Road to the Super Bowl Predictions
By: Derrek Hale
NFL Playoff Quarterbacks / nytimes.com
The quest to get to the Super Bowl continues this weekend with the NFL Conference Championships. It’s the last stop, win and you’re in. Needless to say, the stakes are big. Should be an exciting weekend as teams battle to get to the biggest game in all of sports. Here’s my thoughts and predictions about the games this Sunday…
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday 3:05 p.m. E.T.
The Buccaneers rode their defense last week as they shut down the Saints in Drew Brees’s possible last game ever. Tampa’s defense forced Brees to throw three interceptions, the first time he has done so since 2017. Between the forced turnovers and controlling the clock with a strong run game, the Buccaneers did just enough to outlast the Saints. Tampa is definitely hoping that defense can play just as well this weekend when they go against possible 2020 MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers.
When these two teams met in Week 6 of this year, it was ugly, like really ugly, and Tampa cruised to a 38-10 victory. Tampa will definitely try to emulate that game, where they were constantly able to get pressure on Rodgers and ended up with four sacks. It’s possible, as the Buccaneers have one of the better defenses in the league, but that game was months ago and both these teams have changed since then.
Each of these teams are loaded with stud players on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, and both led by two of the greatest to ever do it. Both teams are top 10 in the league in almost every passing category, as well as top 10 in points. We should see plenty of big plays on both sides as this game is littered with star wide receivers. For the Packers, Davante Adams has been more than terrific this season with 115 receptions for nearly 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Bucs have a variety of wildly good wide receivers as well though. Mike Evans had another 1000 yard season with double digit touchdowns, and Chris Godwin probably would have gotten there as well if it wasn’t for a couple injuries. The midseason addition of the controversial Antonio Brown has really started to pay dividends of late as he is looking reminiscent of 2018 AB.
For the majority of the season Green Bay did have a slight edge in the rushing department, as the Packers ground game was ranked 8th and the Buccaneers were 28th. However, the past few weeks the Buccaneers have looked much better in the rushing department, and actually the last two games represent two of their top four rushing attacks on the season. I expect to see a good amount of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette this week as Green Bay's defense is much better against the pass than it is the run. If the Buccaneers can control the clock and establish a strong run game to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field I think they can definitely keep this game close.
When all is said and done though, I think Aaron Rodgers at home in his MVP season run ends up to be too much for Brady and the Buccaneers to keep up with. Rodgers gets one step closer to his 2nd ring and Brady is forced to come back and try again next season if he wants to go out on top.
Prediction - Buccaneers 24 Packers 28
Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday 6:40 p.m. ET
Quarterback concussions… Last week the Bills beat a Lamar Jackson-less Ravens team due to him leaving with a concussion, and the Chiefs won without superstar Patrick Mahomes who also left with a concussion. On top of that, Mahomes is also dealing with an ankle issue. He may be a little beat up but he has been cleared to play.
This Sunday the top two seeds in the AFC will go to battle in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium and for the 3rd straight time the AFC championship will be played there. Like the Buccaneers vs Packers, this is also a rematch of a Week 6 game, so these teams are familiar with each other. In that game the Chiefs went into Buffalo and walked away with a 28-17 victory, and handed the Bills one of three losses on the season. The last time the Bills appeared in an AFC championship game was in 1993, they actually beat a Joe Montana led Chiefs team to get to a Super Bowl.
We will see if history repeats itself this Sunday and the Bills can make it to their first Super Bowl appearance in 28 years. In order for that to happen they need to slow down and keep up with the reigning champs and one of the best offenses in NFL history. That’s most definitely a tall task, but the Bills offense is pretty prolific as well. It finished the regular season ranked second in scoring (31.3 points per game), third in passing (299.1), and Josh Allen has been nothing short of magnificent this year. Same goes for his top weapon Stefon Diggs who had an insane season with 127 receptions for 1535 yards and 8 touchdowns. When those two are clicking they are nearly unstoppable. In addition to Diggs, Allen has Cole Beasley, John Brown and rookie gem Gabriel Davis to round out one of the best wide receiver groups in the league. That group will need to fire on all cylinders this weekend to help make up for loss of rookie running back Zack Moss, who is done for the season after suffering an ankle injury a few weeks ago. Expect Devin Singletary, who has been just ok this season to get the bulk of the work out of backfield Sunday.
In my opinion there was no way Mahomes wasn’t going to play this weekend, but him officially being cleared from concussion protocol is the best of news for Kansas City, because, if they want to win this game they’re going to need their all world QB. When these teams met earlier this year in Week 6 the Chiefs relied on their rushing attack and amassed a crazy 245 yards on the ground. That may not be a viable option this time around as rookie Clyde Edwards Helaire who is responsible for most of that 245 yards, is still recovering from injuries suffered in Week 15 and isn’t a lock to play this week. If he can’t go the Chiefs do have capable backups in Le’Veon Bell, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson. Bell who was brought in mid season has looked good, but nothing like he did a few years ago.
Expect to see the Chiefs other superstar weapons to be in full effect. Lots of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The All-Pro tight end and wide receiver are again both coming off amazing seasons, particularly Kelce, who just had the best season ever for tight end. He put up a ridiculous 105 receptions for 1416 yards and 11 touchdowns. I mean c’mon. Hill who had a pretty amazing year himself just had 15 touchdowns and almost 1300 yards. Per usual, expect these two to be major factors this weekend. Mahomes may be less than 100% but I fully expect him to still be able to pepper these two with targets. Also lets be honest, Patrick Mahomes at even 75% is still pretty scary.
This game should be a very exciting and most likely high scoring matchup featuring two of the top offenses in the league, led by two of the best young QB’s in the game. I think both coaches will get a little creative with some of their play-calling and that the game is going to be closer than a lot of people may think. In the end though I think the Chiefs come away victorious and get one step closer to being 2x champs and on their way to a dynasty. I also think this is a matchup we will be seeing a lot of in the playoffs over the next few years. I can’t wait, enjoy your football everyone!
Prediction - Bills 32 Chiefs 35