By: Sam Fretto
After a long grueling season, the NFL has Championship Sunday set. The San Francisco 49ers will be traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs will be hosting the AFC Championship game as the Cincinnati Bengals come to town. These teams have fought hard throughout the season but they know they are 2 wins away from immortality.
The Eagles, led by 3rd year QB Jalen Hurts finished the season 14-3, with 2 losses coming while Jalen Hurts was hurt. Rookie head coach Nick Sirianni is the mastermind of the Eagles’ electric offense 28.1 PPG which ranked 3rd in the NFL. Meanwhile, on the defensive side, they had a top-7 ranked defense only giving up 20.2 PPG. The Eagles opened up the season 9-0 before falling in a close game to the Washington Commanders, 32-21. Had Jalen Hurts not gotten injured the Eagles likely would have finished the season 17-1 with Jalen Hurts winning MVP.
The 49ers had an up-and-down year. They opened the season playing in a monsoon at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears. Rookie Trey Lance made his career debut and didn’t play that well. With the weather playing a big factor, The Bears defeated the 49ers in the season opener, 19-10. The second game would be a nightmare for the 49ers though, as 2nd year QB Trey Lance got carted off the field after suffering a broken ankle. Jimmy Garoppolo would step in for the injured QB and lead the 49ers to a 7-4 record before breaking his foot. Down their first and second-string QBs, the 9ers had to rely on Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy. Brock Purdy would not lose a game for the rest of the season to lead the 49ers to a 13-4 record and led the 49ers to victory against the Dallas Cowboys 19-12.
The NFC Championship game is set to kick off on Fox at 2 PM. The 49ers will now be in 3 of the last 4 NFC championship games and coach Kyle Shannahan will have been a coach involved in 4 of the last 7 NFC Championship games, I like the 49ers to take down the Eagles. The Eagles lack experience and beating the Giants isn’t exactly the most convincing victory and the 49ers are riding a 12-game win streak. It’ll be a close game and fairly low scoring like the 49ers-Cowboys game. I have the 49ers beating the Eagles 21-17.
On the AFC side, we are getting a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game. The Bengals will be traveling to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. The Bengals have been here before in this same exact situation. On the road, going against Mahomes, you’re the underdog.
The Bengals opened up the year with a rocky start. Starting out 0-2 with bad losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, put them behind in their attempts to win the division. They would eventually find their stride after a blowout win against the Panthers to spark the start of a 7 game-win streak. However, this would come to a screeching halt. Monday, January 2nd, the Buffalo Bills travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. This would be the night the Damar Hamlin situation occurred. The game would be canceled. Fortunately, Damar Hamlin made it through but the cancellation of the game would cause scheduling and seeding issues. The Bengals could no longer have home field, all they could do is win their division. In week 18, they faced the Ravens for the division and won 27-16. In the playoffs, they would beat the Ravens and handle Josh Allen and the Bills with no problem. The duo of Joe Burrow and Jamar Chase has been deadly, along with Zac Taylor leading his team, it appears the Bengals are going to be mainstays in the AFC North for years to come as they made the AFC Championship game back-to-back for the first time in franchise history.
The Kansas City Chiefs are no strangers to the position they’re in right now. The last 4 AFC championship games have been in Arrowhead Stadium and the Chiefs have won 2 of them. The duo of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid is the greatest QB-HC duo since Brady and Belichick. Coming into the season though, the Chiefs faced a lot of doubts after they traded superstar WR Tyreek Hill but the Chiefs quickly silenced those doubts opening the season 5-2 going into their bye week. The Chiefs had the highest scoring in the NFL scoring 29.2 PPG while having the best passing offense in the NFL at 308.8 YPG. This game could be crucial for Patrick Mahomes and his young legacy if he wants to be considered one of the all-time greats. The biggest roadblock for them to get to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years isn’t the Bengals, it’s Patrick Mahomes’ ankle. Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain during the divisional game on Sunday.
The AFC Championship game will kick off on Sunday at 5:30 PM on CBS. Both of these teams know each other in and out as these non-divisional opponents are set to square off for the 4th time in 2 years with 2 regular season games and now 2 playoff games. Mahomes’ injury is a high ankle sprain. High ankle sprains usually linger for weeks and limit movement severely, with that fact and the Bengals being a young hungry team looking to go to their second Super Bowl in a row, I have the Bengals winning this one. My prediction will be 31-28 Bengals. Mahomes will do what he can but he won’t be able to put up points at will like we’re so used to seeing. On the Bengals’ side, we’re going to see what we’re so used to seeing from them. Burrow makes spectacular plays, and Chase and Higgins make crazy catches.
At the end of Sunday, Super Bowl 57 will feature the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals.