© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Then there were four.
The NFL's divisional round wrapped up this weekend to set up the leagues' AFC and NFC Championship games.
We started in Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs took on Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite a scary ankle injury to star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs were able to hold on 27-20. Mahomes would leave the game in the first quarter but re-enter to start the second half. It is believed to be a high ankle sprain, and more updates will come throughout the week.
Saturday's second game saw the Philadelphia Eagles completely torch the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field by a score of 38-7.
On a snowy afternoon in Buffalo, Joe Cool came out on top. Using back-to-back touchdown drives to start the game, Cincinnati took an early lead they would never give back. The Bills cut the score 17-10 with a field goal with 7:12 left in the third quarter. With Bills fans clamoring for a defensive stop, Burrow led the Bengals on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive lasting 6:25, taking a 24-10 lead in the fourth. A final score of 27-10 ended the Bills' season, and the franchise will have another offseason of evaluating what went wrong in the postseason.
The weekend concluded with a defensive showdown in San Francisco. Limiting Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to 206 passing yards, the 49ers' defense looked every bit Super Bowl-ready. Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was able to do enough, and do-it-all Christian McCaffrey found the end zone for the eighth straight week. The 49ers won 19-12.
It should be a great Championship weekend as the Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Arrowhead to play the Chiefs. The 49ers have set up a date with the Eagles and will leave their nice weather for a game in Philadelphia.
© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers (#2) @Philadelphia Eagles (#1)
Time: 3:00 EST. Sunday, January 29th
- Spread: San Francisco 49ers (+2.5), Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)
- Total: Over/Under 45.5
- Money line: San Francisco 49ers (+122), Philadelphia Eagles (-144)
The San Francisco 49ers have returned to the NFC Championship for the second straight year and third in four years.
Facing the NFL's best defense, Cowboys Dak Prescott was limited to 206 passing yards and saw pressure all day. On the other side, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy needed this type of grind-it-out game. San Francisco had been averaging 34.5 points per game since Purdy took over for Jimmy Garoppolo in week 13. It showed Purdy that not everything is gravy in this league with 30-point performances. Amazingly only in his tenth career game, he completed 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards and did enough to get it done.
After scoring 26.8 points (4th) per game in the regular season, the Cowboys' offense went cold against the 49ers' defense. Completing only five third-downs in 15 attempts, Dallas goes into another offseason wondering if Dak Prescott is the guy. The Cowboys lost their seventh straight divisional round game and haven't made the NFC Championship game since they won the Super Bowl in 1995.
There is not much to say about the Eagles' win over the New York Giants other than it was a beatdown. Philly led 14-0 after one and 28-0 at halftime. Outrushing New York 268-118, the Eagles operated like a well-oiled machine and looked frankly unstoppable. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 16 of 24 passes for 154 and two touchdown passes while also rushing for 34 yards and an additional score.
What transpired over the weekend sets up an incredible NFC Championship matchup. Running through the NFC playoff teams, we could point to Minnesota and say they had a fraudulent record, Tampa never put it together despite winning the division, Dallas has a history of losing the big game, etc. It's been the Eagles and 49ers on a crash course for some time now, and we get to see it come to fruition.
Jalen Hurts will have his work cut out. A dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Hurts goes up against a defense that allowed the fifth least rushing yards to quarterbacks. Hurts, like Purdy, has not been in the league long or a game of this magnitude. He'll need to find a way to navigate around defensive end Nick Bosa, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, and linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who will be hounding to hit Hurts in open space. The Eagles wide receiving duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith helped Philly average the second most points per game this season. San Francisco had some issues in the secondary this season but still tied for third in the fewest passing touchdowns allowed.
Brock Purdy will take his show on the road against an Eagles secondary that allowed the fewest passing yards per game. Cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry make up a fantastic Eagles backline. Longtime Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox controls the frontline. Cox, along with Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Javon Hargrave, combined for 40 sacks this season. To mention six Eagle defensive players without saying the name Hasson Reddick up to this point shows how good this unit is. Reddick, the offseason acquisition, led the team with 16 sacks and is the headliner on a defense that had 70 sacks this season, 15 more than any other team.
Philly had a great season, but this 49ers team is loaded on both sides of the ball. The NFL has already welcomed Mr. Irrelevant, and he's here to stay, but going into the Linc will be Brock Purdy's welcome-to-reality moment.
The Pick - 49ers win
© Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY NETWORK
Cincinnati Bengals (#3) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (#1)
Time: 6:30 EST Sunday, January 29th
- Spread: Cincinnati Bengals +1.5, Kansas City Chiefs -1.5
- Total: Over/Under 47.5
- Money line: Cincinnati Bengals +100, Kansas City Chiefs -118
Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Arrowhead for the second straight year to play Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Revisiting last year's contest, Kansas City jumped out to a 21-3 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. With a third straight Super Bowl appearance seemingly locked up, Cincinnati would come back, taking a 24-21 lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. As time expired, a Harrison Butker 44-yard field goal helped the Chiefs force overtime. In overtime, rookie kicker Evan McPherson would boot a 31-yard field goal and give the Bengals a first-class ticket to SoFi Stadium to take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati got off to a disappointing 0-2 and 2-3 start to the season. After a 42-21 win in week nine over the Panthers to improve to 5-4, a game has not been lost. Riding that eight-game win streak, they face an opponent with whom they've had recent success. Matching up earlier this season in Cincinnati, Joe Burrow completed 25 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdown passes while also running for 41 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals would win 27-24, and it would be the third straight time Joe Burrow's Bengals have beaten Mahomes's Chiefs.
Unfortunately for Mahomes, he'll be going into the game banged up. Suffering a high ankle sprain, the Chiefs quarterback likely will not be as mobile as he normally is. Mahomes has been able to create magic in his career by scrambling in the pocket and throwing on the run. Still, his 70 percent is better than almost everybody's 100 percent. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce as always, will be heavily relied upon. Kelce has a solid matchup against a Bengals defense that gave up the ninth most receiving yards to tight ends. Kansas City is going to have to find a way to get the run game going to alleviate pressure from Mahomes having to make a play every snap. The Chiefs' running scheme, which was only 20th this season, will need to step up as it did with rookie running back Isiah Pacheco rushing 12 times for 95 yards against the Jaguars.
The ever-cool confidence of Joe Burrow will have Chiefs fans holding their breath. Burrow, who many would consider the second-best (or best) quarterback in the league, looks to take his Bengals back to the Super Bowl. The quarterback impressed on a snowy afternoon in Buffalo in the divisional round, completing 23 of 36 passes for 242 yards and two passing touchdowns. Watching Burrow throw the ball to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase brings back the nostalgia of Mahomes tossing it to now ex-chief Tyreek Hill. For good reason, Burrow always seems to know where Chase will be, and the two find themselves within a game of another Super Bowl appearance.
In a game where both teams could air it out and points are scored, back the league's MVP to figure out a way how to get it done. Kansas City avenges last year's AFC Championship game collapse and sets up a Super Bowl LIV rematch against the San Francisco 49ers.
The pick - Chiefs win
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