Fourteen teams entered the 2020-21 NFL playoffs, but now just four teams remain. Each Conference Championship Game presents a unique matchup and story, with a trip to Super Bowl 55 on the line.
First, the top-seeded Green Bay Packers and top wildcard team in the conference, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will meet in the NFC Championship. The matchup pits two future Hall of Famers against each other at quarterback with a combined seven Super Bowl victories: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Of course, Brady has six of those seven titles, as Rodgers is attempting to reach his second Super Bowl while Brady vies for his tenth appearence.
In the AFC, the quarterbacks are much younger, but the offenses are just as high flying. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs look for the second straight Super Bowl title, while the Buffalo Bills look to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. With MVP candidate Josh Allen, the Bills could have a rare chance to unseat the Chiefs and play in the Super Bowl for the fist time in 27 years: the longest drought of any of the remaining teams.
Regular Season: 157-98-1 (62% correct)
Wildcard Round: 4-2
Divisional Round: 3-1
I haven’t done too bad with playoff picks so far, and I correctly predicted three of the final four teams in my Playoff Bracket Predictions.
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at #1 Green Bay Packers (14-3)
Time: 3:05 PM ET / 2:05 PM CT
Location: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Line: Green Bay Packers (-3.0)
The quarterback meeting of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady feels like it should’ve happened at some point, but Rodgers has appeared in just one Super Bowl so far in his career. If he had made any more, there’s a good chance Brady would’ve been on the other side: with a staggering nine appearances and six Super Bowl wins. We already got to see Brady vs. Drew Brees in the playoffs for the first time last week, and this week, we’re treated to Brady vs. Rodgers for the first time in the postseason.
In Week 6, in Tampa Bay, Brady and the Buccaneers steamrolled the Packers 38-10 for Green Bay’s first loss of the season. The Packers proved to be the more consistent and slightly higher scoring team over the course of the season, earning the NFC’s top seed. But all that work will be for naught if the Packers can’t avenge their early season loss.
The odds play in the Packers favor, with momentum coming off the heels of a routine 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams, and homefield advantage at Lambeau. The Packers went 7-1 at home this season, and Sunday calls for roughly a 27 degree temperature at kickoff. Brady is no stranger to the elements, but it is a stark contrast to the dome environment the Buccaneers played in last week and the warm weather they enjoy at home. Tampa Bay did hold a 6-2 away record in the regular season, and has won back-to-back road playoff games.
Green Bay is favored by three points here, and I’m surprised they didn’t get a couple more points in the spread. With the following game also having a three-point spread, I would think the gap on paper between these two teams is a little larger. That is to say: the Packers are the better team. But perhaps Brady alone shifts the betting odds, as well as Tampa Bay’s Week 6 win.
It might sound like I’m painting the picture that the Packers will reach the Super Bowl on Sunday. Quite contrary, Brady and the Buccaneers will overcome a technically superior opponent for the second week in a row. Brady’s playoff pedigree will shine through, while Rodgers and the Packers will falter before reaching the Super Bowl once again.
The game goes back and forth in the first half before Brady builds up a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter that the Packers can’t overcome.
Buccaneers win 33-23, Buccaneers win ATS
#2 Buffalo Bills (15-3) at #1 Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)
Time: 6:40 PM ET / 5:40 PM CT
Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0)
By all indications, we’re assuming Patrick Mahomes will be playing in the AFC Championship despite exiting last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns early. If Mahomes can’t play, and Chad Henne is forced to start, you can quickly chalk this up as a win for the Buffalo Bills. And that’s not a knock on the Chiefs: they could probably beat 20 teams in the NFL with Henne at quarterback. Kansas City has a talented roster even without Mahomes. But the Bills aren’t just any team: they’re the second-best team in the NFL by my measure.
However, assuming Mahomes starts for the Chiefs, things begin to get a little hairy even for an elite Bills team. Mahomes went 14-1 as a starter in 2020, and 23-1 dating back to Week 11 of last season (including the postseason.) That’s not just a flashy stat, it’s a real fact: 23 of the last 24 times Mahomes and the Chiefs have taken the field, they’ve found victory. Mahomes is also 5-1 in the playoffs so far as a starter. The Chiefs aren’t undefeatable, and often need to come from behind to win games. But their dominance over the league for the past two to three seasons can’t be overstated.
But if any team can beat the Chiefs this season, it just might be the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen and the Bills rose to prominence in the AFC this season with a strong 13-3 record. When they played the Chiefs in the regular season, they held Kansas City to a relatively calm 26 points, but could only score 17 points in Buffalo. The Bills offense had been churning at the end of the regular season and wildcard win over the Indianapolis Colts, but slowed and scored 17 points, while holding the Baltimore Ravens to just three points, in last week’s divisional win.
Buffalo’s offense can’t miss a beat against the Chiefs, and no lead will be safe. Kansas City is favored by three points, which I find to be a fair spread as Buffalo has all the tools to compete in this game.
My prediction is what we’ve seen the Chiefs do in the postseason before: fall behind early, before flipping the switch on offense and never turning it off. For the Bills to win this game, they’ll either need to find new, creative ways to stop Mahomes from figuring out the defense by the second half, or more likely, they’ll need to go blow for blow with the Chiefs on offense.
I think the Bills build up a decent 20-10 lead at halftime before some third quarter fireworks on both sides. Buffalo enters the fourth quarter clinging to a 30-24 lead, but Kansas City ultimately prevails 37-30. While I would love to see the Buffalo Bills upset the Chiefs and advance to the Super Bowl, it’s hard to pick against the most dominant team in the league.
Chiefs win 37-30, Chiefs win ATS
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Travel and Hiking
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Header Photo Credit: (L-R) Patrick Mahomes; Josh Allen | Harry How/Getty Images; Frederick Breedon/Getty Images