After the games ended last Sunday, I had a very clear prediction in mind for this week that it would be Cincinnati vs. San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
But as the week has gone on, I’ve done a 180 on both games, and maybe a 270 would be more accurate as I’m torn on both as I can see good arguments for every team to win.
This usually doesn’t happen for me, but this is also an unusual pair of games for Championship Sunday. It is looking like it will be just the third time where both games had a spread under 3 points. There have only been 12 games out of 104 since 1970 in this round that had a spread under 3 points, and the kicker is 10 of those 12 games were still decided by double digits.
I wrote previews this week, and now I may be giving conflicting final picks because I really am not sure on either game. I’d say all four possible Super Bowl matchups have just about a 25% split of happening, which I would almost never say about a final four.
Hopefully the games will be good, because last week was not.
Teaser picks for both games (total and spread).
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)
How the 49ers can upset the Eagles
It comes down to this: Eagles are the last team standing that have no glaring flaw, while the 49ers have to overcome a rookie QB making his first road playoff start against the No. 1 pass defense that has 70 sacks and great corner play. NFL history alone would tell you the Eagles win this game and possibly by more than one possession, but we also know Kyle Shanahan has had his teams very close in the playoffs. They have blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl and NFC-CG.
And No. 1 defenses also fare pretty well this time of year, but again, the Eagles are quite good on that side of the ball too. Brock Purdy hasn’t lost a start yet, but Jalen Hurts has lost one all year for this team and it still took four giveaways (three, really, with a junk fumble TD padding the stats) and an insane day on 3rd down by the Washington offense.
I think Purdy makes dangerous decisions because that’s what you’d expect from Mr. Irrelevant, but I keep seeing the Seahawks and Cowboys fail to make him pay for it. I think the Eagles make him pay, and I think they get just enough out of the ground game and using Hurts’ legs to win this one.
But it should be a game that comes down to turnovers, which isn’t something that we’ve seen a lot of this postseason like we usually do. Hell, the Jaguars won a game by being -5 in turnovers, Bills were negative against Miami and won, the NYG-MIN game had none, and the Bills were also down 27-10 with a minute to play against the Bengals before a turnover (meaningless one). The biggest turnover this postseason so far is the QB sneak by the Ravens against the Bengals.
But why turnovers? The defenses involved here, and the fact that the 49ers are 15-0 with 0-1 turnovers and 0-4 with 2+ turnovers this year. The Eagles have two 4-turnover games in losses and Gardner Minshew threw a pick-six in the third loss against New Orleans.
I think the Eagles force enough mistakes from the rookie to end this 12-game winning streak for the 49ers.
Final: Eagles 27, 49ers 20
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
Full AFC Championship Game prevew
Early week preview on this game
This spread has gone crazy from KC -2.5 to CIN -2.5 to CIN -1 to KC -1.5 as no one knows what to really make of Patrick Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain. We’ll just have to see Sunday, but with the spread and the Chiefs not even listing him on the final injury report, it would sound like it’s business as usual. Mahomes’ O/U is even 283.5 passing yards, and the Bengals have held him to 275 or less in the last three meetings. Travis Kelce popping up with a back injury is concerning though.
I’ll address the Twitter brouhaha more in Stat Oddity tomorrow night after we see what happens, but all I’ve been saying is it would be a bad look for what was supposed to be the NFL’s next dynasty to do this:
- Lose 31-9 in the Super Bowl vs. Tampa while getting badly outcoached on both sides of the ball
- Go 1-3 vs. two chief rivals in AFC last year (Bills and Bengals)
- That includes the 2021 AFC Championship Game loss where the Chiefs were a 7-point home favorite, blew the biggest home lead (21-3) in title game history by Mahomes botching the end of the first half and getting zero points there, then falling victim to a three-man rush to take four sacks in the fourth quarter, almost have a season-ending fumble in the red zone that was recovered by the line, almost throw an overtime pick on second down, then get intercepted on third down to set up the Bengals at midfield for their game-winning field goal.
- Then to go 0-2 vs. chief rivals (BUF/CIN) again this year with Mahomes throwing a game-ending INT vs. Bills and Kelce fumbling against the Bengals and Mahomes taking a third-down sack that led to a missed 55-yard FG before the Bengals ran out the clock.
