After two exciting weekends of playoff football, we’ve now found ourselves with only 4 teams remaining: the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
These are all teams with incredible talent, who’ve had to fight through all of the challenges of an unprecedented NFL year to get to this point. Now, they will square off this Sunday in the conference championships in the hopes of punching their ticket to Super Bowl LV.
Nothing is easy and nothing is predictable, but what can we expect this weekend? Here are my predictions.
Buccaneers vs. Packers
My Take: Here we have the NFC Conference Championship, the 1-seed Green Bay Packers hosting the 5-seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Lambeau Field.
This game is almost certain to be an offensive shootout. You have two offenses coming in who are both top 10 in the league, led by two star quarterbacks: Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady.
Looking at the stats tables, both teams are pretty evenly matched. The Bucs have a slightly better offense and slightly better defense in terms of yards per game than the Packers, but looking at the specifics, things get more interesting.
The Bucs have the stronger passing attack, with the Packers being close behind, but the Packers have the far superior running attack, being in the top 10 while Tampa Bay’s run game is near the bottom of the league. This gives the Packers more diversity in their offense, as the Buccaneers will have to rely mostly on Tom Brady’s arm, while Green Bay can switch between Aaron Rogers through the air and Aaron Jones on the ground.
However, as we saw in the Buccaneers-Saints game last week, that matchup may not matter as much as we think. The Saints also have a very potent running attack, even better than Green Bay in fact, but still weren’t able to get Alvin Kammara moving enough for it to matter.
That mostly came down to Tampa Bay’s defense. Their defense was absolutely on fire against New Orleans, and given they have the best run defense in the league and managed to get enough momentum with their pass D to force 3 picks on Drew Brees, they could cause a lot of trouble for the Packers offense this week.
The Packers defense also had a good game last week though, holding down Jared Goff and the Ram’s offense to 244 yards, and keeping them from getting back into the game. For their stats on the season, they sport a decent pass defense and a mediocre run defense, meaning they’ll be able to disrupt Tom Brady to an extent, but he should still be able to put plenty of points up on the board.
Now, there is precedent for this matchup. In Week 6, Tampa Bay hosted the Packers in a matchup where they absolutely wiped the floor with them, holding their offense to only 10 points while putting up 38 points themselves.
Momentum also favors Tampa Bay, as they’re coming off of an upset over New Orleans, meanwhile Green Bay put up a fairly average performance against Los Angeles. This extra heat behind them might help the Bucs topple the Packers.
All of this is good news for the Buccaneers, however we just saw last week how regular season precedents can be reversed, and being at home in frigid, likely snowy Wisconsin weather against a team from Florida might help the Packers cool the Bucs down, both figuratively and literally.
The predictions for this matchup have been incredibly split, and you can truly make a case for either result. I have the Buccaneers with a narrow, narrow win over Green Bay — likely in overtime — to take the NFC Championship and become the first ever team to play a Super Bowl at home.
My Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Packers 29
Bills vs. Chiefs
My Take: Now for the second spot in the Super Bowl, the AFC Conference Championship with the number one Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium against the Buffalo Bills.
While the NFC Championship is a battle of two strong, hot teams, the reverse is true here.
You have the Bills limping in from two straight weeks of unimpressive finishes, first a near-loss to the Colts in the Wild Card Round due to defensive collapse, then an offensive collapse against Baltimore that left a 3–3 score at halftime and was won due to multiple flukes and mistakes on the part of the Ravens.
The Chiefs aren’t looking much better though. Coming off of a bye week in front of a home crowd of 16,000 fans, the Chiefs offense flailed around for 60 minutes against a middle-of-the-pack Browns defense to only put up 22 points. They suffered an injury with Patrick Mahomes, first to his ankle then getting pulled out for a potential concussion, and only won due to a terrible touchback call at the end of the second half, and two clutch plays in the 4th quarter by backup QB Chad Henne.
Under normal circumstances, this would be a high tension game with a lot of expectations, but we may have to temper those a bit given how these two teams have been performing.
Putting that aside each teams’ momentum, how do these teams stack up on paper?
Well, you have the number 1 offense against the number 2 offense, so that means another likely offensive shootout. Even while they’ve been having weaker postseasons, both offenses have had a lot of success, with Kansas City averaging 438 yards per game and Buffalo averaging 308 yards per game.
Given that, we should still expect a decent amount of scoring on the offensive side of the ball on Sunday night.
We should especially expect a lot on the passing front, as the Chiefs are the top passing team and the Bills are number 3. The rush game may also play a factor — the Bills aren’t known to run the ball much, but they have a respectable run game, and the Chiefs are slightly better, making more use of it on average.
On defense, both teams are mediocre, with the Bills barely beating the Chiefs out on overall yardage per game. For pass D, the Bills and Chiefs are right next to each other in the rankings in the middle of the pack, and the Bills have the better — although still not great — run defense in comparison to the Chiefs.
My expectation is that this will become a quarterback battle, and whoever can throw the ball more will win out. I normally would be suggesting for these teams to run the football — especially the Chiefs — as they have a more consistent run game going up against a bad run defense.
However, we’ve seen in the AFC that the run has gotten absolutely stuffed this postseason. First the Titans, who expected to make moves with Derrick Henry, but he only got 40 yards and their rush attack overall underperformed, and a week later the Ravens with JK Dobbins and Lamar Jackson couldn’t get to work against the Bills.
So offensive pass attacks it will be. Again, the momentum is bad, so offense won’t be as potent as we may expect, but it still will be the deciding factor in this game, as will be who throws fewer picks.
As with the other conference championship, we do have precedent for this game. In Week 6, the Chiefs and Bills played in Buffalo, and the Chiefs got a comfortable 26–17 victory.
Overall, I think I’ll stick with the Chiefs to return to the Super Bowl this year. It has the potential to be exciting, although I’m not getting my hopes up. I think a moderately high scoring game, likely won by one possession and with some kind of 4th quarter comeback.
My Prediction: Chiefs 27, Bills 21
The NFL season is winding down, now with only 3 games left, and 2 of them to be played this weekend. Neither of these games are cut and dry — while I’ve made my picks based on what I’ve seen, it is entirely possible for both games to go the other way. We’re at the point where all competitors are so good, you can’t take anything for granted.
I’m hoping for some good, fun games this weekend, and at the end we’ll settle in for Pro Bowl Week and we’ll know who’s heading to Tampa for a shot at taking home the Lombardi Trophy. Let’s see if these predictions hold up.