We’re down to the final four. The top-seeded Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will look to fend off challenges from the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and newcomer Detroit Lions to reach Super Bowl LVIII.
Jeff Howe breaks down conference championship games ahead of The AthleticThe Projection Model, created by Austin Mock, reveals each team’s chances of winning the Super Bowl.
No. 1 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs, 3 p.m. ET, Sunday
Quarterback Lamar Jackson was the best player on the field in the Ravens’ 34-10 win over the Houston Texans, and they are virtually unstoppable when that happens. The Ravens are 10-0 this season, including Saturday when Jackson’s passer rating was above 90, and that doesn’t even take into account his rushing prowess.
But that’s not all Jackson. Head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald were brilliant in their first playoff game. Monken’s adjustments were outstanding against the Texans’ aggressive blitzes, while Macdonald accomplished the rare feat of stopping quarterback CJ Stroud. It would be a surprise at this point if Macdonald doesn’t get a head coaching job this cycle, and it’s not inconceivable to think the Ravens could lose both coordinators.
Patrick Mahomes has reached the AFC Championship every season he has started in the NFL 👑 pic.twitter.com/18EeNToCMC
– The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 22, 2024
Even though this appears to be the Ravens’ year, they now have to kill off the defending Super Bowl champions as the Chiefs continue to try to solidify their claim as a modern dynasty. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is coming off his first career playoff victory on the road, and he’ll have to do it again in his sixth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
Not only that, but the Chiefs just played their best game of the season by a considerable margin. The defense had three straight scoreless possessions to close out the game, but this unit has been solid all season. Even more impressive, Mahomes and his supporting cast delivered in several key moments, making only one crucial mistake. If they play this well in Baltimore, the title game should be a thriller.
– The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) January 22, 2024
No. 1 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 3 Detroit Lions, 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday
This match can be decided on the field, and the Lions will have to tighten up in this area. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who ranked last in rushing and yards per carry in the regular season, ran 15 times for 89 yards Sunday in Detroit. It was a surprising performance against a Lions defense that ranked second in rushing yards and third in yards per carry.
The 49ers’ ground game needs no introduction with superstar guard Christian McCaffrey, who has been an MVP favorite for much of the season. If the Niners move the ball with McCaffrey, they could double the Bucs’ rushing numbers.
Dre Greenlaw didn’t want to fall, and neither did the 49ers thanks to him
On the other side, the Packers ran 28 times for 136 yards (4.9 yards per carry) against a 49ers defense that ranked 14th in allowing 4.1 yards per carry in the regular season. The Lions’ two-pronged offense of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs ranked fifth in yards and yards per carry.
The focus will naturally be on quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Jared Goff, but the identity of each offense is built on the field. Purdy struggled against the Packers before his impressive winning run, while Goff was effective in both playoff victories. Both quarters have been difficult to defend when the offense is on schedule, which is why the NFC Championship Game will likely be decided by the best team on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers
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(Photo by Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)