Both games on Sunday were very eventful, to say the least. They each had their own set of controversies, which I'm going to break down here. Let's get straight to it, starting with the NFC Championship.
San Francisco 49ers 7
Philadelphia Eagles 31
The defining aspect of this game were the injuries suffered by the 49ers. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong from the very start for San Francisco. The opening drive for Philadelphia included what looked to be a phenomenal catch by Devonta Smith on 4th and three to set up an Eagles touchdown. But upon further review, the ball hit the ground, which had it been challenged, would have given the Niners the ball close to midfield in a scoreless game.
That play was an omen for what was to come for the remainder of the game. Brock Purdy was hit as he threw on San Fran's opening drive, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by the Eagles. But the worst part of the play was that Purdy suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him in favor of Josh Johnson, the fourth QB to play for Kyle Shanahan this season. San Francisco's defense held strong, though, and the 49ers tied the game at seven with over eight minutes to go in the first half. However, the Niners imploded at the end of the second quarter, allowing two touchdowns in the final two minutes after an unforced fumble by Johnson on a shotgun snap.
Things only got worse in the second half when Josh Johnson was knocked out of the game after suffering a concussion on the half's opening drive. While it appeared as though Christian McCaffrey was going to sub in as the emergency quarterback to run wildcat for the rest of the game, Brock Purdy re-entered instead. However, Purdy hardly even attempted a pass in the second half, and it was obvious that his arm wouldn't allow him to do anything down the field. The 49ers became totally one-dimensional and the Eagles defense took advantage, stifling the Niners for the remainder of the game on their way to a 31-7 victory.
While San Francisco's QB situation greatly contributed to the wide margin of this game, it's still clear that the Eagles are for real. Even with a healthy Brock Purdy, the 49ers weren't going to come close to 30 points offensively. Philly's defensive line caused havoc the whole game, and the offensive line gave Jalen Hurts plenty of time to throw against an elite Niners pass rush. The Eagles return to their their first Super Bowl since their magical 2018 run, and they open as slight favorites this time. However, they should finally be tested as they face an elite quarterback for the first time this postseason. Still, I'd love my chances if I were an Eagles fan.
As for the 49ers, they have a lot to consider regarding what direction to go at the quarterback position. They still have both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster, but it's impossible to ignore what Brock Purdy accomplished in his stretch as starter. They could also possibly pursue Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers if they want to go the path of a proven veteran. The roster is set up to win at every other position if they can get solid, consistent quarterback play. And if they were able to get an elite QB, they'd become virtually unstoppable. It was an extremely impressive performance by the entire organization to get the NFC Championship on a third-string quarterback, but there are major questions to answer in the offseason.
Now, let's discuss the AFC Championship game.
Cincinnati Bengals 20
Kansas City Chiefs 23
This game really accelerated the "NFL is rigged" conspiracy theories, and I understand why. The biggest contributor to the outrage occurred when the Chiefs seemingly were handed an extra third down after they failed to convert and were lining up to punt. Apparently, the original third down play had been blown dead prior to the start of it, but no one heard it or made it known until there were about 10 seconds on the play clock with both teams' punting units out on the field for fourth down. Then, Eli Apple was called for a defensive hold on the ensuing actual third down, giving the Chiefs an automatic first down. Zac Taylor was beside himself, and justifiably so. However, Kansas City's drive did stall just a few plays later and the Bengals got the ball back with no real damage done.
There were other controversial penalties called on Cincinnati (or ignored by Kansas City) in the third and fourth quarter, but none were bigger than the late hit Joseph Ossai delivered on Patrick Mahomes as he stepped out of bounds on a scramble for a first down around midfield. The penalty gave the Chiefs an extra 15 yards with just eight seconds to play, putting them in range for Harrison Butker to drill a 45-yarder to win the game. It's possible the Chiefs would have connected on a quick out route to get in field goal range without that penalty, but with just eight seconds and no timeouts, the game likely would have gone to overtime had the late hit not occurred.
I thought the officiating was bad in both games and favored the home teams, but I also thought the penalties called on both teams were justifiably made. The odd extra down the Chiefs seemingly received was inexcusable, but it really didn't have an effect on the outcome. I was mostly disappointed in the fact that the officiating overshadowed what was a really entertaining game between the unquestioned two best teams in the AFC. This is a matchup that we're probably going to see several times over the next decade or more between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
I was on the Chiefs to win from the start, as I thought the Law of Averages would kick in after Joe Burrow and Cincinnati won the last three matchups between the two. I also hated how overconfident Bengals fans were, as even the Mayor of Cincinnati tried to jokingly rename Arrowhead Stadium to Burrowhead Stadium and requested Burrow take a paternity test to see if he was Mahomes' father. I mean, why are you talking so much trash to the most talented quarterback and best team in the league, who was out for revenge and seemingly underestimated for much of this season. While I feel bad for the players (especially Burrow and Ossai), I thought the city of Cincinnati deserved the outcome of that game last night.
With that said, the Bengals are in fine shape going forward. They just need to draft or acquire quality offensive linemen in the offseason. The o-line is Cincinnati's biggest weakness by far, and they allowed Burrow to get sacked five times last night (three through the first two drives of the game). Still, they had a chance to win on their last drive. You're not going to win them all, and this is just going to be a back-and-forth series between the Chiefs and Bengals. Cincinnati should see multiple conference championships and Super Bowl appearances in Joe Burrow's career, with at least one Lombardi Trophy to come out of it as well.
Regardless of how they accomplished it, the Chiefs survived on their home field and advance to their third Super Bowl in four seasons. They'll look to avenge their most recent Super Bowl performance when they were trounced by the Buccaneers 31-9. And I think they'll do much better this time around. Patrick Mahomes will have two weeks to heal up his ankle and hopefully their receivers will recover in that time as well. The Eagles look like world beaters right now, but they've also had the benefit of facing mediocre quarterbacks thus far. Even with a bum ankle, Mahomes and Travis Kelce is a combination that's just a different animal to try to contain.
It's clear that we had the four best teams this season in the conference championships and the two best teams now in the Super Bowl. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs deserve their spot and I can't wait to see them battle in Glendale on February 12.
I probably won't put out any articles in the next week unless a major story breaks as we wait for Super Bowl LVII in 13 days. But check back in the days leading up to the big game where I'll post my predictions for the Super Bowl and my favorite betting plays for the contest.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.