The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The most likely matchups for Super Bowl LVI both include the Chiefs

The Chiefs' miraculous comeback kept them on track for a Super Bowl appearance. (Denny Medley/Usa Today Sports)
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This story was updated Jan. 25.

The divisional round was one of the most exciting in recent memory with three of the four underdogs securing a spot in the conference championships. The San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams all persevered despite getting points on the spread. The Kansas City Chiefs were the only favorite to advance, and it took a heroic effort in overtime against the Buffalo Bills to do it.

If there is one common thread between all four teams it is that high efficiency in at least one phase of the game — offense, defense or special teams — is essential. Football Outsiders ranked Kansas City No. 3 for offense and special teams per its defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. San Francisco ranks fifth in offense and seventh on defense. Los Angeles ranks eighth in offense, fifth in defense and fourth in special teams. And Cincinnati ranks eighth in special teams play.

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So just how likely is each of these well-rounded teams to make the Super Bowl? Based on each team’s true talent level — derived by looking at its actual win rate and its projected win rate based on total points scored and allowed — we can project the coming weekend’s games 1,000 times and see each team’s odds to reach the Super Bowl. Here are the most likely matchups based on those simulations. Also included is the implied money line for each potential contest, rounded up to the nearest $50 mark. If the future odds available at a sportsbook are better than the implied odds, you have a good value bet opportunity.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Kansas City Chiefs (48 percent chance)

Implied money line before the divisional round: +1050

Implied money line heading into the conference championships: +100

This one wouldn’t surprise anyone as Kansas City and Los Angeles are two of the most efficient offenses in the league after taking into account the postseason. The Chiefs are scoring 2.8 points per play and are forced three-and-out just 22 percent of the time, both league-leading marks. The Rams produce 2.5 points per play (sixth-best), providing an opportunity for this potential Super Bowl matchup to be a high-scoring affair.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs (28 percent chance)

Implied money line before the divisional round: +1550

Implied money line heading into the conference championships: +250

The 49ers have been consistently good all season. They finished the regular season as the sixth-best team per Football Outsiders’ DVOA, with the best run-blocking unit per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. Pro Football Focus also graded San Francisco’s offensive line as a top-10 pass-blocking unit, allowing the 49ers to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the trenches.

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The 49ers’ defense finished as the fourth-best overall per Pro Football Focus and seventh overall per Football Outsiders, making this one of the most adaptable squads left in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals (15 percent chance)

Implied money line before the divisional round: +3450

Implied money line heading into the conference championships: +550

There is a mismatch here between the Rams’ defensive front, featuring Aaron Donald and Von Miller, and Cincinnati’s offensive line, rated this season as one of the worst pass-blocking units in the league. Donald leads all interior pass rushers with 89 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), 29 more than the next closest competitor, and Miller had 73 total pressures of his own, a difficult potential scenario for quarterback Joe Burrow.

To be fair, Burrow played well against pass pressure this season — he had a league-high 91.1 passer rating against pass pressure — but a quarterback sack greatly reduces a team’s efficiency. For example, the Bengals scored 2.8 points per drive when Burrow wasn’t sacked and 1.1 points per drive if he was sacked at least once.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (9 percent chance)

Implied money line before the divisional round: +5000

Implied money line heading into the conference championships: +1050

There are two wide receivers to keep an eye on in this matchup, the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel and Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase.

Throws by Jimmy Garoppolo to Samuel averaged 12 yards per attempt this season, the second-highest average in the league behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett (12.2). Burrow and Chase averaged 11.7 yards per attempt for the Bengals, the third-most this season.

Chase wasn’t the only target that helped moved the chains for Cincinnati. Burrow’s throws to Tee Higgins averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, the ninth-most in the NFL. Garoppolo, meanwhile, was also successful on throws to tight end George Kittle (9.7 yards per attempt, 10th most) and Brandon Aiyuk (9.7, 11th).

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