NFL conference title weekend preview: Chiefs host Bengals, 49ers at Rams
A six-point victory seemed like a rout this wild weekend.
Even if it was in overtime.
Kansas City's hold-your-breath 42-36 win over Buffalo capped a divisional round in which the other three games were decided on final-play field goals giving the visitors wins. The Chiefs and Bills scored three touchdowns and a last-second field goal in the final two minutes Sunday night before two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City won on Travis Kelce's 8-yard TD catch on the first series of the extra period.
That set up a Bengals-Chiefs matchup for the AFC crown next Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City will host that game for the fourth straight year as it seeks a third consecutive Super Bowl berth. The Bengals were last in the big game in 1989.
The Rams made it an all-NFC West conference championship game with San Francisco by edging defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay 30-27 earlier Sunday. The 49ers lost to the Chiefs two years ago, one year after the Rams fell to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Patrick Mahomes found 13 seconds enough time to engineer a drive to Harrison Butker's 49-yard field goal as regulation ended in Kansas City. The Chiefs won the coin toss, marched downfield against an exhausted Buffalo defense, and found Kelce in the corner of the end zone.
“We’re going to play that team a lot of times, and games like this,” Mahomes said of the Bills. “With that quarterback, with that coaching staff and the players they have, it’s going to be a lot of battles. I’m glad we got this one. We’re going to try to keep it rolling, we’ve got a good team coming in next week, but we get to be at Arrowhead for the AFC championship.”
Their 6-point margin on a classic weekend NFL fans will long remember was twice that of each of the other three divisional-round contests.
Rookie Evan McPherson won it 19-16 at Tennessee with a 52-yard field goal for Cincinnati, which emerged from the postseason desert last week by winning for the first time since 1991 — yes, ’91 — with a 26-19 home victory against Las Vegas. The Bengals (12-7), champions of the AFC North, followed that with their first playoff victory away from home.
They will bring their increasing momentum and confidence to Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bengals, who lost twice in the Super Bowl to San Francisco in the 1980s, had perhaps their signature win in 2021 in Week 17, taking down the visiting Chiefs 34-31 in Cincinnati as Joe Burrow went 30 for 39 for 446 yards and four touchdowns. With the way this weekend's games went, another such barnburner seems likely.
The Rams won in spectacular fashion after a mammoth flop in which they blew a 27-3 second-half lead. Matthew Stafford hit unanimous All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp with a 44-yard pass in the final minute, then Matt Gay made a 30-yard field goal to win it.
If this was the final game of Tom Brady's illustrious, title-filled career, it was a tough way to go out. The 44-year-old quarterback, helped by Rams giveaways, nearly replicated the comeback from 25 points down against Atlanta in the second half of the 2017 Super Bowl. But soon after Leonard Fournette's 9-yard run tied it, the Rams turned around and won it.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I mean, we sure let ’em back in the game with a bunch of mistakes on offense," Stafford said. "Our defense played outstanding. We’ve got to clean some stuff up, do a little better job in the turnover department. This is a tough team, man, this is what we’re all about. Just happy to get a win and keep on moving.”
Los Angeles (14-5) overcame those turnovers and will host San Francisco (12-7), which stunned top-seeded Green Bay 13-10 Saturday night at Lambeau Field, winning on Robbie Gould's 45-yard field goal as time expired. In the previous week, the 49ers won 23-17 at NFC East winner Dallas, while Los Angeles routed Arizona, 34-11.
The 49ers are seeking their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons, having lost to Kansas City for the 2019 title. They swept the Rams this season, most notably winning 27-24 in overtime in the finale to secure a playoff berth. The Niners romped 31-10 in Week 10 at home.
Only four times has the team swept in the regular season actually been at home in the playoff matchup, going 2-2 in those. The Rams were part of one of those in 2004, beating the Seahawks twice in the regular season and than again in the postseason, at Seattle.
It’s a very cool and historic matchup for a place in the Super Bowl — which will be played at the Rams’ home stadium, no less. San Francisco is 75-67-3 against its archrival, but just 1-0 in the playoffs, a 30-3 victory in 1989 on the Niners’ way to the NFL championship.