Conference Championship Round Lines
My record from Divisional Round: 4-0-0 SU, 3-1-0 ATS, 3-1-0 O/U
My record this season: 191-74-1 SU, 153-109-4 ATS, 137-120-9 O/U
(13-5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ (14-3) Green Bay Packers
TV Info: 1/24/21, 12:05 PM EST, FOX
This is what we came for—Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. Buckle your seatbelts and prepare for impact – this might be the best NFC Championship game we’ve ever seen. These are two of twelve quarterbacks who have made at least five conference championships since the NFL-AFL merger. This is Brady’s 14th appearance, more than any other QB, and he has a 9-4 record in those games. This is Rodgers’s 5th appearance, and he has a 1-3 record in those games; those were all road games, justifying the poor record somewhat. Brady becomes the fourth quarterback to play in a conference championship game in both the AFC and NFC, and he could become the second QB of all time to reach the Super Bowl in both conferences. Of course, Brady is the best quarterback of all time, and Rodgers will ultimately join him in the Hall of Fame as one of the greats at the position. This game is going to draw insane television numbers and will be one for the record books.
Rodgers and the Packers faced their toughest test of the season last week as they faced the Rams’ top-notch defense that allowed the fewest points and yards during the regular season. Aaron Rodgers, the prohibitive favorite for MVP, still came through with a tremendous game as he completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns with no turnovers and another touchdown on the ground. Tampa Bay’s front seven is among the best in the NFL, but the secondary was legitimately beatable. The Buccaneers allowed 29 passing touchdowns (11th-most) and 3,945 passing yards (12th-most) during the regular season, and Rodgers is going to expose this group of defensive backs. Davante Adams also faced a brutal matchup against Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams, arguably the best pair of cornerbacks in football, and still came through with 9 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Adams caught 115 balls for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns (league lead) during the regular season, and Tampa’s cornerbacks are going to struggle to contain him. Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis are a solid pairing on the perimeter, but if Ramsey couldn’t contain Adams, then nobody can. Allen Lazard (4-96-1), Robert Tonyan (4-60), and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (4-33) had solid games as well.
In addition to a strong passing effort by the Packers last week, I was impressed by their ability to run the ball against a tough Rams front seven. Aaron Jones racked up 99 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Los Angeles, while Jamaal Williams (12-65) and A.J. Dillon (6-27) contributed as well. Tampa Bay’s run defense was the best in the NFL during the regular season as they allowed just 1,289 rushing yards, 3.6 YPC, and 10 rushing touchdowns, all the fewest in football. Tampa held New Orleans, one of the best rushing offenses in football, to just 4.1 YPC last week as a team. If the Buccaneers can force the Packers into a one-dimensional, pass-heavy offense, we could see Green Bay struggle to score a bit more than usual. However, Aaron Rodgers is a far more efficient and prolific passer than Drew Brees had been this season, so it’s easier to imagine him succeeding without an effective rushing offense. Brees had three interceptions last week, and Rodgers has thrown three interceptions since Week 6.
On the Tampa side, Tom Brady is surrounded by arguably the best skill position talent of his entire career. The team’s pass-catchers struggled against the Saints as Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski each only had one catch on a combined ten targets. Brown had been on a tear with four straight games with a touchdown, but he suffered a knee injury last week, and now his status for this game is in doubt. Evans did score a touchdown on that one catch, but he was also dealing with a knee injury of his own and was held in check by Marshon Lattimore last week. Jaire Alexander was a second-team All-Pro cornerback this season, and he dominated last week as he was only targeted twice on 51 defensive snaps. However, he obviously can’t cover both Evans and Brown on the perimeter, and Kevin King is not nearly the same caliber of defender on the other side of the field. Chris Godwin led Tampa in targets last week and caught 4 balls for 34 yards, and he’ll draw a strong matchup in the slot against Chandon Sullivan. Godwin closed out the regular season with 14 catches for 253 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final three games, and he’ll be looking to get back to that level of play this week. Cameron Brate seems to have overtaken Gronkowski as the go-to receiving tight end as he leads the team with 8 catches for 130 yards in the postseason. Update: Antonio Brown has been ruled out of this game, so we should expect to see a lot more of Jaire Alexander on Mike Evans, massively limiting his upside. Scotty Miller is likely to see more snaps, and Tampa could run more 2-tight end sets.
