By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and after a long season loaded with unexpected hurdles, the NFL has made it to conference championship weekend. There are a pair of dream match-ups on Sunday, with two MVP candidates, 25-year-old quarterbacks squaring off in the AFC, and two veteran, future Hall-of-Fame veterans clashing in the NFC.
Opening up the weekend will be the meeting between 43-year old Tom Brady and 37-year old Aaron Rodgers. Brady overcame some early struggles to be a superstar once again, passing for over 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s been equally impressive during the postseason, and there’s a strong possibility of a shootout with Rodgers and the Packers offense on the opposite sidelines. Rodgers is coming off a dynamite showing against the L.A. Rams, arguably the best defense in football. Tampa Bay survived its meeting with the Saints a week ago thanks to three interceptions by Drew Brees. Rodgers isn’t likely to make the same mistakes.
Working in Tampa Bay’s favor is the potential return of interior lineman Vita Vea. One of the best interior defenders in the NFL, Vea missed most of the regular season and all of the playoffs to date, but he has returned to practice and looks poised to be on the field on Sunday. When these teams met in Week 6, the Bucs overcame an early 10-0 deficit to score 38 unanswered points in a blowout win. Green Bay will be looking for revenge on Sunday. It’s also worth noting that the weather could prove to be a massive factor with the game in Wisconsin, with there being the potential for rain or snow.
In the AFC, everything will come down to the status and the health of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Forced from last week’s game against the Browns with a concussion, Mahomes remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He was limited in practice on Thursday but seems to be on track to start on Sunday evening. However, Mahomes was already battling a toe injury, and there appears to be a zero-percent chance he will enter the AFC Championship game at full strength.
Buffalo’s defense is coming off a great showing against the dangerous Baltimore Ravens’ offense, limiting Lamar Jackson and company to a mere three points last Saturday. At the forefront of Buffalo’s success on defense is its ability to generate consistent pressure. While those pressures have led to being among the NFL’s leaders in sacks, the Bills trailed only the sack-happy Steelers in terms of generating fast pressure. Buffalo boasts a sneaky-good unit of pass rushers led by the perennially overlooked Jerry Hughes. Mahomes, likely without his scrambling ability due to his toe injury, will have to shine under duress.
On the other side of things, the Bills offense, a high-octane unit capable of putting up points in bunches, will face K.C.’s exploitable defense. Josh Allen emerged as an MVP candidate in 2020, improving across the board thanks largely to the presence of Stefon Diggs. Last week, Diggs torched the Ravens for eight grabs and 106 yards, a worthy encore following his 127-grab, 1,535-yard 2020 season. Slowing Diggs is paramount to K.C. avoiding a shootout, but it is a task that’s been nearly impossible for opposing defenses this season.
Far removed from the playoffs, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been filling out its coaching ranks with some impressive hires. The biggest acquisition was Urban Meyer, arguably one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time. The Jaguars also hired Darrell Bevell as its new offensive coordinator. The duo is going to be integral in reworking Jacksonville’s offense around presumed first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. With some fun pieces in place already, a wealth of draft capital, and enough salary-cap space to sign some star-level talent, the Jaguars’ rebuild is underway.