Below are my confidence level straight up picks for the Conference Championship round. My 2022 picks with a confidence level of 1-5 ended the regular season with a 119-64-1 (65.0 percent) record. The picks with a 6+ confidence level closed the regular season with a 58-28-1 (67.4 percent) mark. My overall record was 177-92-2 (65.8 percent), a win rate that rank tied for 14th among the hundreds of analysts that NFL Pickwatch tracks. The Wild Card and Divisional round picks went 7-3 overall, with the picks of a 5+ confidence level going 5-1.

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San Francisco at Philadelphia

The Eagles started the 2022 campaign with a league-leading eight-game win streak, but the 49ers come into the NFC Championship with a season-best string of 12 victories in a row.

San Francisco had been doing this mostly via an overpowering offense that led the 49ers to post 31+ points in eight of those 12 wins, but last week’s 19-12 triumph over Dallas showed that San Francisco can win a slugfest if need be.

The Eagles faltered when Jalen Hurts was out for a time with a shoulder injury, but the 38-7 destruction of the Giants last week started with Hurts going five for five for 68 yards on the first drive and then utilizing his rushing skills regularly throughout the rest of the game, so he is back to full strength.

The key factor here is likely to be Brock Purdy. It was evident last week that Kyle Shanahan was trying to avoid leaning on Purdy any more than necessary. That was part of why the 49ers only scored 19 points, which could be a problem since San Francisco is 11-0 this year when posting 24+ points and 4-4 when tallying fewer than 24 points. The Eagles have a similar scoring layout, as Philadelphia is 2-2 this season when posting 21 or fewer points and 13-1 when posting more than 21 points, so the team that finds its way to a strong scoring total is very likely to notch the win.

San Francisco will aim to do that versus the Eagles inconsistent rush defense, while Philadelphia will look to achieve that goal by passing versus the 49ers on-again/off-again secondary. That will put the onus of success on Jalen Hurts’ shoulders (pun intended) and when that is added to Purdy’s potential limitations and the 49ers turnover woes (2+ giveaways in three of the past four games), it’s more than enough to push this contest into the Eagles column.

KC’s pick: Philadelphia

Confidence level: 4


Cincinnati at Kansas City

Hosting the AFC Championship is a very familiar feeling for the Kansas City Chiefs, as this is the fifth consecutive season this conference title matchup has taken place at Arrowhead. It is also the second straight year that Bengals and Chiefs have squared off in this championship tilt.

Cincinnati has pulled off the rare feat of being able to win consistently against Kansas City, as Joe Burrow and company have won the last three battles between these franchises. A big part of that is that each of those games entered shootout mode, meaning both teams scored 24 or more points.

That used to be the preferred method for taking on the Chiefs, as Kansas City’s record in non-shootout games used to be much better than its shootout record, but that hasn’t the been the case in 2022, as the Chiefs are 7-1 in shootouts versus 8-2 in non-shootouts.

The odd part about that is Cincinnati has only been in three shootout games this year. They have won all three of those high scoring affairs but tend to not get into them due to a superb defense led by defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. That platoon has held four straight foes to 18 or fewer points and ranked sixth in points allowed per game this year.

The key factor here is that the Chiefs truly don’t want to get into shootouts and yet nearly half of their games ended in that category. This indicates the Kansas City defense can’t prevent this and the offense can’t or won’t assist the defense with complementary football that slows the game down.

This suggests that the Bengals will be able to control the pace of the game more than the Chiefs. That is a huge edge for a coaching staff that has shown that it knows how to take full advantage of that element, so Cincinnati is the pick in this one.

KC’s pick: Cincinnati

Confidence level: 4