AFC and NFC Championship Preview


Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

Tom Brady seeks a chance at another Super Bowl win.

Ezekial Stettler, Delphi Staff

The AFC and NFC Championships are here, with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers first, and then Josh Allen leading the Buffalo Bills against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. There will be some incredible individual matchups this weekend, between the stark defenses of Buffalo and Tampa Bay and the hot offenses in Kansas City and Green Bay. If you missed last week’s array of games, here’s how these teams advanced:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bested the New Orleans Saints 30-20 in New Orleans

The Green Bay Packers ran over the LA Rams 32-18 in Wisconsin

The Buffalo Bills nearly shut out the Baltimore Ravens 17-3 in upstate New York

The Kansas City Chiefs fought past the Cleveland Browns 22-17 in Kansas City

Before taking a deeper look into the matchups that await us, I’d like to take a moment to shine a little bit of light on a storyline that has tugged on the heartstrings of many since the Buccaneers/Saints game.

It has been rumored that Drew Brees, the legendary Saints quarterback, may be retiring this offseason. If that is true, this may have been his last game in the NFL, and what better way to end it than by spending some time with his family on the field. He spent a few minutes after the game playing with his sons, talking to them, and tossing the football. Then, like a galloping pegasus riding down upon the light of the heavens, Tom Brady approached him.

The two embraced, sharing words that may never grace the ears of the masses. Brees’s wife also joined them, with their daughter, Rylen, cartwheeling over to the group. After greeting his short-time-rival’s wife, Tom Brady was handed a football by Baylen Brees, Drew Brees’s eldest son, which he promptly threw to him for a touchdown pass. The two legendary quarterbacks hugged one another once again, before Tom Brady said his goodbyes and rode off into the sunset that marked another NFL game, while Brees stayed on the field to spend time with his family, cloaked in a mist of uncertainty.

My words do not do the scene justice, as it was a powerful moment, which was the feel-good moment that many needed to start off the New Year. Now, wipe the tears from your eyes and let’s take a look at our Championship games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) @ Green Bay Packers (14-3):

Perhaps the greatest matchup of the year, Tom Brady heads to Green Bay with his new team to take on the great Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady solidified his HOF ballot when he won his third Super Bowl back in 2004. 16 years later, he’s still scribbling out his previous achievements in the history books to write in new ones.

He’s been in 13 AFC Championship games, winning 9 of them to advance to the Super Bowl, winning 6 of those. He hopes to add to his already pleonastic resume by making the Super Bowl again, this time on the NFC side of things.

Rodgers has been to the NFC Championship 4 times already, but has a less than admirable record in those four games, winning his first but then losing the last three. If he loses one more, he’ll join Ken Stabler and Donovan McNabb as the QBs with the worst conference game records in NFL history. He looks to prevent that, but in order to achieve his goal he must break through a brick wall that many have deemed impenetrable: Tom Brady. I’m talking about Tom Brady.

How do the Packers win? The Green Bay defense needs to feed off of the crowd in Lambeau field, all 8,500-9,000 occupants. The Tampa Bay offense is incredible, and they need to limit those weapons as well as humanly possible. Tight Ends Cameron Bate and Rob Gronkowski serve as solid blockers and adequate pass-catchers. Expect them to fake blocking assignments and go out for the pass this game, as they are decent at selling those plays.

The wide receiver core is impressive as well, possibly the best in the league. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Scotty Miller are Brady’s favorite targets, but don’t look past Tyler Johnson, who had an insane catch along the sideline last week. For all those confused as to why I did not mention Antonio Brown, he has been downgraded to “Out” due to a knee injury.

Slowing down Tampa Bay will be a tall order, but the Packers are the team to do it, as they have one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL with Jaire Alexander being the best cornerback in the league, statistically, this year. But, in limiting the pass, that would leave Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette, and LeSean McCoy to run all over them. Right? Wrong. Brother duo Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are Green Bay’s two star linebackers, and when behind Kenny Clark, the Buccaneers will find it difficult to run downhill. If they go towards the sidelines, the cheese-head’s speedy cornerbacks will be there waiting.

How do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win? Rely on Tom Brady to win, because there’s no way that their defense is going to stop the Packers’ offense. Don’t get me wrong, the Buccaneers have an incredible defense. 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett lining up across from terrorizing Ndamukong Suh is a dangerous combination on the line. Linebackers Lavonte David, Devin Smith, and Jason Pierre-Paul are great run defenders, but don’t underestimate them lining up against the pass as well.