- But they beat the Jaguars last week and Buffalo lost badly, so here we are again in Arrowhead for the title game. But the Chiefs will fall to 2-3 in AFC title games and 3-4 in all championship games in the Mahomes era if they do not win this game, for which they are again favored as they have been in all 13 playoff games.
- If Andy Reid loses this game, he will be 3-5 in title games at home in his career, and he and Bill Cowher will account for 8-of-17 (47.1%) title game losses as a home favorite in the salary cap era.
Some would say that’s a bad look, or disappointing. But I am still trying to adjust to this new logic introduced this week that simply being in these games means more than winning or losing them, or even losing more of them than you win.
I think this game could have a Colts-Patriots 2003 AFC Championship Game level of impact on the league for the next 10-to-15 years. The narratives could be absurd, especially if the winner goes on to finish the job in the Super Bowl.
But as for the matchup, I’m most interested in seeing if Mahomes’ injury is relevant or if he looks normal as could be, which seems miraculous given the usual nature of this injury. But beyond that, can this actually be a benefit to the Chiefs if it causes Reid to call a much different game that gets the ball out faster from the pocket so Mahomes doesn’t have to use his legs that much?
The Bengals have done a fantastic job of making Mahomes hold the ball. Sometimes it was the three-time rush, and sometimes it has just been making him indecisive and watching him scramble too much. This has been a common theme in most of KC’s losses since 2020. The last 5 times he’s lost, which includes the 0-3 record vs. Cincinnati, were games where Mahomes held he ball over 3.0 seconds per throw. His two worst games in that stat the last two years are against the Bengals, who even had him up to 4.0 seconds in the 2nd half of the title game last year when they went 3-man rush on 45% of passes.
Then in 2020, we know that Mahomes had almost 500 scramble yards on passes in both losses against the Raiders and Buccaneers. Making him scramble for his life has been effective, and I just wonder if the Bengals dial up more blitzes in this one to test his mobility. How does KC answer? With more screens to RBs, with more of Pacheco on the ground, more involvement of Kadarius Toney, more short passes to Kelce like they did last week when he had 14 catches for 98 yards? It’s a very interesting chess match on that side of the ball that we’re about to see.
As for the other side, I think Burrow and the Bengals shredded the Chiefs in Week 13 and should be ready for this one against by far the worst defense still playing this season. But what if, for a change, the Chiefs actually stepped up on defense to help out their not-100%-healthy QB? Maybe Chris Jones could even muster a playoff sack or two as he still has none in 13 career playoff games. Burrow is 21-1 in his last 30 games when he takes fewer than 5.0 sacks and 1-7 when he takes 5+ sacks. Put his ass down in this game. He’s not a playoff legend yet as he still has never led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in six playoff games.
We’ll see what happens, but the Chiefs come in with the better QB, the Bengals have the better team. If Mahomes is still struggling on handoffs and throwing some funny balls because of the injury, then giving them the nod for best QB may even be off in this matchup Sunday. But no one knows until he plays on it.
So, am I going for the reverse jinx to screw the cocky-ass Bengals who are tempting the football gods with all the noise this week, the reverse-reverse jinx to shut up Kansas City’s most annoying fans on Twitter, or do I honestly think the Bengals are winning this game? All I can tell you is I want the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, just like I did the last four Championship Sundays, and batting 1-for-4 is fine if this was baseball.
Sorry if I have higher standards, but who saw the Bengals making back-to-back Super Bowls so quickly? Also, if they win on the road again without three starting offensive linemen, how impressive is that when Chiefs fans blow a gasket over the Eric Fisher injury two years ago? Coach better. Play better.
But you know what, I’m going to stick to my original research that started this nonsense and declare it would be too much of an oddity for Mahomes to have more home title game losses in just five years than any QB in history has in their whole careers. The Bengals are lucky but they are not the 2003-04 Patriots.
Final: Chiefs 28, Bengals 27
And you know what, I’m still probably taking the NFC to win the Super Bowl no matter which of these teams win tomorrow.