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It’s Championship Sunday in the NFL
What. A. Weekend.
The 2021 Divisional Round was one for the history books. Each game was decided by 6 points or less as time expired, or in overtime. The number one seeds in both conferences, the Titans and Packers, went one and done on walk off field goals. Three out of four road teams won to advance to Championship weekend. It was the kind of weekend that makes casual football fans into devotees.
Last week’s thrilling games left the sports world with plenty to ponder in the coming weeks. Did Rodgers play his last game in a Packers uniform? Will Tom Brady retire, as reports suggest, after being sent home by the Rams? Should the Titans move on from Ryan Tannehill after his three interception meltdown? Those questions will linger for the immediate future. For now, we’ve got four teams remaining and two games left before the glitz and glamor of Super Bowl LVI. Let’s get to the matchups…
Sunday, Jan. 30th (2 Games)
BENGALS (12-7) AT CHIEFS (14-5) — 3:00pm ET CBS
Favorite: Kansas City (-7) O/U: 54.5
After winning one of the greatest playoff games ever played—against juggernaut Josh Allen and a sensational Bills team—the Chiefs have earned the right to host the AFC title game for the fourth straight season. Their opponent is the red hot Bengals. The Cincinnati cats are playing with house money, entering their first AFC title game since 1988. These two teams played each other in what was nearly a must-win game for both teams back in late December. The Bengals trailed by 21-7 and 28-14 at one point in the game. The Bengals roared back behind inspired play from budding superstar Burrow. He refused to lose, throwing for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson booted a 20 yard field goal as time expired to win the game 34-31.
Obviously the stakes are much higher now and the regular season is over. But the takeaway from that game is that the Bengals are fully capable of pulling off the upset. The Chiefs are the ones coming in with all the experience, a wild home field advantage and edges (per PFF) in pass blocking, run blocking and tackling. But these Bengals are up for the challenge. Cincy faces the best QB in the game, one that’s laser focused on a Super Bowl trip for the third straight season. To get there, he’ll have to down a feisty Bengals team that’s arrived way ahead of schedule.
DFS Player to Watch: Mercole Hardman
Hardman stepped up with a key TD and overtime catch against Buffalo. He now faces a Bengal’s squad that is garbage against #2 receivers. At only $4,000 on DraftKing’s, and looking to bounce back from a 1-target outing, he may be one of the bargains of this game.
49ERS (12-7) AT RAMS (14-5) — 6:30pm ET FOX
Favorite: Los Angeles (-3.5) O/U: 46
The sixth seed 49ers just refuse to go away. After being down 17-0 in the first half of week 18 against the very same Rams they’re about to face, they punch their ticket to the playoffs with a 27-24 win in OT. On the other side of the field the Rams easily dispatched their NFC West rival Cardinals and dethroned Tom Brady and the 2020 Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. That said, after leading 27-3 in the third quarter the Rams made mistake after mistake. They let Brady and the Bucs offense tie the game up in the closing minute of regulation. Credit to Matt Stafford because what happened next was the exact reason the Rams sent two first round picks to the Lions for him. Stafford bombed two rockets to Cooper Kupp to get the ball all the way to the Bucs’ ten yard line. As time expired, Gay nailed the game-winning field goal. The knock on Stafford his entire career in the NFL has been that he can’t win playoff games, that he wilts under the A “pressure” in NFL parlance is when the quarterback is hurried, hit or sacked. Defenses that pressure the opposing QB more than average allow fewer points and win more games, for obvious reasons. QBs under pressure throw away the ball more and make more mistakes (e.g., throw... More. Last week he showed up in a big way with multiple clutch throws. Now he has to live up to his price tag in the NFC title game, a game that takes place in the Super Bowl venue, against a division rival that has beaten them six straight times. The last time the Rams beat the 49ers was in week 17 of 2018. Kyle Shanahan is 7-3 all time against Sean McVay and Jimmy Garoppolo has never lost to the Rams in his time as the 49ers starting QB. Every streak ends at some point and the Rams are desperate to host the Super Bowl in their brand new stadium. So desperate are the Rams that they had Ticketmaster restrict ticket sales to buyers with LA zip codes. Last thing they wanted was another red wave of 49ers fans, like the one that overwhelmed them in week 18. The Rams have an obvious advantage in the air but the 49ers (normally) have an edge on the ground. Problem is, that ground game could hit a wall against the #1 run defense in the business.
DFS Player to Watch: Cooper Kupp
Normally we don’t rush to recommend the most expensive player on the board. This game we must. Kupp is Matty Stafford’s ticket to the Superbowl. He’s the most reliable WR in the game and L.A.’s WR3 Jefferson has a gimpy knee. Kupp averages 114 yard a game. Expect about a dozen targets against San Fran’s porous secondary.
About the Author: Steven A. Cravens has been a professional sports better and analyst for over a decade. As a former Fox Sports NFL researcher and data logger, he specialized in player profiling and performance statistics.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all fantasy stats are based on point per reception (Point per reception This is a DFS scoring system that awards offensive players (e.g., WR, RB and TE) one point for each reception. This is the standard scoring method of DraftKings. More) scoring.