And then there were four. The NFL’s conference championship weekend will feature the reigning Super Bowl champions, the league’s presumptive MVP, a six-time champion with a compelling GOAT case, and an upstart team in Buffalo looking to crash the party.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and Buffalo Bills are each playing for a spot in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Both the AFC and NFC championship games will take place on Sunday, Jan. 24, in what promises to be another exciting weekend of football.
Patrick Mahomes’ recovery from a potential concussion will be the main storyline of the week leading up to the games. Mahomes left the Chiefs’ game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and entered the league’s concussion protocol after getting injured on a QB option. Can the Chiefs still defeat the Bills if Chad Henne has to start in his place?
The NFC game features a titanic quarterback matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Arguably the two best to ever do it, both QBs have proven their talent early in the playoffs. Rodgers is on the cusp of his third MVP award. A Tampa defense that has looked terrific so far is about to face its biggest challenge of the year.
Which team has the best chance to win it all? Let’s rank the teams still standing in the 2021 NFL playoffs.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We’ll start with the good news for the Bucs in their win over the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round: the defense looked phenomenal. Led by linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David, Tampa’s defense shut down a New Orleans’ offense filled with elite playmakers. Drew Brees very much looked ready for his looming retirement, Michael Thomas ended the game without a catch, and Alvin Kamara was mostly kept in check. The Tampa defense had three interceptions and recovered a fumble. They’ll need to be at their best against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Tom Brady’s performance was less convincing. Brady finished 18-of-33 passing for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions, but mostly just had to manage the game. He’ll have to connect on vertical strikes downfield to keep up with Rodgers. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans will need to combine for more than the 37 yards receiving they put up against the Saints.
To quote a wise man, “never count out Touchdown Tom.” Tampa has a chance on Sunday in Lambeau, but it would count as a real surprise if they can pull the upset in likely frigid temperatures on the road.
3. Buffalo Bills
While we have yet to see the offensive machine that Buffalo was when the regular season ended at any point in the playoffs, it should be said that the wind was so bad in their divisional round win against the Ravens on Saturday night that Justin Tucker tripled his career playoff miss number.
The Bills are greater than the sum of their parts and it’s because they find a way to dig in every week and get the dub. It was a shame that Lamar Jackson got hurt before the game ended, and while he still had a few “holy crap Lamar is amazing” plays the Bills kept him in check for most of the game.
We have been aching to see the Bills play in a game of consequence and so far they have risen to the task two weeks in a row. It will only get harder from here (obviously), but if any team is prepared for the challenge it is them.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes’ injury casts uncertainty over the Chiefs’ chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions for the first time all season. Mahomes was dealing against the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs when he took a hit on a QB option and was forced to enter the league’s concussion protocol. Chad Henne came in and made enough plays to stave off Cleveland’s comeback attempt, but it’s hard to envision KC beating the Bills if Mahomes can’t go.
The good news for Kansas City is that their defense looked solid. Tyrann Mathieu had an interception, Daniel Sorensen forced a clutch fumble at the goal line (that probably should have been ruled as a helmet-to-helmet hit), and Cleveland amassed only 308 yards on the afternoon. The defense will again need to be up for the challenge regardless of Mahomes’ status.
Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and the rest of KC’s playmakers remain dangerous even if Henne has to take snaps. The Chiefs have been the Super Bowl favorites all year for a reason. Their combination of elite scheme from Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy, historic QB play, and game-breaking personnel on the outside feels like it’s unmatched. They just need to make sure Mahomes is good to go.
1. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is playing at higher level than any player in the NFL right now. Collectively the Green Bay Packers are going to play an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field for the first time since America’s Best Dance Crew was on television regularly.
Regardless of anything else, the consistency that we have seen from Green Bay is higher than anybody else. They regularly beat teams with authority and for that reason should be viewed as the favorites to win the whole dang thing.
What’s more is that Matt LaFleur sort of doesn’t ever get any credit. Davante Adams gets a bit, and occasionally Aaron Jones has love shown his way. On top of all of that the Packers got a nice defensive performance on Saturday, granted it was against a Rams team that wasn’t totally set at quarterback.
The point here is that the Packers are amazing and are sort of firing on all cylinders. Believe in them.