Championship Picks: Will it Be 2019 All Over Again?

Can Nick Bosa and the 49ers defense slow down the Eagles and earn a second trip to the Super Bowl in four years?

Last week: 1-3

Postseason: 6-4

Overall: 41-37-3 (52.6%)

Are the Chiefs and 49ers becoming the new Astros and Dodgers? In their first year of becoming a real force, they met in Super Bowl LIV after the 2019 season. They both reached the final four last year but fell short, and here they are again one step away from a Big Game reunion in Glendale.

Standing in their way are the Bengals and Eagles, both favorites (at least the Bengals were for most of the week) on paper, but underdogs in the sense that they are going against teams that have been to this point more frequently in recent years.

So how will Sunday play out? Let’s dive into perhaps the most difficult-to-pick championship weekend in recent memory:

San Francisco at Philadelphia (-2.5)

Man, oh man, is this one going to be good. Two fantastic defenses. Two offenses that generate big plays in different ways. Two innovative, young coaches with different temperaments. And a rookie quarterback looking to make history by becoming the first-ever to win a conference title game.

I so badly want to pick the Eagles, because for the entire season they’ve been the top dog in all of football. The numbers are eye-popping: 70 sacks (two shy of an NFL record), and four players with at least 10 (an NFL record). A quarterback who played MVP-caliber football until an injury sidelined him for two games, and an offensive line capable of road-grating any defense in football. So why can’t I bring myself to pick them?

The answer is easy: the 49ers are just that hot and that good, especially on defense. And what worries me is if the 49ers get an early lead and establish the tone, the Eagles’ ferocious pass rush becomes neutralized and, perhaps worse, the Philly crowd could get antsy and even turn its frustrations on the home team. Brock Purdy is no ordinary rookie, but even if he was, having this many weapons at his disposal would give him an inherent advantage. The health of Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel bears watching, but Demeco Ryans’ top-scoring defense is too dangerous at this time of year. Ryans (a former Eagles linebacker and soon-to-be head coach) will need to figure out a way to break down Philly’s tough interior line, but San Francisco has playmakers all over its defense and something tells me the unit is going to make a big play late in the game to seal a trip to Arizona. Pick: 49ers.

Cincinnati at Kansas City (-1)

Here we go again. A Bengals divisional round upset once again ensures a home championship game for the Chiefs, although things didn’t work out well last year for KC. In fact, it’s been three straight three-point wins for Cincy over KC, and now Patrick Mahomes is dealing with a high-ankle sprain facing the AFC’s hottest team. Obvious choice to take the Bengals, right? If only it were that easy.

The Chiefs have won 15 of 18 games this year, meaning that even a less-than-100% Mahomes will not hinder them. Isiah Pacheco could be the difference-maker, a bruising runner that can set the tone and take pressure off No. 15. The Bengals re-discovered their running game last week after it had been dormant since these two teams met in Week 13, and Joe Mixon in particular appears on a mission after making his displeasure known about how the scheduling and seeding were handled by the league after the canceled game against Buffalo.

I have a hard time thinking that the Bengals can really beat Kansas City four times in a 364-day span, especially two years in a row in this round on the road. I haven’t had a chance to review every single NFL playoff game in the Super Bowl era, but I have looked at every conference title game and know that no team has ever won two years in a row on the road against the same team. It’s not as if the Chiefs have been getting destroyed; my feeling is one or two lucky bounces of the ball, which Kansas City is known for, will finally swing the pendulum in its favor and send Mahomes and Co. back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. Pick: Chiefs.

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