The NFL is down to the final four.
With the Divisional Round behind us, we now know what four teams still have a chance to make it to Super Bowl LVII. On the AFC side of things, a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game is on tap as the Cincinnati Bengals will return to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Over in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles advanced to the NFC Championship Game after defeating the New York Giants, and they will host the San Francisco 49ers, who outlasted the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.
Did this weekend change our thinking here at SB Nation? Well, perhaps a right ankle injury did...
Here is how we view the final four teams, as voted on by our staff.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles earned the top seed in the NFC with their play during the regular season.
And on Saturday night, they reminded the football world just how good they can be.
Coming off the bye week, the Eagles throttled the New York Giants by a final score of 38-7, advancing to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since their run to Super Bowl LII. Quarterback Jalen Hurts shrugged off his lingering shoulder injury, completing 16 of 24 passes for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding another 34 rushing yards and a touchdown in the victory. But another player who had been dealing with an injury, right tackle Lane Johnson, looked solid in the win as well. Johnson suffered a torn adductor muscle on Christmas Eve, but shrugged off surgery so he could return for the playoffs.
Then there was the Eagles’ defense, which slowed down the New York offense, sacked Daniel Jones five times and forced an interception in the victory.
It was the kind of complete performance that had many thinking earlier in the year that the Eagles would indeed be the team to beat in the NFC. The injury to Hurts had some wondering if the path to the Super Bowl would run through a city other than Philadelphia, but the team we saw on Saturday night certainly looks like a team that could make a very deep run.
The next step, however? Figuring out Brock Purdy.
— Mark Schofield
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes now has the most scrutinized right ankle in the NFL, if not beyond.
The Kansas City Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship Game with a 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. But the story for the next week will be the health of their quarterback. Mahomes suffered a right ankle injury early against the Jaguars, and missed the rest of the first half on Saturday afternoon. He returned to the game — throwing a touchdown pass on just one leg — and finished the day having completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 and a pair of scores.
X-rays conducted at halftime were negative, but Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Saturday night that the quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain.
Given how Mahomes fought to remain in the game, and returned to the field after halftime, it is hard to imagine that he would be out for Sunday. And his head coach seemed to agree after the game: “He’s a tough kid,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after the game. “So, he wanted to be in there. He wanted to be competing. It’s a tribute to him and his competitiveness. However, you got to make sure he’s physically OK where he can protect himself. If he can’t then he can’t play, and we have to go to the next guy. But he’s a tough nut. I tell you, he’s competitive. He’s very, very competitive.”
But how might Mahomes look after a week?
How the injury impacts him, and the Kansas City offense, is a massive issue to track over the coming days.
So too will be the question of how the Chiefs will fare against the Cincinnati Bengals. Mahomes and company have lost three-straight to the Bengals, including last year’s AFC Championship Game.
— Mark Schofield
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Following the Bengals’ 27-10 victory over the Bills, quarterback Joe Burrow was asked about the NFL’s plans to host a potential AFC Championship game at a neutral site between the Chiefs and Bills and how that topic motivated him and his team heading into the divisional round.
The third-year passer only needed four words to articulate his thoughts: “Better send those refunds.”
After a posting a 2-3 record through the first five weeks of the season, many believed the Bengals were headed for some form of a Super Bowl hangover. But ultimately, Cincinnati would go on to win 10 of their next 11 games and finish the year 12-4 en route to snatching the AFC North crown.
Now, they’re the winners of two playoff games and are headed for their second consecutive AFC championship game where they’ll travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs for a rematch of last year’s title tilt.
While the high-octane offense has been the calling card of the Bengals over the past two seasons, don’t sleep on defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and the incredible job he’s done building his unit into a group worthy of complementing the elite group on the other side of the ball.
— Michael Peterson
4. San Francisco 49ers
Full disclosure: I voted the 49ers at No. 1.
Why? This team is stacked.
At the beginning of the playoffs, I predicted the playoffs in my mind and I had the 49ers beating Kansas City in the Super Bowl. The first two rounds of the playoffs, San Francisco wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, did nothing to sway my mind.
The biggest reason is that rookie Brock Purdy continues to show he is a benefit and not a determent to the 49ers. He’s not perfect, but the kid is a great fit for this team.
So, quarterback is not an issue in San Francisco. Combine that with an embarrassment of offensive weapons, a strong offensive line and a timely, relentless defense and there is nothing not to like about this team’s chances of winning its sixth Super Bowl in team history and first in 28 years.
Yes, the NFL’s Final Four is stacked, but don’t discount this team.
— Bill Williamson