Sunday's NFL conference championship games are rematches of Week 6. Only the venues and the stakes — a trip to Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7 — have changed.
In the NFC, 43-year-old Tom Brady – 9-3 in AFC title games with the Patriots – is trying to lead the wild-card Buccaneers to an upset of the top-seeded Packers and 37-year-old likely MVP Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
If Tampa Bay repeats its Week 6 win over Green Bay, it'll be the first team to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium. The Bucs also would become the fourth NFC team in the past five years to reach the Super Bowl a season after missing the playoffs. (So, yeah, there's hope in 2021, Vikings fans!)
In the AFC, 25-year-old Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is coming off a concussion and is expected to play when top-seeded Kansas City hosts a third straight conference title game. The second-seeded Bills, with 24-year-old quarterback Josh Allen, are playing their first AFC title game since the 1993 season and will need to play much, much better than they did in a Week 6 loss to the Chiefs.
If you love defense, hang on. For the first time in the Super Bowl era, all four conference finalists averaged more than 29 points per game.
Last week's divisional round picks: 3-1; vs. the spread: 3-1.
Playoff record: 8-2; vs. the spread: 6-4.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 5 Buccaneers (13-5) at No. 1 Packers (14-3)
Time/TV: 2:05 p.m., Fox
Last meeting: Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa. The Buccaneers won, 38-10.
How they got here: The Buccaneers beat Washington 31-24 in the wild-card round, and the Saints 30-20 last week. After a bye, the Packers topped the Rams 32-18 last week.
The matchup: Rodgers, the presumed MVP, gets a mulligan for Week 6, when he played one of the worst games of his career. He completed just 45.7% of his passes for 160 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick-six by cornerback Jamel Dean. Tom Brady and the Bucs offense was turnover-free and efficient, but it was Tampa Bay's defense that stole the show in holding the No. 1-ranked scoring team to season lows for points (10) and yards (201). Linebacker Lavonte David and end Jason Pierre-Paul each had 1½ of the Bucs' four sacks.
Key stat: 35.4, Rodgers' passer rating in the first meeting, third-worst of his career.
The Buccaneers will win if: Brady stays well-protected and turnover-free, and the No. 1 run defense turns the pass rush loose by forcing third-and-long situations. The Bucs held Aaron Jones to 15 yards on 10 carries in Green Bay's Week 6 debacle.
The Packers will win if: They establish the run, take the heat off Rodgers, and make the front of the pocket uncomfortable for Brady. Against the Rams' No. 1-ranked defense last week, Jones ran for 99 yards on only 14 carries (7.1 yards per carry) while Rodgers looked smooth in posting a turnover-free 108.1 passer rating.
Line: Packers -3½.
Craig's pick: Packers 28, Buccaneers 24.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 2 Bills (15-3) at No. 1 Chiefs (15-2)
Time/TV: 5:40 p.m., CBS
Last meeting: Oct. 19, 2020, in Buffalo. The Chiefs won, 26-17.
How they got here: The Bills beat the Colts 27-24 in the wild-card round, and stopped the Ravens 17-3 last week. After a bye, Kansas City knocked out Clevelend 22-17.
The matchup: The shootout between Mahomes and Allen never materialized in Week 6. Allen threw for a season-low 122 yards while Mahomes was overshadowed by a season-high 245 yards rushing. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 161 yards on 26 carries (6.2). Mahomes was turnover-free and efficient, throwing only five incompletions in 26 attempts for 225 yards, two touchdowns and a 128.4 passer rating.
Key stat: 206, Buffalo's total yards in the Week 6 meeting, a season low.
The Bills will win if: They can stop the run with their front seven, make third downs manageable and give Allen and his high-flying offense more chances than they got in Week 6. The 245 yards rushing allowed – a season-high – meant Allen, Stefon Diggs et. al were on the field for only 22 minutes.
The Chiefs will win if: Run the ball, keep Buffalo's defense off-balance on third down and make sure Mahomes – who left last week's game with a concussion – is healthy and on the field when his magic is needed. In the first meeting, the Chiefs converted 9 of 14 third downs while holding the ball for over 37 minutes.
Line: Chiefs -3.
Craig's pick: Chiefs 30, Bills 24.