Scully's Conference Championship picks: 49ers have Rams' number
The Divisional Round couldn’t have been more thrilling, as all four games were decided on the final play, and the top seeds in both conferences have been eliminated.
Close games should be no surprise in the conference championships. All four teams have proven fallible at times, and for the first time in the Super Bowl’s 56-year history, both conference winners will have at least five regular-season losses.
Let’s examine the matchups.
Bengals vs. Chiefs
Sun, January 30 2022, 8:00 PM
In Week 17, Cincinnati trailed Kansas City by double digits in the third quarter, but the resilient Bengals rallied to win. Joe Burrow outshone his counterpart, throwing for 446 yards and four touchdowns, and the Chiefs were held to only three points in the second half.
Burrow has continued to star in the playoffs, throwing for 348 yards, as the Bengals never trailed Tennessee in the Divisional Round, and he’s tough as nails, overcoming nine sacks last week.
And while Cincinnati is a threat to score on every possession, defense has played an important role in recent weeks.
Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard provide a quality pass rush, and the secondary did a great job limiting Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to 65 combined yards in Week 17.
In the Divisional Round, Cincinnati intercepted three passes, allowing Tennessee to convert only one of eight third-down attempts, and they held Derrick Henry to only 62 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Look for Cincinnati’s defense to make some plays against Kansas City, which was tied with Tennessee for the most giveaways (25) of any playoff team this season.
However, there is no stopping Kansas City when it gets rolling. Patrick Mahomes — who is 7-1 with 23 touchdowns and one interception in AFC playoff games — exits a sparkling performance, throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns in a wild overtime win over Buffalo, and the Chiefs are averaging nearly 30 points per game.
Cincinnati’s offense will be under pressure to match points with Kansas City. But fortunately for the Bengals, Kansas City’s defense is vulnerable. The Chiefs were gassed by the fourth quarter on Sunday night, providing little resistance, as Buffalo scored 15 late points, and they can’t afford a letdown against high-powered Cincinnati.
Both teams have the offense to win, and the AFC championship should be another barnburner like the Divisional Round games.
49ers vs. Rams
Sun, January 30 2022, 11:30 PM
Running back/wide receiver/kick return specialist Deebo Samuel does everything for San Francisco! After losing five of their first eight games, the Niners flexed Samuel to running back in mid-November, and the dynamic playmaker changed their fortunes.
San Francisco enters on a 9-2 run, including a pair of wins over the LA Rams, and the defense is performing at a high level.
LA has won seven of eight, and when it comes to the pass rush, no team does it better. Their pressure disrupted Tom Brady and Kyler Murray in the first two playoff games. The Rams also marched up and down the field against stout defenses (800-plus combined yards), sprinting out to commanding leads.
The Rams are a threat to jump on San Francisco early, crushing their last three opponents by a 58-6 margin in the first half. However, leads can’t be considered safe, as the Rams have been outscored 59-30 in the second half of those contests.
Giveaways became a serious bugaboo late in the season — the Rams lost five fumbles and Matt Stafford threw eight interceptions over the previous six games. LA nearly self-destructed in the Divisional Round, blowing a 27-3 third-quarter lead against Tampa Bay, and prevailed 30-27 on the final play. Mistakes will cost them in the NFC championship.
San Francisco rallied from a 17-point deficit against LA in Week 18, and Jimmy Garoppolo proved clutch, leading an 88-yard drive to force overtime. It’s easy to overlook the quarterback, as San Francisco will lean on the ground game and defense, but Garoppolo has completed 74.5% of his passes in two games against the Rams this season.
The Niners have stepped up defensively in the postseason, holding two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses (Dallas and Green Bay) well below their average, and they know how to beat the Rams, winning six straight over the divisional rival.