and goes through to the Super Bowl:
JB: Rams and Chiefs. I need to see these quarterbacks, these big-armed quarterbacks go at it in the Superbowl. And I’m from L.A., and we need to have this game L.A.! I’m all about it. I’m a real fan right now.
JB: Yeah, I think Rams vs Chiefs is the matchup everybody wants to see, but there’s going to be a little monkey wrench thrown in there somewhere. I don’t know where, exactly, whether it’s in the AFC or NFC, but there’s going to be a little surprise!
Watch Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora on the BBC NFL Show, Friday at Midnight on BBC One. For more NFL action, tune into NFL Gamepass and Sky Sports NFL this Sunday 30 January to catch the Conference Championships. Bengals vs. Chiefs at 8PM and 49ers vs. Rams at 11:30PM.