NFC and AFC Championship Games Preview

Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

By Ethan Russ, Staff Writer

On Sunday, January 29, it will be decided who plays in this year’s Super Bowl 57. The NFC Championship game will be played at 3 PM on Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. The AFC Championship game immediately follows the NFC title game and is at 6:30 PM between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals.

In the first game between San Francisco and Philadelphia, the Eagles, who had the best record in the entire NFC and were tied for the best record in the NFL, are favored to make it to the Super Bowl, but the 49ers have won their past 12 games.

There have been many doubters of the 49ers in recent weeks after an injury to their second-string quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, meaning that they began to play their third-string quarterback and the last pick of last year’s draft, Brock Purdy. So far though, Purdy has been unbelievable for San Francisco and has won his first seven starts. The 49ers have had several standout players this season on both offense and defense that helped them finish second in the NFC. On offense, their leaders were WR Brandon Aiyuk (1,137 yards, 8 TDs, and 83 catches), George Kittle (897 yards, 11 TDs, and 67 catches), and Christian McCaffrey (1,403 yards, 12 TDs, 184 rushing attempts, and 60 catches). On defense, their leaders are Fred Warner (145 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions), Tashaun Gipson (66 tackles and 5 interceptions), and Nick Bosa (51 tackles and 18.5 sacks). Despite being the underdogs in the game, the 49ers look set to give the Eagles a run for their money.

Although the Eagles started out really hot, winning thirteen of their first fourteen games, they have cooled off significantly, winning just one of their last three games. After coming off of an injury, Eagles quarterback, Jalen Hurts, appears to be fully healthy again. His absence set Philadelphia back a little bit, but he helped the Eagles play extremely well against the New York Giants in a 38-7 victory. After finishing with nine wins last season and just four the season before, the Eagles have made significant progress this season, and winning the NFC outright was a big achievement for them. Their success has set them up very well for a good postseason run and playing in the Super Bowl seems a likely outcome for them.

In the end, it seems like it is going to be a close game. Senior Drew Oppenheim said, “I just think the 49ers’ defense is way too good. It’s clearly the best defense in the league and if they can slow down Jalen Hurts on the ground, then they’re going to win the game.”

Immediately following the NFC Championship game is the AFC Championship game between the Chiefs and the Bengals. This is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, in which the Cincinnati Bengals won, but this year, Kansas City is definitely looking for revenge.

The Chiefs have had a simpler route to the AFC Championship game, only having to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the game proved to be a tougher task than many had predicted due to an injury to their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who has been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. Though the Chiefs had the best record in the AFC and tied the Eagles for the best record in the entire NFL, the game will still be a bit of a challenge given that the Chiefs have already lost to Cincinnati this year. The Chiefs have had a lot of success this season, only losing three games and they enter this matchup riding a six-game winning streak including the playoff game against Jacksonville. Their success will all be for naught if they can’t find a way to win this game and the Super Bowl.

At the start of the season, people may have begun to count the Bengals out after winning half of their first eight games. Since then, Cincinnati has won all ten games that they have played, including playoff victories against the Baltimore Ravens (17-24) and the Buffalo Bills (27-10). They have a very talented offense, with a heavily talented quarterback, Joe Burrow, and wide reciever, Ja’Marr Chase. The Bengals’ stingy defense allows less than three touchdowns per game and have allowed less than two touchdowns per game in the postseason. Given the ankle injury to Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati likely will prove a very tough test Kansas City and could even go on to win the game outright and play in their second Super Bowl in a row.

Openheim said “For the AFC Championship, I really feel like it comes down to Patrick Mahomes’ health. He had that high ankle sprain, looked a little groggy in the end of that divisional round, and if he’s healthy, the Chiefs no doubt can win. But then again, the Bengals seem to be the Chiefs’ kryptonite. I think the Bengals are going to win because a high ankle sprain, that’s pretty serious, but if Patrick Mahomes is healthy, I would not be surprised if the Chiefs do win.”

No matter what happens, these two games are sure to be entertaining from start to finish. There is so much talent on display and in two high-stakes games of football the competitors of one of the biggest American sporting events will be determined.