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The NFL’s conference championship round for the 2021 season is stacked, and we’ve covered you with what you need to know for Sunday’s NFC and AFC championships. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to both games, a bold prediction for each game and, of course, end results.
In addition, ESPN Stats & Information provides great statistics to know and a bet for each competition, and our Football Power Index (FPI) enters the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. Matt Bowen picks a key match to watch for both matches and Kevin Seifert tells us what we need to know about the referee. Everything you need to know is here in one place to help you get ready for a packed weekend of two games of NFL playoff football.
First, the Bengals travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs – an offensive showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Then there are the NFC West enemies facing in the second game, with the 49ers matching the Rams for the third time this season. And remember: The winners are going to the Super Bowl LVI.
Jump to: CIN-KC | SF-LAR
Sunday, 15:00 ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 73.0 | Dispersion: KC -7.5 (54.5)
What to keep an eye on: Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase destroyed the Chiefs in the December meeting between these teams and caught 11 passes for 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Chiefs will undoubtedly not allow that to happen again, but at what cost? They mostly took Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs’ influence last week against the Bills, but then Gabriel Davis played a big game. And Cincinnati has receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd – plus running back Joe Mixon – along with Chase. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s plans in this regard are towering. –Adam Teicher
Bold prediction: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will throw in at least 390 yards. Kansas City leaned on a successful run in the second half of the first game against Cincinnati, leading to a quiet game from Mahomes. But do not be shocked if the reigning AFC champions look for more explosive play in the passing game this time around and get their revenge against the Bengals. Mahomes already has 782 passing yards and eight touchdown passes in two playoff games this season. –BenBaby
State to know: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is the sixth player to participate in a conference championship game with 50 plus sacks – and his 62 is easily the most. The previous five QBs failed to reach the Super Bowl, and four of them saw their team not score an offensive touchdown in that conference title game. However, Burrow is also the fifth player in the last 30 seasons to participate in a conference championship game, while leading the NFL in both completion percentage and yards per game. trials (including playoffs). And those are not easy endings. The second-year QB has the NFL’s best completion rate above expectations, according to the NFL Next Gen Stats.
Bowen’s game plan key: Chiefs need to warm up Burrow in his pocket and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram III can play a big role. Expect Kansas City to plan him and get him some one-on-one fights. Read more on E +.
injuries: Bengal | chiefs
Seifert’s official outlook: Referee Bill Vinovich’s regular season crew (crews change in the playoffs) annually throws the fewest flags among the NFL’s 17 teams, and this season was no exception. His crew had an average of 10.9 flags per. games, 34% less than the crew that called the most (Carl Cheffers, 16.6). He will lead a game that has the NFL’s least punished team (Bengals, 84) and ninth most punished team (Chiefs, 129). Vinovich was the only referee in the NFL who did not call a single roughing for the passing penalty during the regular season, and his crew in the regular season threw the third-fewest flags for teams (34).
Betting Lump: The Bengals have covered six matches in a row and four matches in a row. They are also 5-1 against the spread as a road underdog this season. But Kansas City has covered six home games in a row and is 7-1 against the spread in the last eight games against teams with winning records. Read more on E +.
Baby’s choice: Chiefs 31, Bengals 21
Teichers choice: Chiefs 34, Bengals 24
FPI prediction: KC, 69.6% (with an average of 6.7 points)
Matchup must-reads: Burrow can cement place among the best young quarterbacks … Why Hill had to turn this season … McShay: How Mahomes changed the way I scout QBs
Sunday, 18:30 ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 84.8 | Dispersion: LAR -3.5 (45.5)
What to keep an eye on: The 49ers have won six games in a row over division rival Rams, which includes a 17-point come-by-behind victory in Week 18 to win a playoff spot. The Niners bring in All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel and tight-end George Kittle, who have spearheaded a resilient, bruise in football, while the Rams have a proven ability to score quickly on explosive games behind quarterback Matthew Stafford and Cooper Coup, NFL’s leading receiver. As for what the Rams need to do to finally get the best of the Niners and advance to the Super Bowl LVI? “We do not have to reinvent the wheel here,” Kupp says. “It’s just about doing our job and taking this as a new week.” –Lindsey Thiry
Bold prediction: San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will throw three touchdown passes. He has yet to throw himself over a score in those playoffs and has only two touchdowns and five interceptions in his five playoff starts. But Garoppolo has a history of playing well against the Rams – he has a total QBR of 71.7 and won all six starts against them – and the Rams still have questions in the middle of their defense, allowing a completion rate of 77% and 7 , 9 yards per attempt on throws inside the numbers this season. Carried by a strong running game, the often reviled Garoppolo will deliver on the big stage. – Nick Wagoner
State to know: Midseason acquisitions have been the key to the Rams. Since coming to Los Angeles in Week 10, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. number two on the team in receptions (37) and has caught a touchdown in six out of 10 games played. He has also caught 10 out of 12 goals this offseason. And outside linebacker Von Miller has scored at least one sack in six games in a row, drawing the longest streak in his career (three other times, most recently in 2018). Opposing quarterbacks have sent a total QBR of 2.3 when both Miller and defensive tackle Aaron Donald rush with the pass this postseason.
Bowen’s game plan key: Keep an eye on linebacker Fred Warner to play a role as a blitzer in the Niners’ tilted five-man fronts. San Francisco played on more than a quarter of the Rams’ third-down game in its Week 18 win this season. Read more on E +.
injuries: 49ers | rams
Seifert’s official outlook: Referee Carl Cheffers’ crew in the regular season led the NFL with 16.6 flags thrown per game. match, but these two teams ranked among the 14 least punished teams in the league. The Rams saw 92 flags, and the 49ers saw 117. During the regular season, the Cheffers threw 10 flags to scrub the ball, which was in sixth place in the NFL, and 61 for offensive holding, second most in the league – even though he wants a different crew on Sunday.
Betting Lump: Los Angeles is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight games, but San Francisco is 9-2 against the spread in the last 11 – with four straight covers. Plus, the 49ers are 4-1 against the spread in the playoffs under coach Kyle Shanahan. Read more on E +.
Haulier’s choice: 49ers 30, Rams 23
Thyrys choice: Rams 28, 49ers 24
FPI prediction: LAR, 59.5% (with an average of 3.1 points)
Matchup must-reads: Has Garoppolo reshaped its NFL future? … Beckham Jr. gives Rams a boost in production, good vibes … Trash talk, a ticket blockade and a rivalry reborn: Rams and 49ers meet for NFC title … McVay: Whitworth, Rapp looks set to return .. 49ers pending and-see mode with Williams ‘injury … From’ love of the game ‘to Rams’ game winner: Inside the Stafford-Kupp-pass