NFL Championship Games picks: who will win Burrow-Mahomes Part IV?

<span>Photograph: Jeff Dean/AP</span>
Photograph: Jeff Dean/AP

There will be plenty of drama on Championship Sunday but no real upsets, whoever wins – any of the four remaining teams could go on to win the Super Bowl. So take these predictions with a giant grain of salt. Every team has a real shot at the title.

NFC Championship Game (San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday 3pm EST/8pm GMT)

Story of the season: The San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles have established themselves as the best teams in the NFC, although the former has faced slightly more adversity. The Niners went 13-4 in the regular season despite losing two starting quarterbacks to injury: first Trey Lance and then Jimmy Garoppolo. When Brock Purdy, the final pick of the 2022 draft stepped in, he was even better than the men he replaced. Meanwhile, the Eagles clinched the NFC’s best record in the regular season by going 14-3 and they may have had an even more impressive record had Jalen Hurts not missed time due to a shoulder injury down the stretch. Their regular season success allowed them to enjoy a bye week before demolishing the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Related: The craziest thing about Brock Purdy’s improbable rise? The praise is deserved

What the 49ers need to do to win: The 49ers defense will have to limit Hurts. The quarterback can harm opposing teams both with his legs and with his arms, so the Niners’ stout defense, which allowed 6.4 yards per pass attempt and an NFL-low 3.4 yards per carry during the regular season, will have to work overtime to limit the damage he can do.

What the Eagles need to do to win: They need to forget about that 38-7 victory over the Giants and play like underdogs. The San Francisco defense is too good for this to be a blowout and it’s clear that their offense can score no matter who is under center. San Francisco would like nothing better than to catch them flat-footed early.

Key player for the 49ers: George Kittle, TE. One of the reasons that Purdy has been a success is that the Niners have given him a host of weapons, including Kittle who has the capacity to catch balls that just don’t seem catchable.

Key player for the Eagles: Jake Elliott, PK. After watching the Cowboys’ Brett Maher struggle with the yips in the postseason, it’s undeniable that a reliable kicker can change the entire complexion of a team. Elliott made five field goals in the NFC East-clinching victory over the Giants at the end of the regular season. In a tight game, he will be crucial.

Jalen Hurts has enjoyed a breakout season for the Eagles
Jalen Hurts has enjoyed a breakout season for the Eagles. Photograph: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Prediction: Eagles over 49ers. The final score will be far closer than 38-7, but the Eagles proved last weekend that they are the more dominant of these two teams. Expect the 49ers to give Philadelphia all they can take, with the Eagles squeaking through at home by the slimmest of margins. It may come down to the final possession – or even overtime.

AFC Championship Game (Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 6.30pm EST/11.30pm GMT)

Story of the season: The Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3 in the regular season, thus earning the all-important bye week in the AFC. In their first postseason game, they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 despite the fact that quarterback Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle during the game and missed part of the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals, who upset the Chiefs in last year’s AFC title game, had to take the scenic route after going a mere 12-4 in the regular season. They defeated the Baltimore Ravens 24-17 at home and, even more impressively, took on the Buffalo Bills on the road and beat them 27-10.

What the Bengals need to do to win: The offensive line has to prove that their remarkable performance against the Jaguars wasn’t a fluke. On Sunday, Cincinnati’s slapped-together o-line did a masterful job protecting Burrow, who was only sacked once. It’s not certain whether either Alex Cappa or Jonah Williams will return, so their backups may need to come up with a repeat performance against a defense that will be better prepared than the Bills.

What the Chiefs need to do to win: Mahomes needs to be at least 80% of his best. It was remarkable when Mahomes returned in the second half against the Jaguars with a high ankle sprain and led the Chiefs to victory, but if he’s still hobbled it’s going to be tricky to beat a Bengals team that has been in this position before.

Key player for the Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB. Let’s not overthink this one. Burrow had 35 touchdowns in the regular season, tied for second place, and 4,475 passing yards. He’s also in just his third season as a pro even though his playoff success makes one think he’s been around longer. It’s quite possible that we are somehow underrating Burrow.

Key player for the Chiefs: Chris Jones, DT. If it comes down to the Chiefs defense v the Bengals offense, Jones could end up being the difference maker. In the 2022 regular season, Jones had 15 and a half sacks although, oddly enough, he has yet to have one in the playoffs across his entire career. Sunday would be the ideal time for his first.

Prediction: Bengals over Chiefs. If Mahomes were healthy, it would be difficult to pick against the Chiefs at home despite the fact that he is 1-3 against Burrow’s Cincinnati in his career, including that memorable collapse during last year’s AFC Championship Game. It doesn’t look as if he will be, however, so there’s a very real possibility that his record will fall to 1-4. Either way, we could be seeing one of the NFL’s all-time great rivalries blossoming in front of us.