QB's Lead the Way to Championship Sunday
After a wild divisional round weekend, the stage is set for Championship Sunday. Here is a look ahead at the match-ups.
NFC Championship: Tampa Bay at Green Bay, Sunday, 12:05pm
It’s a matchup between the NFC's two highest-scoring offenses and two of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history. The Bucs crushed the Packers 38-10 in Green Bay's worst performance of the year in Week 6, but now the Packers have won seven in a row by an average margin of 33-18. Meanwhile, Tampa has won six straight by an average margin of 35-20.
Tom Brady and the passing game get more attention, but Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette carried the Tampa Bay offense with 169 scrimmage yards on 35 touches in New Orleans. That came against the league's second-ranked run defense. The Green Bay pass defense is strong, but the Packers rank below the league median in against the run.
The Packers offense is the best in the league and have scored on 80 percent of their red-zone possessions this season and topped the NFC with a third-down success rate of 49.4 percent. Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams will get theirs, but the key for the Bucs will be to make plays on third down and keep the Packers out of the end zone. Otherwise, it might be hard for Brady and Co. to keep up on the road. The Los Angeles Rams defense couldn't get off the field this past weekend against Green Bay, Against the highly rated Rams run defense Saturday, those three backs rushed for 191 yards on 32 carries.
It’s hard to imagine the Bucs upsetting the Packers at frigid Lambeau Field but if anyone can do it, it’s the greatest quarterback of all time.
AFC Championship: Buffalo at Kansas City, Sunday, 3:40pm
Kansas City beat Buffalo in a weird Monday afternoon game back in Week 6. Since then, the Bills' only loss came on a Hail Mary, and the Chiefs' only loss came when they rested most of their key players in a meaningless Week 17 game. The Chiefs are the clear-cut favorite at home, but with superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes' status up in the air, nothing is guaranteed for a team that hasn't won by more than six points since Week 8.
The Bills don't have a star in the backfield, so the margin for error could be minuscule for their breakout quarterback, Josh Allen. He will need support from running back Devin Singletary, who wasn't a huge factor this season but will now go up against the league's 31st-ranked run defense. The Bills need a balanced attack in order to control the game and give a middling defense some breathers against one of the league's most dangerous offenses.
Whether Andy Reid will be operating with a backup quarterback or one coming off a scary concussion, he will need a versatile and extremely effective game plan for a Buffalo defense that surrendered just three points against the formerly red-hot Baltimore Ravens offense in the divisional round. Kansas City won an NFL-best 14 games this season thanks to a league high 79 plays of 20-plus yards, but it might have to become more creative if Mahomes is absent or off his game Sunday.
Defensively, Kansas City held Allen to just 14 completions and 122 passing yards on 27 attempts in their regular-season meeting, but he was struggling a bit at that point. Buffalo had just three fewer 20-plus-yard plays than Kansas City this season, and Allen could also do damage with his legs against a porous run D. The Chiefs can't let him hijack this game.
The Chiefs have had trouble putting teams away all season long evident by their 1-9 point spread mark over the past 10 games. The opponent may be tailor made for them this week as they have several match up advantages, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
There is a lot to be said for a hungry Bills team who want to exact revenge and to return this franchise to a Super Bowl. The only way that can happen is for Allen to be nearly perfect and the Chiefs to continue their struggling ways. However, even a struggling Kansas City team has been good enough to still be victorious.