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Bills’ playoff heartbreak continues in blowout loss to Bengals, championship round set

Only four teams remain standing in the NFL postseason.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

And just like that, only four teams remain standing.

The NFL playoffs continued on Saturday and Sunday with the four divisional round games, distributed evenly over the weekend. From a New England Patriots perspective one game in particular was noteworthy: the Buffalo Bills’ Sunday afternoon matchup against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

One of the Patriots’ division rivals was hailed as the most complete team in football and a serious Super Bowl favorite earlier in the year. However, despite finishing the regular season with a 13-3 record and as the No. 2 seed in the conference the team ran out of gas down the stretch. After struggling to beat the seventh-seeded Miami Dolphins a week ago, the Bills stood little chance against a Bengals team that might just be AFC favorites now.

Buffalo’s 27-10 loss in front of a home crowd was therefore the latest installment in what has been a successful but ultimately disappointing run for the organization. Despite having a top-three quarterback in its ranks and winning three straight division titles, the team has only once reached the championship round while led by Josh Allen and head coach Sean McDermott.

AFC Championship Game

(3) Cincinnati Bengals at (1) Kansas City Chiefs: The 2023 AFC Championship is a rematch of last year’s game between Cincinnati and Kansas City. As opposed to the 2022 version, however, this one will be played at Arrowhead Stadium: the Chiefs entered the tournament as the top seed in the AFC, and with the Bengals beating the Bills get to host the conference title game in their own house.

Let’s briefly go over how the two teams advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Chiefs: 27-20 win over (4) Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chiefs entered their division matchup against a red-hot Jaguars team as 9.5-point favorites, but the game was a struggle primarily for one reason: quarterback Patrick Mahomes suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter and briefly had to be replaced by backup Chad Henne. While the MVP-frontrunner eventually returned to lead the team to victory, he was clearly impacted by the injury and his status heading into the upcoming game against Cincinnati is in question.

Bengals: 27-10 win over (2) Buffalo Bills. Despite facing a raucous environment at Highmark Stadium, the Bengals remained unfazed and jumped to a quick 14-0 lead. While the home team came within a touchdown on two separate occasions in the second and third periods, Cincinnati remained in total control in all three phases throughout the contest and bested the AFC East champs in virtually ever meaningful category.

The biggest storyline heading into Chiefs-Bengals will obviously be the status of Patrick Mahomes’ ankle. While he was able to return to the game on Saturday, his reported high ankle sprain will not have felt any better the next day. He already said that he would play but his effectiveness against a strong Bengals team — one that has won three straight against Mahomes and company — could very well decide Kansas City’s fate. | Sunday, Jan. 29, 3 p.m. ET

NFC Championship Game

(2) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Philadelphia Eagles: The top two teams in the conference will go against each other with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ers will visit Philadelphia next Sunday, in the second of the two championship games.

Let’s find out how they got to this point.

Eagles: 38-7 win over (6) New York Giants. The Eagles’ playoff debut this season was effectively over at the half. Jumping to a 28-0 lead, they left their division rivals no chance and showed again that the gap between the top of the NFC (i.e. Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas) and the rest of the conference was a massive one. The offense finished with 268 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while the defense simply continued doing its thing.

49ers: 19-12 win over (5) Dallas Cowboys. A lot of post-game talk is about the Cowboys’ late-game gaffes — colleague J.P. Acosta called it a “disasterclass” — but make no mistake, the 49ers played some solid football against a team that might have been the third best in the NFC this season. The offense moved the ball well, while the defense made some big plays to secure a complementary victory.

The storylines heading into the NFC title game are manifold. On the one hand, you have an Eagles team certainly playing championship-caliber football and fielding one of the NFL’s deepest roster across the board. On the other hand, you have a 49ers team that is led by a seventh-round rookie quarterback who entered the season as his team’s third-string option. At the end of the day, it should be a fun game. | Sunday, Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m. ET