The conference championship round (schedule) for the 2022 NFL season has two great matchups. Our NFL Nation reporters deliver the biggest clues and bold predictions for every competition.
Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a crucial stat and nugget for betting, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes into the numbers with a game prediction. Matt Bowen picks a matchup to watch in both games, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the official. Finally, Seth Walder and Eric Moody predict the final outcome and pick the winners for each game (see also Tips). There’s plenty here for what’s expected to be an exciting playoff football weekend.
Let’s examine the conference championships pitting Jalen Hurts against Brock Purdy and Patrick Mahomes against Joe Burrow. Who will make it to Super Bowl LVII?
Note: New for this season’s playoffs, each team is guaranteed ball possession if a game goes into overtime.
Jump to a matchup:
SF-PHI | CIN-KC
3 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: PHI -2.5 (46)
What to look out for: This matchup offers arguably the two best defenses in the NFL. Philadelphia led the league in passing defense (179.8 yards per game) and sacks (70) during the regular season, while the Niners led in interceptions (20) and second in rush defense (79.0 yards per game). . But with Niners running back Christian McCaffrey (having a touchdown in eight straight games) and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (332.5 passing yards per game and seven touchdowns against top-10 defenses this season). There are very few holes on either roster. “This is how the NFC Championship Game should be,” said Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni. “It’s going to be fine and it’s going to be close.” – Tim McManus
Bold Prediction: The 49ers’ streak of 27 straight games without a rusher exceeding 70 yards on the ground (including playoffs) will come to an end because of hurts. The Niners have struggled with mobile quarterbacks in previous seasons but didn’t see many of them this season, which is why they ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per rush to quarterbacks (3.4). Hurts presents more of a challenge, ranking fourth among quarterbacks in rushing yards (760) and first in rushing touchdowns (13). He rushed for 82 yards and scored one goal in Week 2 of last season against San Francisco, and with the Niners aiming to slow down the deep ball passing game, he was able to offer a similar performance on the floor. – Nick Wagoner
Stats to know: San Francisco has relied heavily on the pre-snap movement to help rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, using it on 73% of his dropbacks this season, including the playoffs. Purdy excelled there, ranking fourth in QBR (80.0) and first in yards per attempt (9.2) among passers with at least 100 attempts in the regular season and postseason. But that formula is being tested by the Eagles’ pass defense, which has provided the league’s lowest QBR (33.2) and third-lowest yards per attempt (6.3) for opposing quarterbacks in games with pre-snap motion.
Bowen’s Map Key: Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick has 17.5 sacks in his freshman season with the Eagles, including 1.5 in last week’s division round win over the Giants. With Reddick’s quick first step and his ability to bend over and cut the corner, Philadelphia can plan more one-on-ones while also wrapping him up with stunts. His 27.6 percent pass rush win rate ranked second in the NFL this season behind Dallas’ Micah Parsons. Read more on ESPN+.
Injuries: 49er | Eagle
Worth knowing about the office: Referee John Hussey’s regular-season crew threw the third fewest flags in 2022, including two for rough passing and 24 for offensive holding, both the lowest in the NFL. That’s good news for both the 49ers and Eagles, who have been called up for the second- and third-most offensive-keeping penalties in the league, respectively, during the regular season. – Seifert
Bet Nugget: Purdy is 6-1 against the spread in his career starting quarterback, all favorites. It is the fifth-longest streak by a quarterback since the 1970 merger (including playoffs). And San Francisco has played five straight playoff games, the longest active streak of any team. Continue reading.
Moody’s choice: Eagles 27, 49ers 24
Walder’s choice: Eagles 24, 49ers 16
FPI Prediction: PHI, 65.3% (by an average of 4.5 points)
Matchup Must Reads: In the trade that sent McCaffrey to the 49ers… How Johnson found his fortune after nearly giving up the game… Niners ready to allow trial with Omenihu… Brown says he’s not a ‘diva’ but he wants the ball… Has Purdy recalibrated the 49ers’ future quarterback plans? …Are the Eagles back at their best?
6:30 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: KC -1.5 (47)
What to look out for: During the regular season, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the NFL in QBR (73.0) in throws from the pocket. And that’s where he’ll likely have to do most of his work against the Bengals, considering he sustained a serious ankle sprain in the Divisional round and his performance against the Bengals in Week 13. In that final matchup between them Teams, Mahomes had one of his best QBR outs (79.6) from Inside the Pocket and one of his worst QBR shows (14.0) from Outside the Pocket. The Bengals are on a 10-game winning streak and both teams are 11-0 when they scored the first goal of the season. – Adam Teicher
2022 NFL Playoffs
• Our first look at SF-PHI, CIN-KC »
• Key questions left for four NFL teams »
• Overreactions in partial rounds »
• Offseason Guide for Eliminated Teams »
Full Playoff Bracket and Schedule »
Bold Prediction: The Bengals will have more touchdowns in the red zone than the Chiefs. The Bengals ranked fifth in red zone efficiency on offense and ninth on defense during the regular season. While the Kansas City offense scored many touchdowns from within the 20-yard line (2nd), their red-zone defense during the regular season was one of the worst in the league (31st). The team that can finish drives with touchdowns has a chance to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy and advance to the Super Bowl. – Ben baby
Stats to know: Any defense could have their hands full trying to curb the fast passing game. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow (19) and Mahomes (18) rank first and second, respectively, in touchdown passes on throws under 2.5 seconds, including the playoffs. The Chiefs’ after-the-catch ability also stands out, especially on Mahomes’ fast throws. Kansas City has generated more yards from catches than any other team this season (2,908) and has the third-highest average per catch of any offense (6.3). Overall, yards after catch accounted for 53% of the Chiefs’ yards, the second-highest rate in the league. But the Cincinnati defense ranks sixth when it comes to limiting production after catches, keeping pass catchers at just 4.7 yards after catches per reception.
Bowen’s Map Key: Cincinnati needs a special plan for Chiefs Travis Kelce. Cornerback Tre Flowers is your typical dime-look tight-end matchup defender, but he’s working his way through a hamstring injury. We could see safeties Dax Hill or Vonn Bell in man coverage, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo could also have a defender jam and redirect Kelce into zone looks at the line of scrimmage and then sink in deep. Read more on ESPN+.
Injuries: Bengal | bosses
Worth knowing about the office: Referee Ron Torbert’s side in the regular season averaged 12 flags per game, the fifth fewest in the league. It threw 33 flags for defensive pass interference, illegal contact and defensive holding, the NFL’s third-lowest total. This should be noticeable to respective defenses when trying to slow down Mahomes and Burrow. – Seifert
Bet Nugget: Kansas City is 7-11 against the spread this season, and those 11 ATS losses are the highest by any team to enter the Conference Championship round in the Super Bowl era. The Chiefs were also 2-11 against the spread in AFC games this season and 0-4 ATS with more than six days off. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is 21-5 against the spread in its last 26 games, including playoffs, and its 13-5 ATS record this season was the second-best in the NFL. Continue reading.
Moody’s choice: Bengal 27, Chiefs 20
Walder’s choice: Chiefs 31, Bengalis 30
FPI Prediction: KC, 65.5% (by an average of 4.6 points)
Matchup Must Reads: Bengals confident for title game at ‘Burrowhead’…Mahomes says he’s ‘ready’ for AFC title game…Injured Bengals OLs Cappa, Williams not training…Kelce has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest TEs of all time…The QB -Battle that unlocked Mahomes