Championship Round Preview
Bengals @ Chiefs
In the playoffs, it is all about momentum. Which team is the hottest and has the most chemistry? Those are the questions that the fans need to be asking. The Chiefs are a better team than the Bengals on paper, but that isn't what the playoffs are about. It is about a team coming together and playing their hardest for 60 minutes.
Starting with the Bengals' offense, the key for this game is protecting Joe Burrow. After giving up nine sacks to the Titans, Chiefs Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, is salivating. The biggest thing for Cincinnati is preventing interior pressure; Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autrey combined for 4.5 sacks on Burrow last Saturday. It doesn't help that the Chiefs have an absolute dog at defensive tackle. Whether it be with bootlegs or double teams, the Bengals need to find a way to slow down Chris Jones. If they can't do that, they'll need to get the ball out fast. Ja'Marr Chase is better than any cornerback on the Chiefs; the Bengals' biggest advantage is with their receivers over the Chiefs' defensive backs. That means the Bengals are going to have the opportunity to air the ball out, they just need to give Joey B some time. The Chiefs are also giving up 119 rushing yards per game in the last three. The best way to stop Patrick Mahomes is by keeping him on the sideline. That is what the Bills should have done, but they gave him 13 seconds too long. If the Bengals can run the ball with Joe Mixon and blow the Chiefs out in time of possession, I like their chances.
The Chiefs' offense is an unstoppable force and thankfully for them, the Bengals' defense is not an immovable object. While Cincinnati's defense has some really good players: Jessie Bates, Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, they are a unit that gets beat. Outside of Bates, they don't have a lot of speed on the back seven. That means that Tyreek Hill could be in for a big day. The biggest thing for Kansas City's offense is to avoid a hangover from last week's game. Time and time again, teams that come up with miraculous wins don't respond the following week. The Chiefs need to come out swinging and show the Bengals that they aren't here to play. The good news for Kansas City is that they are healthy on offense. The last time these two teams faced off, Joe Thuney was their starting left tackle. With Orlando Brown healthy, Thuney can bump back to left guard and they stand a better chance against Hendrickson. So the key for the Chiefs' offense is to come out fast and test Cincinnati's back end.
Tyreek Hill is the man that the Bengals' defense needs to focus on; they can't let him get behind their secondary. Standing at 5'10, 185 lbs., Hill is the scariest man in football. He is dangerous and Jessie Bates needs to have an eye on him at all times. Trey Hendrickson also has to make sure Mahomes can't get out of the pocket. Once Mahomes is scrambling, so is the defense. The defense can't get lost while Mahomes is on the move; they need to be disciplined and stick to their guy. If the Bengals can keep Mahomes in the pocket and prevent Tyreek Hill from getting behind them, they have a pretty good chance to pull off the upset.
The Chiefs' defense looked terrible against the Bills last week; that's not a secret. The key for Kansas City's defense is to keep a ceiling on Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. The Bengals' offense exposed Daniel Sorenson and Juan Thornhill in week 17. Joe Burrow knows that if Tyrann Mathieu is playing in the box, the Chiefs have a weakness in the backend. Spagnuolo should be creative with Tyrann Mathieu; whether it be keeping him over the top of Chase or sending him on blitzes against Jonah Williams. Mathieu has the capability of blowing this entire offense up, but it is important to remember that he is coming off a concussion so he may not be a full-go. Upfront for Kansas City, the key is to get Chris Jones isolated on Quinton Spain. Spain is the weakness for Cincinnati's offense and he won't be able to contain Jones one-on-one. The Bengals offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan, is going to find ways to help Spain in pass protection. Spagnuolo has to scheme up stunts and blitzes to get Jones isolated against Spain. If Spagnuolo can find a way to do that, the Bengals don't stand a chance.
Joe Burrow has been proving me wrong all post-season long, and I hate to say it, but I'm picking against him once again. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce are all unearthly beings. I can't imagine the three of them losing to any team twice in one season. I believe Joe Burrow is in for a long day because Chris Jones and this entire Chiefs defensive line is coming. Patrick Mahomes has reached the Tom Brady stage where it is just hard to pick against him. This game should be filled with fireworks and big plays, but I can't see Cincinnati beating them twice in one season.
