NFL Midweek Tailgate: Will Chiefs tame Bengals? Can Rams rebound vs. 49ers? Is Brady done?

Tyler Dragon Safid Deen

The Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs are the four teams left standing after what might’ve been the best divisional-round weekend in NFL history.

Are the Chiefs a Super Bowl favorite or will the Bengals pull off a stunning upset? Will the Rams nap a losing streak against the 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl?

Every week during the regular season, USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insiders Tyler Dragon and Safid Deen bring you their top five stories of the week for the NFL Midweek Tailgate.

Why wait for game day to get the party going? Start the grills with the insiders' hot takes, keep your beverage-of-choice chilled with a healthy dose of reality in their thorough analysis and grab a chair because Dragon and Deen don't hold back.

After seeing the Chiefs’ epic overtime win over the Bills, is it fair to say the Chiefs are the best remaining team and the Super Bowl favorite?

Tyler Dragon: The Chiefs were my Super Bowl favorite before the season even kicked off. Yes, it’s fair to say they are the prohibitive favorite to go to their third-straight Super Bowl and to hoist a Lombardi Trophy for the second time in three seasons.

However, the Los Angeles Rams are a legitimate threat if both advance to Super Bowl LVI. The Rams made aggressive personnel moves to be in this position. It is Super Bowl or bust for both the Rams and Chiefs.

But Kansas City has the best quarterback in the NFL and the most explosive trio in the league. The only potential of holding the Chiefs back is their vulnerable pass defense. Kansas City has given up 257 passing yards per game this postseason. That is the worst among the four teams remaining.

Safid Deen: Yes, this is an easy answer. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill willed the Chiefs to their victory over the Bills, and are the NFL’s best remaining offensive trio in the postseason. This AFC title game will be their fourth in four years, and they will look to reach their third Super Bowl in as many years with a win over the Bengals. This is the Chiefs’ time to shine, plain and simple. It's time to cement their legacy as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. They have a tough matchup against the Bengals but should be able to rely on their experience to get the best of Cincinnati — and any team they meet in the Super Bowl.

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Despite the matchup, the Bengals have a seat at the table in the AFC title game. Do they have a shot to unseat the Chiefs?

Dragon: Yes, the Bengals have a shot. The Bengals just beat the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium Jan. 2. Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase had a record-setting 11 catches, 266 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-31 win. Cincinnati’s wide-receiving corps has a matchup advantage against the Chiefs secondary.

The Bengals are the most surprising team left standing, but they do have a shot on the road in Kansas City. Do I expect the Bengals to beat the Chiefs? No, but the Bengals have proved me wrong before.

Deen: Some might be bullish on the Bengals’ chances, and maybe for good reason. The Bengals might be too young or too inexperienced, but their rebuilding effort has gotten them to this point. Quarterback Joe Burrow is in his second season. Chase is already a standout receiver in his first. And coach Zac Taylor is in his third leading the franchise. But they have gotten to this point after a red-hot finish to the season, which included a home win over the Chiefs and two playoff wins, including one over the top-seeded Tennessee Titans last week

The Bengals know they can compete with mighty Kansas City, but it will be difficult to beat them again. I think Burrow and the Bengals' offense have a chance to light it up just like the Bills did in Kansas City last week, but they have to do their best to slow the opposition.

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The Rams went cross-country and took care of business against the defending champion Buccaneers. Will Los Angeles take the next step forward and get the best of the pesky 49ers?

Dragon: It’s hard to believe the 49ers have won six-straight games over the Rams. The Rams haven’t beaten them since Dec. 30, 2018.

I do believe the Rams will snap their losing streak against the 49ers this weekend at SoFi Stadium. The Rams have mortgaged their future and constructed their rosters to make a Super Bowl run this year. The Rams let it be known they are going for it. Los Angeles has more talent across the board. The key is if the Rams can match the 49ers’ physicality. The 49ers have had success against the Rams because they bullied them in the trenches.

I think the Rams are up for the challenge Sunday, knowing their goal is within reach. The Rams could become the first team in NFL history to play the conference championship game and Super Bowl at their home stadium.

Deen: I think everyone on the Rams roster realizes what’s at stake. After acquiring players and mortgaging the future — going all in like it’s a seat at the poker table — they are right where they want to be. Los Angeles has a chance to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in four seasons. And they have an all-star team featuring the likes of Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. to get the job done.

Even though the Rams have been unable to get past the 49ers in previous matchups, I believe their overall talent will seize the moment and propel them to the Super Bowl.

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The 49ers are on a roll, winning 10 of their last 13 games, to reach the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons. Are we underestimating this group’s ability to reach the Super Bowl?

Dragon: The 49ers have a real commitment to their philosophy. San Francisco is going to run the football, rush the passer and always try to be the most physical team on the field. It’s an identity that’s proven successful, but not every team has the personnel to pull it off.

The 49ers’ style is a matchup problem for the Rams, which is why San Francisco has won six-straight against their NFC West rival. If the 49ers dominate the battle in the trenches, they’ll make it seven in a row. But I think Donald and the Rams are going to rise to the occasion Sunday.

Deen: I am underestimating the 49ers. They won two playoff games and are one game away from reaching their second Super Bowl in three seasons. Maybe it’s my East Coast bias coming in for the West Coast team. But when I take a deeper look at the 49ers, I’m impressed. Jimmy Garoppolo has this innate trait where he is completely unable to internalize any bad play he or his offense makes, and continues to push forward. That may be his strongest attribute as a starting quarterback, and it’s been enough to push the 49ers this deep in the postseason.

The 49ers' defense has pushed the Rams around on several recent occasions and could do so again Sunday. I’m just not sure if the 49ers are going to be able to get past the Rams again. 

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Tom Brady’s future will be the biggest topic in the NFL this offseason. Do you think Brady will return for his 23rd season or ultimately call it quits on his Hall of Fame career?

Dragon: Tom Brady’s comments on the “Let’s Go!” podcast lead you to believe he’s leaning toward retirement.

However, Brady said in the past that he wanted to play until he was at least 45 years old. He will turn 45 in August. I can see Brady deciding to give it one more ride for Year 23. The veteran quarterback played at a remarkably high level at 44 years old in 2021. He’s on the shortlist of MVP candidates (he’ll probably finish second behind Aaron Rodgers). He’s defying Father Time. I would like to see Brady announce during the offseason he’s retiring after the 2022 season. That way everyone can give him his flowers.

Deen: It wouldn’t surprise me if Brady did hang it up. After all, what more does he want to accomplish in the NFL? He already has the most Super Bowls — seven — among any quarterback in history. This past season, he continued to shatter quarterback records to further cement his legacy. And we all know Brady already has a place reserved just for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’m just not sure what motivation Brady would have for another season. Although the Bucs’ loss to the Rams last week was disappointing, I’m not sure he’ll stew over that missed opportunity as he has in the past with previous Super Bowl or AFC title-game losses.

At this point in his career, Brady has done it all, and I think he’d be okay riding off into the sunset, even if his career didn’t end with a Super Bowl as he hoped.

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