An NFL Conference championship preview

January 28, 2024
Scroll on for everything you need to know ahead of today’s American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) championship kickoffs.
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An NFL Conference championship preview
Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images

⏪ How we got here

The GIST: With 17 regular-season games and two weeks of postseason play in the books, it’s been a long and winding road for the NFL’s final four — the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, the reigning champ Kansas City Chiefs, and the aforementioned upstart Detroit Lions.

AFC: Baltimore cruised to a 13-4 regular-season record, winning the AFC North to secure the coveted No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. And they certainly looked well-rested in their 34–10 Divisional Round trouncing of the No. 4 Houston Texans. The team now standing in their way of conference gridiron glory? No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs.

  • KC finished their regular season at 11-6 (their worst record since 2017) but dominated the Miami Dolphins 26–7 on Super Wild Card Weekend before outlasting the Buffalo Bills 27–24 last Sunday.

NFC: The 49ers amassed a 12-5 record, earning the conference’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye of their own. But their first postseason game was a nailbiter with SF surviving a third quarter comeback from the emergent No. 7 Green Bay Packers to clinch a 24–21 Divisional Round win.

  • SF will take on the No. 3 Detroit Lions, who own a division title for the first time since 1993 with a matching 12-5 record. The Honolulu Blue eked out a 24–23 Wild Card win over the No. 6 seed LA Rams before topping the No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31–23 in the Divisional Round.

🔴 AFC Championship: No. 1 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs — Today at 3 p.m. ET

An NFL Conference championship preview
Source: Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The GIST: Whip up a Karma Quesadilla for this heavyweight showdown. The Ravens (not these Ravens) are making their 11th playoff appearance in 16 years with HC John Harbaugh at the helm while the defending champ Chiefs are vying for their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years.

🟣 No. 1 Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore owns home-field advantage for a reason: They’ve been the best team in the league this season and are virtually unstoppable when quarterback (QB) Lamar Jackson plays well. Add in a defense that’s allowed the fewest points in the league, and it’s no wonder M&T Bank Stadium is hosting its first conference title game.

🔴 No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs: The red and gold’s defense has been their calling card this season after only allowing 17 points per game, but the QB Patrick Mahomes–led offense is anything but delicate.

Prediction: Sure, it might sound like the Ravens’ year, but the AFC’s top seed will have to topple the defending NFL champs, and that’s no easy feat. Still, the Ravens have dominated the competition this season (top teams included), and while there will likely be some late-game Mahomes magic, expect Jackson to match it en route to his first Super Bowl appearance.

🔵 NFC Championship: No. 1 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 3 Detroit Lions — Tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET

An NFL Conference championship preview
Source: Ryan Kang/Getty Images

The GIST: The NFC Championship is a doggy-dog world, with top-dog SF hosting underdog Detroit. The perennial powerhouse Niners are playing in their fourth conference championship in the last five years while the Lions are seeking their first-ever Super Bowl appearance on the heels of their first multi-game playoff run since 1991.

🔴 San Francisco 49ers: All that glitters is gold for the Niners, who boast superstar running back (RB) Christian McCaffrey among a slew of other top-tier talent on offense and defense. And while QB Brock “Mr. Irrelevant” Purdy was not his usual relevant self in the Divisional Round, the bigger concern is the availability of injured wide receiver (WR) Deebo Samuel.

🔵 Detroit Lions: The Lions are both gritty and gutty, living up to the preseason hype and absolutely electrifying their city. After winning just three games in 2021, the Detroit glow up has truly been a youth movement with rookies RB Jahmyr Gibbs and TE Sam LaPorta and second-year defensive end Aidan Hutchinson leading the charge.

Prediction: This NFC title tilt is the definition of a heart vs. head battle: Yes, the Niners have the better team on paper, but there’s something about this Lions squad and the renaissance of veteran QB Jared Goff that screams upset potential.

👀 More players to watch

An NFL Conference championship preview
Source: Ryan Kang/Getty Images

Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens, defensive tackle: One of the anchors of Baltimore’s elite defense, Madubuike (pronounced MAD-uh-bee-kay) recorded 13 of the Ravens league-leading 60 regular-season sacks. A true menace to opposing QBs.

Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs, RB: Pacheco’s had a breakout season for KC, giving them a much-needed boost on the ground. He might run like he bites people, but the second-year RB is finding his stride at the right time and averaging over 90 yards per game this postseason.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers, TE: The final prong of SF’s Operation Trident, the two-time First Team All-Pro and style icon finished the season as the league leader in receiving yards among TEs, recording over 1K.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions, WR: From fourth round draft pick to top-tier WR, the “Sun God” is shining bright in his third NFL season. The aforementioned Goff’s top target, St. Blue Brown tallied 1.5K yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.