NFL playoff picks, predictions: Bengals beat Chiefs again, 49ers edge Eagles in championship games

NFL playoff picks, predictions: Bengals beat Chiefs again, 49ers edge Eagles in championship games

NFL championship weekend is here, and three of the four teams participating are return visitors with the goal of reaching Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 12. 

San Francisco meets Philadelphia in the NFC championship game in the early matchup at 3 p.m. on Fox. 

The Eagles routed the New York Giants 38-7 in the NFC divisional playoffs. Philadelphia is making its eighth NFC championship appearance; it’s first under second-year coach Nick Sirianni. Jalen Hurts threw a pair of TDs and added another rushing TD despite playing through a shoulder injury. 

The 49ers beat the Cowboys 19-12 in the NFC divisional championship and are making an 18th appearance in the NFC championship game. This is Kyle Shanahan’s third NFC title game in four years, and this has been an impressive run with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy and a defense led by Nick Bosa. 

MORE NFL PLAYOFFS: AFC & NFC bracket | TV schedule 

Kansas City hosts Cincinnati in the AFC championship game at 6:30 p.m. on CBS in a rematch of last year’s 27-24 thriller at Arrowhead Stadium. 

The Chiefs reached the AFC championship for the fifth consecutive season with the combination of coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes II after beating Jacksonville 27-20 in the AFC divisional playoffs. Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the victory, and that will be among the most-talked about storylines leading up to the showdown against the Bengals. Travis Kelce is coming off a monster effort with 14 catches for 98 yards and a pair of TDs. 

Cincinnati is looking for back-to-back AFC championships under Zac Taylor. The Bengals are coming off an impressive 27-10 victory at Buffalo. Joe Burrow now is 5-1 in the postseason, and the defense has been a difference maker through a 10-game winning streak. Plus, Cincinnati has beat Kansas City three times in the last two seasons. 

Here is a look at our track record this season: 

  • Playoffs: 9-1
  • Last week: 4-0
  • Regular season: 174-96-2

Here are Sporting News’ picks for the AFC and NFC championship games (odds courtesy BetMGM):

POWER RANKINGS: 3 reasons Chiefs, 49ers, Eagles and Bengals will (or won’t) win Super Bowl 57

Brock Purdy

(Getty Images)

NFL picks, predictions for championship games

  • San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5) 

Sunday, 3 p.m., Fox

Despite a rich playoff history on both sides, these teams have never met in the NFC championship game. The Eagles and 49ers met in Week 2 of the 2021 season, a game in which San Francisco won 17-11. That was in Hurts’ second start. 

How will the Eagles attack the 49ers with the running game – and how much will Hurts be a factor? That’s a huge key to victory knowing the 49ers allowed more than 100 yards rushing in just five games, including playoffs. Hurts took 38 sacks this season, and he’s up against an aggressive pass rush led by Bosa – who had 18.5 sacks this season. Bosa is good enough to track the run, too. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott have to be a factor to set up Hurts in the running game. 

The 49ers’ running game is just as important in this game with Christian McCaffrey and Eli Mitchell – especially with a rookie quarterback in Purdy who took two sacks against Dallas’ aggressive pass rush. The Eagles had a record 70 sacks in the regular season, and Haason Reddick had 16 sacks in the regular season and 1.5 sacks against the Giants. 

Don’t sell either team’s passing attack short. Hurts has three favorite targets in A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goeddert. Hurts has been phenomenal at home with that group with 14 TDs, four interceptions and a 103.9 quarterback rating. The matchup between Goeddert and 49ers linebacker Fred Warner will be especially telling. Warner is one of the best cover linebackers in the game.

Purdy has Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is the X-factor on the back end. He had six interceptions this season. Kittle is without question Purdy’s favorite target. Can the Eagles take him away? Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans are auditioning for head-coaching jobs, and which team can generate the game-changing turnover? 

Our guess is the 49ers – who have that recent experience – find a way in an instant classic that comes down to a game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould. 

Pick: 49ers 27, Eagles 24

Ja'Marr Chase

(Getty Images)

  • Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) 

Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS 

A MRI confirmed a high ankle sprain for Mahomes, but expect him to play against the Bengals with a chance for a third Super Bowl appearance on the line. Cincinnati’s defense has done a solid job of containing Mahomes in those previous three matchups. He averaged 252.3 passing yards with six TDs and two interceptions in those losses. 

Kelce will get his share of wins in the middle of the field, but the Chiefs will need to be more than that against a solid defense led by defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Will Kansas City receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling contribute on the outside? Will the Chiefs stay patient with a running game that has averaged 6.0 yards per carry in those three losses? Isaiah Pacheco and Jerrick McKinnon can have success to take the pressure off Mahomes, but Reid cannot abandon that – even if D.J. Reader slows that down in the first half. 

Cincinnati has no reason not to be aggressive from the get-go; because the Chiefs have not proven they can stop Burrow – who has completed 72.2% of his passes for an average of 327.3 ypg. with eight TDs and one interception in those victories.  For Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, that means getting pressure from Chris Jones and Frank Clark against a Bengals offensive line that has been reworked because of injuries. That pressure must land, however, or Burrow will have his down-field choice among Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Hayden Hurst. If Joe Mixon averages 5.0 yards per carry on top of that again, then the Bengals will be in business. 

Those last three match-ups have been decided by three points apiece, and the Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 47-24 in those games. Anarumo’s second-half adjustments are on point again. It’s tough to make a pick without seeing how much Mahomes can move within the offense, but the safer bet is to continue to trust Burrow – who continues to show no fear in road playoff games. A late TD run by Samaje Perine seals a second straight Super Bowl trip. 

Pick: Bengals 29, Chiefs 28