The four Divisional Round games produced four thrilling matchups that were all decided by late scores, so what do this Sunday's conference championship games have in store for us? Considering we just witnessed two of the most memorable Divisional Round games in NFL history and arguably one of the greatest games, period, the bar has been set pretty high.
But the stakes are even higher as Sunday's matchups determine who will play in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13. And it just so happens that one of these games will be played in the same stadium as the Super Bowl.
First up on Championship Sunday is the AFC where upstart Cincinnati will try and knock off two-time defending conference champion Kansas City at home. The Bengals are in their first conference championship game since 1989, which also was the last year they played in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are aiming for a third straight Super Sunday appearance after outlasting the Bills 42-36 in overtime in last weekend's epic, back-and-forth affair that featured three lead changes and a tie along with a combined 25 points in the last two minutes of regulation alone.
These two teams faced each other less than a month ago with Cincinnati winning 34-31 at home in Week 17 thanks to an Evan McPherson field goal as time expired. McPherson played a huge part in the Bengals' 19-16 road upset of top-seeded Tennessee last Saturday, kicking four field goals, including the game-winner from 52 yards out on the last play. McPherson's heroics aside, the key to Cincinnati's hopes lies with Joe Burrow trying to match Patrick Mahomes, especially with the latter coming into this one with eight touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in Kansas City's two playoff victories.
After that, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams will meet for the third time this season but just their second-ever playoff matchup. The 49ers swept the season series from their NFC West rivals, including a 27-24 overtime road victory in Week 18 to secure their wild-card berth. (Rams still won the division thanks to Arizona's loss to Seattle that day.) San Francisco has since continued its road warrior ways, first beating NFC East champion Dallas in the Wild Card Round 23-17 and then upsetting NFC North champ and No. 1 seed Green Bay at Lambeau Field 13-10 last Saturday night thanks to strong defense against Aaron Rodgers and spectacular special teams play.
Not only did Robbie Gould nail a 45-yard field goal on the final play to secure the victory, but the 49ers' lone touchdown came on a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining and they also blocked a 39-yard field goal attempt by the Packers' Mason Crosby on the last play of the first half that would have given the home team a 10-0 lead. Instead, San Francisco is now just one victory away from its first second Super Bowl appearance in three years (and a potential rematch with Kansas City).
Meanwhile, the Rams are just one win away from playing for a Lombardi Trophy on their own home field with SoFi Stadium set to host Super Bowl LVI. Los Angeles got to this point by first manhandling Arizona 34-11 in the Wild Card Round and then knocking off defending champion Tampa Bay thanks to, you guessed it, a game-winning field as time expired. The Rams jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and were up 20-3 at the half, seemingly in total control. The cushion was 27-3 more than halfway through the third quarter before Tom Brady and the Buccaneers mounted a furious comeback. Aided by three turnovers, Tampa Bay scored two touchdowns in less than a three-minute span late in the fourth to seemingly send the game to overtime. But with 42 seconds left on the clock and one timeout, Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp on two long pass completions to set up Matt Gay's 30-yard, game-winning field goal, allowing him the chance to redeem himself for missing from 47 yards out earlier in the fourth quarter.
Although these rivals have played each other 145 times (49ers lead the series 74-67-3), this will be just the second time they will meet in the postseason. Way back in 1990, San Francisco dominated Los Angeles 30-3 in Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game. Joe Montana threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns in that game as the 49ers would then go on to annihilate Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.
So which teams are going to play in Super Bowl LVI? Athlon's own Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), and Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib), along with AthlonSports.com contributors Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) and Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) predict the winners for the conference championship games.
NFL Conference Championship Games Predictions
|Rob Doster||Bryan Fischer||Ben Weinrib||Aaron Wilson|
AFC Championship: Cincinnati at Kansas City
NFC Championship: San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams
Note: Detroit-Pittsburgh in Week 10 ended in a tie.