There are some very interesting matchups in the trenches to watch on both sides of the ball. Tampa Bay has put together one of the best offensive lines of Tom Brady’s career, and last week Tampa’s rushing offense was a huge factor as they took 35 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Stinnie, a former undrafted player out of James Madison, got the start at right guard in place of the injured Alex Cappa and was a huge part of the offensive line’s effort to hold Brady to one sack. Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs has been a monster in the playoffs as he’s allowed just one QB pressure and zero sacks on 77 pass-blocking snaps per PFF. Whether he sees Za’Darius Smith, a Pro Bowl edge rusher, or Preston Smith, who has 40.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in his career, I’d give Wirfs the edge. Donovan Smith has been very strong on the left side of the offensive line as well. On the interior, Aaron Stinnie will be joined by Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen, who are some of the best players at their respective positions. Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary are two strong interior defenders, but Tampa’s rushing offense has flowed through Leonard Fournette last week as he has taken 45 touches for 239 yards during the playoffs.
On the other side of the ball, Green Bay will likely have a tough time coping with Tampa’s stout front seven. Devin White and LaVonte David combined for 17 tackles last week, and both were All-Pro linebackers during the regular season. Tampa also features Jason Pierre-Paul, a Pro Bowl edge rusher, and Shaquill Barrett, the NFL sack leader in 2019. The Bucs may also get Vita Vea, one of the best defensive tackles in football, back from Injured Reserve this week. William Gholston and Ndomakung Suh already hold down the fort in the middle of the field for the best-run defense in the NFL. Corey Linsley, the Packers’ All-Pro center, will have his work cut out for him. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s offensive tackles are bound to struggle against this talented group of pass rushers. After David Bakhtiari tore his ACL and Jared Veldheer came down with COVID-19, Billy Turner and Ricky Wagner got the start at the tackle spots last week. The offensive line held up last week and didn’t let Aaron Rodgers get sacked once against what was arguably the best front seven in football during the regular season. If the Packers can keep Rodgers upright again, they’ll be well on their way to winning this game.
There are interesting matchups all over the place to dive into in this game, but the bottom line is this thing will come down to the two #12s on either side. Since Aaron Rodgers had his worst game of the season against Tampa with 45.7% completion, 160 yards, and zero touchdowns to two interceptions, he’s been on one helluva tear with 41 total touchdowns to just three interceptions, including last week. The Packers turned the ball over just eleven times during the regular season, the fewest in the NFL, although the Buccaneers did have a slightly better turnover margin at +8 vs. +7. However, I don’t see Tampa’s defense coming through with the same level of dominance as they did last week, and Green Bay’s offense has been humming, especially at home. Rodgers has thrown for 11 touchdowns to 0 interceptions in four straight playoff home wins, and I’ll bank on that trend continuing for Green Bay in an incredibly fun game. One thing to keep an eye on – Mason Crosby was a late add-on to the injury report this week. I’m sticking with the Packers for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the legendary Brady finds a way to pull this out, though.
Update: Antonio Brown has been ruled out for the Buccaneers and his absence gives me major doubt in Tampa’s ability to keep up with Green Bay offensively. Rodgers is likely to continue his recent torrid form, and I’ll give the Packers the slight edge on the spread with AB out.
Matchups to watch: Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis vs. Davante Adams, Vita Vea vs. Corey Linsley, Mike Evans vs. Jaire Alexander
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Antonio Winfield Jr. (ankle) Q, WR Antonio Brown (knee) O, OG Alex Cappa (ankle) IR
Green Bay Packers: CB Kevin King (back) Q, DE Kingsley Keke (concussion) O
Betting Trends to Know:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 13-5 SU this season, 10-8 ATS this season, 5-2 ATS in last 7 games, 6-0 SU in last 6 games, 7-0 SU in last 7 games on the road, 1-15 SU in last 16 games on the road vs. Green Bay, 4-2 ATS in last 6 games vs. Green Bay
Green Bay Packers: 14-3 SU this season, 11-6 ATS this season, 5-2 ATS in last 7 games, 7-0 SU in last 7 games, 6-0 SU in last 6 games at home, 15-1 SU in last 16 games at home vs. Tampa Bay, the total has gone over in 4 of Green Bay’s last 6 games vs. Tampa Bay
Odds: Packers -3.5, O/U 51
Keys to a Buccaneers win: force Green Bay into turnovers (good luck), make Packers’ offense one-dimensional, create favorable mismatches for pass-catching talent for Brady to take advantage of
Keys to a Packers win: utilize Jaire Alexander very strategically, keep Aaron Rodgers rolling the way he has been, play a clean game on both ends.
