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NFL Playoffs: Preview Conference Championships

By Hannah Brewitt, CNN

The race for the NFL’s coveted Lombardi Trophy has narrowed down to just four teams.

The excitement of the playoffs continues on Sunday with the Conference Championships. First, Brock Purdy and the 49ers will face Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles. Later that night, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals take on Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. All four teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and have a shot at winning it all.

Here’s what you need to know:

San Francisco 49ers versus Philadelphia Eagles

In the NFC, it’s the 49ers and the Eagles.

Both teams have capable quarterbacks, well-rounded offensive units, and strong defenses. This game will be incredibly well-matched and a win won’t be easy for either side.

Despite injuries late in the regular season, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has been excellent since the start of the postseason.

In last week’s Divisional Round, he tallied three touchdowns en route to a 31-point win over the Giants.

His greatest strength is his ability to cut through defenses with deep pitches. He leads the league in touchdown passes and is the only quarterback in the league to complete 50% of passes for 25+ yards passes this season.

This part of his game could be the X factor against the 49ers’ elite defense.

On the other hand, the 49ers defense can fight Hurts with pressure. Against pressure this season, Hurts completed 44.4% of passes for 527 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

While these numbers aren’t terrible, they do reflect the weakest part of Hurts’ game; if the 49ers are smart, ramping up the pressure will be a big part of their plan to stop him.

While the 49ers can contain Hurts, they can’t win this game with defense alone.

It will be up to rookie quarterback Brock Purdy to lead this team to victory. “Mr. Irrelevant” has won each of his first seven career starts. Last week, he became the first rookie quarterback to ever start and win in the divisional round.

With a win this weekend, he would become the first rookie quarterback to start and win a conference championship. It’s a tall order, but luckily for Purdy he won’t have to do it alone. He has an arsenal of offensive weapons on his side. If he can get the ball to tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the points will come.

To see which team drops out of the NFC, tune in Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

Cincinnati Bengals versus Kansas City Chiefs

In the AFC, it’s the Bengals and the Chiefs for the second straight season. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will seek revenge after last year’s crushing loss at Arrowhead Stadium. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will look to replicate last year’s finish for his fourth straight win over Kansas City.

The Chiefs finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They earned a week off in the Wild Card stage, took care of the Jaguars in the Divisional round and are now exactly where they want to be.

The only problem is, their star quarterback isn’t 100% healthy.

Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the divisional round. No doubt he will persevere despite the pain, but any issues with his mobility will impact his playmaking abilities.

Mahomes will need to get creative with how he moves the ball around the pitch. The pressure is also on the offensive linemen to protect Mahomes. If he is left exposed, the risk of further injury increases.

While the Bengals are the away team and the bottom seed, it would be incorrect to consider them the underdogs.

In the split round, they turned the tables and made it look easy. If that game is any indicator of how things will go this weekend, the Chiefs should be ready for a battle.

It is also worth noting that the story favors Bengalis. Burrow is 3-0 against Mahomes. And in all three games, Cincinnati was tied or trailing going into the fourth quarter.

Though the Chiefs took the lead early, the Bengals proved they weren’t counted out until the final whistle. To top it off, Burrow is an even better quarterback than the last time these two met in an AFC title game. His numbers have improved across the board and he has gained more experience playing at a high level.

In the end, the Chiefs are an elite team with an MVP-caliber quarterback, injured or not. The Bengals are a young and talented team with history on their side. Only time will tell which team has what it takes to progress to the next stage.

To see how that plays out, tune in Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

How to watch

Here’s how to catch these teams and others across the league in action, wherever you are.

Australia: NFL Game Pass, ESPN, 7Plus

Brazil: NFL Game Pass, ESPN

Canada: CTV, TSN, RDS, NFL Game Pass on DAZN

Germany: NFL Game Pass, ProSieben MAXX, DAZN

Mexico: NFL Game Pass, TUDN, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sky Sports

UK: NFL Game Pass, Sky Sports, ITV, Channel 5

United States: NFL Game Pass, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, ESPN, Amazon Prime

The-CNN-Wire & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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