At the beginning of the playoffs, I predicted a Green Bay-Kansas City matchup in Super Bowl LV. I know, I know, I really went out on a limb with those picks. But, hey, they are the best teams, and isn't that what we want in the Super Bowl? Anyway, as we approach the conference championship games today, the fact that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will play has solidified my predictions. I feel better now, just like Mahomes.
On to the conference championships ...
Tampa Bay at Green Bay
Time: 3:05 p.m. (Fox)
Records: Buccaneers 13-5; Packers 14-3
The skinny: Another classic quarterback battle in the NFC playoffs, this time for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl LV – in Tampa. Tom Brady is playing in his 14th conference title game and is looking to go to his 10th – count 'em, 10 – Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers is finally at home for a conference title game and is trying to get to his second Super Bowl. This is the first postseason matchup between the two future hall of famers. Brady has a plethora of weapons including receiovers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight ends Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski, and running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. His biggest weapon, however, may be the return of 6-foot-4, 346-pound nose tackle Vita Vea from a leg injury. If Vea can plug the middle in tandem with Ndamukong Suh, the Bucs just may be able to slow down the three-headed Packers rushing attack and force Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers into a pass-only game plan. The Packers unveiled their diversified rushing attack last week against the Rams with Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Jamaal Williams. Of course, Rodgers doesn't care if he has to throw, as he'll target Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scandling and tight end and Indiana State grad Robert Tonyan. The overlooked Packers defense is led by linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Rashan Gary and tackle Kenny Clark. This is Green Bay's fourth title game in seven years and its time to cash in on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
Prediction: Packers 30-27
Buffalo at Kansas City
Time: 6:20 p.m. (CBS)
Records: Bills 15-3; Chiefs 15-2
The skinny: Kansas City may be starting to feel the wear and tear of playing in three straight conference title games, what with Mahomes' head/neck/toe injuries. It was announced Friday that the former league and Super Bowl MVP will play, so hopefully we'll be spared any Chad Henne sightings beyond the sidelines. Kansas City's defense is solid, keyed by free safety Tyrann Mathieu, but the Bills' offense is humming behind quarterback Josh Allen and receiver Stefon Diggs and the team, heck, the city, is hungry for another trip to a Tampa Super Bowl (see Super Bowl XXV). Buffalo is primed for a win, even facing a healthy Mahomes, and the Chiefs have been sleepwalking through the back half of the season and then squeezed past the Browns last week. The Bills' defense is small, but athletic and quick, just what you need to keep up with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, et al. The Bills gave up 273 points in their first 10 games and have given up 137 points since, including two playoff games. It looks like Kansas City will get rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire back from a high ankle sprain just in time to give Mahomes some help. The question is, is it a year too early for Buffalo or a year too many for the Chiefs? I'll stick with the defending champions until proven otherwise.
Prediction: Chiefs 33-30
Last week: 3-1; Playoffs: 7-3
– Mark Jaworski, The Journal Gazette