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NFL Conference Championship Sunday X-Factors

  • Justin Melo
  • January 27, 2023
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Super Bowl LVII awaits its participants. We’ve reached the AFC and NFC Championship Game weekend. Three of last year’s four semi-finalists have reached the same stage of the NFL playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers will battle Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Questions surround the health of Patrick Mahomes as he looks to right last year’s wrong against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are looking to qualify for their second straight Super Bowl.

The action will be jam-packed. These are the four best teams in the NFL. We’ve identified three “X factors” that could directly impact championship weekend.


Jerick McKinnon wasn’t a starring factor in last weekend’s NFL divisional round victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but his skill set favors what promises to be a high-scoring matchup against the Bengals. McKinnon was extremely productive throughout the month of December, totaling 354 yards and six touchdowns. McKinnon posted 60 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 early-December defeat to these same Bengals.

McKinnon was excellent in last season’s AFC Championship Game, totaling 95 yards on 15 touches as a runner and pass-catcher. McKinnon wasn’t overly involved against the Jaguars last weekend, but the game script could make McKinnon an X-factor against the Bengals. McKinnon’s late-season heroics are starting to become an annual trend in Kansas City. Look for McKinnon to supplant Isiah Pacheco on passing downs while splitting early-down duty.


I could have selected any skill player on the 49ers as their potential X-factor, but superstar tight end George Kittle sets himself apart. Kittle was outstanding in last weekend’s victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn had no answer for Kittle, who torched the Cowboys to the tune of five receptions on five targets for 95 receiving yards.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has likely experienced sleepless nights while attempting to solve his Kittle problem. The likes of C.J. Gardner-Johnson and even Darius Slay could be deployed against Kittle. The Eagles could look to play bracket coverage in an attempt to slow Kittle down, but that frees up the likes of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Christian McCaffrey. Purdy has proven capable enough to take advantage of the weapons at his disposal. The 49ers create mismatches all over the field. It starts with Kittle.


Tee Higgins was unstoppable in Cincinnati’s AFC Championship victory over the Chiefs last season. Higgins led all Bengals pass-catchers in receptions (6, tied with Ja’Marr Chase), receiving yards (103), and yards per catch (17.2). Higgins’ hauled in a 44-yard reception that was Cincinnati’s longest play from scrimmage. Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed are no match for Higgins’ dynamic abilities.

Higgins was quieter in the Bengals’ regular-season victory over the Chiefs earlier this season (3-35-1), but he still managed to haul in Cincinnati’s lone receiving touchdown of the contest. Kansas City’s secondary is going to struggle with Higgins. Higgins has proven he poses as much of a threat as Chase does.

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Justin Melo