The NFL is undoubtedly in for a great football weekend. This weekend’s conference title game features arguably the best four teams of the entire season, based on 12-plus wins per team.
It was the sixth time in NFL history that all four conference champion teams have won 12 or more regular-season games, the first since the 2015 season and the third since 1998. Since 1996, all four quarterbacks were under the age of 28 for their first starts in the conference championship game.
Two teams have 10-plus win streaks (San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals), while two others have 14-plus wins (Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs). The matchups can go anywhere, and any of the four potential Super Bowl matchups will feature worthy opponents.
So, who will represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl? The two title games are close, but some mismatches could give certain teams an advantage on Sunday. Here are six of Sunday’s biggest mistakes in the championship game, starting at the bottom and working their way up to No. 1.
6. Chiefs vs. Bengals in fourth quarter
Advantage: Bengal tiger
The Chiefs have lost their last three games against the Bengals by a total of nine points. Kansas City has lost three of each game, leading in the fourth quarter each time.
The Chiefs trailed 6-26 in the fourth quarter and three-game overtime, showing a major difference in quarterback play late in the game. In those games, Joe Burrow completed 80 percent of his passes for 257 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (passing grade of 110.7), while Patrick Mahomes completed for 111 yards Completing 71.4 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and one interception (63.8 rating).
If the Chiefs take a fourth-quarter lead in this game, they’ll be battling their own demons to see if they can keep their lead this time around.
Advantage: catch up
Chase had numbers for the Chiefs in the three conferences they faced. He had 417 receiving yards in three games against Kansas City, the most in three games against the Chiefs since Lance Alworth in 1965-66 players.
When Joe Burrow targeted Chase against the Chiefs, the Bengals quarterback went 24-of-29 for 417 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 144.0 passer rating (14.4 yards per attempt). In the second half of those games, Chase had 14 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns (17.4 yards per catch).
In those three games, the Chiefs’ secondary players had trouble defending Chase. It’s a good bet that Burrow targets his No. 1 receiver.
Advantage: 49ers under pressure
Hertz hasn’t had the best passing numbers this season when he’s under pressure — arguably a weak spot in his game. He completed 44.4 percent of his passes for 597 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer grade of 66.8. Hertz ranks 25th among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage and yards per attempt (5.4). He ranks 16th in passer rating in that category.
The 49ers rank 12th in the NFL in pressure percentage (34.4 percent) and have the fifth-best pass rate in the league (according to Pro Football Focus). The defense will make sure to pressure Hertz and try to exploit his weaknesses.
3. Jalen Hurts’ deep pass defense vs. 49ers
If the offensive line can protect the best deep-ball quarterback in the league, Hertz, the Eagles’ passing offense has a golden opportunity. Hertz is the only quarterback this season (including the playoffs) to complete 50 percent of his passes for 25 yards or more, passing for 798 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception (125.0 grade). He leads the NFL in passing touchdowns and passing yards scored over 25 yards.
That’s a problem for a 49ers defense — which struggles with deep ball coverage — that ranks 25th in completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passers scored on passes of 25 or more yards downfield. bit or worse. The 49ers allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 41 percent of their passes for 687 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, and had a passer rating of 106.6 on passes of 25 or more yards.
If Hurts had the time, he could make the 49ers pay with AJ Brown and Devonta Smith.
2. Patrick Mahomes vs. Bengals ‘D’ when they rush to three or fewer
Advantage: bengals defense
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anuramo may have the blueprint for beating Mahomes — without flooding him with defenders. When Mahomes faced three defenders on the pass rush (Anuramo’s defense dropped eight), Mahomes was passing just 52 percent of the time, averaging 5.2 yards per pass with a passer rating of 66.7.
Mahomes completed 72 percent of his passes for an average of 8.3 yards per pass and a passer grade of 112.0 when the Bengals rushed to four or more defenders. Mahomes does have a passer rating of 112.9 when eight defenders are on the floor this season and ranks second in the NFL in touchdown passes when under pressure this season (13).
It could be a double-edged sword for Cincinnati this week, but Anuramo has shown in previous games that he can make some against Mahomes when he drives to the 3. success.
1. Brock Purdy vs. Eagles pass rush
Advantage: Eagles pass rush
Purdy hasn’t faced a pass rush as dominant this season as the Eagles, the only team in the NFL with a sack rate above 10 percent (11.7 percent) and the second-best pressure rate (38.4 percent) team. The 70 sacks in the regular season are tied for the third most in a single season in NFL history (their 75 sacks in the regular season and playoffs are third). The Eagles are the first team in NFL history to have four different players record 10 or more sacks in a single season (Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham).
Purdy battled the pressure in a divisional win over the Cowboys, going 3-for-11 for 14 yards with a passer rating of 39.6 (2.2 yards per attempt). That’s his first six starts under pressure, as Purdy completed 54 percent of his passes for an average of 8.3 yards per carry and a passer rating of 121.2.
In none of those starts, Purdy faced a top-five defense in pressure rate — and just one top-10 defense in pressure rate (that team missed the playoffs). The Eagles have shown they can find a quarterback and have the personnel on the secondary offense to support a dominant pass rush.
Things didn’t go well for Purdy last week when he faced a top-five defense in pressure rate. Will he improve against a defense that has averaged 5.1 sacks per game over the past nine games — on the road — in similar situations?