With the NFL conference championships approaching this weekend, football fans from around the world are gearing up to tune in to some of the most highly anticipated games. Only three games remain to determine who goes home with the Lombardi.
Of the four teams remaining, only two teams, one from each conference, will make it through the weekend to compete in the most-watched sporting event in the United States: the Super Bowl. To duel it out, the National Football Conference (NFC) championship will have the San Francisco 49ers traveling to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles to face the Los Angeles Rams. On the other side of the country, the American Football Conference (AFC) will have the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to the home of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Writers of The News-Letter Sports section came together to predict the outcome of these games. Each writer cast their vote and based on the results, writers Alex Forlenza, Christopher Xiao, Cynthia Hu, Josh Felton and Tad Berkery came together as a panel to provide commentary.
NFC Championship Picks
Of the six Sports section writers, five voted that the Rams would win over the 49ers.
Christopher Xiao: The 49ers’ Jimmy “Jimmy G” Garoppolo is the worst quarterback (QB) remaining in the playoffs. Matthew Stafford is the superior QB and the Rams’ defense will capitalize on Garoppolo’s mistakes.
Josh Felton: After seeing Stafford make big throws in the divisional-round game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I feel comfortable shaking off his poor performances in the last few games. The Rams were also effective at stopping the run last week. Although San Francisco is a much harder offense to game plan for, the Rams have the playmakers to make it happen. Lastly, we have seen that QB play has been the deciding factor in most of these playoff games. If I had to put my trust in a QB next week, let it be Stafford over Garoppolo.
Alex Forlenza: The Rams have the best defensive talent left in the playoffs, and Cooper Kupp is ridiculous. Kudos to the Niners for turning it around but they win in spite of Jimmy G, so unless Trey Lance plays, “Go Rams.”
Cynthia Hu: As a generational 49ers fan, I have to stay faithful. Although it will be hard to beat the Rams again, making the Niners 7-0 against the Los Angeles team, I think they can pull it off. In five of the six victories past, the 49ers were underdogs and have historically played better in that position. Additionally, they’ve already rolled past the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. After beating Stafford twice this season, who’s to say they can’t do it again? Additionally, I firmly believe that the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan is a more versatile coach compared to the Rams’ Sean McVay, who likes to spend his time celebrating early touchdowns in the endzone of a game that he ultimately loses. Objectively speaking, this game will really depend on which QB makes the least amount of mistakes, but I’ll put my faith in Jimmy G.
AFC Championship Picks
For the AFC, all six sportswriters voted that the Chiefs would outplay the Bengals.
Christopher Xiao: Patrick Mahomes from the Chiefs will outduel the Bengals’ Joe Burrow. Burrow’s offensive line is not good and he will be pressured by the Kansas City defense.
Josh Felton: The Bengals played an amazing game last week, coming up with crucial defensive plays to set Burrow and Evan McPherson up for the game-winning drive. Despite Burrow's dominance, nine sacks given up by the offensive line are very concerning. The Chiefs will not make matters easier for this offensive line and Mahomes will force the Bengals to match them drive for drive. I don't think the Bengals are capable of that.
Tad Berkery: Burrow is great, but Mahomes just showed everyone that he doesn’t lose playoff games. Mahomes is a stud and his team has way more experience and probably a little more talent as well. The Bengals will be great in time, but the Chiefs will hold on this year!
Alex Forlenza: Burrow hurt my feelings twice this year. Also any offense that can score in 13 seconds is my pick almost of all the time.
Tune in on Sunday, Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. EST for the Bengals-Chiefs game and the same day at 6:30 p.m. EST for the Niners-Rams game.