We are now in the NFL Final Four and by the end of this weekend we will know what the Super Bowl LVII matchup in Arizona will be like.
As usual, we’re expecting some crazy things when these conference championship games begin. So here we are again with our bold predictions: three for the NFC and AFC title games.
NFC Championship Game: 49ers at Eagles
Brock Purdy fights mightily, throws two interceptions
Brock Purdy accomplished the miraculous: from the last pick of 2022 and a third-string quarterback to 7-0 as the San Francisco 49ers, the quarterback with a 116.0 passer rating in that span since Week 14, the highest in the NFL, starts the best passer rating by a 49ers player in seven games since Steve Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996-97. It’s remarkable. One of his most impressive traits is his ball security with 14 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, none of them in the playoffs.
However, Purdy’s perfect run will come to a halt when he bursts into flames in Philadelphia on Sunday against the Eagles, the team with the most sacks in football this season, 75 including the playoffs (third-most in a singles). season in NFL history including the postseason) and the second highest pressure rate in the NFL (39%). The rookie had performed well under pressure in his first six starts and registered a 121.2 passer rating under pressure.
However, when he faced Defensive Player of the Year finalist Micah Parsons and the Dallas Cowboys frontline, Purdy floundered completing just three of his 11 passes as he was pressured to post a 39.6 passer rating. The Eagles’ pass rush should be even more difficult for the 49ers’ offensive line to control because it’s not primarily focused on one player. Philadelphia has four players with double-digit sacks this season — linebacker Haason Reddick (16.0), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (11.0), defensive end Josh Sweat (11.0), and defensive end Brandon Graham (11.0) — most in NFL history.
* Eagles: Second highest rate of pressure (39%) and most sacks (75) this season
When Purdy makes his eighth career start on Sunday, he will become the fifth rookie quarterback to start a conference championship game, joining Shaun King with the 1999 Buccaneers, Ben Roethlisberger with the 2004 Steelers, Joe Flacco with the 2008 Ravens and Mark Sanchez on the 2009 Jets. These quarterbacks went a combined 0-4 while throwing four passing touchdowns and interceptions. Purdy will take that record to 0-5 and add a few more interceptions to that cumulative box score.
Jalen Hurts has 4 total TDs, over 350 total yards
The 49ers’ defense is the best in the NFL in terms of scoring — 16.3 points per game allowed — and total yards allowed — 300.6 yards allowed per game — but much of what they do depends on the sacks leader NFL defensive end Nick, starting at Bosa (18.5), build pressure and bust open sacks. This defense will be in for a bit of whiplash after facing a week ago against a Dallas Cowboys team that was mostly without their best running back (Tony Pollard) and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who only has eyes for a wide receiver , CeeDee Lamb, had .
Her challenge this week for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, one of three quarterbacks in NFL history with a combined 3,500 passing yards and 750+ rushing yards in a single season, introduces San Francisco’s vaunted defense as a true double a completely different set of problems -threat. Also, the Eagles can mitigate the 49ers’ prolific passing rush with the best offensive line in football.
Eagles offensive line success this season
Individual offensive linemen combined have the fewest sacks (14) and pressure rate (3.5%) allowed this season
Center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson didn’t allow sacks between the two
1st in Pass Block Class and 3rd in Run Block Class, according to Pro Football Focus
The entire offensive line was selected for the Pro Bowl or selected as a replacement
Hurts and the Eagles are one of the most diverse offenses in the NFL, having either 300+ passing yards or 200+ rushing yards in five of Jalen Hurts’ last six starts. In short, they pretty much took turns hitting teams through the air and on the ground. This week it seems like the air is moving.
Eagles yardage in Hurts has started since week 12
Another reason Hurts was quick for yards on Sunday is that this season he led the NFL in completion rate (50%), passing touchdowns, and passer rating on throws of 25 or more yards in bottom field . On the other hand, the 49ers were one of the worst deep passing defenses in the league, finishing 25th or worse in all of the above categories.
Over 25 yards downfield this season, including playoffs
* Leads NFL; ** 25th or worse in the NFL
Between great protection up front and a vulnerable 49ers secondary, Jalen Hurts will roll against the 49ers for a total of four touchdowns and over 350 yards.
