It’s time to preview the NFL Championship Games this weekend, and here are four keys to watch with the conference titles on the line.
4. Chiefs have to get pressure with four
The Kansas City Chiefs are better than a touchdown favorite in their AFC title game matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. This despite losing to the Queen City cats in Week 17, 34-31, on a last second field goal by rookie Evan McPherson. In that affair, Kansas City blitzed often, but all four of its sacks came without added pressure.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme worked against him in the previous game, with Joe Burrow throwing for 446 yards and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase having 266 yards and three scores. This time around, the Chiefs need to win with four and cover.
3. Stafford can’t throw the big interception
The Los Angeles Rams have won their first two playoff games with Matthew Stafford playing superb ball alongside excellent defense. In their contest against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Stafford will need to continue avoiding turnovers for Los Angeles to win. During the regular season, Stafford lost twice to the Niners as they picked him off four times over two defeats.
For the Rams, they need a balanced attack that allows Stafford to play in rhythm and not feel the pressure to make the big play. If that happens, they’re in great shape.
2. 49ers need to stay ahead of the sticks
If San Francisco is going to pull off a third straight upset in the playoffs, it starts with running back Elijah Mitchell and receiver/do-it-all threat Deebo Samuel. The Niners swept the Rams as aforementioned in the regular season, and ran for 291 yards across those wins. It’ll take another 150 on the ground on Sunday to get the job done.
By running effectively, it makes quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo less important. It’s also critical because a good running game slows down the trio of Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd on their pass rushes up front.
1. Bengals must hit on big plays
For the Bengals to pull off an improbable run to the Super Bowl, it begins with hitting home runs. In their 34-31 win over the Chiefs earlier this month, Burrow struck on passes of 72 yards, 69 yards, 39 yards, 35 yards and 30 yards.
If Kansas City doesn’t allow more than a few chunk plays, it’ll be very difficult for the Bengals to win at Arrowhead in a game of this magnitude. However, they find another four or five huge gains, and it’s quite plausible.
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