NFL Championship Round Predictions

The Super Bowl nears with four teams left in the roster

Andrew Havens, Staff Writer

This Sunday, millions of football faithfuls across the country will be glued to their television screens to watch the AFC/NFC Championship games, the games that will ultimately lead to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona.


Four teams out of 32 remain in the fight to capture the most popular and coveted prize in American sports, the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy. 272 individual football games have come and gone since September of 2022, all leading to this moment.


This area’s beloved team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, failed to qualify for playoff contention, posting a 9-8 record and barely missing out. However, a familiar divisional opponent is still alive, as is an unofficial cross-state rival from the NFC. Analyzing each team, there’s no clear runaway favorite to win it all, and each squad boasts enormous strengths at various positions on the field. Let’s take an in-depth look at each team, and then make our predictions. First up, the lineup representing the AFC:


The Kansas City Chiefs


The Chiefs have returned to the AFC Championship for the 5th consecutive season and just the 6th time in their history. Clearly a juggernaut, this team is led by the master of the quarterback position at this time, Patrick Mahomes. No other quarterback has shown more talent at his position than Mahomes in the last five years, and 2022-23 has been no different. Over 5,000 passing yards and 41 touchdowns has the NFL shaking its head trying not to stop him, but only to slow him down. The head coach/quarterback duo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes has been nothing short of spectacular, even after losing star receiver Tyreek Hill this past offseason. A 14-3 record, including a perfect 6-0 against his division, an AFC West division title for the 7th straight year, and one of the best players at the Tight End position, Travis Kelce, the Chiefs look to make their mark yet again.


Chiefs fans had to be patient between the teams two Super Bowl wins, a 50-year-long type of patience. Now, though, fans will be more expecting of the Red and Yellow. Eight straight playoff appearances and one Super Bowl to show for it, with arguably the best quarterback on planet Earth, simply won’t satisfy the hunger of the fans down in Kansas City. The Chiefs, while seemingly unbeatable, do have one major flaw that their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, will hope to exploit.


The Chiefs have never beaten Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, a horrendous 0-3, including last season’s AFC Championship game wherein the Bengals sucked the life out of Arrowhead Stadium with a 27-24 overtime win. Joe Burrow is the only quarterback in NFL history to beat Patrick Mahomes three straight times. Superman, meet your kryptonite.


The Cincinnati Bengals


Speaking of those Bengals, let’s take a look under the hood of one of the most exciting new teams to come out of the completely stacked AFC (Steelers fans, close your eyes). A shiny 12-4 record and AFC North title was captured after a shaky start. Kicking off the season 4-4, and hearing cries of Super Bowl hangover, the Bengals went into overdrive and finished their season 8-0 in their remaining 9 games. Their only non-winning game came against the Buffalo Bills, wherein Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, nearly dying. As a result, the game was canceled. Other than that, the Bengals have been nearly perfect, most of their remaining games were close wins, with a few decisive victories.


Third year quarterback, Joe Burrow, has become NFL fans’ new favorite signal caller. With his signature coolness under pressure, his impeccable style, and his leadership on and off the field, Burrow has exploded onto the scene as a shining face of the league. Nearly 4,500 passing yards and 35 touchdowns certainly help too. The 2020 1st overall pick has already proven that he was worth the draft capital, taking the Queen City’s beloved franchise to their 2nd straight AFC Championship game. He and former Louisiana State University teammate Jamar Chase have proven their worth as an elite quarterback-receiver duo, though Burrow certainly has other options at receiver, including complement Tee Higgins, as well as Tyler Boyd, a former University of Pittsburgh receiver.


Their running game has been better than most would admit. The one-two punch of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have given the AFC headaches. Local Steelers fans will remember Perine’s three-touchdown performance against them this past November, which led to a gut-wrenching 30-37 loss.


Those performances aren’t just saved for divisional rivals. In fact, Cincinnati went just 3-3 against the AFC North, with their only loss, outside of rivalry games, coming against the Dallas Cowboys. Luckily, the Bengals can now steer clear of division rivalries after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card Round.


The Bengals have a few obvious weaknesses, but chief among them is its offensive line, which continues to perform at a below-average pace, despite improving from the start of the season. Protecting their star quarterback is the only way that Cincinatti can hope to get past the Chiefs defensive line, which boasts players like Chris Jones and Frank Clark. With enough faltering of the men up front, the Bengals could be in serious trouble against the vicious Kansas City trenches. Speaking of good defenses, let’s move on to the NFC.


