Conference championships are set with familiar faces and new arrivals
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Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are back in the AFC championship game for a sixth straight season and probably taking Taylor Swift with them along with Travis Kelce’s older, shirtless brother.
Dan Campbell has the Detroit Lions one win away from the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance after securing a spot in the NFC title game on the three-year anniversary of his teeth-kicking, kneecap-biting introductory news conference.
The Chiefs and Lions advanced with tough, down-to-the-wire victories on Sunday. Both teams moved on to face the No. 1 seed in their conference: the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens and the NFC’s San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL’s Final Four teams are set. It’ll be Chiefs-Ravens and Lions-49ers battling for the right to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Mahomes made several brilliant plays in his first road playoff game — besides three Super Bowls — and outshined Josh Allen in a 27-24 victory at Buffalo that was secured when Bills kicker Tyler Bass missed a 44-yard field goal wide right with 1:43 left.
Mahomes, the two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP, tossed two touchdown passes to Travis Kelce while Swift and Brittany Mahomes hugged in a suite and bare-chested Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce celebrated by chugging beers in the row behind them.
Mahomes had a big smile on his face after the game as he ran off the field, dodging snowballs without a helmet protecting him.
“I love being in Arrowhead (Stadium) and playing in front of that crowd but when you’re on the road, it’s you vs. them,” Mahomes said. “It’s you vs. everybody in the stadium and you have to come together as a team and the guys do that.”
Earlier Sunday, Campbell, Jared Goff and the feisty Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 to earn their second playoff win in the same season for the first time since 1957, the last year Detroit won the NFL title.
The Lions (14-5) took advantage of costly mistakes, including drops, a missed field goal and Baker Mayfield’s game-sealing interception to put away the Buccaneers.
Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and a ferocious 49ers’ defense led by Fred Warner stand in Detroit’s way. The Lions have gone from 3-13-1 in Campbell's first season in 2021 to the brink of a trip to Las Vegas.
“Here, man, it’s harsh winters, auto industry, blue collar, things aren’t always easy,” Campbell said about giving Detroit’s long-suffering fans hope. “And I just think, that’s what we’re about. You want something the city can be proud of. You can look at those guys and say, ‘Man, I can back that guy. I can back that team. I can resonate with those group of guys. They’re kind of salty. They don’t quit. They play hard.’
“And so, I feel like we’ve done that. And I think these guys, they have a kinship with this city and this area, and they love it, man, and ultimately, that’s what you want. Now, a year from now, two years, we’ll be getting booed, maybe; that’s a whole other deal, though. But right now, life’s good, and I’m glad we could deliver that.”
As Campbell told his players during his postgame speech in the locker room, they have two more wins to go.
Getting the next one won’t be easy against the 49ers. Purdy led San Francisco to a 24-21 comeback win over seventh-seeded Green Bay on Saturday night, sending the 49ers (13-5) to the NFC title game for the third consecutive season.
The Niners had no chance in hostile Philadelphia last year after Purdy suffered a significant elbow injury in the first quarter. They’ll have a friendly atmosphere at home as coach Kyle Shanahan tries again to take the team back to the Super Bowl following a loss to Mahomes and the Chiefs four years ago.
San Francisco opened as 7-point favorites while Baltimore is a 3 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl