The 49ers visit the Eagles on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. The Chiefs host the Bengals that evening at 6:30 p.m. ET. Keep these battlegrounds, questions, and trends in mind as the Super Bowl LVII matchup is decided.


The slate is stacked

Some team's heater will end Sunday. The Bengals haven't lost a game since Oct. 31, the 49ers are perfect since Oct. 23, and Cincinnati is the only club that's beaten the Chiefs since Oct. 16.

This trio's collective record since the beginning of November is 31-1. The Eagles are 8-1 in that span and 15-1 overall when Jalen Hurts starts. By expected points added per play, the conference title games feature four of the NFL's five best offenses and three of its seven best defenses, per Ben Baldwin's database. The Chiefs are the outlier, ranking 15th in defensive EPA/play, but they can score at whim.

The repeat conference finalists - the Chiefs, Bengals, and 49ers - all posted higher point differentials than they did last season. The Eagles are stronger on both sides of the ball than the 2021 Rams, the reigning Super Bowl champion. No set of finalists since 2018 compiled a higher cumulative point differential than this group (plus-529, ranging from San Francisco's plus-173 figure to Cincinnati's plus-96).

The 2016 Patriots were the last Super Bowl champ to end the postseason on a double-digit win streak. The high mark this century belongs to the 2003 Patriots, whose 15 straight victories culminated in a title. If their momentum abides, the Bengals and 49ers could match up in Arizona in a couple of weeks riding 11-win and 13-win streaks, respectively.


Cincy D vs. Mahomes

The Bengals are 3-0 against the Chiefs since Joe Burrow turned pro in 2020. All three wins came by a field goal. They intercepted Patrick Mahomes twice last January in the AFC championship and quieted the MVP favorite again in Week 13 (Mahomes went 16-for-27 for 223 yards and one touchdown, well below his usual output).

Cincinnati took time to spark to life in last year's AFC title game. It trailed 21-3 late in the second quarter but sacked Mahomes four times and held him to a measly 55 passing yards in the second half and overtime.

The Bengals barely blitzed. They dropped eight men into coverage to envelop Mahomes' targets even when he scrambled to buy time. Occasionally, they deployed a spy to contain his movements. Defensive tackle B.J. Hill and safety Jessie Bates made athletic plays to deflect the passes that were picked.

Mahomes posted the league's best passer rating this season on dropbacks where he was kept clean, per PFF. Will the Bengals, who ranked 22nd in blitz frequency, change tack and send the house to try to hurry him? Or will they pack the defensive backfield and stick with what worked at Arrowhead Stadium a year ago, knowing Mahomes is less mobile now with a sprained right ankle?