Top NFL Storylines Heading Into Conference Championships NFL Playoffs 2023

After a lackluster divisional slate, we are down to the final four teams heading into the Conference Championships. The Chiefs, Bengals, 49ers, and Eagles certainly look like the four best teams in the NFL and deserving of a chance at the Super Bowl. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the top storylines we’ll be seeing this weekend.

Can Mahomes & The Chiefs Finally Defeat the Joe Burrow Bengals?

Kansas City ChiefsThe Chiefs have had a remarkable run since Patrick Mahomes took over the starting role, including making their 5th consecutive conference championship this weekend. Yet they’ve met their one achilles heel in the Joe Burrow led Bengals. Burrow has beat Mahomes and the Chiefs in all 3 head to head matches, the only foe who seems to have the Chiefs number.

Even though the Bengals have had success versus the Chiefs, by no means have the Bengals dominated. In fact, the Chiefs have held the lead going into the 4th quarter of all 3 games. All 3 of these games have been nail-biters and close to the end with the Bengals winning every one by just 3 points.

So then what will it take for the Chiefs to finally overcome the Bengals? For one, the increasing presence of a run game with Isiah Pacheco adds a whole other element to the Chiefs offense outside of Mahomes. The Chiefs will also need to try and outsmart and disrupt Burrow who has shined with a 8-1 TD-INT ratio for the Chiefs. With Burrow having a faster release time than ever and increased mobility, this will be no easy task but certainly not impossible.

Will Brock Purdy Become the First Rookie QB to Make the Super Bowl?

This Sunday Brock Purdy will become just the 5th rookie QB to start in the conference championship game and hopes to become the first to win and go to the Super Bowl. To say Purdy has exceeded expectations in his sudden starting role at QB is an understatement. He has been remarkably efficient and proven an increased mobility and accuracy for the 49ers highlighted with a 16-3 TD-INT Ratio. Despite playing in only 6 regular season games, Purdy is one of the 3 finalists for Offensive Rookie of the Year for how he’s improved the Super Bowl chances.

Of course, Purdy is still trying to do something unprecedented. The four rookie quarterbacks who have played in this game before him have a combined TD-INT ratio of 4-9 and none of them have completed 60% of their passes in that game.

However Purdy’s circumstances in themselves are unprecedented. Purdy was never expected to start this season and most fans had no idea who he even was until he took the field in place of Jimmy Garoppolo. Many rookie quarterbacks who get to start in their first season are high round picks and their teams often aren’t good which allowed them to have a high draft slot. Purdy got the luxury of coming into one of the most phenomenal supporting casts we’ve seen. Not many teams have All Pro caliber players at every other level of the offense, but the 49ers do, and Purdy has made the most of it starting his young career 7-0.

How Will Mahomes Injury Affect the Chiefs?

Chiefs fan held their breath when two Jaguars defenders collapsed onto Mahomes and sprained his ankle, causing Mahomes to miss some time during the game. Mahomes came back to the field on a limp and still played well, but any hinderance to their best player in the biggest game of the season is not ideal. The good news for the Chiefs is reports coming out of Kansas City have said Mahomes is recovering quickly from the injury. And while he will unlikely play at 100%, Mahomes has played the best in the pocket the pocket, so his injury will mostly hurt in the times when he’s needed to make an off schedule play.

Though their impact does not always show up on the stat sheet, the Bengals duo of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard has created significant pressure versus Mahomes. In the past two matchups Hubbard has accumulated 3 sacks and Hendrickson had 1.5 on Mahomes on Championship Sunday last year before missing this season’s regular season matchup with an injury. The Chiefs offensive line has allowed the 3rd fewest sacks all season and will need to focus on containing these two to prevent Mahomes injury from affecting the outcome.

Battle of the Trenches in Philadelphia

Philadelphia EaglesFor fans of line play, this game between the 49ers and Eagles is absolutely a dream come true. Both teams have All Pro players on each of their lines who get to face off Sunday in hopes of proving their physicality is greater than their opponent.

The Eagles offensive line has 3 Pro Bowlers this season with Lane Dickerson, Jason Kelce, and Lane Johnson. They have stifled many impressive pass rushers throughout the year while allowing a dynamic run game to flourish, including putting up 268 total rushing yards against the Giants in the divisional round. Their star blockers get to face the 49ers front seven who hold a unique combination of strength and speed. Even when Nick Bosa and the line can’t get to the quarterback or running back in the backfield, their linebackers and safeties are so fast that it’s rare to gain a lot of yards after the catch against them, which is how they allowed a league low rush yards per attempt at 3.4.

On the flip side, the Eagles pass rush has had a phenomenal year with a record 4 players recording at least 10 sacks. They came just a few sacks short of the all time record for sacks with 70 combined and even accumulated 54 sacks when only rushing four or fewer players according to Next Gen Stats. Still, the 49ers offensive line is no slouch. The Eagles biggest advantage going up against the 49ers front may just be the inexperience of Brock Purdy. If Purdy escapes and gets lost in the backfield like we’ve seen through the 1st two playoff games, it’s hard to not see the the Philly pass rushers taking him to the ground.

A UCLA graduate, Eva is an experienced football writer who specializes in NFL game analysis and weekly storylines. In her free time you can usually find her cheering on the 49ers or watching the latest Josh Allen highlight clip.

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