Bengals Key to Victory: Keep a roof on Tyreek Hill and RUN THE FOOTBALL
Chiefs Key to Victory: Get Chris Jones isolated on Quinton Spain
Matchup to Watch: The Chiefs defensive line vs The Bengals' offensive line
Player of the Game: Chris Jones DT Chiefs
Final Score: Bengals 27 Chiefs 37
49ers @ Rams
The atmosphere in Sofi Stadium today will be electric. Despite being the away team, the stadium is expected to be packed with 49er fans all over. The history of this matchup is very one-sided, but every game seems to get closer and closer. It came down to the very last play the last time these two teams faced off, and I expect another close one today. It is an exciting time for the NFC West.
In the two games that these two teams played this year, the 49ers were able to run the ball down the Rams' throats. If they want to pull off the upset they'll need to continue feeding Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. What Shanahan does better than any coach is come up with tendency breakers. Defensive coaches use tendencies to call their defense and predict what the offense will call. Shanahan is so hard to read because he'll have one play, but 20 different ways of running it. The amount of pre-snap motion he's installed in his plays forces the Rams defense to show their coverage before the snap. Shanahan is a disruptor, just like George Kittle who I see having a huge game. He was able to rebound last week against the Packers after dropping his first target. Lucky for Kittle, this game isn't in 0 degree weather; passes will be much easier to catch in Los Angeles. The two biggest question marks in this game have to do with Trent Williams' health and Jimmy Garoppolo's decision making. Williams hasn't practiced all week, but it is hard to envision him missing this game. Garoppolo on the other hand needs to be aware of Jalen Ramsey at all times. Ramsey has a history of giving Garoppolo a hard time, but I anticipate Shanahan calling plays to take Ramsey out of the play. The 49ers can't let the Rams out-physical them; if they can play their brand of football, it's their game to lose.
The Rams need to establish the run game which will be tough against the 49ers' defense. McVay's scheme is predicated on the run and if Akers is able to put together a few good runs, it will open McVay's playbook up. The interior of the Rams' offensive line has struggled all season long so getting the ball out fast will be important. Matthew Stafford cannot take sacks, because then it creates third and longs which are obvious passing downs. Cooper Kupp will be key on third downs and Odell Beckham Jr. will be the guy in the red zone. The Rams need to capitalize on red zone scenarios and if they get up early they need to keep their foot on the gas. The key for the Rams' offense is applying consistent pressure all game long.
There hasn't been a defense that's played better than the 49ers' this post-season. Moving Arik Armstead to the interior has helped this defensive line tremendously. It has allowed Charles Omenihu, Jordan Willis, and Arden Key to all elevate their games because there is so much attention focused on Armstead. The 49ers need to capitalize on Stafford's bad decisions; that means interceptions and fumbles, not just breakups and sacks. San Francisco's defense needs to continue being aggressive, but they can't be overly aggressive because Cooper Kupp will burn them on the backend. Demeco Ryans needs to find the balance between aggressive and safe-play calling. One area where the 49ers' defense has struggled this season is on third and longs. Ryans will need to pitch another perfect game to keep the 49ers' season alive.
Raheem Morris needs to scheme up defensive plays to get Aaron Donald isolated against one individual offensive lineman. Shanahan has been very successful in terms of neutralizing Donald recently. If Donald can get one-on-one opportunities he'll be able to blow up the 49ers' run game which would make them one-dimensional. The Rams also need to wrap up all game long. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle are phenomenal after the catch, so it is important that the Rams' defenders are able to bring them down and everybody rallies to the ball. If Aaron Donald has a big game, the Rams will win this ball game.
From start to finish, I anticipate this being a back-and-forth game. I expect the stars to show out and the coaches to call their best games. I expect the stadium to be rocking and the 49ers faithful to show out. Shanahan lives rent-free in Sean McVay's head and I expect his success to continue today.
49ers Key to Victory: Be stout defensively on third down and keep Jimmy G clean
Rams Key to Victory: Run the football and get Aaron Donald isolated
Matchup to Watch: Aaron Donald vs the 49ers' offensive line
Player of the Game: George Kittle TE 49ers
Final Score: 49ers 34 Rams 31