Super Bowl LVI Preview

All four NFL Divisional Round Playoff games were decided on the final play of each game. With the Conference Championship games this Sunday, it is time to look at how each of the final four teams have made it to where they are and how they fare in their upcoming matchups in their attempt to advance to Super Bowl LVI.

The AFC Championship game will kick off at 3 p.m. between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’ll see you in the playoffs,” said Kansas City’s star quarterback Patrick Mahomes to Fox Sports following the Chiefs’ Week 17 loss to the Bengals. 

That statement came true a few weeks later as both teams have won their first two games of the playoffs to get to this point.

Both of the Bengals’ games were decided in the final minute. In their Wild Card Weekend matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders, the Bengals had control for the majority of the game. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr got the ball back trailing 26-19 in the final quarter. The Raiders had a fourth-and-goal from Cincinnati’s nine-yard line when Carr was intercepted with 17 seconds left, sealing the game. This was the Bengals first playoff win in over 31 years.

The following week, the Bengals traveled to the top seed in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans. The Titans star running back, Derrick Henry, returned to play for the first time in weeks. That did not intimidate the Bengals as their defense held strong throughout and kept Henry in check.

The game was tied at 16 and the Titans had possession. It looked as if they were trying to run the clock out for overtime. However, with 20 seconds left, Titans quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, was picked off for the third time that day.

Joe Burrow was able to connect with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and put the Bengals into field goal range. Cincinnati called a timeout and rookie kicker Evan McPherson got some warmup kicks in.

“Looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship game,” said McPherson to Burrow as he ran on the field according to B/R Gridiron.

Seconds later, he drilled a 52-yard field goal as time expired to send the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game.

In that game, the Bengals will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs easily took care of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round winning 42-21. However, their Divisional game against the Buffalo Bills was a much different story. The game was neck and neck the entire time. During the last two minutes of the game, a bloodbath occurred with four lead changes.

With 13 seconds left on the clock, it seemed as if Josh Allen and company had come into Arrowhead Stadium to upset the Chiefs. Allen had just connected with wide receiver Gabriel Davis for their fourth touchdown that game to take a 36-33 lead.

13 seconds was too much time for Mahomes and the Chiefs. He somehow marched his team down the field in ten seconds to set up the game-tying field goal. Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker kicked it through the uprights and this instant classic was headed for overtime.

The Chiefs won the coin toss in overtime and paraded right down the field. Mahomes connected with tight end Travis Kelce for the game-winning touchdown and gave the Chiefs a 42-36 victory.

The AFC Championship game will be a rematch of a Week 17, 34-31 thriller that the Bengals were able to win. This game will come down to who can get key stops.

The Bengals need to slow down the well-oiled machine that is the Kansas City offense. They have put up 42 points in both of their playoff games thus far. It will be a difficult task to go into Arrowhead Stadium and come out victorious as Mahomes is 6-1 in his career at home in the playoffs.

For the Chiefs, the game plan has to focus around slowing down the stud rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase. In their Week 17 game, Chase had one of the greatest receiving games in NFL history as he tallied 266 yards on 11 catches and three touchdowns. If the Chiefs can take away Burrow’s number one option, they have a chance at slowing down this hungry Bengals team.

On the NFC side, the Championship Game will take place between two Division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers only made the playoffs by beating the Rams in Week 18, and they have taken advantage of their opportunity.

In their Wild Card game, they traveled to America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers pounded the ball with Elijiah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel as each rushed for a touchdown and compiled 169 yards on the ground as a team.

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys tried to answer with a late touchdown, but ran out of time and were not able to get a shot at the end zone, as San Francisco won 23-17.

The following week they traveled to snowy Lambeau Field to face the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. Not a single team had won a game in Green Bay all season before the 49ers did.

Their defense stifled potential MVP Aaron Rodgers. He was unable to throw a touchdown all game, yet the Packers led 10-3 late in the fourth quarter. However, a blocked punt for a touchdown by the 49ers tied the game at 10.

Rodgers has proven to be one of the clutchest players in the game, but the 49ers defense held tall like they had all game to force a three-and-out. The Packers punted the ball and a methodical drive by Jimmy Garrapolo and San Francisco set up a 45-yard field goal with four seconds left. Kicker Robbie Gould nailed the kick in snowy conditions as the 49ers pulled off the upset of the playoffs.

Their opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, also upset their Divisional opponent to get the NFC Championship game. After easily taking care of the Arizona Cardinals in the first round, the Rams had to travel to Tampa Bay to face the reigning Bowl Champions in Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

For much of the game this was not a problem at all for the visiting Rams. They dominated all facets of the game and had a 27-3 lead minutes into the second half. 

No lead is too great to overcome for Tom Brady. The tide of the game completely shifted as the Buccaneers stormed back. Leonard Fournette rushed for the game-tying touchdown with 42 seconds left.

With all momentum on the Buccaneers side, it seemed as though Brady was going to lead another fantastic comeback and win the game in overtime. Quarterback and wide receiver duo Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp had other plans.

Stafford connected with Kupp for two catches for 64 yards on the final drive to set up the Rams for a game-winning field goal. Kicker Matt Gay nailed a 30-yarder to send the Rams to the Conference Championship.

The 49ers and Rams have faced off two times this season, with the 49ers having the edge in both of those matchups.

If the Rams want to beat their divisional foe for the first time this season, they will have to stop the rushing attack of the 49ers. According to ESPN, the 49ers have averaged 150 rushing yards per game against the Rams this season. The front seven for the Rams, that includes Aaron Donald and Von Miller, will need to step up and stop the run for Los Angeles to control the tempo of the game.

For San Francisco, it is about stopping the most dominant wide receiver in the NFL this year. Cooper Kupp caught 145 passes for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. All of those were league-leading statistics. The 49ers need to make other guys beat them for them to have a chance at the Super Bowl.

If the Divisional Round was just a preview for the Conference Championship games, expect some electric back-and-forth games that come down to the wire.

As the viewer, just sit back, relax, and enjoy Championship Sunday between the four best teams in football.