NFL 2021-2022 Conference Title Games Preview and Bettor’s Guide
LOS ANGELES, January 24, 2022 — All four Divisional playoff games came down to the final play. Three underdog road teams won and the fourth nearly did as home field advantage evaporated last weekend. The Conference Title Games are set. Both games will be played on Sunday, January 30, 2022.
AFC Title Game: Cincinnati Bengals (4)(10-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)(12-5)(-7). 3:00 p.m. on CBS.
NFC Title Game: San Francisco 49ers (6)(10-7) at Los Angeles Rams (4)(12-5)(-3.5). 6:30 p.m. on FOX.
How we got here in the race for the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs won the AFC West and are in the AFC title game for the fourth straight season.
While New England reached the AFC Title Game eight straight years from 2011-2018, the Chiefs are the first team to play four straight AFC Title Games at home. All four of these Chiefs teams have been led by coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs are seeking to become the third team in history to go to the Super Bowl in three straight seasons. The Miami Dolphins lost the big game in 1971 before winning it all in 1972 and 1973. The New England Patriots won it all in 2016, lost the Super Bowl in 2017, and won it again in 2018.
In the 2021 Wildcard matchup, the Chiefs at home jumped all over the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-0 en route to a 31-15 win. In the Divisional round, the Chiefs again at home defeated the Buffalo Bills 42-36 in an overtime game for the ages that featured three lead changes and four scores in the final two minutes of regulation.
The Bengals won the AFC North and are in the AFC Title Game for the third time in franchise history.
They won at home in 1981 over the San Diego Chargers and in 1988 over the Buffalo Bills. This is their first AFC Title Game on the road.
In the Wildcard game at home, the Bengals survived a furious rally by the Las Vegas Raiders on the final play for a 23-16 win. It was the first Bengals playoff victory in 31 years. In the Divisional game, the Bengals went on the road and won a brutal slugfest over the top-seeded Tennessee Titans. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked nine times but Evan McPherson’s four field goals including one on the final play were enough for a 19-16 win.
The 49ers have been to many NFC Title Games.
The 49ers went twice in the 1970s, losing both times to the Dallas Cowboys.
They won four of the five NFC Title Games they played in during the 1980s. Their 1981 victory over the Cowboys is forever known as “The Catch.” The 49ers went to three straight NFC Title Games in the 1990s against the Cowboys, winning the last one. From 1988 through 1994, they were in it six of those seven years. In 1997 they hosted the NFC Title Game but were throttled by the Green Bay Packers.
After failing to make the game in the 2000s, they went three straight years from 2011-2013, winning the 2012 game and losing the other two in heartbreaking fashion. In 2019 they hosted the game and crushed the Packers. Now they are back in the game for the second time in three years.
The 2021 49ers have done it the hard way starting at 3-5.
The 49ers needed to win their final regular-season game at the Rams to even make the playoffs.
However, they fell behind 17-0 and came back for a stirring 27-24 win. They won four out of their last five games to reach the postseason. Then in the Wildcard at the Dallas Cowboys, they took a 23-7 lead but nearly gave the game away before hanging on 23-17. In the Divisional game at the Green Bay Packers, they were trailing 10-3 late in a snowstorm and needed a miracle. The offense did nothing all game, but the defense kept them in the game. And the special teams blocked a punt for a touchdown to tie the game. The 49ers won on the final play 13-10. Now they play their fourth consecutive road game against their hated NFC West rival they swept this year.
The Los Angeles Rams are in the game for the fifth time.
In 1979, the Rams went on the road and won ugly over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0. In 1999 and 2001, the St. Louis Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf hosted and won both appearances over the Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles. The 2018 Rams, now back in Los Angeles, won a controversial overtime road game at the New Orleans Saints. They are playing in their second NFC Title Game in four years.
The Rams this season have been in Super Bowl or bust mode. In a blockbuster offseason trade with the Detroit Lions, Rams coach Sean McVay shipped Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. McVay added Von Miller from the Denver Broncos and O’Dell Beckham from the Cleveland Browns. The Rams won the NFC West. Despite a season split with the Arizona Cardinals where the road team won both games, the Rams at home blasted the Cardinals in the Wildcard. The Rams led 28-0 en route to winning 34-11. In the Divisional matchup, the Rams led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-3.
