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NFL Championship Weekend Preview: NFC Action

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NFL logo on padding of a football field goal post. | Image from Associated Press

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Whether it was the addition of another week of football this season, or perhaps some result of the COVID pandemic, the 2021 NFL season had action and drama throughout, an energy that carried into the Super Wild Card games, and turned the Divisional round games into a series of increasingly epic victories and defeats. On January 30, the last remaining teams from the NFC and AFC will meet in NFL Championship games to determine the opponents for Super Bowl LVI.

It is relatively uncommon for division rivals to meet in the NFL Championship game, but Sunday’s match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams will mark the fourth time such an event has happened since 2002. The 49ers won both contests during the regular season and have relied on a resilient defense to knock out two of the biggest teams in the NFC.

San Francisco did not clinch a playoff berth until Week 18 with an overtime win against the Rams. The outcome of that game, a 49ers field goal followed by an interception of Rams quarterback Mathew Stafford that gave San Francisco the victory, has set the stage for the improbable playoff run the team has made. The 49ers knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card on the strength of their defense that shut down one of the NFL’s most potent offenses. 

The victory over Dallas booked the 49ers a meeting with the Green Bay Packers, a playoff rival San Francisco has had uncommon success against. For the second time in three games, kicker Robbie Gould gave San Francisco the win with a 45-yard field goal as time expired. Gould has a perfect 20-20 kicking record over his career in the postseason.

The Rams found themselves in playoff position after the Arizona Cardinals went on a losing streak, and LA got hot, going 5-6 to close out the season. The lone loss was Week 18 against the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, two of the last three losses of the season were to San Francisco, dating back to November 15. 

After cruising to victory over Arizona in the Wild Card Round, LA went on the road to take on future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In what may have been the last game of his career, Brady was held without a touchdown in the first half and had to rely on a fourth-quarter comeback to avoid elimination. 

With only 0.42 seconds remaining in a tie game, Stafford completed two of his three attempts after giving up a sack on first down. His two completions netted 64-yards, giving kicker Matt Gay a 30-yard field goal try. The kick was perfect and perfectly timed as the last seconds of the game ticked away as the ball was in the air. 

The 49ers have not made a Super Bowl since the 1994 season when they defeated the San Diego Chargers. The team’s last NFC Championship appearance was a loss to the Green Bay Packers to end the 2019 season. 

A Rams victory in the NFL Championship game would end the team’s 22-year Super Bowl drought and have the unusual feature of being the second Super Bowl in which the game was held at one of the home fields. Last season’s victory by the Buccaneers marked the first time in NFL history such a feat had happened.

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