The San Francisco 49ers


Undoubtedly the story of the playoffs, the 49ers have developed something that no NFL fan has ever seen before: the last pick of this year’s draft leading his team, potentially, to a Super Bowl. Brock Purdy, known by his affectionate nickname given to him on Draft Night, Mr. Irrelevant, was the 262nd and final selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Many expected him to be cut, and no one thought that he’d be given a chance to play. Most 6th and 7th round draft picks end up as practice squad fodder, but Purdy has shown that even the last pick of the draft is still in the top 1% of all athletes in the world. Surprisingly mobile with great decision making, Purdy has a certain swagger to him on the field. He’s been captivating to watch in this year’s playoffs, and his team isn’t done yet. The 49ers appear to be stronger than ever with him at the helm, throwing to elite weapons like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. There are shades of a Tim Tebow-like story here, with consistent magic each and every down. However, San Francisco has a secret: they don’t need Purdy to do all that much at all.


A 13-4 record and NFC West title is mostly thanks to the stellar defensive unit, which allowed only 16.3 points per game all year, far and away the best in the NFL. While their passing defense has been lackluster, their rushing defense has taken the league by storm, allowing a stellar 3.4 yards per rush throughout the entire season. That was accomplished against some heavyweight rushing teams like the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. Needless to say, this defense is truly elite, and their impeccable run defense will prove tricky to work around with their opponent, who is known across the league as a run-first squad. Can Frisco keep their magic season alive?


The Philadelphia Eagles


Last and certainly not least, we have the 1st seed in the NFC Playoffs, the Eagles. Philly sports fans are notoriously passionate, and this year has given them so much to be thankful for. Namely, quarterback Jalen Hurts has grown into a budding superstar with his dual-threat abilities. His 3,700 passing yards are impressive on their own, until you realize that he was also 2nd on the team in rushing yards with 760. The 35 total touchdowns to his name, both through the air and on the ground, is a far cry from the days of Nick Foles and Carson Wentz at quarterback. Head Coach Nick Sirianni has become a league-favorite for his boisterous style and fun demeanor on the field, and wide receiver AJ Brown racked up nearly 1,500 yards and picked up 11 touchdowns along the way. There’s a reason that this team is 13-4 and the number 1 seed in the conference: they can beat you multiple ways. Their favorite way, though, is on the ground. Running back Miles Sanders had a stellar 2022 campaign, with nearly 1,300 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.


Scoring 28 points per game and making it look easy, the Eagles are flying high. After four years of mediocrity following the famous Super Bowl win against the New England Patriots, Philly fans can finally rejoice again as their team is on the cusp of another Super Bowl appearance, this team with a fresh new identity. A gritty defensive unit headed up by CJ Gardner-Johnson and Haason Reddick can force timely turnovers and create big drive killers. 17 interceptions and a mind-blowing 70 sacks proves that. That number, by the way, is 2nd most in NFL History for sacks in a season, falling only to the legendary 1984 Chicago Bears. This team can swing a game their way within seconds and eek out a win before you can respond. They’re dangerous, quick-hitting, and well rested. The 49ers will have their hands full.


With all the teams recapped, let’s look over my personal predictions, with scores and predicted stat lines.


AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals Vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Sunday, 6:30pm. Kansas City, Missouri.


Final Score: Kansas City 32, Cincinnati 30


Patrick Mahomes finally shakes the monkey off of his back and defeats the Bengals in his home stadium. With a high ankle sprain suffered last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, his stat line won’t be incredible, but the talent around him will help him just enough to squeak by the defending AFC Champion Bengals and Joe Burrow. A game with few turnovers but consistent scoring, a touchdown run from Isiah Pacheco in the final 90 seconds will seal the deal for Chiefs Kingdom and break the hearts of the Cincinnati hopefuls. A last ditch effort from Burrow will be intercepted, and Chiefs fans will breathe a sigh of relief.


NFC Championship- San Francisco 49ers Vs. Philadelphia Eagles. Sunday, 3:00pm. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Final Score: Philadelphia 28, San Francisco 24


Despite the elite rushing defense from San Francisco, it won’t be enough to contain Jalen Hurts and AJ Brown, who will cap a historic season with a historic day. Hurts will gain crucial yards on the ground himself, but AJ Brown will steal the show against the somewhat porous 49er secondary. Something to the tune of 115 yards and 2 touchdowns sounds right. Brock Purdy will have a chance at the end of the game to exercise a 2-minute drill to save the season, but the Eagles defense will prove too weaponized and he’ll take a game-sealing 4th down sack to catapult Philadelphia to the Super Bowl and send San Francsico crashing back down to Earth after a magical Cinderella run.


Tune in next week for our CalTimes Super Bowl predictions!