Preview: Quarterbacks reign supreme in Conference Championships
It seems the NFL can do no wrong. Their April draft went without a hitch, or a technical glitch, despite it being conducted remotely. It was the only league of the four North American majors in which the regular-season went virtually uninterrupted and ratings remained sky-high, although the live gates plummeted due to Covid restrictions.
And now the remaining four teams standing could not be better had they been hand-picked by Roger Goodell himself. Consider that Buffalo has finally become worthy of their notorious Bills Mafia groupies with quarterback Josh Allen morphing from a mistake-prone passer in his sophomore campaign to a supremely confident field general in his third season. The addition of Stefon Diggs to the Bills’ offensive arsenal has been a game-changer and contributed mightily to Allen’s ascension and the team’s fortunes this year.
Of course, their opponents in the AFC Championship showdown are the Kansas City Chiefs, reigning Super Bowl champs. They are the team everyone believed would ultimately wind up back on the league’s grandest stage. And it’s fair to say that the powerhouse in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers, were also predicted as the team most likely to be their opponents. In fact, an odds calculator before the start of the season would have favored both to be on a collision to meet on February 7th of this year.
But the Chiefs have a bit of intrigue heading into their AFC matchup with the Bills. Their quarterback extraordinaire, Patrick Mahomes, has been in concussion protocol since suffering a massive hit by Cleveland’s Mack Wilson last week in their 22-17 victory over the Browns. There are five steps the 25-year-old All-Pro must pass before being cleared to play, and it appears he is on track to suit up but that decision won’t be made until on, or before, game day.
Over in the NFC Tom Brady, is back in the playoff picture again after venturing out of the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium as a 20-year member of the New England Patriots and into the sun-splashed environs of Tampa Bay. After a few rough spots adjusting to a new offensive scheme and a completely different coaching staff, Tom Terrific has set the world ablaze and now leads his charges into an NFC Championship showdown with another future Hall-of-Famer, Aaron Rodgers, and the Green Bay Packers.
The two legendary passers, who have combined for five Super Bowl MVP and five NFL MVP awards will meet for only the fourth time in their respective careers. Brady has won two of three, the last of which came this season when the Buccaneers throttled the Packers in a 38-10 Week 6 trouncing. Ironically, it was a game in which neither quarterback sparkled but Brady was the better of the two with 166 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions while Rodgers was held to 160 passing yards with no touchdowns and two picks.
Despite that earlier meeting, Green Bay comes into this game on a seven-game winning streak and Rodgers remarked about how proud he was to lead this iteration of the Packers after defeating the Rams in the divisional round last week:
“I think it’s one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to lead this team. To be counted on by my teammates to bring, not just my physical play, but my presence, my emotions, my words, and I strongly believe in speaking things to life. We’ve been talking a lot about how a positive wave can be so powerful. I feel like we have that wave building and building and building and it’s kind of been backboned by so many great people.”
Brady also felt like his team is trending up after winning their last six contests including two postseason road wins, “We worked hard to get to this point. Two road playoff wins is pretty sweet,” Brady said. “We’ve got to go beat a great football team we know pretty well. Aaron’s playing incredible.”
Tampa Bay’s Sunday night 30-20 victory over the Saints proved they can shake off earlier defeats and triumph when it truly counts. The Bucs had lost their previous two regular-season meetings to New Orleans but it was a different Bucs’ squad that met Drew Brees and his Saints this time around.
“Really just locking in and playing a lot better than we did the first two times we played them,” Brady said after the game. “We had a bunch of turnovers last time. This time they turned it over and that’s usually the story of football games.”