ProFootballDoc: Offensive Line Will Determine Who Goes to Super Bowl LVI

The talk is usually about the skill position players, but pay close attention to the trenches on Championship Sunday. The AFC representative is likely to be determined by the right side of the offensive line and the NFC winner by the left side.

The home favorites are each waiting for a starting safety to clear the concussion protocol. Tyrann Mathieu should play for the Chiefs after two straight full practices but Taylor Rapp is iffy for the Rams, even though it will be three weeks since his head injury and he has yet to log a full practice.

There are no huge overall health advantages and the injured teams don’t advance. However, there are prop (SICscore.com) and injury advantages to be had with close analysis of the Field View and situational SIC scores below.

KANSAS CITY -7.5 vs CINCINNATI

We liked the Chiefs early week at 6.5 or 7 but even now as a 7.5 point favorite, they still seem to be the right side. No question that Joe Burrow has done very well in his comeback from ACL tear and the Bengals did win this matchup in week 17. However, the real story there was KC was cruising with 28 first half points but with 60% of the offensive line shuffled due to injury for the second half, only scored 3 points, allowing them to be caught by Cincinnati. This time around, the Chiefs’ O-line is relatively healthy with the right tackle spot now stabilized. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ right side is injury impacted and in disarray, giving up nine sacks last week. Add to this, the KC defense is completely healthy and that also gives prop value to the Joe Mixon under yards

L.A. RAMS -3.5 vs SAN FRANCISCO

No question that the 49ers are 6-0 in recent matchups head up and 2-0 this season. I asked former NFL MVP Rich Gannon when playing a divisional foe for the third time in the same year, if he would rather be the 2-0 team or the 0-2 team? He answered that he would rather be the “hunter” and the 0-2 team noting how hard it is to win that third time. In any case, left tackle is the key in this game. Andrew Whitworth will have to block Nick Bosa and Trent Williams will need to stop Aaron Donald. Our feeling is that Whitworth is healthier than Williams who has not practiced all week with the right high ankle sprain. If San Francisco dominates the line of scrimmage, they win. If not, it seems the Rams should be the ones to move on easily.

Given that there are no clear health advantages, it makes the information at Sports Injury Central all the more important. For example, check out the Chiefs’ run game health 12-point advantage over the Bengals’ run defense.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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