NFL Conference Championship Preview


Luke Enfinger

After a long 18 week season in the National Football League (NFL), the long awaited playoffs have officially begun. The playoff bracket began with twelve of the strongest teams in the league, and after one week of Wild Card games, and one of the greatest divisional rounds the NFL has ever seen, the bracket is down to four final teams. Set to face off in the conference championships are three division winners, the new favorite Kansas City Chiefs, as well as two recent super bowl revenge seekers in the Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers. The American Football Conference (AFC) championship will also feature the dark horse candidate Cincinnati Bengals, who boast an impressive playoff resume, having beaten the number one seed, Tennessee Titans and the Las Vegas Raiders in round one. 

This year, the National Football Conference (NFC) will host a rare competition between neighboring California teams in the Rams and 49ers. The Rams boast a defense full of generational talents in players such as defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Von Miller, who have combined for a staggering total of twenty-two sacks over the 2021 campaign. Their defense is rounded out by superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who has managed to allow only six hundred yards over eighteen weeks. This stellar defense compliments their revamped offense, led by veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, and star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr, and Cooper Kupp. The Rams come into this game having just beaten Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a feat few have accomplished. They will also hold home field advantage for the conference championship, and should they win, will host the super bowl in their own stadium. This contributes to them being a 3.5 point favorite in this matchup.

To the Rams displeasure, the team standing in their way is no joke. They now must face the San Francisco 49ers, who are coming off of a win over the previous Super Bowl favorite Green Bay Packers, in a game that went down to the wire ending in a last second field goal by 49ers kicker Robbie Gould. Like the Rams, the 49ers defense is their strongest point, with players like Nick Bosa applying constant pressure on the quarterback, as well as linebacker Fred Warner stopping the run. This is a defense in which there are no apparent holes, and will be extremely difficult for any offense to penetrate. The only question regarding the 49ers success lies at the quarterback position, as struggles have persisted for eighth year veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, whose 20/12 touchdown to interception ratio continues to worry fans. The team’s offensive success currently relies heavily on Deebo Samuel, whose versatility and playmaking gives 49ers supporters hope moving forward.

In the eyes of many NFL fans, the most exciting conference championship matchup belongs to the AFC, where we will see two young and exciting quarterback talents go head to head. Fan favorite quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals may be on the short end of a seven point spread, but their organization does not lack faith in their team. Burrow is coming off a fantastic sophomore season, throwing for over 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns. His performance has only been enhanced by the playmaking ability of rookie wide receiver and college teammate Ja’Marr Chase. However, while the Bengals have proved themselves to be a legitimate contender by eliminating the one seed Tennessee Titans in the divisional round, there are multiple question marks surrounding the strength of their offensive line, as well as the safety position. Joe Burrow recently became only the third quarterback to be sacked nine times in a playoff game, and despite the fact that the Bengals won the game, the prospect of having to deal with star defensive lineman Chris Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu is a major concern for Cincinnati fans. 

A possible sigh of relief for Bengals fans is that other than the two previously named players, the Kansas City Chiefs sport a highly questionable defense, which was largely exposed in their divisional round match up with the Buffalo Bills, where their lack of downfield coverage nearly lost them the game. However, the Chiefs are not particularly worried, as they boast arguably the most talented quarterback in the league, former MVP and Super Bowl champion, Patrick Mahomes II, whose skills are amplified by the blistering speed and agility of wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The two have combined for eleven touchdowns since the season began. The Chiefs also managed to patch up the problem that likely cost them another super bowl victory last year: the offensive line. Their decision to splash the cash and attain a free agent class headlined by guard Joe Thuney, has paid off in a major way, moving the Chiefs offensive line near the top of most analysts rankings. It is reasons like these that Kansas City are a deserved seven point favorite to beat the Bengals.

The conference championship round is set, and NFL fans around the world are ecstatic to see their teams duke it out in a playoff weekend that is sure to be one of the best the league has ever seen. Tune in to the AFC championship at 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on CBS, followed by the NFC championship at 6:30 PM Eastern Standard Time on FOX.