NFC Championship: 49ers vs. Chiefs
Been There, Done That
The NFC Championship is a place where San Francisco has more of a legacy than any team in the conference. It is the 49ers’ 18th appearance in the game, four more than the next-closest team, and a win would tie them with the Dallas Cowboys for the most ever, with eight. However, the 49ers are only 2-5 as the away team.
Philadelphia is no stranger to the NFC title game either, making its eighth appearance, sixth-most all-time. The Eagles are more comfortable at home in those games than the 49ers are on the road; Philadelphia has hosted the title game five times and won three of them.
Battle of Top Defenses
The NFC Championship features the NFL’s top two defenses in terms of yards allowed this season. The 49ers are No. 1 at 300.6 allowed per game and the Eagles at 301.5 are No. 2. This is the first meeting between the league’s top two defenses in a conference final since the 2009 AFC title game when the No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers (237.2) played the No. 2 Baltimore Ravens (261.1).
An ominous note for 49ers fans: In that 2009 game, the Steelers forced three interceptions from rookie quarterback Joe Flacco that helped win them the game. In the 49ers’ favor is that rookie Brock Purdy has already faced the third- (Washington), ninth- (Tampa Bay) and 12th-stingiest (Dallas) defenses in yards allowed this season, winning all three games by a combined 52 points.
History in Making?
The 49ers are 7-0 with Brock Purdy as their starter (including playoffs), with an average margin of victory of 15.1 points. Dominating, for sure. But either Purdy’s unblemished run is coming to an end, or he’s about to make history. Four rookie quarterbacks — Shaun King (2000), Ben Roethlisberger (2005), Flacco (2009) and Mark Sanchez (2010) — have started in conference championship games in NFL history, combing to throw four touchdowns and nine interceptions. And none won.
Stopping the Run
The 49ers are riding a remarkable streak of 27 straight games (including playoffs) without allowing an offensive player to get 70-plus rushing yards, and only one opposing rusher has eclipsed 60 yards this season (it took overtime for Josh Jacobs to reach 69). But the Eagles, who finished the regular season with the fifth-most rushing yards of any team in the NFL, are coming off a Divisional Round win over the Giants in which two players — Kenneth Gainwell and Miles Sanders — had at least 90. And when the teams faced each other last season, QB Jalen Hurts rushed for 82 yards.
The Eagles not only have a chance to stop that 49ers’ streak, but they also have a chance to make a little rushing history. If they get three rushing touchdowns against the 49ers, they will surpass the 1962 Green Bay Packers for the most rushing scores in any NFL season (playoffs included). Contributing to that effort are Hurts (14), Sanders (11), Gainwell (5), Boston Scott (4) and backup QB Gardner Minshew (1).
AFC Championship: Bengals vs. Chiefs
Let’s Play Two
This is the Chiefs’ fifth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance (only the third AFC team to reach that many in a row), and their opponent in all five editions is a team that they met during the regular season. Their result in the title game has mirrored the regular season contest three of the previous four seasons, with losses in 2019 and 2022, and a win in 2021. That seemingly gives the Bengals an edge, having defeated Kansas City 27-24 in Week 13. Also interesting: Kansas City is 1-4 in regular-season games against their eventual AFC Championship opponent during this streak, and all four losses have come by exactly a field goal, to Cincinnati twice, Tennessee, and New England.
With a win, Cincinnati can become the first team since the NFL began seeding teams in 1975 to defeat the No. 1 seed in its conference in consecutive postseasons. The Bengals would also become the second team ever to win two road playoff games in consecutive seasons, joining the 2009-10 New York Jets.
Something’s Gotta Give
No tight end has reached 90 yards this season against the Bengals, including Travis Kelce, who had just four catches for 56 yards in the team’s regular-season matchup. Kelce, who is coming off a tight end NFL playoff-record 14 catches (for 98 yards) against the Jaguars, hasn’t been under 95 yards in a playoff game since 2019.
If the Bengals get down early, their fans should not panic. This season (including the playoffs), Cincinnati has outscored its opponents by 64 points in the second half of games in which the team was trailing at the half. “We have the best coaching staff in the league,” Burrow said earlier in the week. “We make better adjustments than anyone.”