Matchup Breakdown: Conference Championship Sunday

If the last few weeks of playoff football are any indication of how Super Bowl LVI is gonna be, we’re in for a really good one. An incredibly intense divisional round weekend full of upsets and heartbreak has led us to Conference Championship Weekend. A Heisman winner vs a Super Bowl winner. A quarterback looking for Super Bowl redemption vs a quarterback looking to stay extend his newly found playoff winning streak. There’s plenty to look forward to this Sunday, so let’s break it down so you don’t miss a thing.

Bengals vs Chiefs, 3:00 PM EST on 1/30

Joe Burrow is on a run for the ages. After a gruesome, season-ending knee injury last season, Burrow has been able to put the team on his back and carry them to the AFC Championship. He was able to lead his team to victory in an intense back-and-forth battle against the Chiefs back in week 17. Here are three things about Joe Burrow and his Bengals that can help lead them to another victory on Sunday.

  1. Converting on third down – On the season, the Kansas City defense has allowed approximately a 40% conversion on third down. As for the Bengals, they have converted on third down approximately 39% of the time. The Bengals need to seize this consistency on Sunday.
  2. Getting to Mahomes – The Cincinatti defense had 42 sacks in the regular season, compared to the Chiefs 31. The Chiefs however have only allowed 28 sacks this season. It’s crucial that the Bengals break through the Kansas City offensive line, because it becomes incredibly dangerous when you aren’t able to contain Mahomes.
  3. Avoiding turnovers – The Chiefs had a +4 turnover ratio in the regular season. The Bengals need to be extra aware of ball handling on Sunday. A positive turnover differential for Kansas City could make this game for them and send Cincinatti home packing.

The Chiefs find themselves in Super Bowl contention yet again. After an abysmal performance in last year’s Super Bowl, it’s clear that they’re looking for redemption. If they want to get one step closer to adding another Lombardi trophy to their case, here are three things they need to focus on for Sunday.

  1. Passing over rushing – The Bengals have allowed 26 passing touchdowns this regular season, in comparison to 15 rushing touchdowns. The Chiefs have 37 passing touchdowns, in comparison to 16 rushing touchdowns. It’s practically a no-brainer at this point. They’re gonna need every point they can get in this game, and staying in the air gives them the best chance.
  2. Limit penalties – The Chiefs have earned first downs off of penalties and given opponents first downs off of penalties the same amount of times at 33. It’s a conference championship game, tensions are going to be incredibly high. Obviously there are some penalties you can prevent, and there will most likely be questionable call or two. But avoiding preventable penalities at all costs should be crucial to their gameplan.
  3. Limiting yards per play – The Chiefs defense surrened an average of 5.9 yards per play during the regular season, the exact same number of average yards the Bengals picked up on offense during the regular season. Keeping Mahomes on the field as long as possible is necessary, and limiting gains and forcing Cincinatti into third-and-long situations is crucial in acheiving that goal.

49ers vs Rams, 6:30 PM EST on 1/30

The 49ers have found themselves to be in Super Bowl contention yet again. After a 31-20 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco and their fans are hoping for a chance at redemption. This is the third time the 49ers will face off against the Rams this season, after beating their NFC West rival in both meetings during the regular season. If they want to make it three times, here are three things they’ll need to do

  1. No turnovers allowed – The 49ers had a -4 turnover ratio during the regular season, in comparison to the Rams +2 turnover ratio. Avoidable mistakes could prove to be very costly to the 49ers, and could very likely be the deciding factor on who’s playing on February 13th and who’s watching from the couch.
  2. Don’t let Stafford get comfortable – The Rams have given up 31 sacks this regular season, compared the 49ers defense getting 48 sacks this season, 7 of those beings against the Rams. Pressuring Stafford is arguably the best way to avoid a game-changing, explosive play.
  3. Keep the ball in the air – San Francisco averaged a whopping 8.6 yards in the air this season. The Rams defense gave up an average of 7.2 yards per play in the air, but are much more stingy on the ground, allowing only an avergae of 4 yards per rush. The 49ers have a much better chance of scoring if they try not to rely too much on the rush.

Matt Stafford is on the run of his career. In his first year with the Rams, he earned his first playoff win and is only two wins away from that elusive Lombardi trophy. Here are three things he and his team should do on Sunday if they want to advance.

  1. Keep the gains big – We’ve all seen how explosive this Rams offense has been, and they better not slow down now. They averaged 6 yards per play on offense this year, 8.1 yards in the air and 4 yards on the ground. Setting themselves up for as few 3rd and long conversions as possible is one of the most likely paths to victory.
  2. Defensive scoring – The Rams got their first defensive touchdown of the season in the Wild Card round against the Cardinals with David Long Jr.’s 3 yard pick six. Facing off against a team with a negative turnover differential provides this Rams team with a fantastic opportunity to score directly off of takeaways.
  3. Control the clock – Los Angeles averaged 29:03 time of possession in the regular season, compared to the 31:25 average time of possession that their opponents had. Being able to control the clock and win the time of possession battle is crucial to victory in what could very likely become a game that goes down to the final seconds.

No matter what the outcomes are on Sunday, it’s sure to be a great day of football. With all of the excitement the playoffs have given us this year, any possible Super Bowl matchup is bound to keep us all on the edges of our seats. These are definitely games that you do not want to miss!

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