Sports staff predicts Championship Sunday


Matt Rourke | Associated Press

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts runs for a touchdown against the New York Giants during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke | Associated Press)

By Northern Star Sports Staff

Editor’s note: Three Northern Star sports writers are fans of teams participating in championship weekend. Sports Editor Skyler Kisellus is a Cincinnati Bengals fan, sports writer Adrien De La Pena is a Kansas City Chiefs fan and sports writer Eddie Miller is a San Francisco 49ers fan.

With two rounds of playoff football down and three left to be played, the race to hoist the Lombardi Trophy has been whittled down to four teams. The Northern Star sports staff predicts which teams will edge their opponents Sunday to advance to Super Bowl 47 in Glendale, Arizona.

Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

Sunday’s AFC championship game won’t be the Bengals’ first playoff rodeo at Arrowhead Stadium. Cincinnati edged Kansas City in last year’s conference title game after then-rookie Bengals kicker Evan McPherson drilled the game-winner in overtime, sending the Bengals to Super Bowl 56.

This year won’t be much different either. Superstar quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals are on a roll after having won their past ten games, including two playoff contests. Kansas City looks beatable after they fought a close battle with Jacksonville on Saturday.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) and Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) motion for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter of an NFL division round football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex | Associated Press)

I’ll even go as far as to predict the score of the game: 27-24, the same score from two of the past three meetings between the AFC powerhouses. If Burrow can outduel the likes of Tom Brady and Josh Allen, he can surely hold up against Patrick Mahomes – a foe he’s well familiar with.

Burrow is undefeated against Mahomes. ‘Nuff said.

NFC Champion: San Francisco 49ers

Sure, Philadelphia handled the Giants in much more dominant fashion than San Fran did against Dallas, but that shouldn’t lessen the threat that the 49ers bring to the table. However, fans shouldn’t expect much scoring in a game that features two of the nastiest defenses the league has to offer.

The biggest disparity between the NFC’s top squads falls at the quarterback position. On one side, you have the Cinderella story that is Brock Purdy, the 2022 Mr. Irrelevant pressed into action after injuries to starters Trey Lance and Jimmy Garropolo. On the other is third-year passer Jalen Hurts, one of the current frontrunners for MVP.

Despite the gap, expect Purdy to quell any skeptics with an impressive championship outing under head coach and QB whisperer Kyle Shanahan to send San Francisco to its second Super Bowl appearance since 2019.

Ethan Gonzales, Assistant Sports Editor

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs have lost three games in a row to the Cincinnati Bengals, but I believe they are geared up for an old-fashioned revenge victory. Mahomes has been having another MVP-caliber season, solidifying his spot as the best quarterback in the NFL. If Mahomes and his receiving core is clicking on Sunday, the Chiefs will win the AFC championship game.

The Chiefs’ secondary needs to play its “A-game” on Sunday if they want a chance against the heavy air attack from Cincinnati. Burrow will rely heavily on his receiving core of Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd. Other than that, the Bengals don’t have much else to offer in terms of offense. The Chiefs should take advantage of the Bengals’ one dimensional offense.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

Although I would love to see a rematch of the 2020 Super Bowl between the 49ers and Chiefs, I believe that the Eagles are the more complete team. Everyone knows about Hurts’ impressive season, but there are more standouts on this team than people realize.

Philly head coach Nick Sirianni has coordinated the Eagles’ overwhelming rushing attack this year. The Eagles finished fifth in rushing yards, led by RB1 Miles Sanders, who recorded 1,269 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell and Hurts were huge parts of the run game as well, giving the Eagles multiple threats that the 49ers will need to think about.

AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith will lead the air attack for the Eagles, two dynamic receivers who are in the top-15 in receiving yards this season. The 49ers will have to establish an aggressive pass rush to disrupt Hurts and the Eagles’ rhythm on the offensive end.

Alex Crowe, Senior Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday’s AFC matchup is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship, with Burrow putting his 3-0 record against Kansas City on the line. While Burrow has proven he can get the job done at Arrowhead in the past, a Bengals loss in Kansas City is well overdue. I think this will be the Mahomes revenge game from last year’s crushing defeat.

The caveat is Mahomes ankle injury. He will have to be less mobile than normal and start slinging from the pocket. While this is a little bit of unfamiliar territory for Mahomes, he has shown he can be dynamic in any situation he’s thrown into.

