By Lenn Robbins
The loser of the NFC Championship will the end of the season for Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. In Brady’s case, it could also mean the career end of the greatest quarterback of all time. Watching a grinning Brady try to high-five an official in Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Saints is perhaps the best proof that Tampa Tom will at least play out his two-year deal with the Buccaneers.
What if the Buffalo Bills, with one of the league’s burgeoning stars at quarterback in Josh Allen upset the Chiefs in Kansas City. For all the talents of Brady and Rodgers, Mahomes does things with a football that make Sir Isaac Newton rethink the whole theory of gravity thing.
One can argue the Bills are playing the best football of the four remaining teams and that Allen is also capable of making a defense depressed, if not disappear. Should Buffalo win, Mahomes and either Brady or Rodgers book tee times.
You know CBS execs are praying for Mahomes to get to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa so they can hype the passing-of-the-torch story line: Brady-to-Mahomes or Rodgers-to-Mahomes. From a football purists point of view, any matchup of these final four teams could make for a great game.
The question is, who gets there? Here’s a look at Sunday’s two conference championships games.
The Bills at Chiefs game (6:40 p.m.; CBS; Chiefs beat Bills, 27-16 earlier this season) comes down two factors (turnovers and special teams play are always crucial factors): For the Bills, it’s as simple as this: Buffalo must establish some semblance of a running game.
Buffalo ran for just 32 yards in its 17-3 win over the Ravens. The Bills attempted passes on their first 13 plays from scrimmage. Even legendary Bills coach Marv Levy wouldn’t have gone there. In the Bills loss to K.C., they ran for just 84 yards (and gave up 245!).
They must run against Kansas City (14-2), which was not great against the rush, allowing 4.5 yards per carry. In the Chiefs two losses they allowed 289 yards rushing. Ugh. The better and more often the Bills run, the less Andy Reid’s Lotto offense is on the field. It also should put Allen in better position to throw, especially deep to Stefon Diggs.
The key for the Chiefs is clear – Mahomes must play. He left the win 22-17 win over the Browns with concussion symptoms. He was not diagnosed as having suffered a concussion yet he is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. If he’s cleared to play, the Chiefs win. If he doesn’t, don’t put this all on Chad Henne, Chiefs fans.
Kansas City’s defense is less than stellar but Mahomes compensates for a lot of flaws. KC can’t win a shootout with Mahomes.
PREDICTION: CHIEFS 43, BILLS 31
The Bucs at Packers game (3:05 p.m.; FOX; Bucs beat Packers, 38-10 earlier with season) also comes down to two factors. The Bucs must keep Davante Adams under control (good luck with that!).
With all respect to the combo of Allen-to-Diggs, no QB-WR duo was more spectacular this season than Rodgers-to-Adams. Adams had 18 touchdown catches and 561 yards after catch, both tops in the league.
There is a such a drop off from Adams to any other Green Bay target that he always draws the opponent’s No.1 corner. He tracks the deep ball better than any wideout in the game today. If he goes for 125 yards or more and two touchdowns, the Packers win. In the Bucs 38-10 win, Adams was held to 61 yards receiving on six catches.
The Packers have to get pressure on Brady. We can say Rodgers has the best arm and Mahomes is the most dynamic but no quarterback dissects a defense better than Brady. Like all quarterbacks, he’s a much less effective passer when the protection breaks down.
This is especially the case with Brady because, as good as he is moving within the pocket, he is a liability on the run, and we’re being generous with that “run” term. The Bucs did a good job protecting him. Brady was sacked 21 times, but 11 of those (and nine of his 12 interceptions came in the Bucs five losses.
If the Bucs protect Brady, he will have a chance to win a seventh Super Bowl title. New England weeps.
PREDICTION: BUCS 33, PACKERS 30