The 2022-23 NFL season is down to four teams, so here are five players to watch heading into the Conference Championships as we search for our Super Bowl LVII contenders.
Brock Is QB1
All eyes have been on Brock Purdy since starting his first NFL game. Everybody, including the San Francisco 49ers faithful, has been watching in awe as Mr. Irrelevant becomes more relevant with every win. Out of nowhere, after starting the season as the third-string quarterback, Purdy has the 49ers playing the best they have done all season.
There is no question that the 49ers are playing better now with Purdy than they were with Jimmy Garoppolo earlier in the year. Still, Jimmy G, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is said to be “an ‘outside chance’ to be ready for the NFC Championship Game if San Francisco were able to advance to it, but that ‘there’d be a better chance’ for him to be ready for the Super Bowl if the 49ers could get that far.“
Surely, if the 49ers can get past the Philadelphia Eagles this week, Purdy will start in Super Bowl LVII…
He’s going to have a huge impact on this one regardless. There is a good chance, positively or negatively, that his performance decides it.
Purdy went back-to-back games with 200 passing yards without an interception. No rookie quarterback in NFL history had achieved the feat in a playoff game let alone two in a row. However, the eye tests suggest he might not be far from throwing a couple.
Brock Purdy can not throw interceptions. Not because he avoids them, but because the universe refuses.
— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) January 23, 2023
The Dallas Cowboys defence let him get away with a few last week. They pressured him a career-high 11 times in the first half and started to expose him. Purdy misses a few throws and has been lucky at times with dropped interceptions recently. When it’s all going right for Purdy, he’s comfortable and clinical. The Cowboys chipped away at him and forced him into some difficult spots which put a handbrake on the 49ers offence. Against a top-shelf defence in the league in the Eagles that keeps the opposition to an NFL-low 4.9 passing yards per attempt and hurries the quarterback on 25.5% of dropbacks (2nd-most), how Purdy reacts to the pressure will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
The Eagles are one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Against the pass, in particular. Getting into Purdy will be a priority for this group in the build-up. In contrast, the 49ers also play with an elite defence. Against the run, in particular.
San Francisco allows the opposition to run for only 77 yards per game – the second-lowest number in the league. Their 3.4 yards per attempt is the lowest mark in the NFL alongside the Tennesee Titans. While Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers offence receive so much of the attention, it’s the defence that has taken them this far. It’s the defence that will be tasked with containing Miles Sanders who toyed with the New York Giants in the first half last week.
Miles Sanders out-gained the Giants in the 1st half. He ran for 75 yards. The Giants had 64 total yards. Yikes.
— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) January 22, 2023
Sanders has been excellent all season; he has played out a career-best year. However, as we saw last week with Kenneth Gainwell rushing for 112 yards and Boston Scott taking six carries for 32 yards, the Eagles have some depth at the position. They can rotate through the backfield, send Sanders out when required, and relying on the rest of the rushing corp to pick up the slack and provide their main man with some rest. Notably for punters, both Gainwell and Scott recorded touchdowns last week while Sanders hasn’t rushed one in since Week 14.
There is more to stopping the Eagles run than Sanders. The 49ers will have their hands full containing this group as a whole.
Joe Burrow’s Talk & Walk
Joe Burrow talks the talk, and so far, Joe Burrow has walked the walk.
The Cincinnati Bengals won five playoff games throughout their first 52 years as a franchise. By beating the highly-fancied Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, Burrow and the Bengals made it five playoff wins in the last two NFL seasons alone. In fact, the only playoff game Burrow has lost was against the LA Rams in Super Bowl LVI.
Burrow is an assassin and the occasion doesn’t seem to phase him in the slightest. Presented with Josh Allen and the Bills who went into the game as favourites and have spent a large chunk of this season as favourites for Super Bowl LVII, Burrow completed his first nine passes. Four of his first five drives ended with touchdowns, and the Bengals cruised to victory with relative ease. The win makes Burrow the winningest playoff quarterback in Bengals history.
Joe Burrow is now 21-2 ATS in his past 23 starts against teams that aren’t or have never been the Cleveland Browns
— Stuckey (@Stuckey2) January 23, 2023
Burrow turns up when it matters most. Expect him to put the Bengals in a position to win with his arm if not cause another upset.
Trusty Travis Kelce
Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle in the Divisional Round. X-rays came back negative, but it’s difficult to believe he isn’t in some pain when looking back at the video. At this stage, he is expected to play. However, it seems safe to assume that the incident that forced him from the field last week will have an impact on how he performs in this one.
Enter: Travis Kelce.
When in doubt, throw it to the big fella.
He started the NFL season strong. The tight end reeled in a career-high 12 touchdowns in the first 12 weeks of the season before going without one through to the end of Week 18. But as the best players in the league tend to do, Kelce recaptured his form for the playoffs, just as he has done in recent years.
Travis Kelce last 7 playoff games
(Rec-Rec Yds-Rec TD):
He will walk into the Hall of Fame the moment he is eligible.
— Paul Hembekides (Hembo) (@PaulHembo) January 22, 2023
How Mahomes links up with Kelce is hardly breaking new ground as something to keep an eye on. However, with Mahomes in some doubt and perhaps not quite as mobile in the pocket, he will need to make every pass count. Expect him to look Kelce’s way fairly regularly this week. Kelce was targeted 17 times against the Jacksonville Jaguars after only recording one game with more than 10 targets all year.
Can you say that a dude in only his second season, who just joined Hall of Famer Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to have 3,000+ receiving yards and 25+ receiving touchdowns in their first two seasons, is having a down year?
Nursing a serious injury at one point this year, we’ve not seen Chase dominate quite like he did last year. He is averaging roughly the same number of yards per game, but his yards per reception have dropped from 18 yards to 12 yards. He has registered four fewer touchdowns. Although, he has played five fewer games.
Ja’Marr Chase regression hit hard last year, and still had more total recpetions in 4 less games than his rookie season. If Ja’Marr Chase played the entire 17 games he paced for
— Jesse Moeller (@JMoeller05) January 20, 2023
Whether or not his numbers are better, Chase is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and, like Burrow above, seems to thrive under the bright lights.
In addition to joining Moss as a history maker above, Chase will continue making it in this one. His 494 receiving yards in the playoffs is the most of any player in NFL history in their first two seasons. Averaging 87.2 receiving yards per game this season, Chase finished up with only 62 last week but his eight targets mark the second-fewest in a game this season. With it all on the line and in what should be a much closer game, expect Chase to be Burrow’s guy in this one.