Burrow and the Bengals will put up a good fight – maybe even have the lead late. But I see Mahomes taking the Chiefs down the field in the dying minutes of the game – and Marquez Valdes-Scantling burning Eli Apple in the end zone – to secure his team’s third Super Bowl berth since the 2019-20 season.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

This matchup is about as much of a coin-flip as you can get when it comes to predictions. Both teams boast a strong unit on both sides of the ball, meaning whoever blinks first will lose this game.

As impressive as the Brock Purdy story has been for the 49ers, his showing against an admittedly strong Cowboys defense left much to be desired. If it weren’t for poor quarterback play by Dak Prescott, San Francisco likely wouldn’t be in this game. The Eagles have a formidable defense like Dallas did. So, with such a small margin for error to be had in this game, I think Purdy is the one that will blink first.

Hurts has had an MVP caliber season and is fresh off dismantling the Giants in the divisional round. With weapons such as Smith and Brown, it’s hard to imagine even the 49ers defense containing that attack.

This will be a very close game. But I think the Mr. Irrelevant magic will run out in Philly, and the Eagles will play in their second Super Bowl since 2017-18.

Zachary Bertram, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

Even though Cincinnati has won its last three matchups versus the Chiefs, including last year’s AFC championship game in Kansas City, I’ve got the Chiefs taking down the Bengals and getting revenge from last season.

Even with Mahomes nursing a high ankle sprain, he is still the best quarterback in football and holds an 8-2 home playoff record. I believe he will be able to carve up an average Bengals secondary with his variety of weapons including longtime Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, as well as newcomers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Isiah Pacheco.

While the Chiefs defense isn’t spectacular, I believe they will do just enough to hold off the Bengals potent offense led by Burrow, Joe Mixon and Chase. Defensive playmakers such as Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Nick Bolton will be able to force a key turnover late to help send Kansas City to its third Super Bowl in four years.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

I believe the Eagles will beat the 49ers because of their advantage at the quarterback position. While seventh round rookie Purdy has essentially come out of nowhere and played great for the 49ers, I think the Eagles having MVP finalist Hurts at quarterback will be the difference for Philadelphia.

With the 49ers going up against one of the most high-powered offenses in the league Sunday, I think Purdy will need to play more than mistake-free football and will need to make some big plays if the 49ers want to keep up with the Eagles and get the win. I don’t think that Purdy will be able to make enough plays against the monstrous Eagles pass rush which features four players with ten or more sacks, including Haason Reddick and Brandon Graham.

The 49ers have an amazing set of offensive weapons such as Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. However, the Eagles having weapons like Brown, Smith and Sanders to help Hurts in addition to their nasty defense will be enough to push them past the 49ers.

Adrien De La Peña, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

The upcoming playoff matchup with the Chiefs against the Bengals might be the most anticipated matchup on Championship Sunday as the Chiefs look to play in the Super Bowl for the third since 2018. The Chiefs have experience as do the Bengals but I think there is a big incentive in this playoff matchup.

The Chiefs have lost the last three games against the Bengals, which is why this game is so anticipated, but the real question is which quarterback is better: Mahomes or Burrow? Mahomes is 0-3 against Burrow and it’s hard to beat arguably the best quarterback in the NFL three times, let alone four, and I don’t think Mahomes is going to let that happen.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) cheers during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs won 27-20. (Jeff Roberson | Associated Press) (Jeff Roberson | Associated Press)

Mahomes has been dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in the divisional game against the Jaguars, but head coach Andy Reid and Mahomes seem very confident and are not worried whatsoever about that ankle. At the end of the day, hurt or not, Mahomes will find a way to get the win on Sunday with now a fully healthy receiving core with receiver Mecole Hardman coming back off injured reserve.

NFC Champion: San Francisco 49ers

This matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles will be a blowout. The San Francisco 49ers have been the best team in the NFL in the second half of the season. They have gone on to win 12 straight games with the best defense in the NFL and now Mr. Relevant rookie quarterback, Brock Purdy.

The Philadelphia Eagles have been the main source of attention when it comes to the NFL, but the main thing that fans and analysts are starting to realize is the fact that the Eagles had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Earlier in the year against the Cowboys the Eagles fell short without Hurts and with him banged up this late in the season, I believe that the 49ers are going to expose the Eagles.

