This weekend four will become two in the NFL playoffs and the Super LIV matchup will be decided.
In the AFC, there will be no New England Patriots in the Super Bowl for the first time in four years. Indeed, the Pats, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts have represented the AFC in the past 16 Super Bowls, but this year either the Kansas City Chiefs or Tennessee Titans will be in Miami.
The NFC has been a more open conference and either the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers – two of the NFL’s most storied organisations – will be the sixth different franchise to win that Championship Game in the past six years.
But which team will go on to lift the Lombardi Trophy at Hard Rock Stadium on February 2? Our writers make their predictions.
Liam Blackburn: The Tennessee Titans
To prosper in the playoffs you need a stout defense and a strong running game. Tennessee have five turnovers in two playoff wins and have given up a combined 25 points. A tick for that stout defense.
Then they have Derrick Henry, the NFL’s rushing champion, who has in his last three games accrued 588 yards (yes, 588 yards) on the ground. A tick for that strong running game.
The Titans have had to do it the hard way too and they are battle-hardened because of it. Would any of the other three in the final four have beaten the Patriots and Ravens on the road?
And Tennessee did not just beat them, they smashed them. The Texans squandered a 24-point lead against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium last week, but Kansas City’s next opponents have shown they do not crumble from such positions.
In the NFL’s 100th season, it would be fitting if the most old-school team left went on to win it all.
Chris Myson: The Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the astonishing success of Henry over recent weeks and the Ravens’ dominance of the regular season, the passing game remains the key to success in the modern NFL.
The best passing attack left in the playoffs is that of the Chiefs, who are led by Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the game.
While Mahomes has not quite hit the heights of his MVP season due to injuries for himself and key receivers, along with some natural regression after his extraordinary numbers in 2018, he remains magnificent.
Team-mates believe Mahomes’ leadership and pre-snap reads have moved to another level in his second year as a starter.
His performance in heavy snow against the Broncos in Week 15 was a warning to playoff rivals even before his inspirational five-TD showing to see off the Texans in the Wild Card Round, with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman representing a superb group of weapons.
On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald is the only defensive tackle who is better than Chris Jones, whose possible injury return would be another huge factor in the Chiefs’ favour.
Christopher Devine: The Green Bay Packers
The value of an experienced signal caller is at its highest in the biggest games.
Four of the last five Super Bowls have been won by a team with a vastly experienced quarterback, the Philadelphia Eagles’ success with Nick Foles under center the only exception.
For that reason alone, the presence of the ice-cool Aaron Rodgers – the only QB in action this weekend who knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl – is a reason for confidence in the Packers.
Rodgers has certainly not had his best season, but his ability to come through in the clutch is arguably unparalleled and he stepped up to the plate with a vintage performance as Green Bay edged out the Seattle Seahawks to reach the NFC Championship game.
Crucially, this Packers side also has so much more to offer.
Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur has transformed his side’s offense, making it far less reliant on Rodgers’ individual brilliance and getting much more out of star running back Aaron Jones.
In addition, an impressive defense features Za’Darius Smith – an elite pass rusher who finished the year with 93 pressures, the most in the NFL.
The Packers will start as underdogs against the Niners, but they have the weapons to get the job done in both California and Miami.
Nicholas McGee: The San Francisco 49ers
Being the most complete team in the playoffs doesn’t always translate to Super Bowl success but, following the Ravens’ exit, that is what the Niners are and they are rounding into peak form at exactly the right time.
The 49ers are also the most battle-tested team left of the four, having come through a series of heart-stoppers with the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.
San Francisco can win in a variety of ways, but in their 27-10 Divisional Round throttling of the Minnesota Vikings they got back to the formula that saw them start 8-0, with a dominant run game wearing the opposition down and a suffocating defense tormenting the opposing quarterback.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked six times and pressured on 17 of his 35 dropbacks, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, with Minnesota averaging just 3.3 yards per play on offense.
With Dee Ford returning to an ultra-talented defensive line and linebacker Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt also back from injury, there is little to suggest this defense will not maintain that level of performance the rest of the way.
That takes a lot of pressure off Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game. However, Garoppolo and a pass-catching group featuring George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel put the team on their back down the stretch in the regular season. If the Niners need to win through the air, they have the talent and the play-caller, head coach Kyle Shanahan, to do so.
The Niners have won every type of game in 2019 and have thrived in pressure situations throughout the season. That is a recipe for a team to be holding the Lombardi Trophy come February 2.