A hail of staggering Ram’s blunders led to Tom Brady leading a comeback that tied the game 27-27 with 45 seconds left in regulation. That was enough time for Stafford to throw a deep bomb to Cooper Kupp to set up the winning field goal as time expired. The 30-27 Rams win gave them a third game against the 49ers, who swept them in the regular season.
Four weeks ago, the Chiefs and Bengals played an epic regular-season game in Cincinnati.
The Chiefs led 28-14 before Joe Burrow led the Bengals to a stirring comeback. Evan McPherson’s field goal on the final play gave the Bengals the 34-31 win. Yet the rematch is in Arrowhead. Both teams have a ton of weapons on offense. The Bengals have JaMarr Chase and Joe Mixon. The Chiefs have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. This is expected to be another shootout.
The Bengals have played well all year, but the Chiefs simply have too many weapons.
Andy Reid may be the best offensive playmaker in the game. Even if you stop the main threats, Mahomes can go to Byron Pringle or hand the ball to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Burrow took a beating last week, but nobody left in the playoffs has a defensive pass rush as ferocious as Tennessee had. Buffalo played a near perfect game and still lost to the Chiefs. Burrow has a very bright future in the NFL, but Mahomes is the best player in the NFL right now. Things have not come as easy for the Chiefs as it has in the previous three years, but they still get it done.
The Bengals will make it interesting, but with everything on the line, trust Mahomes. He will get to his third straight Super Bowl. Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Yes, the 49ers swept the Rams this week and have beaten them six straight times.
It does not matter. From 1990-to 1998, the 49ers beat the Rams 17 straight times. That meant nothing in 1999 when the Greatest Show on Turf led to a dominant Rams team. In 1983, the 9-7 Seattle Seahawks swept the 12-4 Los Angeles Raiders during the regular season. In the AFC Title Game, the Raiders won easily. Beating a team three times in one season is difficult, especially when the better team lost the first two times. The Bills went on the road in the regular season and beat the Chiefs. That did not matter in the playoffs, where the Chiefs won.
The Rams blew a 17-0 lead against the 49ers and a 27-3 lead against the Buccaneers.
Sean McVay will correct those problems. He is a better fourth-quarter coach than Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan blew two Super Bowls in 2016 and 2019 by refusing to run the ball in the fourth quarter with a lead. That same stubbornness nearly cost his team this year in the Wildcard game against the Cowboys.
Jimmy Garoppolo is not nearly as bad as his critics make him out to be, but he is not an elite quarterback either. He sometimes makes mistakes in critical situations. He has fantastic weapons in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, but the 49ers win ugly with defense. Matthew Stafford languished in Detroit for over a decade and now has some of the best weapons in the league. Cooper Kupp is a superstar. Cam Akers is back, but his two fumbles nearly cost the Rams in the Divisional game against the Buccaneers.
The Rams have the best defensive line tandem in the league with wrecking balls Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
Jalen Ramsey may be the best cornerback in the game.
Both teams won last week despite not playing their best game. The 49ers were awful. Green Bay gave the game away. The Rams dominated Tampa Bay but then tried to give the game away. If both teams play their best game, the Rams win. They have too much talent on both sides of the ball and the better coach when it comes to fourth-quarter situational football. The 49ers are a very confident bunch bordering on arrogance.
Their level of play does not match their cockiness.
The 49ers are a good team who has been very lucky.
The Rams are a great team that has yet to play their best football. The Rams know that if they win, the Super Bowl is also in their home stadium in Los Angeles. The 49ers will make it interesting, but this time the Rams will close the door. Stafford showed last week that he is fearless in the clutch. In a close game, go with Stafford. He is the better quarterback. In a playoff season filled with road wins, this time the Rams will win this home game and the big home game two weeks later. The Rams are built to win it all right now, and they will. The Rams win but fail to cover.