Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Round

Posted on 22 January 2021 by Tadhg Creedon
Just Four teams now remain in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy, with the NFC and AFC Champions facing-off in Super Bowl LIV (Source: cbssports.com)

Co-written with Mitchell Marshall

The last chapter before Super Bowl LIV will be written on Sunday in the Conference Championship Round. And who better to write it then Aaron Rodgers v Tom Brady at Lambeau Field, and young guns Josh Allen v Patrick Mahomes (we hope) at Arrowhead.

Apart from the Chiefs gutsy win minus Mahomes vs the Browns, last week’s Divisional Round proved relatively straight forward for the Packers, Bills and Buccaneers. Expect fireworks this weekend though as the top two seeded teams go head-to-head in the AFC. The holders Kansas City looking to retain while Buffalo go in search of a first Super Bowl birth since 1994.

Three years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were 60 minutes away from becoming the first team to host a Super Bowl. On Sunday night, Tampa Bay has its opportunity, but they must do so against the No.1 seed in the NFC, Green Bay Packers. Both teams, having not tasted defeat since November.

Only the best make it the final four and therein lies the beauty of Sunday’s matchups, there are no outright favorite’s. Whatever the results, just enjoy the show.

NFC Conference Championship

Embed from Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) @ Green Bay Packers (14-3): Sunday 24th January, 20.05 at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

The NFC title comes down to a collision between two teams relying on the golden arms of legendary quarterbacks.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is looking to cement his place among the greats by bringing another Super Bowl victory to title-town. Often called ‘the most talented quarterback of all time’, Rodgers needs a 2nd Lombardi trophy to match the likes of Peyton Manning and John Elway and move his name up in the GOAT discussion.

Standing in his way though is the GOAT himself; at 43 years old Tom Brady has won an untouchable six NFL titles. While 42-year-old Drew Brees and spry 39-year-old Phillip Rivers hang up their cleats, Brady is preparing for his 14th conference championship game. The same way Brady has fended off NFL defences for the past 20 years, he has used nutrition and fitness as well as any professional athlete to fend off father time.

Last week was not Tom’s greatest performance going 18 for 33 and 199 yards. His biggest stat was zero turnovers. If a team is going to take down Tom in the playoffs he is too smart to be the reason why. He will continue to use his stellar receiving core in attempting to overcome the seventh-ranked pass defence in the NFL. On the other side Green Bay will try to take advantage of his most glaring weakness: mobility. Coming off a day with five sacks and seven knockdowns against Jared Goff, the Packers defensive line must continue to get pressure up the middle. While Brady is only one step more maneuverable than a statue, that one step into the pocket can open the entire game.

Last week against LA, Green Bay’s offense overwhelmed the top-ranked defence in the NFL. Racking up nearly 500 yards while Rodgers remain untouched. The last time these teams faced off, Rodgers had his worst game of season throwing for only 160 yards including two interceptions. Since that week six bout Green Bay has expanded their arsenal beyond both Aaron Jones and Devante Adams. So if Tampa’s top corner Carlton Davies can make Adam’s day a painful one, the rest of the Buccaneer’s 21st-ranked pass defence will have last weeks star Allen Lazard to worry about, along with downfield threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the league in yards per catch and Robert Tonyan, who has emerged as a red-zone beast with 11 touchdown catches on the season.

Tampa Bay does boast the leagues best run defence despite giving up 4.7 yards per carry last week to Alvin Kamara. They will be facing a relentless Packers backfield which includes starter Aaron Jones, swag-tastic ball of energy Jamaal Williams and emerging star AJ Dillon. If Tampa can make Green Bay one dimensional, they face the reality of the top quarterback in the NFL being that other dimension. An evergreen Rodgers who has been tearing up defences all season, and hell bent on getting to his second Super Bowl.

The ‘Battle of the Bays’ will be the first playoff meeting between Brady and Rodgers. The longtime Patriot who fled south to prove he could do it without Belichick against the new king in the north. And to top it off, could you ask for a better venue than the legendary tundra of Lambeau Field in front of 6,500 strong.

Predictions – Tadhg : Packers by 7

Mitchell : Packers by 4

AFC Conference Championship

Kansas City Chiefs Tight End, Travis Kelce in action vs. the Cleveland Browns last Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Divisional Round (Source: Getty Images)

Buffalo Bills (15-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (15-2): Sunday 24th January, 23.40 at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

When the Buffalo Bills met the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1994 AFC Championship game, the Bills were the dominant force in the AFC, and subsequently made a fourth straight Super Bowl. The tables have turned now though with the World Champion Chiefs contesting a third straight Championship game and the Bills making their first appearance since 1994.

Kansas City’s owes their return to unlikely hero Chad Henne and one of the gutsiest play-calls in Playoff history by Andy Reid on fourth and one last Sunday. The elephant in the room though is whether Patrick Mahomes, who went down with concussion against the Browns will suit up at Arrowhead. Whether he passes concussion protocols or not, the Chiefs leader who is also nursing a toe injury cannot possibly be fully fit.

So what does Andy Reid do? Pound the rock. Darrell Williams ran for 78 yards on just 13 carries last week and Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be in line to return. The rookie running back ravaged the Bills for 161 yards back in the Chiefs week six victory in Buffalo. This should in-turn protect Mahomes and set up play-action where the Chiefs can be lethal with weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

Sean McDermott’s Bills enter this Sunday having not played a complete playoff game yet. Consider that a good sign though as that was the story of the Patriots two-decade long reign of the AFC. Against the Colts, it was Josh Allen, Steffon Diggs and the air attack that got the job done, while last week, it was Leslie Frazier’s defence that flexed its muscles shutting down Lamar Jackson with a Taron Johnson pick-six to boot.

If the Chiefs plan to utilise the speed of Hill and Mekole Hardman, they must confront a Bills pass-defence led by Pro-Bowl corner Tre’Davious White, that allowed just 44 completions of 20-plus yards this season (Tied-6th in NFL). On the other hand, Kansas City’s last eight victories have been by a one- score margin, which does not happen without a tough-minded defence. One led by Pro-Bowlers Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones and Frank Clark.

This matchup will be as much down to Mahomes’ fitness as it will be on the play of Josh Allen, who was limited to a season-low 122 passing yards when the teams last met. Since then, Allen has developed the most potent quarterback/wide-receiver combination in the league with Steffon Diggs (outside of Rodgers/Adams of course). Due to a non-existent running game which garnered just 32 yards last week, Brian Daboll’s offense will live or die on Allen’s arm.

If ever there were a time to unseat the Chiefs, now could be that time. More so than any other game though, experience is crucial in the AFC Championship. Seven of the last eight AFC winners had Championship game experience in the previous two years. The Chiefs having hosted the last two, while the Bills have not contested since 1994.

Predictions – Tadhg : Chiefs by 3

Mitchell : Bills by 7