NFL playoff picks, predictions: Rams loose 49ers on third try, Chiefs beat Bengals in championship games

The NFL Championship weekend is set, and if it looks like the division round, there are two more spectacular games on the way.

Kansas City hosts Cincinnati in the AFC Championship game in a Week 17 rematch at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 34-31, but will have to try to do the same at Arrowhead Stadium this time.

Chiefs shoot for a third AFC championship in a row under coach Andy Reid after beating Buffalo 42-36 in an overtime thriller. Patrick Mahomes continues to dominate the AFC playoffs with the help of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, but Tyrann Mathieu left the division round with a concussion.

Cincinnati is back in the AFC Championship for the first time since 1988, and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase have formed a productive combination. The Bengals also have an underrated defense that does not seem afraid of the lights with third-year coach Zac Taylor, and that was evident in the exciting 19-16 victory against the Titans in the AFC Division Round.

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NFC West rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco meet in the NFC Championship game in a match between two of the last three conference champions. The Rams are trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the second time under coach Sean McVay, and Matthew Stafford made the clutch throw in a 30-27 win over defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. In-season additions Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. has delivered in the late season increase.

The 49ers beat the Packers 13-10 in the NFC Division Round, and San Francisco swept the regular season with the Rams. It included an overtime thriller in Week 18. Can Jimmy Garopppolo lead an offensive that includes breakout star Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to another big win? 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has the team playing his best ball.

Sporting News’ Bill Bender shared four games at the division’s playoff weekend. Here’s a look at our track record this season:

  • Playoffs: 7-3
  • Last week: 2-2
  • regular season: 172-98-1

Here are our picks for the NFL Conference Championship weekend:

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NFL Elections, Predictions for Championship Games

  • Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-7)

Sunday at 15, CBS

Great plays. That was the difference in the first match. Both teams have five games at 25 yards or more, but the key for the Bengals was the defensive adjustments made after the break.

Kansas City had five different players to play these games, but no game after the break. The Bengals’ secondary also did a good job of keeping Tyreek Hill and Travis Kielce in front. That tandem totaled 65 yards in the first meeting. Can the Bengals repeat this effort in a secondary effort led by Jesse Bates and Chide Awuzie? Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire did not play in the first meeting and Logan Wilson will have to make a difference.

Cincinnati did not have a sack or turnover in the last meeting. They can not do that again.

Of course, Burrow needs to feed Chase again. Chase had 11 catches on 266 yards and three TDs, and he had four catches on 30 yards or more. Mathieu’s status will also be a big factor in this game. Kansas City will respond by stepping up the pressure after seeing Burrow fired four times by the Titans. Chris Jones had two of Kansas City’s four kicks in the first meeting. Burrow will play and this one could be just as entertaining as the last matchup.

But it’s still Mahomes in the AFC playoffs. Mahomes is 7-1 with 23 TDs and one interception in AFC playoff games, and the home field advantage will be a difference. This will also be close, and the Bengals are proving that they will be a force. However, Kansas City is making another big game in crunch time.

Pick: Chiefs 31, Bengals 28

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  • San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

Sunday at 18.30, FOX

What was the common thread in the Rams’ two defeats in the regular season for the 49ers? Los Angeles could not generate a running game. The Rams averaged 58 rushing yards in those two losses, and Stafford threw a couple of interceptions in those games.

Cam Akers could help with that, especially early in the game. If Stafford can hold on to the short pass game with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. early (which the Packers did not do after the opening drive in the division playoffs), then it should open up for a few deep shots later. Arik Armstead had 2.5 sacks in the Week 18 matchup, and Nick Bosa is a problem off the edge, so it’s worth monitoring if veteran Andrew Whitworth (knee) can go.

San Francisco has found the right offensive combination around Garoppolo, who completed 74.5% of his passes in the two regular season meetings against the 49ers. Garoppolo will make a couple of head-scratching errors, but he gets the ball to Samuel and Kittle in crunch time. Elijah Mitchell must be a factor on earth. The Rams will face it with a furious passing rush led by Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Miller.

Samuel will also be the X-factor player. He averaged 10.8 yards per carry. touch in that thriller in Week 18. The Niners have won the last six encounters in this series, so it’s up to McVay to make the necessary adjustments to match Shanahan.

Does it come with the running game? Akers had an expensive late fumble in the division victory against the Buccaneers, and Sony Michel must be a factor inside. This one plays a lot like the Week 18 game, but this time Stafford remains locked up and the Rams are able to hold on to the lead late. Los Angeles seals its trip to the Super Bowl with a late interception, and Stafford gets its first Super Bowl trip.

Pick: Rams 26, 49ers 21

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