My prediction: Packers win 31-26, Packers cover, over 51 points
(15-3) Buffalo Bills @ (15-2) Kansas City Chiefs
TV Info: 1/16/21, 8:15 PM EST, NBC
The most important factor in this game is the health of former MVP and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ passer is expected to play but has practiced in a limited capacity after a hard hit took him out of the game on Sunday. However, when you go back and watch the hit that sidelined him, he didn’t seem to take any hard contact to the head. He did get up wobbly afterward, but reporter Carrington Harrison said that “he didn’t actually hit his head; there was a nerve in his neck that got tweaked that made him out of it”. Regardless of the official diagnosis, it would obviously be a massive blow for the team if Mahomes is unable to play this week. He threw for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns to 6 interceptions during the regular season, and he was one of the best passers in football. The Bills defense has been a force lately – they held Lamar Jackson to 14 of 24 passing for 162 yards and an interception on the Ravens’ way to 3 points last week. If Mahomes is not at 100%, the Chiefs offense could be in big trouble.
While Henne didn’t play well in relief of Mahomes last week, he would benefit from arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL and the best collection of skill-position talent. Travis Kelce racked up 105 catches for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season, while Tyreek Hill came down with 87 balls for 1,276 yards and 15 scores – both were All-Pro players at their respective positions. Hill took a majority of his snap out of the slot this season, and Taron Johnson is the Bills’ primary defender at that position. However, the team’s safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will provide important bracket coverage on Hill. The tight ends will also be responsible for attempting to keep Kelce in check, something that most defenses have been unable to do this season. Luckily for the Bills, former All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White is likely to completely neutralize Sammy Watkins on the perimeter and provide a strong fight against Hill when he is on the outside, while Levi Wallace should win out more often than not against Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs have some tremendous pass-catching talent, but the Bills’ secondary is well-equipped to attempt to slow them down.
A key for the Bills’ defense in this game will be finding ways to generate pressure on Patrick Mahomes, especially since the quarterback is not expected to be at full strength. Former All-Pro tackle Mitchell Schwartz is not expected to come back from Injured Reserve this week, so Eric Fisher and Mike Remmers will hold down the offensive tackle spots against Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. Buffalo was a middle-of-the-pack pass rush in the regular season, but they took Baltimore’s quarterbacks to the ground four times last week. Jerry Hughes (2), Mario Addison (1), and Levi Wallace (1) were the defenders who got to Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley. The Chiefs will also be looking to establish their ground game this week, and their rushing attack was impressive last week as the team had 123 yards on 24 carries (5.1 YPC) even without rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Darrell Williams led the way in the backfield with 94 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches. The Bills’ run defense was subpar during the regular season as they allowed 21 touchdowns, the sixth-most in the NFL, and Kansas City should be excited for their ability to run the ball on this team.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills turned into one of the best offenses in the NFL during the regular season as they scored 31.3 points per game, the second-most, and racked up 6,343 total yards of offense, also the second-most. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has helped this team turn into a powerhouse. Josh Allen had a massive breakthrough season with career-best numbers across the board – he completed 69.2% of his passes for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Allen ranked fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 107.2 during the regular season, but the Chiefs were a pretty solid pass defense during the regular season as they ranked 10th with just an 89.4 passer rating allowed. Allen hasn’t yet faced the Chiefs in his three-year NFL career, but this could be the start of a budding rivalry between two high-powered teams with young QBs in Allen and Mahomes.
