The four teams that will compete in the two conference finals will be led by quarterbacks whose backgrounds are inspiring in different ways. It’s defense, however, that will make the difference in favor of the Bengals and the Eagles going to the 57e super bowl
• Also read: Road to the Super Bowl: Reformatted Champions
• Also read: Tua Tagovailoa and concussions: it never stops
• Also read: Patrick Mahomes will be at his post on Sunday
There’s Patrick Mahomes, who reached the American Conference Finals for the fifth straight year.
There’s Joe Burrow, who is the Chiefs’ Kryptonite with three wins in just over a year and is coming into his own.
There’s Brock Purdy, the final overall pick in last spring’s draft, whose story has fans stunned.
There’s Jalen Hurts, the modern prototype of the athletic quarterback wreaking havoc.
Despite the presence of all these beautiful people, the defense will dictate the score at the Super Bowl on February 12 in Glendale.
The Bengalis again
Hard to bet against Mahomes and the Chiefs’ powerful attack, even more so knowing he’ll be in his kingdom in Kansas City. However, his ankle injury changes the picture.
A serious ankle sprain like the one he suffered usually takes a few weeks to heal. Mahomes isn’t Mahomes without his usual mobility. In the second half he was no match for the Jaguars last Saturday either.
Runner Isiah Pacheco took over, but the Bengals are seventh against the run. The Chiefs no longer have the pace of sunny days and could be handcuffed.
The Bengals’ defense was to plague Mahomes far more than the Jaguars. With a line-up featuring Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, DJ Reader and BJ Hill, the pressure could be overwhelming. Linebacker Logan Wilson has wings.
The Bengals have the bills limited to 10 counts in their own court. They’ve been going 3-0 in the playoffs since Joe Burrow’s arrival and are undeterred. In December, they also bottled Mahomes, who had enjoyed one of his least productive games of the season (223 yards, one touchdown).
The Bengals’ crippled offensive line allayed doubts last week, but stopping Chris Jones and Frank Clark might be harder than containing the Bills’ front.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has a knack for limiting damage against the Chiefs in every game. He will force the Chiefs into an overly conservative style.
In the National Conference Finals, the 49ers’ favorite quarterback Brock Purdy risks coming to terms with reality. He’s got a lot of credit for playing brilliantly so far, but he wasn’t at his best against the Cowboys.
The Eagles smell blood with four players on their defensive line claiming more than 10 quarterback sacks, including Haason Reddick with 16 and Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave with 11 each.
Additionally, the Eagles led the league with 70 quarterback sacks that season. Of course, the Niners’ offensive line with Trent Williams at the helm won’t let itself be crushed, but the task remains difficult.
Christian McCaffrey could have a big game on the ground for San Francisco with the Eagles only in midfield to slow the run, but the pass will have to be produced sooner or later.
The Eagles can run as well as pass and have two excellent receivers in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith who complement each other well.
At the end of the day, just like in 2017, their defensive line and offensive line will make the difference. This is the basis of their team and the recipe has proven itself five years ago.
It must be said that this is also the recipe for the 49ers, promising a hard-fought duel. Then you have to decide…
TOMORROW 3 PM
TOMORROW 6:30 p.m
♦ Results: Last week’s predictions 3 in 4 (75%) | Total this season: 182 in 280 (65%)
10 stories to watch
1. BAPTISM OF FIRE
Brock Purdy, of the 49ers, became the fifth rookie quarterback in history to earn a conference finals berth after Sean King (1999), Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009). How did they fare overall? Bad, very bad, with an overall record of 0-4 and nine interceptions.
The Chiefs and Bengals are in the same duel as last year Conference finals. Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow are both 27 and 26 years old. The last time two under-28 quarterbacks met back-to-back in the Conference Finals was in 1986 and 1987 with John Elway (Broncos) and Bernie Kosar (Browns).
3. MAHOMES’ ANKLE
Hurt ankle last Saturday Patrick Mahomes finished the game but was visibly bothered. He has accustomed us to his spectacular exits from the protective pouch, but his mobility will be a factor. Mahomes has bagged 15 of his 30 playoff touchdown passes in the past five years, according to CBS.
4. THE WALL OF THE NINERS
Since Demeco Ryans is the team’s defensive coordinator, last year the 49ers gave only two players 100 or more rushing yards in 39 games. Interestingly, one of those two players is Bears quarterback Justin Fields, who, by the way, is an athletic quarterback like Jalen Hurts.
5. JOE COOL
Nicknamed Joe Cool, the center of the Bengalis Joe Burrow has already won five playoff games in charge of the Bengal offense since arriving in Cincinnati three years ago. Unbelievable but true, the Bengals had won so many victories before his arrival…in 52 years of history! Her record before Burrow was 5-15.
6. HEADLIGHT DEFENSE
A rare phenomenon will occur in the game between the Eagles and the 49ers. The 49ers lead the league in defensive yards while the Eagle are second. This is only the third time in Conference Finals history that such a matchup has been presented, following the Cowboys versus the Rams in 1978 and the Ravens versus the Steelers in 2008.
This season, the 49ers started with Trey Lance in charge of offense. It has been replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo, who in turn was injured and then replaced by Brock Purdy. In NFL history, only one team has fielded three quarterbacks in the same season to win a conference finals: the 2016 Patriots, featuring Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
8. ON A ROLL
We often talk about a team’s famous dynamic as the Super Bowl approaches. This year the Bengal (10 straight wins) and 49ers (12 straight wins) have the wind in their sails. It’s the first time since 1976, when the Steelers and Raiders did the same thing, that two teams have had at least 10 consecutive wins in reaching the Conference Finals.
9. FROM BOTTOM TO THE SUMMIT
Only four coaches have reached the Super Bowl twice after winning just two games in their first year at the helm: Bill Walsh (49ers), Chuck Knoll (Steelers), Tom Landry (Cowboys), and Jimmy Johnson (Cowboys). ZacTaylor went 2-14 with the Bengals in his freshman season and is already aiming for a second Super Bowl appearance.
10. HOME LIVING
In the last nine editions of the playoffs, the local teams clear advantage, with an overall record of 14-4. The Chiefs and Eagles are the hosting clubs this year, but the Bengals were one of four teams who ruined the party in Kansas City last season.