I’m not going to bury my lead.
It will be the Eagles against the Bengals in Super Bowl 57, following two of the best conference championship games we have seen since, since—well—last year.
Here is how and why we will end up with Stripes vs. Wings two weeks from today in Glendale.
NFC Championship—San Francisco at Philadelphia
These are not only the two best teams in the NFC, they’re also the two most physical teams in the entire NFL. The 49ers and Eagles have the deepest and most complete rosters in the league. San Francisco comes in riding a 12-game winning streak, while Philly appears to have fully recovered from a “mini-slump” late in the regular season. Jalen Hurts looked healthy—and devastating—in the Eagles’ divisional round rout of the Giants last Saturday.
Full disclosure. I have become a quasi-‘Niners fan. I love their style of play on both sides of the ball, which combines cutting-edge sophistication with furious brutality. I have more affection for the 49ers than I do for the Eagles.
But there is a reason why this website is named Radically Rational.
The home field will be a big deal in this game. The Iggle fans will be locked and (fully) loaded, if you catch my drift. This is the “early” game, and SF will have traveled across three time zones, West to East.
That matters more than you might think.
This will be a low-scoring game, much like the ‘Niners’ victory over the Cowboys was. The teams are remarkably similar. Offensively, they both can run the daylights out of the ball, and on defense, these are the two best pass rushes in the NFC. (Yes. Even better and more consistent than the Cowboys.)
But if you look at the stats, the Eagles’ pass rush is even more dominant than that of the 49ers. I do not expect SF rookie QB Brock Purdy to melt down in any way. The moment will not be too big for him. But he is going to see more pressure in his face than he’s ever seen before. And that means staying ahead of the chains and “on schedule” is going to be more challenging than he and the ‘Niner offense are used to. And that means he’s going to miss a few throws and may even toss a pick or two. For the first time since he was unexpectedly thrown into the starting role, he may have some “human” moments. The ‘Niners had better hope that Deebo, McCaffrey and Kittle pop a handful of “explosive” plays.
There really isn’t a shekel’s worth of difference between these teams.
But I suspect it will be decided when Jalen Hurts—who should be this year’s NFL MVP—makes a couple of improvisational, “off-script” plays with his legs. A.J. Brown may have a big day as well.
Eagles 23, 49ers 20.
AFC Championship Game—Bengals at Chiefs
Hell, yes, I’m uncomfortable picking against the Chiefs. They’re appearing in their fifth straight AFC Championship Game. That is more than remarkable.
And because Cincinnati has beaten Kansas City three straight times, I’m tempted to fall back on the lame “law of averages” argument. But then I remember that it is a lame argument, that really has nothing to do with anything. There is no “law of averages” here.
I’ll get to the whole Mahomes injury thingy in a moment. But the reason the Bengals will win is YAC—Yards After Catch. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are going to get loose. And the Chiefs’ pass defense has given up a ton of YAC all year long.
Cincy will use the pass to set up the run. Joe Mixon will get 75 on the ground and Samaje Perine will hammer for 45 more.
Led by DT Chris Jones (15.5 sacks), the Chiefs’ defense will get pressure on Burrow. But it just doesn’t seem to matter. Burrow routinely leads his team to victory even when he’s sacked four or five times.
Plus, I strongly suspect the Cincinnati defense may end up being the best unit on the field. Bengal DC Lou Anarumo makes freaky in-game adjustments.
OK, I love Patrick Mahomes. Love him. And nothing is beyond him. But this ankle is a big deal. It is. His mobility is going to be restricted. We will quickly know by how much. And that means his magic is going to be restricted. He’ll have to operate exclusively out of the shotgun. And that will eliminate the college “speed option” that the Chiefs run so effectively.
If Mahomes can’t extend plays, Kelce can’t improvise. Anarumo ain’t gonna let Kelce beat him.
Then there’s Burrow. I swear he has dead bodies hidden in his rec room. And now that he’s two years removed from his knee reconstruction, we are discovering how naturally mobile he is. It will be Burrow, and not Mahomes, who will make a couple of big plays with his legs.
But this comes down to YAC—Yards After Catch.
Bengals 30, Chiefs 23