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Super Bowl berths on the line on NFL Conference Championship weekend


W

ell, best of luck following that.

Last week produced the greatest Divisional Round in NFL history – perhaps the greatest weekend in NFL history full-stop. Its first three games were won with walk-off field-goals before (somehow) the best was saved until last as Patrick Mahomes went toe-to-toe with Josh Allen and rescued the Kansas City Chiefs in an instant-classic, forcing over-time despite going behind with 13 seconds on the clock, then toppling the Buffalo Bills with a first-possession touchdown in the extra period.

It was set of games so good that considering them a means to an end, a way of sorting the postseason wheat from the chaff, seems ultra-reductionist and yet here we are: with four teams left, two conference championships to be won and two Super Bowl dreams to be kept alive.

Mahomes and the Chiefs are now favourites to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the only one of the postseason’s top six seeds left standing.

Between them and a third successive trip to the Super Bowl are a franchise who have not been to one since 1988. In fact, the Cincinnati Bengals had gone 31 years without a playoff victory of any description until beating the Las Vegas Raiders on Wildcard Weekend but backed that up against No1 ranked Tennessee and are now one win from American football’s biggest game, just two years after being officially its worst team.

Can Joe Burrow outgun Mahomes once again in the AFC Championship game?

/ Getty Images

Until recently, Matt Stafford had been suffering through a similar – if not quite as long – wait. The quarterback will likely become the 12th player in NFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards when the Los Angeles Rams meet the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, but the 33-year-old – who joined the Rams’ win-now tilt last summer after 12 season in Detroit – had not enjoyed a single playoff success until a fortnight ago.

Both teams have recent Super Bowl defeats to avenge and have already made seismic contributions to the narrative postseason, taking care of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers between them to leave the futures of the last of the league’s golden era quarterbacks in doubt.

The Rams, though, have particular incentive, with Super Bowl LVI set for their new SoFi Stadium and we could be dealing with the proverbial London buses, after Tampa Bay became the first team to reach a home Super Bowl only 12 months ago.

If this weekend’s games are anything like the last set to roll by, we’re in for something special.

Where NFL championship games will be won and lost

Chiefs vs Bengals

It feels like a long, long time ago now that we were casting significant doubts upon Kansas City’s season, with Mahomes riding a career-rough stretch full of uncharacteristic turnovers and mistakes.

The previously hobbling Chiefs are now a familiarly slick, formidable offensive machine once again, effortlessly dropping 84 points in the post-season so far with their superstar quarterback back to his frankly ridiculous best.

While obviously not yet at his opposite number’s sublime level, the Bengals have their own budding superstar under centre in Joe Burrow, who outgunned Mahomes and lit up the Chiefs for 446 yards and four touchdowns during a memorable 34-31 triumph on home soil earlier this month that saw long-suffering Cincinnati wrap up a first AFC North title since 2015.


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