With this next game against the Eagles the 49ers rookie quarterback will be able to establish himself as a starter in the NFL if the 49ers win. The 49ers have the most talented roster in the NFL with their defense being lights out and having offensive weapons like Samuel, McCaffrey and Kittle. I believe that if Purdy plays like he’s been playing the past few games, the 49ers will win the game and send themselves to the Super Bowl for a super rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Eddie Miller, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

With the championship round of the NFL playoffs starting, it is clear that the Burrow-led Cincinnati Bengals will match up against the Purdy-led San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 57.

With Burrow’s phenomenal accuracy and a wide receiver core of Chase, Higgins and Boyd, Burrow will add on to his 3-0 record against the Kansas City Chiefs and will win the AFC championship.

The AFC championship game will come down to defense, both the Chiefs and the Bengals have top 10 offenses and rely heavily on the pass game to put points on the board. The Bengals have a better rushing offense, along with having a more efficient defense. This matchup between Burrow and Mahomes will come down to the wire, and I believe will result in a 31-27 victory for the Bengals.

NFC Champion: San Francisco 49ers

This matchup of two of the most complete rosters in the NFL will be won or lost in the trenches. Even with receiving threats like Kittle, Brown, Samuel and Smith, both the Eagles and the 49ers’ strong spot on offense is the running game. The Eagles (5th) and the 49ers (7th) are top 10 in rushing yards this season.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead (91) and defensive end Nick Bosa (97) react after tackling Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (Godofredo A. Vásquez | Associated Press) (Godofredo A. Vásquez | Associated Press)

Although both the 49ers and the Eagles are among the top defenses in the NFL, the Eagles one weak spot could be the deciding factor of a 49ers win. The Eagles 16th-rated run defense will be exploited by the excellent run game coordinated by Shanahan. Like the AFC Championship, this matchup will be close and low scoring. I believe the 49ers run game paired with excellent defensive play will lead the 49ers to a 21-17 victory sending them to Super Bowl 57.


Kumail Razvi, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

Both teams have great offensive players, but I favor the Bengals’ offense a bit more. The Bengals have an elite quarterback with Burrow and a great receiving core with Chase, Higgins and Boyd, not to mention Mixon as their running back. Their offensive line has been a struggle for quite a while now which gives the Chiefs defense an advantage of getting to Burrow. He’s going to have to quickly get out of the pocket and immediately throw the ball. Also, throughout his entire career, Burrow has been undefeated when facing the Chiefs, 3-0, despite them being very close games.

Kansas City also has an elite quarterback with Super Bowl Champion Mahomes and  one of the best tight ends in the league in Kelce. But with the loss of Tyreek Hill over the offseason, they don’t really have any elite receivers to rely on besides JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney. Both receivers aren’t nearly as good as Hill. Mahomes is also going to be playing this game with a high ankle sprain, which is going to limit his mobility. He seems to be getting better and better, but I don’t feel like he’s going to be 100% come Sunday.

NFC Champion: San Francisco 49ers

Both the Niners and the Eagles are a complete team with amazing offense and defense ranked top five.

I don’t expect either team to put up a lot of points as this is going to be a defensive war. This game is probably not going to rely too much on quarterback play as both teams have an offensive advantage with the Eagles having Smith and Brown and the Niners having McCaffrey, Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Kittle.

The Niners starting quarterback, Brock Purdy, has been having the best season as a rookie third string quarterback, having yet to lose a game. This begs the question: of Is Purdy really a good quarterback, or does he look good because of his offense? This game is really going to put him to the test and the Niners offense just looks stacked with the addition of McCaffrey midway through the regular season.

DeOndre Saunders, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

Due to the unfortunate high ankle spray that Mahomes suffered in the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 21, the Cincinnati Bengals are automatically going to Super Bowl LVII. There is some uncertainty if Mahomes can be mobile in Sunday’s matchup or if the ankle will mentally mess with him.

Burrow will go into Sunday’s game ready to take advantage of possible troubles with Kansas City’s offense and dominate. Burrow continues to beat the odds on his quest to win the AFC championship again. It first started winning the AFC North and beating division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. He then defeated the Buffalo Bills who everyone thought were going to face the Chiefs. Now he is going to defeat the Chiefs and do what he couldn’t do last year and win the Super Bowl.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the most stacked teams in the NFL. They have eight players selected to play in the Pro Bowl. The Eagles continue to establish their dominance game after game and prove they are a dynasty.

