Just four teams remain as we head toward a conference championship weekend that promises to deliver entertainment and jaw-dropping action. It all starts Sunday afternoon when Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Kansas City to battle Patrick Mahomes and the surging Chiefs.
Burrow and the Bengals' offense will need to score points in abundance if they hope to keep pace with a Chiefs squad that scored 42 in last weekend's overtime thrilling victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals are healthy underdogs, but they've been achieving the unthinkable all season long and should be viewed as a legitimate threat to reach Super Bowl LVI.
Sunday night's primetime contest will see Jimmy Garappolo and his six-seed San Francisco 49ers visit SoFi Stadium for a third confrontation with their inner-divisional rival Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers won both regular-season meetings and head coach Kyle Shanahan is a perfect 6-0 against Sean McVay and the Rams in his career. It should make for an exciting showdown.
Both of these matchups occurred a total of three times during the regular season, with this weekend’s underdogs reigning victorious in all three. It sets up perfectly for this week's edition of Bold Predictions.
49ERS UPSET RAMS… AGAIN
As teased in the introduction, Sunday evening's NFC Championship battle between the 49ers and Rams has a special mental gymnastics element to it. The 12-win Rams won the NFC West but were swept for the third consecutive season by the 10-win 49ers. San Francisco's thrilling, come-from-behind regular-season finale victory over the Rams in Week 18 is what allowed them to enter into the postseason in the first place.
This game carries a monumental amount of importance, particularly for McVay and the Rams. McVay is a shocking 0-6 in his head coaching career when squaring off with his former Washington Football Team co-worker. McVay and his staff must showcase the mental fortitude necessary to finally overcome the schematic challenges coaching against Shanahan presents.
So why would a 49ers victory qualify as a bold prediction? The Rams owned the better regular-season record, won a shared division, and are considered 3.5-point favorites. An opportunity to play an NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl at home in the comforts of SoFi Stadium beckons and looms large for McVay's Rams. Such occasions are beyond rare. A seventh consecutive defeat at the hands of Shanahan would feel like a wasted opportunity and the ultimate gut punch. Unfortunately for McVay, we envision it coming to fruition.
JOE BURROW THROWS FOR 400-PLUS YARDS, 3-PLUS TDs IN HEARTBREAKING DEFEAT
The Bengals bested the Chiefs 34-31 in a Week 17 thriller at Paul Brown Stadium. Burrow was absolutely electric in the victory, completing 30-of-39 passing attempts for an astounding 446 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase had himself a record-breaking afternoon by securing 11 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes meanwhile was held to 259 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals will require a repeat presentation if they hope to contend with the Chiefs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. We feel excellent about their chances of receiving heroic performances from their high-end playmakers. Steve Spagnuolo's defense had absolutely no answer for Cincinnati's high-volume, aggressive passing attack just weeks ago, and we envision more of the same. Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu remains in the concussion protocol and his status for Sunday's contest hangs in the balance. The Chiefs' secondary will require their star safety's presence if they hope to stifle the likes of Burrow, Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd through the air.
We ultimately predict that the Bengals’ passing attack will put forth a massive showing in a tightly contested, heartbreaking defeat. The legend of Burrow grows on Sunday, and the Bengals will be legitimate contenders for years to come.
DEEBO SAMUEL POWERS 49ERS TO UPSET VICTORY
We've already predicted a 49ers upset, and now we analyze the elite playmaker that will help carry Shanahan's men to a Super Bowl LVI appearance. Deebo Samuel enjoyed a fruitful, career-best season that will carry over into Sunday's pivotal showdown. Samuel's versatile ability is the key that unlocks Shanahan's offensive scheme. In two appearances (and victories) against the Rams earlier this season, Samuel totaled an astonishing 273 total yards of offense and three touchdowns while touching the football on several occasions both as a receiver (nine receptions) and ball-carrier (13 carries).
Samuel's talents mean the possibilities are endless and Shanahan has flashed the creativity necessary to best take advantage of his dual-threat, unstoppable skill set. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris possesses a brilliant defensive mind but has failed to slow down Samuel in their previous meetings. Morris undeniably spent a good portion of the week game-planning for Samuel while praying for a different outcome than we witnessed earlier this season. Samuel is a do-it-all weapon that will leave a profound impact on Sunday's result. Look for Samuel to create more than 150 yards of offense while reaching the end zone twice.