NFL Playoff Bracket 2022: Postseason Standings, Schedule Guide and Predictions

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2022

NFL Playoff Bracket 2022: Postseason Standings, Schedule Guide and Predictions

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    Arguably the greatest week in sports, conference championship week in the NFL will see rematches of two of the best games of the NFL season.

    In a rematch of their enormously fun Week 17 matchup, the Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Arrowhead Stadium for a meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

    After wrecking the Los Angeles Rams' attempt to secure the No. 2 overall seed, the San Francisco 49ers return to SoFi Stadium with the goal of knocking off their division foes for the seventh consecutive time and taking the NFC Championship.

    Can the Bengals and Niners replicate their previous victories, or are two of the most explosive offenses in the league destined to contest Super Bowl LVI on February 13?

Conference Championship Schedule

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    AFC Championship Game

    Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) (3 p.m., CBS)


    NFC Championship Game

    San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5) (6:30 p.m., Fox)

NFC Championship Prediction

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    Beyond the loaded roster and whiz-kid head coach Sean McVay, there is no reason to pick the Los Angeles Rams in this NFC Championship Game. 

    The team collapsed in Week 18 against San Francisco, blowing a 17-point lead en route to an overtime loss. It was the Rams' sixth defeat in a row against their in-state rivals.

    The Niners thoroughly dominated at the line, imposing their will on the NFC West champions as they rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown. Jimmy Garoppolo, entering the game with an injured thumb and questions about his status with the organization beyond the season, threw for 314 yards and led his team to victory despite a less-than-impressive stat line.

    Any team that can crush an opponent's soul in that manner, overcoming a first half in which everything went wrong and reversing their fate for the win, clearly has their rival's number.

    Since that loss, the Rams have been a different team.

    Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing the best football of his season, and more importantly, he's been mistake-free. He has thrown for four touchdowns and zero interceptions and is finding players in the biggest of spots. Look no further than the bomb to triple crown winner Cooper Kupp in the dying seconds of the divisional-round game against Tampa Bay.

    Kupp is playing otherworldly football, catching nine balls for 182 and a touchdown against the defending champions, with his last sealing Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady's fate this season.

    It is the defense, though, that has stepped up for the Rams and should prove key in its showdown against the 49ers.

    Von Miller looks like the Hall of Famer he was at his peak in Denver, exploding off the line after the opponent's quarterback. He had a signature strip-sack against Brady that halted the Bucs momentum. Leonard Floyd is a threat to get to the quarterback on any play, and Jalen Ramsey can cover any receiver in the league.

    Then there is former special teamer Nick Scott, who has been nothing short of phenomenal, most notably picking off Brady and blanketing Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the divisional-round game.

    Then there is Aaron Donald, a game-wrecker of the highest quality. He will make the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco a nightmare for Garoppolo. The question is whether they can hold up in the face of a rushing attack that exploits the aggressive defense and has burned the Rams before.

    Los Angeles stocked up on all-world players in order to make a Super Bowl run. One game away from the NFL's showpiece, it is time that one of those players steps up and turns the game in his team's favor. Look for Ramsey to have a key interception, maybe even a sack or fumble recovery, to seal this one for the Rams as they overcome their kryptonite and ensure a host team will be contesting the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.


    Prediction: Rams by three.

AFC Championship Prediction

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    How much fun would it be to see Joe Burrow lead Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals to their first Super Bowl since the 1988 season?

    The Bengals have been the most fun team in the league over the past six weeks, jelling into a dynamic squad with a ton of guts and confidence, trademarks of their quarterback. They knocked off a tough Las Vegas Raiders squad in the Wild Card Round and outdueled the top-seeded Tennesee Titans to advance to Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

    Too young to know what they don't know and essentially playing with house money, they are a dangerous team and will be a tough out.

    It just so happens that the Kansas City Chiefs are that much more dangerous.

    Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense picked apart a good Buffalo Bills defense Sunday, amassing 552 total yards, averaging 7.6 per play, and committing no turnovers.

    Fighting for their playoff lives and the opportunity to defend the AFC Championship for the third consecutive year, Mahomes and Co. took their play to a different level and reminded fans that they are in the midst of a dynastic run.

    As explosive as the Burrow-to-Chase combo may be, and as dangerous as Mixon can be coming out of the backfield, it is the suspect offensive line that will be most problematic for the Bengals as they attempt to do the unthinkable and advance to the Super Bowl.

    The Tennessee Titans sacked Burrow nine times in a loss. Nine. The idea that the O-line can play that poorly against Chris Jones, Frank Clark and the rest of the Chiefs pass rush and still win is laughable. Ryan Tannehill, though a fine quarterback, is not Mahomes. The former league MVP will make the Bengals pay for every lost yard or turnover.

    Some will point to Cincinnati's victory over Kansas City in Week 17 as evidence that the Bengals can knock off Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill et al. in the franchise's biggest game of the past three decades, but that game was played in Cincinnati. This one will be held at Arrowhead Stadium, a venue as loud as any in the sport.

    The playoff atmosphere, and the incredible pressure on both teams not to give away a spot in the Super Bowl, will prove problematic for a franchise that has not been in that situation for 33 years.

    The Bengals will play hard and have the Chiefs reeling, if for no other reason than the guts of their quarterback and explosiveness of their offense, but Mahomes and Co. will make bigger plays down the field late and secure their third trip to the Super Bowl in as many years.


    Prediction: Chiefs by 10.

Super Bowl LVI Prediction

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    Matthew Stafford spent so much time in Detroit playing for losing teams and being well out of playoff contention early on that it became easy to disregard him as one of the league's best signal-callers. The former No. 1 overall pick has spent these playoffs reminding fans that he can sling the ball as well as anyone and when pressure is on and deliver a knockout blow.

    He did not have to light up the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card Round because of a ground game and suffocating defense that took over that matchup early. Against Tampa Bay, though, he was extraordinary, throwing for 366 yards and two touchdowns.

    It was his 44-yard bomb to Cooper Kupp in the final moments of the divisional-round game against Tampa Bay that not only put the Rams in a position to win the game but also silenced his doubters. When he needed a defining play to extend his team's season and make sure Tom Brady did not get a chance to do what Tom Brady does, Stafford delivered.

    He will continue to, recognizing this is an opportunity he has waited for since 2009.

    Against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team capable of blowing the game wide-open with a single flick of Patrick Mahomes' wrist, Stafford's ability to go throw-for-throw with the AFC champions will be on full display. Kupp will be key, but so will the field-stretching capabilities of Van Jefferson and the sure-handedness of Odell Beckham Jr.

    The defense will step up, with Donald wrecking the game like he always does and leaving fans reminiscing of the all-time-great Monday Night Football game in which his strip-sacks of Mahomes helped secure L.A. the victory.

    In a classic game, with big plays aplenty, the Rams narrowly win their first Super Bowl since the 1999 season, and like Kurt Warner in that game, Stafford gets his storybook ending.


    Prediction: Rams by three.