The cornerback and safety groups are young, and none of them have been in the league more than 3 years, though the four starters of Antoine Winfield Jr., Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Jordan Whitehead are all quite talented and give opposing offenses fits. Most opposing offenses, that is. Green Bay is…different.

Devante Adams has been the best wide receiver in the league this year, and he has had his share of incredible plays. Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are great deep threats on the outside as well, and with one of the greatest deep-ball throwers in the league, anyone can be made to look like a HOFer.

That’s exactly who Aaron Rodgers is, and he can give defenses headaches. When they think they know the play, Rodgers will change it three seconds before the snap, just like he did last week. “Allen!” Rodgers yelled, pointing at Allen Lazard, then discreetly pointing downfield as he pulled his hand back. That play ended up being a touchdown to Allen Lazard on a deep post route, contrary to the play that had been called up which was a run earlier. Pass game isn’t enough? Need to run out the clock? Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are there to bruise some linemen.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 – Green Bay Packers 21

Bold Prediction: Tom Brady will throw fewer TD passes than Aaron Rodgers throws INTs


Buffalo Bills (15-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)

“If he (Josh Allen) flips the table and takes out the Chiefs… It’s a sensation. He’s now the face of the league.” Kyle Brandt, NFL Analyst on Good Morning Football spoke highly of the Bills’ young QB on the morning show, and it’s easy to agree with him.

Josh Allen has played phenomenally and has greatly improved since his lackluster first two seasons. Now, in his third season, he has the chance to lead his team to the Super Bowl, win the MVP award, and take out Patrick Mahomes while he’s at it. This could either be a storybook tale or a typical Patrick Mahomes defeat we’ve all come to know and hate. It’s going to be like flipping a coin, where the Bills are heads and the Chiefs are tails. But, as the saying goes, “tails never fails.”

Mahomes is expected to play this Sunday, which was doubtful after an injury took him out of play during the second half of the divisional round game against the Cleveland Browns. How well he will play is up in question, but even if he plays with 50% of what we’ve seen from him, it will be a tough game for sure.

So how do the Bills dethrone the Chiefs? Shut down Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Two of the best receiving threats in the game are lining up for the Chiefs with a supporting cast behind them. Zone coverage utilizing LB Tremaine Edmunds around Kelce and CB Tre’davious White around Hill will be two matchups you can expect to see. Hill is too fast to cover in man coverage, as he can run past anyone in the league on any given day. Kelce is going to pick apart zone coverage and sit for the short gains, but he must be stopped after the catch or else he is going to gain numerous yards after the catch. That’s the beast that is Travis Kelce.

Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins will be covered by Josh Norman and Jordan Poyer, with Micah Hyde sinking back behind the Legion of Zoom to help prevent any vertical threats. The defensive line will have to get after Patrick Mahomes and make him as uncomfortable as Patrick Mahomes can be (which is not very). Jerry Hughes and Ed Oliver will be looked to as the leaders on that front, having to work past Eric Fisher and Nick Allegretti to even have a chance to take down the ever elusive Mahomes.

How do the Chiefs make it to back-to-back Super Bowls? The defense needs to limit the Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs connection while getting off the field quickly with long yardage situations. It all starts at the line, where Chris Jones and Frank Clark will have to get after Josh Allen and the running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss for losses on early downs. This will force Josh Allen to throw downfield to his two most reliable deep threat targets: Stefon Diggs and John Brown.

Tyrann Mathieu and L’Jarius Sneed will be there to stop the pass and get the Bills to punt, but will it be that easy? No, for Isaiah McKenzie and Gabriel Davis are also solid receivers, so matching up against four wide receivers at once with a great quarterback and less than a Pro Bowl secondary is going to be difficult. Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward must step up, as well as LBs Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens.

If it comes down to special teams, Buffalo has a great leg in their punter Corey Bojorquez, with their returning specialist Andre Roberts out-matching the Chief’s Mecole Hardman. Kansas City has a better kicker, however, in Harrison Butker as opposed to the Bills’ rookie, Tyler Bass.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills 42 – Chiefs 35

Bold Prediction: Patrick Mahomes will be benched at some point during the game due to his lingering injury