Normally, Conference Championship week is the best week of the NFL season. You have four teams that have fought their way through the season and playoff competition to put themselves within one step on taking the field on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s going to be tough this year though to match the level of competition and excitement that the Divisional Round games generated last week.
Nostrathomas had too much fun watching all four of those games to be frustrated that he came out of the weekend 1-3 straight-up and 0-3-1 against the spread. You rarely get the chance to see two players transcend the game, put their teams on their backs and refuse to be denied no matter how dire the situation like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen did last Sunday.
Both Mahomes and Allen, for the final two minutes of their game, reached to the sky and touched perfection. Let’s see what the conference championship games can bring us this weekend.
AFC Championship Game
Cincinnati Bengals +7 vs Kansas City Chiefs (3PM ET; GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO)
Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs overcame a team they took a bad loss to during the regular season. If they can avenge one more regular season tough loss, they’ll stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LVI.
The last time these two teams met was in Cincinnati. The Chiefs jumped out to a 28-17 first half lead, then Cincinnati put the clamps on Patrick Mahomes and company. The Bengals put up 17 second half points, including a last-second Evan McPherson field goal to win 34-31.
It’s how Cincinnati put up their points in this game that should have the Chiefs worried, even if they won’t admit it. Joe Burrow completed 30 passes in 40 attempts for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase was the beneficiary of 266 yards and three of the touchdowns.
Job number one for Kansas City, keep Ja’Marr Chase for racking up another 153 yards after catch. The Chiefs are used to watching teams chasing Tyreek Hill all over the field. They found out how aggravating it can be when they’re doing the chasing.
Job number one for the Bengals will be to find a way to keep “the human cheat code” contained for more than one half. When Patrick Mahomes is in a zone like he was during the fourth quarter and overtime last week against Buffalo.
Buffalo went into their game last week with a much tougher defense than the one the Bengals put on the field. The Bills defense finished 2021 first in the NFL in defensive passer rating and net passing yards per attempt allowed. Yet, in the final two minutes of that game, Buffalo fell to a quarterback who wouldn’t be denied.
The Bengals have to do more to give Burrow a chance to create some of the magic that Josh Allen called on to keep matching Mahomes throw for throw last week. Against Tennessee in the Divisional Round, Burrow was sacked nine times and he still threw for 348 yards. In their Week 17 game against the Chiefs, Burrow was sacked four times.
Cincinnati’s offensive line is going to be a key to this game. Burrow has one of the best, young receiving corps in the NFL between Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah plus running Back Joe Mixon out of the backfield. The bad news for the Bengals is, that offensive line has rarely risen to the task for Burrow all season.
Most of the sharp and public money has been coming in on the Chiefs for this game. Even a brief uptick to Kansas City -7.5 failed to generate a lot of interest in the Bengals.
If you’re going to bet this game and want the points, wait until closer to game time. It’s very likely the Bengals will be getting at least +7.5, and possibly +8 from some sports books prior to kickoff.
I don’t believe this is a game the Chiefs will run away with which is why I’m picking them to win, but Cincinnati to cover the full touchdown spread.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 Cincinnati Bengals 30
NFC Championship Game
San Francisco 49ers vs Los Angles Rams -3.5 (6:30PM ET; SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA)
The Los Angeles Rams are one game away from playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The San Francisco 49ers are one victory away from replacing their division rivals as the road team at SoFi Stadium for Super Bowl LVI.
San Francisco loves playing their NFC West rivals. Since the Rams moved back to Los Angeles the 49ers are 9-3 against them. Why should we believe Los Angeles can change that narrative in this game?
To start with, quarterback Matthew Stafford, after a mid-season slump, is at the top of his game again. Especially in the playoffs.
In their Wild Card game against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford only threw for 202 yards but that was on 13 completions in 17 attempts. He threw two touchdown passes and finished with a passer rating of 154.5. The Rams didn’t need a big game through the air to beat Arizona.
Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stafford did come through with the air yards. He completed 28 passes in 38 attempts for 366 yards and another two touchdowns. It was the two turnovers by running back Cam Akers ands one by Cooper Kupp that allowed the Buccaneers to have any kind of a chance.
In addition, Los Angeles puts one of the best defenses in the NFL on the field each week. The 49ers will have their hands full trying to shut down All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, along with Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.
The Rams secondary can line up against anyone in the league. All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey anchors a group that includes Taylor Rapp, who should be active for this game, and Nick Scott.
For San Francisco, their hopes are going to rely on how well quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can play with his thumb injury. That is one of the toughest injuries a quarterback can play with. An injured thumb makes it impossible for a quarterback to get a strong grip on the ball and throw with accuracy.
Expect San Francisco to try and establish Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel on the ground early in the game with some shorter throws mixed in.
Because of Garoppolo’s thumb, if the 49ers fall to two scores down they’re going to have a difficult time catching up.
As for Los Angeles, I don’t expect to see Cam Akers getting 24 carries in this game. Stafford will keep the Rams offense moving with Kupp, Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham, Jr. seeing most of the targets.
In Week 18, San Francisco was fighting for a playoff spot while the Rams were essentially locked in for the postseason. That isn’t the case here. The 49ers had trouble moving the ball last week against an average defense in Green Bay. They’re stepping up in competition this week.
The Los Angeles Rams finish this game with a date to play Super Bowl LVI in their own stadium.
Los Angeles Rams 28 San Francisco 49ers 24
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