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Rocky’s World: Previewing ‘Championship Sunday’ — and why teams left should fear The Reaper

We’re previewing Championship Sunday; it’s time for the Chiefs to bring the Lamar Hunt Trophy home.

NFL: AFC Championship-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Oyster Cult was right.

You have nothing to fear— that is, if the Reaper is on your side.

Last week in my Divisional Round preview, I predicted that the Los Angeles Rams, led by the Incredible Hulk (Aaron Donald), would give Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady fits.

We were correct about the Bengals, but that one was easy. There was no way Derrick Henry would be 100% after being out of football or the bulk of the season. The Titans are who the Chiefs used to be, prior to drafting Patrick "The Grim Reaper" Mahomes.

The one blemish on my picks was that I expected the Packers to play better than they did. I should have known not to put my faith in a 38-year-old regular-season MVP.

In the article, I compared Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Little did I know, I was underselling it:

As we revel in the afterglow of the best football game we have ever seen, it's important to remember that the job's not finished yet.

They say the route to the summit of Everest is littered with the bodies of climbers who succumbed to the elements of the journey. The road to the Super Bowl is littered with broken dreams. It's littered with Josh Allens and Gabriel Davises — players who literally gave everything they had yet somehow still failed to make it up the mountain.

The Chiefs nearly fell to their deaths more than once, trying to make it up this mountain, but fortunately, the Grim Reaper reached out his icy hand and caught them.

A slow descent - Hillary Step

So here we are, two stages from the pinnacle — I'd like to think the worst is behind us, but the cliffs are getting steeper with every step down this road. Be brave and have faith, Chiefs Kingdom — there is nothing to fear when the collector of souls is the one leading us home.

Just like last week, winning probabilities are from FiveThirtyEight's quarterback-adjusted ELO model.


Sunday


San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Time: 5:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Rams 64%

Preview: Rams head coach Sean McVay and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan have a history. It's a story of nepotism and the battle of a student trying to beat his master: more of a feud than it is a game. It's a fight to see who will be the "King of California."

Both coaches were born into NFL royalty.

Sean McVay's grandfather, John, was the general manager for the 49ers in their heyday, winning five Super Bowls during the '80s and '90s. He had the foresight to trade a second and a fourth-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Steve Young despite having Joe Montana as his quarterback. He also pulled the trigger to move on from "Joe Cool" and trade him to the Chiefs.

On the other side, Kyle Shanahan's father, Mike, was the longtime head coach of the Denver Broncos team that won back-to-back Super Bowls with quarterback John Elway.

Both coaches got their first jobs in the NFL, working as assistants for the Buccaneers under former NFL head coach Jon Gruden.

When Gary Kubiak, who had been the Bronco's offensive coordinator under Kyle's father, was named the head coach of the Houston Texans, he hired his old boss' son to be his wide receivers coach, making Kyle Shanahan the youngest position coach in the NFL's modern era at the time. Shanahan was promoted to offensive coordinator two years later, making him the (new) youngest coordinator.

In 2010, Shanahan left the Texans to work for his father, who had been named the head coach of the Washington Football Team.

Meanwhile, Sean McVay had been out of the NFL and was working as a wide receivers coach for the Florida Tuskers in the USFL under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Shanahan hired McVay as the assistant tight ends coach for Washington.

In 2014 when Mike Shanahan was fired, the two young coaches parted ways. Kyle became the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns and later the Atlanta Falcons. At the same time, McVay stayed in Washington and worked under new head coach Jay Gruden, breaking Shanahan's record as the youngest coordinator in NFL.

In 2017, each man was named as the head coach of their respective teams, who coincidentally happen to be division rivals.

This will be the 11th time they have played each other. McVay won three out of the first four meetings, but Shanahan has won the last six.

Earlier this season, the Rams were on a 45-game win streak when leading at the half. That streak was snapped in Week 18 by the 49ers. It's hard to beat a team twice in a season, let alone three times, but this seems to be a situation in which the master still has a few remaining tricks that he failed to share with his pupil.

The Rams are all in on this year, having traded for big names like quarterback Matt Stafford, linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. On the other hand, the 49ers are young and dynamic on offense, with a gluttony of weapons. I guess time will tell if Cooper Kupp can be the knight in shining armor who slays the dragon and rescues his coach from the castle tower.


Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Time: 2:00 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Chiefs 81%

Preview: This would have all the makings of a trap game for a lesser team. You are coming off the emotional high of arguably the greatest non-Super Bowl victory in the franchise's history. You are facing a dangerous and cocky team that is too young to realize they have no business winning this game. The last time these two teams met, quarterback Joe Burrow was bailed out by some highly questionable playcalling by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — and perhaps even worse officiating.

If the Bills game was the "Thrilla in Manila," then this Bengals game has the possibility of being the Buster Douglas fight.

But it won't be, and here is why.

The last time these two teams played in Week 17 was the Buster Douglas fight.

The Chiefs were riding high on an eight-game winning streak. They were playing for the bye, but the Bengals were fighting for their first division title since everyone was arguing over if the dress was blue and black or white and gold:

Week 17 mattered, but this game matters so much more.

In Week 17, the Chiefs were still rebounding from the effects of COVID-19 sweeping through their locker room. Kansas City was also without two of its biggest weapons on the ground, with both running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon sidelined due to injury.

Just as they did in the Bills game, the Chiefs gave up a monster game to an opposing wide receiver — rookie phenom Ja'Marr Chase brutalized the KC secondary to the tune of 266 yards and three touchdowns.

But that was then, and this is now. Patrick Mahomes isn't Mike Tyson, and Arrowhead isn't Tokyo. The NFL tried its best to bury Mahomes earlier in the year, but it didn't finish the job, and now he's clawed his way back out of the grave and is coming to deal everyone their comeuppance.

As long as the Chiefs show up and play their best game, no team in this league can touch them. The Bills gave everything they had and still came up 13 seconds short.

Travis Kelce's leadership in the final 13 seconds of last week's game shows why he is so much more than a talented tight end. Like Mahomes, he is a never-say-die leader, who, in the most challenging moments, alters his route to get open and sets up a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime — and then in overtime, he wins the game.

This is Kansas City's fourth consecutive trip to the AFC championship game. If you want a shot at the title, the road goes through Arrowhead.

All signs point to Tyrann Mathieu suiting up after suffering a head injury and entering the league's concussion protocol in last week's game.

In Week 17, Steve Spagnuolo couldn't help himself and dialed up blitz after blitz on Joe Burrow. I hope he does the opposite this time. The Bengals are basically starting five turnstiles on their offensive line. Chris Jones and the rest of "Sack Nation" should dominate them again.

The pressure is on the Bengals to score early and often. I would drop seven defenders and make them get their points the hard way.

All of this is just to say:

FINISH THE JOB!