The NFL certainly has an excellent weekend of football. This weekend’s conference championship games likely feature the best four teams all season, based on how each team has 12-plus wins.
This is just the sixth time in NFL history that all four conference championship teams have won more than 12 games in the regular season, the first time since the 2015 season and just the third time since 1998. First time since 1996 , and all four quarterbacks starting in the conference championship games will be under the age of 28.
Two teams are on streaks of more than 10 wins (San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals), while the other two teams have more than 14 wins (Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs). The matchups could go either way, and each of the four potential Super Bowl matchups will feature worthy opponents.
So who will represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl? Both title games are evenly matched, but there are some mismatches that could give certain teams the edge on Sunday. Here are the six biggest mismatches on Championship Sunday, starting at the bottom and working our way up to No.1.
6. Chiefs vs. Bengals in the fourth quarter
The Chiefs have lost their last three games with the Bengals by a combined nine points. Kansas City lost by three in each game, leading in every fourth quarter.
The Chiefs were outscored 26-6 in the fourth quarter and overtime of the three games, demonstrating a stark difference between the quarterback’s play late in the games. Joe Burrow has completed 80% of his passes for 257 yards with two touchdowns to one interception in those games (110.7 passer rating), while Patrick Mahomes has completed 71.4% of his passes for 111 yards with no touchdowns to one interception (63.8 rating).
If the Chiefs have a fourth-quarter lead in this game, they’ll be battling their own demons to see if they can hold on to the lead this time around.
Chase had the Chiefs’ number in the three meetings they faced. He had 417 receiving yards in his three games against Kansas City, the most by any player in a three-game stretch against the Chiefs since Lance Alworth from 1965-66.
When Joe Burrow is manning Chase against the Chiefs, the Bengals quarterback is 24 of 29 for 417 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 144.0 passer rating (14.4 yards per attempt). In the second half of those games, Chase had 14 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns (17.4 yards per catch).
The Chiefs’ secondary had trouble defending Chase through the three games. It’s a good bet Burrow is targeting his No. 1 receiver.
Advantage: 49ers pressure
Hurts’ passing numbers haven’t been the best against pressure this season – perhaps the only weakness in his game. He has completed 44.4 percent of his passes for 597 yards with four touchdowns to two interceptions for a 66.8 passer rating. Hurts is 25th among qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage and yards per attempt (5.4). He was 16th in passer rating in that category.
The 49ers are 12th in rushing percentage in the NFL (34.4%) and have the fifth-best passing percentage in the league (per Pro Football Focus). The defense will make sure to pressure Hurts and try to exploit that weakness.
3. Jalen Hurts vs. 49ers pass defense on deep throws
Advantage: It hurts
The Eagles offense has a golden opportunity to put up huge numbers if the offensive line can protect Hurts, who is the best deep ball quarterback in the league. Hurts is the only quarterback to complete 50% of his passes over 25 yards this season (including the playoffs), throwing for 798 yards with 10 touchdowns to just one interception (125.0 rating). He leads the NFL in touchdown passes and passer rating on throws traveling more than 25 yards.
That’s a problem for the 49ers’ defense — which has struggled covering the deep ball — ranking 25th or worse in completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating on throws 25-plus yards downfield. The 49ers are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 41 percent of their passes for 687 yards with five touchdowns to two interceptions and a 106.6 passer rating on throws that travel more than 25 yards.
If Hurts has time, he could make the 49ers pay with AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith.
2. Patrick Mahomes vs. Bengals ‘D’ when rushing three or less
Advantage: Bengals defense
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anuramo may have the plan to beat Mahomes — without sending multiple defenders against him. When Mahomes faces pass rushers from three or fewer defenders (Anuramo loses eight backs in coverage), Mahomes completes just 52 percent of his passes, averages 5.2 yards per attempt and has a 66.7 passer rating.
When the Bengals throw to four or more defenders, Mahomes completes 72 percent of his passes, averages 8.3 yards per attempt and has a 112.0 passer rating. Mahomes does have a 112.9 passer rating when eight defenders are in coverage this season and was second in the NFL in touchdown passes when under pressure this season (13).
It could be a double-edged sword for Cincinnati this week, but Anuramo has proven in previous games that when he rushes the three, he can have some success against Mahomes.
1. Brock Purdy vs. Eagles pass rush
Advantage: Eagles pass rush
Purdy hasn’t faced as dominant a pass rush as the Eagles this season, who were the only team in the NFL with a sack rate above 10 percent (11.7 percent) and finished second in pressure percentage (38.4 percent). The 70 sacks in the regular season were the third most in a single season in NFL history (their 75 sacks in the regular season and postseason are third most). The Eagles are the first team in NFL history to have four different players with 10+ sacks in a season (Haason Reddick, Josh Sweet, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham).
Purdy struggled in the divisional round win over the Cowboys, going just 3-of-11 for 14 yards with a 39.6 passer rating (2.2 yards per attempt). That’s a great deal through his first six starts when facing pressure, as Purdy completed 54 percent of his passes, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and had a 121.2 passer rating.
Purdy didn’t face a top-5 rushing percentage defense in any of those starts — and only one top-10 rushing percentage defense (that team missed the playoffs). The Eagles have proven they can get to the quarterback and have the personnel to play in the secondary to support a dominant pass rush.
When Purdy faced a top-five rushing defense last week, it didn’t go well. Will he improve when faced with a similar situation against a defense that has averaged 5.1 sacks per game over their last nine games – on the road?