NFL playoffs: Patrick Mahomes aims to overcome injuries and reach Super Bowl 57

Date: Sunday 29 January Kick-off times: 20:00 and 23:30 GMT
BBC coverage: Listen to comments on San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles on Radio 5 Sports Extra Live (19:30-00:00) and follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app (19:30-04:00)

After 21 weeks and 281 games into the NFL season, we’ve reached the final hurdle on the road to Super Bowl 57.

Four teams remain in the playoffs and the winners of this weekend’s Conference Championships will meet in the big game in Arizona on February 12.

The usual suspects are here, with the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers all reaching a Super Bowl in the past five years.

The man expected to be named this season’s Most Valuable Player has also done so, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight year.

However, there have been concerns about how fit the 2018 MVP will be for Sunday’s rematch with the Bengals.

And can 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy complete a remarkable journey from being ‘Mr Irrelevant’ to a Super Bowl starter?

How fit will Mahomes be?

The bosses had an injury scare along the way last week’s divisional round when Mahomes was forced out against the Jacksonville Jaguars, only to return for the second half.

The 27-year-old suffered a sprained ankle and said after the 27-20 win that he will “be good to go” this Sunday and will do “what I can to be as close to 100%”.

Mahomes suffered a toe injury during the Chiefs’ playoff game two years ago, when they lost Super Bowl 55 to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After that game he said “if you play football, you have to fight through injuries”. He’s had to do that in practice this week and even got some advice from record seven-time Super Bowl winner Brady.

“I have a good relationship with him now,” Mahomes said. “Why don’t you want to hear from me the buck’, Man? It’s cool to see the guys you watched growing up talk to you on that kind of platform.”

Mahomes, who led the NFL with 41 touchdown passes and a career-high 5,250 passing yards this season, said treatment and rehab has been “an all-day thing” all week.

The Chiefs’ offensive line is set up to offer Mahomes more protection so he doesn’t have to move out of the pocket, but right-handed quarterbacks also use their right foot as a base to make their throws.

And while Mahomes hasn’t fully tested his injury this week, he’s shown since entering the league in 2017 that he has the arm to make unorthodox passes when he’s flat-footed or off balance.

“When we get into the game, you know the adrenaline is going to take over and you can make those throws when you need to,” he said.

Bengals back at ‘Burrowhead’

In five seasons to start, Mahomes has reached the AFC Championship Game each time and Kansas City is aiming to reach a third Super Bowl in four years.

Still, the Chiefs were upset at home last year by the Bengals, whose surprise run to the Super Bowl ended in one 23-20 loss for the Los Angeles Rams.

Just two years earlier, Cincinnati had the worst record in the league, guaranteeing them the first pick in the following season’s draft.

With that, they drafted Joe Burrow and the quarterback has helped transform the Bengals into a menacing, no-nonsense outfit.

Cincinnati has won all three games against Kansas City in the past two seasons and returns to Arrowhead Stadium, hosting the AFC title game for the fifth straight year, for the first repeat of last year’s matchup since 1988.

“We know them, they know us. It’s going to be fun,” said Burrow, who has adopted the “Joe Cool” nickname from legendary 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. “For me they are still the team to beat and we will come for them.”

Despite playing in a snowy Buffalo last week, The Bengals beat the Bills to dump the preseason Super Bowl favorites and claim a 10th straight win.

Knowing a trip to Kansas City was next, Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton told a TV camera late in the game “see you in the Burrowhead”. He added this week: “It may have stirred some pots.”

It sure has, and it’s been used to give extra motivation to Kansas City, whose only loss in its last 12 games was at Cincinnati on Dec. 4.

“They throw a lot of bulletin board material out there,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said.

Can the Eagles stop ‘Mr Irrelevant’?

The NFC title game sees the San Francisco 49ers visit the Philadelphia Eagles, who like the Chiefs clinched the top seed in their conference after finishing the regular season with a 14-3 record.

It also gave them a bye for Week One of the playoffs and gave Jalen Hurts more time to rest the shoulder injury that caused Philly’s third-year quarterback to miss two games late in the season and fall behind Mahomes in MVP contention.

The Eagles lost both of those games, but despite the grueling end to the season, they and Hurts were back to their dominant best when they swept the New York Giants last week.

A trade for receiver AJ Brown was the choice of some astute offseason signings that have allowed Philly, which beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, to build a well-balanced offense and solid defense.

However, they now face a San Francisco team with the NFL’s best offense and best defense — and they’re riding a 12-game winning streak.

A midseason trade for dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey helped propel the 49ers to a 13-4 finish.

But their last seven wins have been with Purdy as the starting quarterback after injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, who took San Francisco to Super Bowl 54 before losing to the Chiefs.

Not only is Purdy their third pick, but he was also this season’s “Mr Irrelevant”, the nickname given to the last man selected in the draft.

The ease with which Purdy has adapted to the NFL has seen the 23-year-old set all kinds of records. Now he aims to top them by becoming the first rookie quarterback to reach a Super Bowl.

Above the BBC footer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *