Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts (1) throws a pass as New York Giants LB Jihad Ward (55) rushes him during the playoff game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. AP Photo/Matt Rourke
By David Brandt
If the Las Vegas oddsmakers are right — and there’s a reason those casinos are huge and lavish — then soccer fans are in for a treat this weekend.
The NFL conference championship weekend is here: The Philadelphia Eagles will host the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC title while the Kansas City Chiefs will host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC. Both games are on Sunday.
Game odds are low for both games, even if both home teams have a slight advantage. The Eagles are a 2 1/2 point favorite while the Chiefs are a 1 1/2 point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook odds.
The winners will meet in the Super Bowl on February 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
All four teams have legitimate grounds for confidence on Sunday:
“Let’s start with the Chiefs. Kansas City has arguably the best quarterback in the sport with Patrick Mahomes at center. He’s battling a sprained ankle he sustained in last week’s win against the Jaguars, but the All-Pro selection underwent a full week of practice to prepare for the Bengals.
“It’s about being a competitor,” Mahomes said this week. “You want to be out there, especially in these games.”
Mahomes gets a lot of publicity, but he also has help. Tight end Travis Kelce is among the elite of the game, while defensive tackle Chris Jones has had 15½ sacks this season.
— Now on to the Bengals, who are coming to Kansas City with a lot of hard-earned confidence. The two teams are playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days, and Cincinnati has won their previous three meetings, all by three points.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was at his best against Mahomes, including his comeback win in last year’s AFC title game. He is coming off a season in which he set Bengals records for completions (414), pass attempts (606) and touchdown passes (35).
The Bengals haven’t lost since Halloween, winning 10 in a row.
— In the NFC, the Eagles and quarterback Jalen Hurts had a dream season. Hurts is having a breakout, MVP-caliber year and it’s hard to top the passing pair of AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, who both easily surpassed 1,000 receiving yards. Linebacker Haason Reddick leads the defense with 16 sacks.
Also, the game is in Philadelphia. Is it a place where fans can get a little – what’s the polite word – enthusiastic?
Hurts is battling a sore shoulder, but that didn’t seem to be a problem in last week’s dominant win against the Giants.
“I felt better, but it doesn’t matter,” Hurts said. “I must do it.”
— And finally, the 49ers. They won 12 straight games, including seven in a row since rookie Brock Purdy, a seventh-round pick, took over at quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo was injured.
Purdy is set for perhaps his toughest test Sunday, as he faces an Eagles defense that leads the NFL with 70 sacks and faces a towering street environment. But Purdy isn’t easily shaken, and the 49ers have a loaded roster that includes running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive end Nick Bosa.
Here are some other things to know during the postseason:
WHAT’S NEXT SCHEDULE?
San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles, 3pm EST, Fox
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, CBS
NO NEED FOR NEUTRAL
The AFC title game would be played in Atlanta next weekend if the Buffalo Bills beat the Bengals, under a rule adjustment approved by NFL owners.
The league decided on the neutral site setting of the single conference championship because the Bills (13-3) finished the season in the midgame behind the Chiefs (14-3) after their game in Cincinnati was canceled on 2 January when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived on the field.
Hamlin has since made a remarkable recovery and attended Sunday’s game in Buffalo, waving to fans from a stadium suite.
In the end, all the Atlanta hypotheses were unnecessary. That’s because the Bengals and Burrow are shooting. Cincinnati beat Buffalo 27-10 and is one win away from playing in a second consecutive Super Bowl.
“Better send those refunds,” Burrow said, referring to the roughly 50,000 tickets already sold for a game that will never be played.
WHAT IS THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
This is the third straight year of the current playoff format, which included the top seven teams from both the AFC and NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and thus the top three teams with the best record that have not won their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s quite common for a wild card selection to have a better record, but worse seeding in the playoffs, than a team that finished as division winners.
The team seeded no. wild weekend.
The NFL redeploys teams after each playoff round. This means that no matter how the bracket is started, the team with the lowest seed number always moves towards the team with the highest seed number.
There are four rounds to the playoffs: the wild-card round ran January 14-16, the divisional round last weekend, the conference championship games are this Sunday, and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 12. February in Glendale, Arizona at the home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals.
AP Pro Football writers Josh Dubow and Rob Maaddi and AP Sports writers Dave Skretta, Dan Gelston and Mitch Stacy contributed to this report.