Hurts is becoming a leader and is having an MVP-like season. His success comes from having two great receivers in Brown and Smith.

The San Francisco 49ers have a good defense and their offense is picking up well with their third string, rookie quarterback Purdy. The issue with the 49ers is will the pressure get to Purdy as he is one game away from a trip to the Super Bowl. I believe the pressure will get to Purdy and he won’t have a good game on Sunday in the NFC Championship.

Joseph Segreti, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

Burrow can’t stay undefeated against Mahomes and the Chiefs forever. This weekend, the Chiefs will finally beat Burrow’s Bengals and move on to the Super Bowl. Kansas City’s biggest problem is how available Mahomes will be. Mahomes ability to improvise and scramble out of the pocket to keep plays alive is a game wrecker but with the high ankle sprain he suffered last week against Jacksonville, Mahomes’ mobility will be limited. Mahomes is still the best quarterback in football and can still make dynamic plays from the pocket. Kansas City’s defensive front, consisting of Chris Jones and Frank Clark, should be able to apply pressure and sack Burrow multiple times.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have been the best team in football all season. They have one of the best groups of skill position players in the league, and an MVP caliber quarterback in Hurts to run their offense. Their defense has also been very good this season, with new additions to their secondary like C.J. Gardner Johnson and James Bradberry and seasoned veterans like Darius Slay. The Eagles defensive line, who featured four players post 10 or more sacks on the season, is a unit who will apply pressure to a young quarterback like Purdy and force him to make quick decisions, which could lead to mistakes.

Michael Stoll, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Cool looks too much like young Tom Brady before the knee injury to have me picking anyone else.

The Bengals offense looks poised, controlled and well-paced with Burrow at the reins. Entering Arrowhead as winners of ten straight, they are unquestionably the hottest team in the league and they haven’t lost to Kansas City yet since Burrow took charge.

Add in their defense really finding their playoff stride against the Buffalo Bills last week and Mahomes dealing with a high-ankle sprain, I’ve got the Bengals convincingly making their way to the Super Bowl once again.

NFC Champion: San Francisco 49ers

I think it’s safe to say that the 49ers are the most well-rounded football club remaining of the four chasing the title. Their opponent, the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles, are certainly going to be their biggest test yet; their high-flying offense, when hot, can simply blow games wide open.

The Eagles have looked like a lock all year to make the conference championship. They boast a league-leading eight Pro Bowl selections and will have a rowdy home-crowd backing them up for the upcoming showdown.

But I can’t shake the vision in my head that this game is going to be a brutal, low-scoring defensive showcase from both teams. In games like that, it comes down to one or two big plays and some elite decision-making from your quarterback/running back/coaching trio.

Of the two teams’ trios… I like Purdy, McCaffrey and Shanahan by just a slim margin.

Jermel Williams, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship will see Burrow and Mahomes match off against each other for the fourth time in their careers. Burrow seems to have Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ number, winning all three of their past matchups against each other. Their last meeting came in Week 13 where the Bengals defeated the Chiefs 27-24 and Burrow passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals have shown that they are not just a regular season team carrying their seven game winning streak into the playoffs now winning 10 consecutive games. With the momentum of the Bengals and the success that they’ve had against the Chiefs, I believe that the Benaglas will beat the Chiefs 30-24.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles came into the playoffs with the best record in the league (14-3). The Eagles have MVP candidate Hurts and one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Kalesia Williams, Sports Writer

AFC Champion: Kansas City Chiefs

Mahomes’ mobility for this game will be questionable due to him suffering an ankle injury during Saturday’s win over the Jaguars. I am still confident Mahomes will lead this team to victory even if he’s playing on one leg.

Kansas will be seeking revenge after being knocked out by the Bengals in last year’s AFC title game. I’m expecting this to be a close game with a final score of 30-27.

NFC Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have been title favorites all season with its star-studded roster and MVP candidate Hurts. Last time the Eagles went to the NFC championship game in 2018, they went on to win the Super Bowl. I’m convinced that with this roster’s history will repeat itself.

Rookie Brock Purdy has been great this year, helping the 49ers rank No. 5 in offense. Their defense is great too, they were ranked No. 1 this season. The Eagles are right behind them in defensive rankings at No. 2 and better offensively at No. 3.