The big key for the Chiefs in this game will be finding a way to slow down All-Pro wideout Stefon Diggs. The first-year Buffalo receiver led the NFL with 127 catches for 1,535 yards, and he also scored 8 touchdowns. Kansas City’s pass defense was solid during the regular season, but they don’t have the capability to stop Diggs if the last couple of weeks are any indication. Diggs faced the Colts and Ravens in the first two weeks of the playoffs, two top-notch pass defenses with arguably better cornerbacks than the Chiefs, and the Bills’ receiver excelled against those teams. He caught a combined 14 balls for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns over those two games. John Brown didn’t have a catch against the Colts in the Wild Card Round, but he caught 8 balls for 62 yards against the Ravens last week. Gabriel Davis didn’t have a catch against the Ravens, but he caught 4 balls for 85 yards against the Colts. As a mid-round rookie, Davis caught 35 balls for 599 yards and 7 touchdowns, and he has a bright future in the NFL. Diggs, Brown, and Davis will be matched up with Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward on the outside, two solid cornerbacks, but also two very beatable players. In the slot, All-Pro Cole Beasley will take on L’Jarius Sneed, a strong cover cornerback, as well as Tyrann Mathieu, a do-it-all Pro Bowl safety who has spent time covering the slot this season. Daniel Sorenson will also be important to this pass defense as an over-the-top cover man who can play all over the field and has forced two fumbles this year. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo will need to have a strong plan to contend with this deep and dynamic group of Buffalo pass-catchers.
The Bills’ run game has been virtually nonexistent as they have just a combined 37 carries for 128 yards (3.45 YPC) across their two playoff games. However, Kansas City’s run defense has been vulnerable as they surrendered 122.1 rushing yards per game during the regular season, the 12th-most in the NFL. Devin Singletary will be the lead back this week, but he’s underwhelmed for most of this season and will be joined by the veteran T.J. Yeldon. The interior of the Bills’ offensive line will have a tough time coping with star defensive tackle Chris Jones who led the team with 7.5 sacks during the regular season. The Bills’ offensive line allowed just 1.7 sacks per game during the regular season, and the Chiefs will need to find a way to generate pressure on Josh Allen as well. Frank Clark needs to play a great game as an edge rusher to keep Allen from getting comfortable in the pocket.
Patrick Mahomes has been cleared to play in this game, and he expressed his hope that he will have no lingering effects from the pinched nerve in his neck and possible concussion. However, given the bizarreness of this injury, it’s hard to know if we’ll get 100% of the league MVP on Sunday. I also believe this Bills’ defense under Leslie Frazier can scheme up enough to limit the Chiefs’ offense and keep them one-dimensional. Kansas City was held to 22 points against the Broncos and 17 points against the Falcons down the stretch of the season, and the Bills arguably have a better defense than either of those teams. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell are questionable for this game, so the Chiefs will be heavily reliant on the passing game, and I believe in Buffalo’s secondary being able to slow them down. On the other side, Josh Allen is ascending into the top of the crop at the quarterback position, and this game could be his crescendo on the way to the Super Bowl. I’ll ride with the Bills to keep their hot streak going as they’ve won their last eight games and have scored 34.2 points per game over that span. Buffalo gets back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993.
Matchups to watch: Mitch Morse vs. Chris Jones, Dion Dawkins vs. Frank Clark, Stefon Diggs vs. Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland, Jerry Hughes vs. Mike Remmers, Bills’ secondary (Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Taron Johnson, Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace) vs. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce
Buffalo Bills: DT Vernon Butler (quad) Q, WR Gabriel Davis (ankle) Q
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle, hip) Q, CB Rashad Fenton (foot) Q, WR Sammy Watkins (calf) Q, RB Le’Veon Bell (knee) Q, LB Willie Gay (ankle) O
Betting Trends to Know:
Buffalo Bills: 15-3 SU this season, 12-6 ATS this season, 8-0 SU in last 8 games, 9-1 ATS in last 10 games, 5-1 ATS in last 6 games on the road vs. Kansas City, 4-1 ATS in last 5 games on the road, the total has gone over in 12 of Buffalo’s last 18 games
Kansas City Chiefs: 15-2 SU this season, 6-10-1 ATS this season, 11-1 SU in last 12 games, 0-8-1 ATS in last 9 games, 0-5 ATS in last 5 games at home, 18-2 SU in last 20 games vs. AFC teams, the total has gone over in 4 of Kansas City’s last 5 games played in January
Odds: Chiefs -3, O/U 56
Keys to a Bills win: keep the pocket clean for Josh Allen, find some semblance of a running game, utilize creative coverage schemes on Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, create pressure on Patrick Mahomes.
Keys to a Chiefs win: limit turnovers and mistakes, push the pace on offense early, create pressure on Josh Allen, double-team Stefon Diggs, and make Allen look elsewhere.
My prediction: Bills win 28-26, Bills cover, under 56 points