Just three games remain in the 2022-23 NFL regular season, and this Sunday, two insanely juicy matchups will determine which two teams will play in Super Bowl 57.
The AFC Championship Game is a pure rematch from last season: Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals squaring off against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Can the Chiefs avenge last year’s loss to get back to the Super Bowl, or will the Bengals break through for a second straight appearance?
Read on for my Conference Championship Picks. If you’d like to debate or discuss any picks, or want to follow for more weekly NFL content including Picks and Power Rankings, be sure to connect with Sak Sports Blog on Twitter or on Facebook!
Week 1: 7-8-1
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 9-7
Week 4: 11-5
Week 5: 12-4
Week 6: 6-8
Week 7: 9-5
Week 8: 9-6
Week 9: 8-5
Week 10: 5-9
Week 11: 9-5
Week 12: 12-4
Week 13: 7-7-1
Week 14: 7-6
Week 15: 13-3
Week 16: 11-5
Week 17: 7-8
Week 18: 12-4
Regular Season Record: 162-107-2 (60%)
Postseason Record: 7-3 (70%)
NFC Championship Game
#2 San Francisco 49ers (15-4) at #1 Philadelphia Eagles (15-3)
The craziest part about this game is the fact that someone has to lose. The Eagles ran a 14-3 regular season record, but were 14-1 with Jalen Hurts in the starting lineup.
Championship Games always feature elite teams, but this matchup features two teams that are essentially 22-1 (including playoffs) when their current starting quarterback takes the field: that’s just absolutely mind-boggling.
Both teams deserve the chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy, but only one can win.
I don’t have solid reasons that I think the Eagles won’t win, but rather an inclination to go with San Francisco’s incredible roster.
With elite players littered across the field on both sides of the ball, the 49ers simply have the better tools to play the better football game on Sunday.
Does Philadelphia have a path to victory? Of course. An early lead could easily be sustained for the entire game with the Eagles pace-controlling offense. Purdy and the 49ers struggled to put up points last week against the Dallas Cowboys, so if Hurts and the Eagles turn this in to a shootout, the advantage would definitely belong to Philadelphia.
If San Francisco can score a signature defensive touchdown, it might be the 49ers most straightforward path to victory. Hurts is generally good at taking care of the ball, but one mistake against this 49er defense can turn in to points going the other way quickly.
I have Purdy and the 49ers continuing their tear straight through to a Super Bowl 57 appearance.
49ers win 24-17
AFC Championship Game
#3 Cincinnati Bengals (14-4) at #1 Kansas City Chiefs (15-3)
This Sunday, the stage is set for a pure rematch: same location, same teams, same stakes. Joe Burrow vs. Patrick Mahomes with a trip to Super Bowl 57 on the line. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The asterisk and X-factor in this AFC Championship Game is obviously the health of star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. If his high ankle sprain holds him out of this game, I’d be almost ready to crown the Bengals AFC champions before the game even starts (no offense to Chad Henne or the Chiefs’ other 52 players.)
But for pick’s sake, let’s assume Mahomes plays and isn’t inhibited by the ankle injury sustained in last week’s 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The biggest difference from last season is Cincinnati’s stature: last year, the Bengals were a late-season surprise, heating up at the perfect team for an underdog Super Bowl appearance run.
After establishing themselves last season, the Bengals did stumble out of the gate: an 0-2 start, and mediocre 4-4 record through eight weeks. But Cincinnati has won 10 straight games including two playoff wins, and is clearly a powerhouse team in the AFC. Looking at the big picture of the last two seasons, the Bengals are right there with the Chiefs in terms of best team in the conference… and the Bengals have head-to-head wins over Kansas City in both the regular and post-season.
All the momentum seems to be favoring Cincinnati, almost so much so that picking them almost feels like a trap.
But with Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and the Bengals not just beating, but manhandling the Buffalo Bills 27-10 last week, I really do think Cincinnati is the hotter team right now.
Can I see Patrick Mahomes reaching his third career Super Bowl? Certainly. This game is as close to a toss-up as it gets (especially with Kansas City’s edge at home) but ultimately, I’m pushing Burrow and the Bengals through to a back-to-back Super Bowl appearance.
Bengals win 30-27
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Header Photo Credits (L-R): Getty Images via Action Network