4th and Inches: Conference Championship Preview

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | DFP Staff

AFC Conference Championship

The Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Kansas City on Sunday to take on the Chiefs in what will be a rematch of the 2022 AFC Conference Championship game. 

The Bengals were the underdog victors of the matchup last year, but it’s unlikely the National Football League will discount Cincinnati again. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has proven to be the same guy who led a magical Louisiana State University team to a NCAA National Championship in 2020.

Burrow’s former college teammate, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, joined Burrow in Cincinnati and the pair has quickly become one of, if not the best QB-WR duo in the league. 

Although they had a rocky start to the 2022-23 season, the Bengals have bounced back with 10 straight wins en route to the AFC Championship. Under Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor, Cincinnati hasn’t lost a game since October. 

On the other hand, the Chiefs have been a consistent force in the league throughout the year. Kansas City’s offense led the league in passing yards throughout the regular season. 

Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid have created a dynasty in Kansas City likely to last for years. 

However, the Chiefs were met with a major blow to their offense when Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday. While Mahomes has declared his intent to play in Sunday’s matchup against the Bengals, it’s unlikely he can perform at full strength. 

A high ankle sprain is a devastating injury that typically requires about a month of recovery. Additionally, Mahomes suffered the injury on his right foot –– the foot he relies on when stepping into his throwing motion.

Fortunately, Reid said that the injury isn’t as severe as the high ankle sprain Mahomes suffered in 2019. Yet when he returned to action in the second half against the Jaguars, Mahomes was clearly in pain and labored through every step on the field. 

A significant aspect of Mahomes’ game is his ability to create plays outside of the pocket. His sheer arm talent when on the move can turn a broken play into a large gain. With the injury, Mahomes’ inability to escape the pocket and create something out of nothing is sure to slow down the Chiefs’ air raid offense. 

The Bengals are likely going to apply extra pressure on Mahomes for the majority of the game. Yet, despite the injury, Mahomes has unprecedented arm talent and could still find a way to cause nightmares for Cincinnati’s secondary. 

Although the matchup won’t be easy, regardless of Mahomes’ injury, Cincinnati has a much easier path back to the Super Bowl than it did the year prior. 

NFC Conference Championship

The Philadelphia Eagles will face off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday to decide which team will represent the NFC in the 2023 Super Bowl. 

This marks San Francisco’s third trip to the NFC Championship game in the last four years –– all under head coach Kyle Shanahan. However, the 49ers’ path to Sunday’s game is nothing less than extraordinary. 

Former third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Trey Lance started the season under center for the 49ers. However, Lance suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. 

San Francisco had a capable backup in Jimmy Garoppolo, the quarterback who led the team to the Super Bowl in 2020. Seemingly in a stroke of bad luck, Garoppolo broke his foot in December. 

These two injuries sent rookie quarterback Brock Purdy into the spotlight. Purdy was the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft –– dubbed Mr. Irrelevant. 

Hope was dwindling, but only for a short time. 

In his first career start, a week after being thrust into the starting role, Purdy and the 49ers defeated the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Many doubted if Purdy would be able to keep San Francisco afloat even after beating Tampa Bay. Those who doubted doubt no more. 

The 49ers haven’t lost a game with Purdy leading the offense and the team catapulted into the second seed in the NFC before the start of the postseason. 

Purdy’s success, given fan and critic expectations coming into the league, is nearly unfathomable. The only quarterback to have had this kind of success this early in their career as such a low draft pick is Brady –– the seven-time Super Bowl Champion, undisputed GOAT of the NFL and the same quarterback Purdy defeated in his first career start. 

San Francisco’s No. 1 ranked defense played a huge role in the team’s success and is the perfect complement to the electric offense led by Purdy and Shanahan. 

Purdy still has a long way to go before proving himself as an elite NFL quarterback, and the Eagles are just the next obstacle in Purdy’s storybook rookie season. 

For nearly the entire season, the Eagles were the best team in the NFL. Quarterback Jalen Hurts’ meteoric rise has not only led the Eagles to the NFC Championship, but it also lands him in the running for the Most Valuable Player of the year award. 

With weapons around him like receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, as well as a dominant running game, Hurts has arguably been the best quarterback in a league of great quarterbacks. 

Philadelphia’s defense is also elite and has racked up the most sacks of any team by a large margin. 

The 2023 NFC Championship game has the potential to be a historic matchup. Both teams are elite on both sides of the ball. Both franchises are looking to solidify their spot as elite squads for years to come. 

It’s a game that very well may come down to the wire and a game many football fans won’t want to miss.

Originally Published by The Daily Free Press on March 20, 2023

Link to original article here

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