AJ Brown has nothing to complain about, gets 150+ yards, TD
AJ Brown seemed visibly upset on the Eagles sideline as Philadelphia beat the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round. He had just three catches for 22 yards in a run-heavy approach that night. However, it will be a smile for Brown, whose 1,496 receiving yards this season set the Eagles’ single-season record, as he takes on the aforementioned vulnerable 49ers underling
He had seven touchdowns from 25 or more air yards this season, which ranks second for any player in a season since air yards were first recorded in 2006. He will add a lot to this sum.
Most have received TDs on throws 25+ yards down since 2006
In addition to being an underperforming deep-passing defense this season, the 49ers have struggled to keep up with opposing wideouts all season, as they rank 25th or below in numerous categories, while Jalen Hurts is one of the top- 10 passers is when he throws to receivers, including Brown and DeVonta Smith, the first Eagles receiver duo to each receive 1,000 yards in the same season in team history.
NFL rankings for WRs this season
Despite being the league with the best scoring and yardage defenses, the 49ers have allowed their opponents’ top wide receiver to rush for 100 yards in three of their last four games. Brown will easily do this and score a touchdown or two.
100-yard wide receiver vs. 49ers since week 17
Week 17 at Raiders
Wild card round against Seahawks
Division round against Cowboys
AFC Championship Game: Bengals at Chiefs
Travis Kelce sets postseason single game reception record
Everyone on earth knows that 2022 first-team All-Pro tightend Travis Kelce will catch a lot of passes at a Kansas City Chiefs football game. He has led all tight ends in catches (110), yards (1,338) and touchdowns (12) this season and is on track to become one of the most prolific postseason passcatchers in NFL history.
His 120 playoff receptions are the second-highest all-time behind only receiving GOAT Jerry Rice (120); his 1,389 playoff receiving yards is third all-time with Rob Gronkowski; and his 14 touchdowns received is the third-most all-time, but he’ll jump to second in that category with just two more points behind only Rice.
Kelce caught 14 passes a week ago in Kansas City’s divisional round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, tied for the third most in a playoff game all-time and one just short of a single-game record, for 98 yards and two touchdowns. With Mahomes less than 100%, he’ll have to rely even more on his security blanket as he won’t be able to use his scrambling magic to create that many passing lanes. In the end, Kelce is threatening the NFL’s all-time singles-game record with 20 receptions, one fewer than former Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s 21 he had in Week 14 of the 2009 season against the Colts.
Ja’Marr Chase torches KC again (10 catches, 200 yards, 2 TDs)
Only one wide receiver has dominated the Chiefs like Ja’Marr Chase: Hall of Famer Lance Alworth. Joe Burrow’s Bengal connection to Chase was one that Kansas City has yet to slow down in the teams’ last three encounters, all Cincinnati wins. Burrow has completed over 80% of his passes to his former collegiate teammate for over 400 yards and four touchdowns in the Bengals’ three-game winning streak from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Joe Burrow takes aim for Ja’Marr Chase vs. Chiefs
* Most rec yards by any player in 3 games against the Chiefs since Lance Alworth in 1965-66
Chase’s three-game dominance at Chiefs Secondary was more productive than what Hall of Famer John Stallworth had in his best three-game stretch against Kansas City or Hall of Famer John Elway’s best wideout, Rod Smith, in his best three could do -game span against their rivals AFC West.
Most yards in 3 games against the Chiefs all-time*
* Including playoffs
The Chiefs Secondary allowed the most touchdowns (33) in the league this regular season and the second-highest touchdown rate in the red zone (67.3%), ahead only of the Indianapolis Colts (67.9%). Faced with one of the NFL’s most suspect secondaries, Sunday’s Burrow-to-Chase connection is set to hit big time and time again.
Burrow throws winning TD by less than 13 seconds, doesn’t give Mahomes enough time
Last postseason, Patrick Mahomes did what seemed impossible and marched Kansas City through the field to level the AFC divisional round matchup against the Buffalo Bills after a touchdown pass from Josh Allen gave the Bills a 36-second 13 seconds left. 33 lead. Lightning doesn’t usually strike twice, and it won’t do so this postseason either. The game will be tied late in the fourth quarter, just as it has been in each of the last three Bengals-Chiefs games, and Joe Burrow will throw a touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the game to break the tie and give the Bengals one Seven Point Edge. Mahomes was able to put Kansas City within field goal range in 13 seconds against Buffalo, but he won’t be able to run the entire length of the field in nearly the same amount of time. Thanks to Joe Cool, the Bengals will hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy at Arrowhead Stadium for the second straight season.