There are four teams remaining in the 2022–23 NFL season and four potential Super Bowl matchups left to consider. While we would like this time of year to be about just the on-field performances, this championship weekend is rife with story lines.
Will Patrick Mahomes’s injured ankle be functional enough for a robust game plan Sunday? How healthy is Jalen Hurts? Can Lane Johnson maintain a level of performance that keeps Nick Bosa at bay? Will Brock Purdy take a few quarters to transform into his best self?
Let’s take a look at all of those moving parts and more as we examine the 49ers-Eagles and Chiefs-Bengals matchups.
Which player will everyone be talking about after Sunday?
Conor Orr: Brock Purdy, QB, 49ers. How can we not be? I was playing bar trivia the other night, and Tom Brady’s round and pick number is such an ingrained part of our sports society that everyone in attendance got it right. Purdy has that same kind of backstory. It’s something we love.
Michael Rosenberg: Nick Bosa, DE, 49ers. He is the key to the whole NFC championship game to me. If the Eagles can neutralize him, Jalen Hurts will have time to operate and the Eagles should win. But nobody has neutralized Bosa yet. Bosa is the Niner most likely to feed off the crowd and most likely to make the biggest defensive play of the game.
Greg Bishop: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs. We could be even more specific here. The health of Mahomes’s injured right ankle will be the talk of the weekend. If he’s healthy, if he can move, if he’s not limping and hobbling, the Chiefs look like a good bet to beat the Bengals. But both of those teams are really good, so if Mahomes is hampered in a more significant way, that’s likely enough to give the Bengals enough of an edge to win a game they might win, anyway.
Rank the four head coaches from 1 to 4 in the championship games?
Orr: Andy Reid, Kyle Shanahan, Zac Taylor, Nick Sirianni. I just feel like ranking them in order of Super Bowl appearances is probably the right thing to do. Sirianni was great this year, but I think longevity is such an integral part of being considered a great coach. How well do you hold up over time? How easily can you get back to the apex of the sport, especially when your assistants keep getting plucked and hired elsewhere?
Rosenberg: Shanahan, Sirianni, Reid, Taylor. I’m copping out here and picking them based on the job they did this year; Reid, obviously, has had the best career of the bunch, and in a year I might rank them in the exact opposite order. I just think Shanahan’s forced adjustment from Trey Lance to Jimmy Garoppolo to Brock Purdy is one of the great coaching jobs in a long time. Sirianni has galvanized a loaded roster. Reid has shown he can build a dynamic offense no matter who his skill-position players are. And then I put Taylor last, because he likes claiming his team is disrespected so I want to help him out there.
Bishop: Reid, Shanahan, Sirianni, Taylor. This is a tough question. For me, it’s hard to argue with Reid’s longevity, the number of winning seasons and quarterbacks developed and Super Bowls made (with the win a few years back). But Reid also adjusted this season, changing his offense back to more of what it was like a couple of years ago and getting the most out of a receiving core he put together on the fly. I’d argue this is Kyle Shanahan’s masterpiece, too, as he built the hottest team in football while subbing in and rotating his quarterbacks. But, shoot, they’ve all had excellent seasons. I’d rank them all pretty close. The first two just did a little more, with a little less.
Which quarterback will win the most Super Bowls in his career: Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow?
Orr: Burrow. To me, Burrow has traits that will lend themselves to a longer career, should he want it. Mahomes is an outlier in almost every statistical and physiological way, but I’m more curious about how he will age, especially as we see other quarterbacks who utilize their mobility to aid in the process of extending a play and gaining yardage. I could see Burrow playing more or less the same way into his early 40s; thus, he’ll have more opportunities to win it all.
Rosenberg: Mahomes. People might not realize this, because Mahomes won an NFL MVP award before Burrow won the Heisman, but Mahomes is only a year older than Burrow. He has already won a Super Bowl. As great as Burrow has been, Mahomes has been better, and the Chiefs have already shown they can build a contender while paying him superstar money, while the Bengals have taken advantage of Burrow’s rookie deal. I also still have more confidence in Kansas City’s ownership and front office than I do Cincinnati’s. The main argument for Burrow is that at some point, Mahomes will probably have to win without Andy Reid, while Burrow and Zac Taylor can copilot the franchise for another decade or more. But I’m still going with Mahomes.
Bishop: Gonna split the difference here and go with a tie. Mahomes will win two. Burrow will win two. They will end up in a future-Pro-Football-Hall-of-Fame-quarterback stalemate. This owes to the fact that in the NFL, while you need an elite quarterback to win a Super Bowl, you also need a whole lot more. The Chiefs’ defense is getting older and expensive. The Bengals have a lot of good young players. But they’re going to need contract extensions, too. As Mahomes and the Chiefs have proven, having a QB as good as he is doesn’t guarantee a dynasty, for all the other factors. So, tie!
Which team has the bigger home-field advantage: Chiefs or Eagles?
Orr: Philly. I think when a game goes south for a team, they are absolutely ruthless; the boot on the neck of a team that’s reeling. Unlike Kansas City, there is no “midwestern nice” there. There is this woman. Look her in the eyes when you’re down by two scores and tell me that wouldn’t just break your spirit completely.
Rosenberg: Generally, maybe Kansas City, if only because Chiefs fans are less likely to turn on their team. But this week? Philly. Eagles fans will be loud, raucous and gleefully impolite. There are certain cities where one team is so clearly the town passion, and in Philly it’s the Iggles. The connection between the fan base and this year’s team is special. Eagles fans seem to see every guy on the roster as one of them.
Bishop: I love the passion of Philly sports fans, but I’d lean toward Kansas City. It helps the Chiefs to have had the experience of playing that game, in that stadium, season after season in recent years. Plus, it’s not like Chiefs Kingdom isn’t passionate. Arrowhead can feel like an airplane hangar. Sometimes the press box shakes. Between the noise, the experience and the familiarity, that pushes K.C. ahead for me.
Let’s make some picks. Which teams will advance to the Super Bowl?
Orr: Cincinnati and San Francisco. I think the 49ers will put a lot of pressure on an extremely talented but injured Eagles offensive line. I think the Bengals, similarly, will put too much stress on Mahomes, who is reeling from a high-ankle sprain. This is also the Super Bowl I would like to see the most. I think it would be stylistically beautiful football.
Rosenberg: Kansas City and San Francisco. I say this with very little confidence; they are both toss-up games to me. I just have so much faith in Mahomes, and this Kansas City team is better at playing complementary football than the last few. My concern with the Eagles is the matchup. Philly’s run defense is vulnerable, and the 49ers are built to take advantage of that. Jalen Hurts has been one of the best players in the league when he has time, but the 49ers’ defense has a great chance to disrupt his rhythm.
Bishop: Cincinnati and Philadelphia. But I agree with Rosey, because one should never disagree with Rosey. I think all four teams could easily win the whole damn thing. I don’t feel like any of them stand clearly above the rest. But people have doubted the Eagles all season, for a variety of shifting reasons, and they just go out and dominate people. I give them a slight edge due to home field advantage. I like the Bengals because of two words: high ankle. It’s incredible that Mahomes even wants to play this weekend, let alone can. But in a game that would have been close regardless, this to me gives Cincinnati the edge.