Who the Chiefs could play if they make the Super Bowl. And who they might want to play

Tony Avelar/AP

A caveat as an opener.

There’s not where we typically begin these columns, but it’s a requirement for this one. The Chiefs have to win Sunday against the Bengals for any of what follows to matter, and the betting market equates that to slightly better than a coin-flip.

You won’t hear the Chiefs comment on the NFC Championship Game between the Eagles and the 49ers — in fact, Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster claimed Wednesday that he hadn’t even yet thought about playing in the AFC Championship Game in which he will appear Sunday.

There’s an implied eye roll in response, but, hey, that’s their approach. It doesn’t have to be ours.

With the AFC game serving as the late window Sunday, the winner of the Chiefs-Bengals game will know whom they face the moment the clock expires.

From a narrative standpoint, if the Chiefs win, either of the potential Super Bowl opponents would be intriguing. It’s either a rematch of Super Bowl LIV, or we’ve got head coach Andy Reid facing his old team, the Eagles, and the Kelce brothers playing one another for a ring.

Frankly, as difficult as it will be for the Chiefs to get past Cincinnati on Sunday, it won’t ease up two weeks later in Glendale, Arizona. The 49ers and Eagles have been among the small handful of elite teams all year.

Let’s explore how.

Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, NFC East champion, No. 1 seed)

If you judge it by the Vegas win totals, the Chiefs overachieved more than any team in football except one.

The Eagles.

They are the sport’s best surprise, and there’s a whole host of directions in which to point. The Eagles have the No. 2 defense in the NFL, though they are No. 1 on a per-play basis.

To put it simply, there hasn’t been a team tougher on quarterbacks than the Eagles — they have the No. 1-ranked pass defense and they lapped the field in sacks. They recorded 70 sacks this season, 15 more than the second-place Chiefs. Four players had at least 11 sacks — Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham.

But they’re also quite good in the secondary. James Bradberry and Darius Slay are rated among the league’s top 22 cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, and the Eagles anticipate corner Avonte Maddox returning to action this weekend.

Basically, the only spot where teams seem to get them is by throwing to secondary options, which might be a silver lining for the Chiefs, who rebuilt their offense this past offseason to eliminate weaknesses at the expense of one top-tier strength.

The offense isn’t a walk-over, either. The receivers have brand names, with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith combining for 2692 yards, but Football Outsiders grades the Eagles as having the best rushing offense in the NFL. And that’s before factoring in that Jalen Hurts finished fourth among quarterbacks with 760 rushing yards. The Eagles have a unique blocking scheme that is really tough for interior linemen, which would be an intriguing matchup for Chris Jones, if that’s what it comes to be.

There’s not a lot of holes to poke in the roster, but, hey, there’s a reason this team is 14-3.

• Difficulty rating: 9/10

San Francisco 49ers (13-4, NFC West champion, No. 2 seed)

One of these teams is not like the other.

In most years, the conference championships are a showcase for the game’s best quarterbacks.

The 49ers are operating with a third-string rookie, Brock Purdy, the final pick of the last spring’s draft. And get this: San Francisco has the No. 1 pass offense in football since Week 2, as graded by Football Outsiders.

A few weeks ago, Travis Kelce remarked that Andy Reid could “get my dad open.” It would appear Kyle Shanahan fits that description too — because Purdy has a 67.1 completion percentage, same as Patrick Mahomes, despite being -2.0% completion percentage over expectation, per Next Gen Stats. Christian McCaffrey has helped. He’s totaled 1,200 yards in 11 games since his October acquisition.

Oh, and then there’s the defense.

Don’t be fooled by what the Chiefs did to them in Week 7, which remains Andy Reid’s best game plan of the season: He used the 49ers’ downhill speed against them with horizontal speed to the edges. The Chiefs put up 529 yards that afternoon in California. The Raiders, oddly enough, also put up 500 yards on the 49ers, but no other team has amassed more than 349 against them.

Overall, the 49ers allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL. They were also second against the run. If there’s a spot you can get them, it’s deep into the secondary — you might remember the Chiefs taking advantage of this in that mid-season meeting, with Mahomes finding Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a skinny post.

• Difficulty rating: 9/10