After 19 full weeks that many fans thought would never happen, the NFL’s slate of games has dwindled down to just three as the league prepares for its Conference Championships.
From a sheer talent perspective, the NFL could not have asked for a better final four teams to represent the league.
On one side, there’s Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers battling for the NFC Championship. On the other, Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs and Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills will be fighting for the AFC Championship.
While fans will undoubtedly be sad that the 2020 NFL season is slipping away from them as each week passes, they will surely find solace in the fact that four of the league’s absolute best teams are preparing to put on a fireworks display on Sunday, January 24.
So, as everyone plans out their gameday menus and clears their Sunday afternoon schedules for the second-to-last time, it’s time to break down each Conference Championship game taking place on Sunday.
NFC Conference Championship
No. 1 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sunday, January 24, 3:05 p.m. ET on FOX
For the first time in the NFL playoffs, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will go one-on-one for all of the marbles. Unfortunately, though, the matchup happens to be taking place in the first year Brady took up occupancy in the NFC.
Fans have long waited for a playoff battle between these two superstars that are vying to go down as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but many figured it would take place in a Super Bowl one day between Brady’s former squad, the New England Patriots, and Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.
Instead, the NFL may get the greatest NFC Championship matchup of all time, with the red-hot Packers looking to take advantage of a frigid Lambeau Field, and the surging Buccaneers doing their best to secure a Super Bowl home game for the first time in league history.
Rodgers and company will look to balance a high-powered running game and a high-flying passing attack that has helped them coast past opponents in their last few games. On the flip side, the Packers’ defense has looked stout in recent weeks, but hasn’t faced a true threat like the Buccaneers offense in quite some time.
Meanwhile, Brady will look to channel his success from his extensive resume of cold-weather games from his days in Foxborough, and will also try to replicate the success the Bucs had down in Florida in a 38-10 win back in October.
Brady will have the same weapons to work with in the passing game in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback will have another similiar omission, as well: Antonio Brown, who debuted a few weeks after these two teams played in Week 6, will miss Sunday’s game due to a knee injury.
If the Bucs’ offense can get rolling like they did in that 28-point second quarter during the Week 6 game against the Packers, then watch out.
Fortunately for the Packers, the cold weather and homefield advantage should keep this one on the ground, a spot where they have been thriving offensively in recent weeks, and help them out in the long run as it relates to stifling Brady’s Buccaneers.
It should be a closely-contested battle, and could easily come down to a signature, game-winning drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but Rodgers and company should be able to pull this one off and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.
Prediction: Packers win 23-20
AFC Conference Championship
No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. No. 2 Buffalo Bills: Sunday, January 24, 6:40 p.m. ET on CBS
While the tilt between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady may seem like a clear-cut main event for a slate of Conference Championship games, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills will take center stage on CBS to wrap things up on Sunday.
The key to a good main event in any form of competition is suspense, whether it’s a dramatic buildup to a fight between two heated rivals, or a long entrance to a ring for a champion boxer before a massive title defense.
In this case, the Chiefs did their part as it relates to hyping up the AFC Championship, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ status remaining up in the air just three days before the game.
All signs point to the reigning Super Bowl MVP suiting up to play Josh Allen and the Bills on Sunday, which would lead to thousands of sighs of relief come kickoff. If that’s the case, then the Bills will have to bring their A game when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium for some primetime football.
Allen will need to play a picture-perfect game under center. Stefon Diggs will have to break free from a Chiefs secondary led by Tyrann Mathieu. Most importantly, the team’s defense will need to do their best to contain the dangerous Mahomes, the multi-talented Travis Kelce, and potentially the returning Clyde Edwards-Helaire, if the rookie running back suits up in the Chiefs’ backfield.
While those are all tall tasks against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs don’t exactly have themselves an easy to-do list of their own.
They may have to play it safe at times to protect Mahomes, who’s dealing with a limited amount of practice time due to concussion protocols and a lingering foot injury, and may not be able to execute its full offense at times as a result.
Plus, the Chiefs defense will have to shut down one of the league’s hottest offenses, and get pressure on a dual-threat quarterback who can burn you in a variety of ways.
This one could turn into a high-scoring affair, even factoring in the cold weather and chance for precipitation on Sunday evening in Kansas City. Unfortunately for the Bills, it seems impossible to pick against even a 50-percent-healthy Mahomes at home in the playoffs at this stage in his career.
With that in mind, it’s time to prepare for a legendary Super Bowl matchup between either Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, or Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. What more could you ask for as a football fan?
Prediction: Chiefs win 24-17