As the NFL playoffs move toward their ultimate destination — the 58th playing of the Super Bowl contest — the remaining four participants are bracing for upcoming action on Sunday, Jan. 28. Just because we've reached the conference championships doesn't mean these contenders are devoid of lingering concerns. Here are the biggest questions facing each of the four teams still in the mix for the Super Bowl: After a thrilling weekend of football, the Conference Championship games are set in the NFL playoffs. On the NFC side the San Francisco 49ers, after surviving an upset threat from the Green Bay Packers, will play host to the Detroit Lions.


In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens will host an AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history. Standing in their way of Super Bowl 58 are the Kansas City Chiefs. Here’s the full schedule for the NFC Championship and AFC Championship. I don’t know whether the Ravens, 49ers, Lions, and Chiefs were the four best teams in the NFL this season, but they were certainly four of the league’s most interesting teams to follow, for a variety of reasons. Kansas City dared to ask how many roster holes could be covered up by an elite quarterback. The 49ers are starting Mr. Irrelevant at the most important position in sports while spending on positions that don’t matter (or so we’ve been told). The Ravens have dominated the league with two coordinators who were coaching college kids 24 months ago. And the Lions rode an offense whose most recognizable player is Jared Goff to a stage they haven’t seen in over 30 years.


Here’s what we know. 




There’s something off about the Kansas City Chiefs. But as we saw in the Wild Card round, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes have shown they can immediately snap out of their funk. There was never a real threat to the AFC West division winners since 2016. Kansas City still needs to learn which receivers they can rely on before returning to being one of the best teams in the NFL, but with Rashee Rice’s emergence, they might have enough ammo on hand.

There's no denying Kansas City has flipped a switch down the stretch. Patrick Mahomes has settled in while leaning almost exclusively on the trio of Travis Kelce, Isiah Pacheco and emergent rookie Rashee Rice. For the third time in four years, the Chiefs ended the Bills' Super Bowl hopes in the playoffs. For the sixth time in six years, Kansas City is back in the AFC Championship game. Since taking over as the Chiefs' starter in 2018, quarterback Patrick Mahomes has still never ended a season without a divisional round win. The Baltimore Ravens are a different breed when it comes to defense, at least compared to the Bills and Dolphins. No team's surrendered fewer points this year, and stalwarts like Roquan Smith swarm to the ball. Baltimore overcame a bit of a rocky start to beat rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans, 34-10. Ravens quarterback and likely NFL MVP Lamar Jackson finished with 152 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 100 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Jackson obviously has the legs to avoid trouble, but he'll likely need more than a few electric scrambles to outlast Mahomes and Co. Tight end Mark Andrews' anticipated return should also help as Todd Monken's attack looks to apply pressure to K.C. out of the gate. Another reason a hot start is imperative for Baltimore: Not so dissimilar to the 49ers, this is a team well-positioned to maintain a lead. Jackson is part of an always-strong rushing group that's capable of burning clock and controlling the ball, and the Roquan Smith-led defense has the firepower and flexibility to chip in on the other side. What if Rice is blanketed on the perimeter? Are Kelce and Pacheco, who thrive more as grind-it-out chain-movers than field-stretchers, capable of carrying the day? It's possible. But for much of 2023, remember, Mahomes' chief issue was simply finding a reliable outlet when he needed one. The Ravens could inflame that. Baltimore cruised to a 34-10 win over the Texans, but only after an uneven first half that saw Houston hang around while sending the blitz on MVP favorite Lamar Jackson. There may not be as much grace afforded by the Chiefs' defense, which is arguably the toughest of the Patrick Mahomes era. K.C. has more sacks than every team except Baltimore, and its pressure rate -- 27.8% -- ranks second in the NFL, with Chris Jones and George Karlaftis leading the way in the trenches. This is definitely a matchup the NFL loves. 




It took a fourth-quarter comeback against the NFC's bottom seed, but the 49ers are on the doorstep of the Super Bowl for a second season in a row. Running back Christian McCaffrey gashed the Packers' defense for 98 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries (5.8 yards per carry). It's worth noting San Francisco may be without standout receiver Deebo Samuel, who left the divisional round game early with a shoulder injury. Will Samuel be at full speed? Can Purdy build off a calmer finish to his otherwise erratic outing? And will Shanahan stop bending conservative in key spots? We all know this contender has the all-star talent to win it all, but time and again, they've suggested they're built to play from ahead, not the other way around. Prodding at San Francisco for barely escaping a Packers comeback feels a bit like nitpicking; this is still a 13-5 team (including playoffs) with enviable infrastructure, including a coach in Kyle Shanahan who's now been to four NFC title games in five years. But anyone with eyes could see that young quarterback Brock Purdy was more finnicky than usual against Green Bay. Whether it was due primarily to the rainy conditions, the absence of a healthy Deebo Samuel or pressure from the Jordan Love-led Pack isn't entirely relevant. Because whatever you think of the Lions, Detroit is destined to make the NFC title clash a fight. Can it be a Cinderella run for a team that won 12 regular season games? Detroit is the biggest feel-good team of these playoffs after a 31-23 divisional round win over Tampa Bay. Lions quarterback Jared Goff out-dueled Buccaneers signal-caller Baker Mayfield in an exciting clash between the two former No. 1 picks. At this point, few actually doubt Goff's ability to play top-level ball in the cozy confines of Ford Field. But away from home, the QB's been significantly less comfortable and/or effective. The same can be said of his production -- or lack thereof -- when pressured; his nine interceptions against pressure rank second worst among all QBs this year. But they've still got a tenacious defense headlined by opportunistic vets like Fred Warner, heightening the stakes. Now, the 49ers haven't been nearly as dominant as expected up front and off the edge, failing to sack Jordan Love even once in the wild-card round. And with center Frank Ragnow banged up at the heart of Detroit's line, all eyes will be on Goff's pocket and his composure within it. Will it be the solid favorite in the oddsmakers eyes or the solid favorite in the eyes of the public? We shall see.