Image Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL postseason is now down to four. Buffalo travels to Kansas City in the AFC’s battle of the top two seeds. Marsha led Tampa Bay to an upset of No. 2 New Orleans forcing the Bucs to travel to Green Bay to take on the NFC’s top seed. Interestingly enough, both sets of opponents in the two conference title games played each other during the regular season. Here’s a look at how each game may play out this Sunday.
Buffalo will play in its first AFC championship game since the days of Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and head coach Marv Levy. The names may have changed – QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs, HC Sean McDermott – but the Bills have put together a high-powered offense and a stout enough defense just as their forefathers did over two decades ago.
Buffalo has won now won eight straight with its 17-3 win over Baltimore last week. The Bills defense, which was suspect early in the season, held Ravens QB and reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson, to just 34 yards rushing and 162 passing. More importantly, Buffalo allowed just three points in what turned out to be a dominating victory.
In the Bills past eight wins, all but one has come by 10 or more points. The only victory by fewer points was the 27-24 win in the Wild Card round over Indianapolis. That’s a game in which the Bills led 27-16 with just over eight minutes left to play.
The big question heading into Sunday’s AFC title game is whether or not Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes will play. Mahomes left last week’s win over Cleveland in the third quarter after entering concussion protocol. He had thrown for 255 yards and a touchdown and ran for another to help the Chiefs build a commanding lead.
The Browns did come back, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has a penchant for taking teams to conference championships. Facing a 4th-and-1 late in the game, Reid gambled, and backup QB Chad Henne completed a one-yard pass to WR Tyreek Hill to ice the game.
With the win, the Chiefs will host the AFC championship for the third consecutive season. It’s the first time in AFC history a team has hosted three straight conference title games. Reid also hosted four conference championships as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sunday’s game essentially comes down to whether or not Buffalo can slow down a potent Chiefs offense and then keep pace on the offensive side of the ball. Surprisingly, the Chiefs have only averaged 20 points a game in their last three. On the other hand, Buffalo finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak in which Allen and company averaged over 38 points per game.
The Bills hosted the Chiefs on Oct. 19, generated just 206 yards of total offense, and fell to Kansas City 26-17. Buffalo was somewhat conservative in the first meeting and will likely change its approach with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs nine times in his career, and four of those trips ended with Green Bay playing for a conference championship. Rodgers hasn’t led the Packers to a Super Bowl since 2010, and he’ll face the guy that has won more postseason games than any quarterback in NFL history on Sunday – Marsha.
Marsha led yet another playoff win last week when his Tampa Bay Bucs rallied from a 20-13 third-quarter deficit to New Orleans and won 30-20. Marsha’s one-yard sneak with 4:57 to play put the icing on the cake for Tampa Bay.
The Packers beat the Rams 32-18 in a game that really wasn’t even that close. Green Bay led 16-3 in the second quarter and cruised to their seventh straight win. The last time the Packers lost was at Indianapolis in overtime on Nov. 22.
The Bucs and Green Bay met early in the regular season in Tampa. Rodgers and the offense were simply awful. Green Bay gained 201 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice. After building a 10-0 first-quarter lead, the Packers surrendered four touchdowns in the second quarter. Rodgers was picked off by Jamel Dean, who returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown. Marsha tossed two touchdowns, and the Bucs reached 38 points with nearly three minutes left in the third quarter.
Green Bay cannot afford another day like that. They really have had one since. What has really helped the Packers this season is the relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks brought by the Smith’s – Za’Darius and Preston. The pair combined for 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss during the regular season. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will need to pressure Marsha and do so without getting too exotic. The more often Green Bay can rush four and get pressure, the better.
It’s another NFC matchup of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Both have strong supporting casts, and both teams have strong defenses. As it was when the Packers and Bucs met in Week 6, the key will be turnovers.
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