The NFL postseason is down to the final four teams, and while the remaining field includes three that were expected to be here — the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs — the third-seeded Detroit Lions, who will play in their first conference championship game since 1991, have also joined the party.
Given the four teams involved in this weekend’s games are both conference’s top seeds (the Ravens in the AFC and the 49ers in the NFC) and three seeds (the Chiefs in the AFC and the Lions in the NFC), the five bold predictions that have been cooked up below may not be quite as spicy as previous weeks. However, they promise to still be quite filling.
Without further ado, here are the five bold predictions centered around Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games. The teams will battle for a trip to Super Bowl LVIII, which will kick off Feb. 11 on CBS, Nickelodeon and Paramount+.
Ravens’ No. 1 defense will sack and turn over Patrick Mahomes multiple times
Patrick Mahomes’ magic has been in full effect this postseason, as the 2022 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LVII MVP has become the first quarterback ever with no sacks and no turnovers in three consecutive playoff starts. That streak began in last season’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, who led the league in sacks, and has continued against the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills this postseason. Zooming out even further to last postseason, Mahomes has 10 passing touchdowns and no interceptions in his last five playoff games.
However, he now faces the top-seeded Ravens in Baltimore, and they are the toughest defense he will have faced in this stretch. The 2023 Ravens are the first team in NFL history to lead and/or co-lead the league in scoring defense (16.5 points per game allowed), sacks (60) and takeaways (31, tied for the most in the NFL with the New York Giants) all in the same season.
This dogged unit, led by a pair of 2023 First-Team All-Pros in middle linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton, ensures that Mahomes commits multiple turnovers and gets sacked multiple times in his toughest postseason test in two years.
John Harbaugh becomes first former Andy Reid assistant to defeat Big Red in playoffs
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a future Hall of Famer. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion, and his 258 wins as a head coach are the fourth-most in NFL history. Another strong point on his resume is he has never lost to a former assistant of his in a playoff game. He is a perfect 5-0 against former assistants in the postseason.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh served as Reid’s special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles for eight seasons from 1999-2006 and another in 2007 as his defensive backs coach. Then the Ravens swooped in and hired him to be their head coach starting in the 2008 season.
Andy Reid vs. his former assistant coaches in playoffs
Brad Childress, Vikings
Sean McDermott, Bills
Sean McDermott, Bills
Doug Pederson, Jaguars
Sean McDermott, Bills
Something has to give on Sunday, and that will be Reid’s streak. Why? Lamar Jackson’s hot streak will continue as the Chiefs will struggle against his dual-threat skillset. Jackson has won his last seven starts, six of which were against teams with winning records, while compiling 18 total touchdowns to just two turnovers in that stretch. The Ravens have won those games by an average of 17.3 points per game. Jackson maintains that level of play on Sunday, and Harbaugh’s Ravens return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season.
Lions Pro Bowl edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson is on a roll. He has eight sacks in the last four games (including the playoffs) after having just 6.5 sacks in his first 15 games of 2023. Hutchinson has recorded 11 consecutive games with five or more quarterback pressures (including the postseason), which is the longest streak by any player since Pro Football Focus began tracking this statistic in 2017. His 118 quarterback pressures this season are the most in the NFL, which also includes postseason play.
However, he is facing a quarterback in Brock Purdy who has only been sacked three times since Week 14. Hutchinson matches that total on Sunday. San Francisco allowed a quarterback pressure rate of 40.3% in the regular season, the seventh-highest in the NFL. In the NFC title game, Hutchinson gets home again and again and again.
Christian McCaffrey becomes first RB to break 100 yards against the Lions this season
Detroit is the first team since last season’s 49ers to not allow a running back to have at least 70 rushing yards in a game for the entire regular season. The Lions have also limited explosive runs as they still have yet to allow a run of over 30 yards to a running back this season, including the playoffs. Detroit’s defense ranked top three in the league in rushing yards allowed (88.8 rushing yards per game allowed, second-fewest in NFL) and yards per carry allowed (3.7, third-fewest in NFL) in 2023.
This season’s rushing champion, 49ers First-Team All-Pro Christian McCaffrey (1,459 rushing yards in the regular season) led the NFL with at least seven games of over 100 rushing yards. McCaffrey’s five runs of 30 or more yards this season including the playoffs are tied for the most in the NFL.
On Sunday, McCaffrey breaks through for over 100 yards and a touchdown run of over 30 yards, like he did against the Packers in the divisional round.
Brock Purdy throws his first interception of the postseason, but 49ers still win
Through the divisional round, not one of the 10 winning quarterbacks have thrown an interception this postseason (21-0 TD-INT combined). The losing quarterbacks have thrown 10 interceptions (16-10 TD-INT). It is the first time since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger that the winning teams have not thrown an interception through the divisional round.
That trend gets bucked in the NFC title game. 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy put multiple throws up for grabs on Saturday against the Packers, including a pass that hit Green Bay safety Darnell Savage in the hands on his second throw of the game. What likely would have been a pick-six became an incompletion.
The Lions intercepted Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield on Tampa Bay’s first drive of the game after his throw was tipped into the air off of wide receiver Mike Evans’ hand. Detroit won’t drop the opportunity for a takeaway like Green Bay did.
However, San Francisco will still win despite Purdy’s miscues. Why? Because Purdy has too many weapons to fail while playing at home against a lower-seeded opponent. San Francisco is 18-1 when Purdy, Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey all play since Purdy’s first career start. In the same span — Purdy’s entire career as their starting quarterback — the team is 2-4 when any one of these three players, including Purdy, do not play.
49ers with Purdy, Samuel, McCaffrey in lineup*
*Since Purdy’s first career start, including playoffs
Samuel’s status is up in the air after he left the 49ers’ divisional round game last week with a shoulder injury and did not return. After not practicing on Wednesday, he did participate in practice in a limited fashion on Thursday. Expect him to play Sunday and for San Francisco to win.