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Previewing the NFL Conference Championship Games

| Staff Writer

Illustration by Tuesday Hadden | Student Life

It’s almost Super Bowl Sunday, and the National Football League (NFL) has narrowed its 32 squads down to its final four teams. In this article, we will be previewing the NFL Championship Games: the penultimate matchups in the playoffs that decide which two out of those four teams will compete for the ultimate prize in Super Bowl 58 — the Lombardi trophy. This article will provide a recap of the teams that won last week’s games, mention some key players and stats, and preview and predict this week’s games. Whether you’re a football fanatic or only watch the sport’s most important games, you can pick up some knowledge from this analysis, and maybe even get a stat or two to impress your friends and family at a watch party! 

AFC Championship: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens 

Chiefs Recap: The Chiefs went on the road against the red-hot Buffalo Bills and came through with a thrilling 27-24 victory in this classic rivalry between the two teams. Tight end Travis Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes were an unstoppable duo, connecting for two touchdowns. They are now on top of the list for the most touchdowns between a passing-receiving duo in postseason history. The fourth quarter was dominated by turnovers, loose football, and a missed field goal by Bill’s kicker Tyler Bass, which ultimately secured the Chiefs’ victory. Now, Mahomes and crew will go back on the road to face the Ravens, who have been utterly dominant behind MVP-favorite quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

Ravens Recap: This is the best-equipped team in the NFL. On paper, the lack of running backs, the lack of dominant receivers, and a shaky secondary might raise some eyebrows, but the team has continued to play with unparalleled tenacity throughout the season. Resembling the terrifying defensive teams of the early 2000s, this team has allowed the fewest points per game and the second-fewest passing yards. This defense was again on full display as they demolished the Texans in a game that was over in the third quarter, holding rookie quarterback CJ Stroud to a passer rating of 72.2, his second-lowest mark of the season. The Texans scored just 10 points, with their only touchdown coming on a punt return — and they couldn’t even score in the second half! Lamar Jackson put together another fantastic performance with four total TDs. 

Things to Watch:

  • Look how the Chiefs plan to stop Lamar’s run game with All-Pro tackle Chris Jones. 
  • The Chiefs have been the most dominant team in the playoffs for the past six years, with Mahomes holding a 13-1 record against teams that didn’t have Tom Brady (0-2 in those games). Whatever regular-season record or lack of home-field advantage should be negated for this team in the playoffs.
  • The Ravens’ defense has some of the most confusing schemes in the league, and with All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey back for this game to lockdown Chiefs’ No. 1 wide-receiver Rashee Rice, we should see a low-scoring defensive battle. 

Prediction: The Ravens currently open as 3.5-point favorites against the Chiefs. The Chiefs have employed stellar play-calling from head coach Andy Reid that saw them cruise past the Miami Dolphins and avoid late-game hiccups against the Bills. Meanwhile, The Ravens have proven themselves time and time again in the regular season, but have been historically terrible in the playoffs with Jackson. However, this is the season he puts those yips behind him and turns in a spectacular performance to lead his team past the Chiefs. Ravens win 20-14

(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook)

NFC Championship: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers

Lions Recap: On the heels of an impressive 31-23 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, putting them into the NFC Championship for the first time since 1991, the Lions find themselves on the road for the first time in this year’s playoffs. Led by former first-round pick Jared Goff and a young core of Aidan Hutchinson (defensive end), Jack Campbell (linebacker), Brian Branch (safety), Jahmyr Gibbs (running back), Sam LaPorta (tight end), and Amon-Ra St. Brown (wide receiver), this team feels poised for the playoffs for many years to come. The team will be tested in Santa Clara next week against a 49ers team with deep playoff experience (three-straight NFC championship appearances). 

49ers Recap: The 49ers were tested by a rookie squad in their first playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Despite trailing in the 4th quarter (the 49ers were 0-30 when trailing in the 4th quarter in the past six years), after an impressive drive by Purdy punctuated with another Christian McCaffrey touchdown (22 this season!) and a brutal interception by the Packers, the 49ers returned to win 24-21. Like in most games this season, the 49ers defense remained solid in the passing game, allowing less than 200 yards and two interceptions against  rookie quarterback Jordan Love. Star defensive ends Nick Bosa and Chase Young couldn’t get going as the team recorded zero sacks or fumbles. 

Things to Watch: 

  • The Lions’ have the 6th-worst pass defense in the NFL, and it will be tested in Santa Clara next week against a team stacked with receivers and deep playoff experience.
  • Second-year QB Brock Purdy was injured for last year’s NFC championship against the Eagles, which saw his team lose in crushing fashion.With his #1 threat Deebo Samuel currently on the injury report, Purdy must bounce back and utilize All-Pros Mccaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kyle Juszczyk in this offensive battle. 
  • The Lions have made the NFC championship for the first time in 32 years (and for only the second time in franchise history), gaining the support of America as they continue to march through the playoffs. Gibbs looks to be the deciding factor in this game, as the 49ers could not stop Aaron Jones last week and his 108 rushing yards. If the run game gets going early and effectively, this game could be closer than you would think. 

Prediction: Currently, the 49ers open as 6.5-point favorites over the Lions. Although the Lions have a chance to win this game, the 49ers’ superteam and home-field advantage should prove too much. 49ers win 30-27

(Odds courtesy of BetMGM Sportsbook)

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