More than five decades ago, the Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr Green Bay Packers outplayed and outscored the Hank Stram and Len Dawson Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first AFL-NFL Championship Game (later known as Super Bowl I) and essentially ended any talk of the AFL being on the NFL’s level. For at least another two years, anyway. This year, we might get the long awaited rematch.
Three months ago, Tampa Bay hosted Green Bay, outplaying and outscoring them 38-10, in what was by far their worst loss of the season. This Sunday, Green Bay hopes that by being the home team (and working out some kinks as well), that they will be the victor at the end of the game. Less than 24 hours later, Buffalo hosted Kansas City and suffered one of their worst losses of their great season, the final score of 26-17 appearing much closer than the game ever felt. Unlike Green Bay, Buffalo had to suffer their loss at home, and now has to travel to face the Chiefs on the road, hoping to pull off an upset.
This Sunday, these four teams will share the same 24 hours again, and other than the fields and host teams being swapped, the main difference this time around is that the prize to the winners is much more than pride – they get to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. One quirk here is that win or lose, Tampa Bay will head back to Tampa Bay, more on that later.
Green Bay gets here after a week of diligent preparation for the Los Angeles Rams and their top ranked defense. The Rams have a slew of playmakers on both sides of the ball, but their defense is what sets them apart. They were told all week that you can’t catch passes against Jalen Ramsey, it can’t be done. There were multiple infographics showing this as an absolute fact. But here was Davante Adams, routinely finding space he was told did not and could not exist, having a very efficient day against the NFL’s best cover corner. Adams did move around the formation a lot and for some odd reason, Ramsey didn’t always follow him. We’ve seen other top ranked defenses do this before, the Legion of Boom often let the corner opposite Richard Sherman carry the receiver that lined up across from them, and when asked about this, Sherman’s response was something to the effect of “if you have to send me after their best receiver, our other corner must not be very good”. Sherman, as usual, had a valid point, but one has to wonder how this game would have ended if Ramsey had been asked to shadow Adams the entire game.
Against Ramsey, Adams tallied 9 catches off 10 targets for 66 yards and a touchdown. Prior to Saturday’s contest, no one had caught more than six passes against Ramsey, and no one had caught a touchdown other than when Stefan Diggs beat Ramsey for a short reception in the endzone, his only catch of the day. Adams went looking for trouble and never really found it, routinely finding space and making the all-world cornerback work for every tackle.
This Sunday, Adams gets round two with Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis, who helped shutdown the Green Bay passing attack with four pass deflections, one of which was intercepted. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw five interceptions all season, and two of them came against his opponent this Sunday – including just his third pick-six of his career. For all we heard about the greatness of the Rams’ defense, I would have to believe getting a second chance against the Buccaneers to prove the first game was more fluke than fact is what is on Rodgers and Adams minds this week as they prepare to avenge their worst loss since the 2019 NFC Championship. Will the home field and their fans be enough to flip the script? We’ll find out in less than 48 hours.
On the other side of the field is some dude you may or not have heard of before. The legends say he is one of the ageless immortals, winning twenty Super Bowls in New England and appearing in something like forty championship games, winning something like thirty five of them. He has to send two cars and six duffle bags for his career hardware every time he travels. His name is Tom Brady, and no one wins as much as he does, or the way he does. He’s still playing at an elite level at 43 years old, which I’m here to tell you, no one has ever done before. Take a look at how mortal Drew Brees looked a week ago (or all season for that matter), and he’s more than a year younger than Brady, with fewer games under his belt. Brady was drafted in 2000, take a look at the Draft Class from four years later, which included Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning. None of those guys have even hit 40 yet, but two of them have retired and one probably will before 2023. The rule is QBs and more importantly their arms break down over time. For whatever reason, call it avocado ice cream, Brady has yet to show serious signs of decline – and he’ll turn 44 before next season. This could be his “ride off into the sunset” moment, so don’t be surprised if he wins the Super Bowl this year and decides 7 rings is finally enough. But 6 was two more than the next guy, both of which retired at least six years before Brady took his first snap, and no one active today even has three. Brady’s main rival Peyton Manning only ever won two, which is the same number Eli Manning and Roethlisberger have to their names. So there isn’t exactly competition keeping him fresh. Whatever this is, it’s entirely self driven, and that’s frightening for the rest of the league.
While a lot will be made about how good the Tampa Bay defense is – and they are that good – much of this game’s outcome will be decided by the two future hall of fame QBs wearing number 12. If one of them struggles, their team likely will follow suit. If they both play lights out, this game could be one for the ages. It’s the first meeting in the playoffs between these two players, and just the fourth meeting overall. Rodgers won the first matchup in 2014, Brady got his revenge in 2017, and won again earlier this year to lead the all-time series 2-1. If Rodgers wins, he’ll not only punch his ticket to his second career Super Bowl, matching the number Packers legends Bart Starr and Brett Favre led their teams to, but he’ll also even the series against Brady, in what could be the final meeting between them. One thing to note here – Rodgers and Brady have only met at Lambeau Field once before, and that was their 2014 duel won by Rodgers 26-21. The other two matchups have been in New England and Tampa Bay, and were lopsided victories for Brady and company. In order for their fourth and perhaps final matchup to live up to the expectations, it will have to be as legendary as the players headlining the matchup.
This game will probably come down to the wire, and be a start to finish stress-fest absolutely crushing the nerves of everyone watching. With a spread of a field goal, Vegas is essentially saying this game is dead even, and only giving a slight edge to the home team. And I have to agree with them – I think Green Bay wins it, but it will be closer than anyone is going to be comfortable with. If Brady is able to lead his team to victory, they will become the first team in the Super Bowl Era (1967-present) to host the game. What an insane ending that would be for Brady, to host the Super Bowl while going for lucky title number seven. He has to get past Rodgers at Lambeau first, but if he does, look out – we will all see something we’ve never seen before. And that’s aside from the first appearance of overtime in the Super Bowl Brady gave us four years and three championships ago.
So the NFC has two living legends battling for the right to represent their conference in the NFL’s biggest game, and the AFC is exactly the opposite. Once the Green Bay-Tampa Bay game concludes around 3:30pm on Fox, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are hosting Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on CBS for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The NFC will showcase two of the oldest starting QBs in the league today, where the AFC will showcase two of the best young QBs. Rodgers (37) and Brady (43) combine for 80 years between them, Mahomes (25) and Allen (24) can’t even get to 50 on their own (but they get very close).
Like the NFC game, the AFC is a flip of the host team, but with it comes road challenges for Allen and the Bills. Kansas City went into Buffalo in October and emerged the mighty victorious, and now gets round two at home – but they might be without their leader and best weapon on offense. Mahomes left last week’s win over Cleveland with a concussion, and has not been cleared to play in the game yet – but he’s shown great progress and has already been seen in practice this week. If Mahomes can’t go, I would pump the breaks on expecting backup Chad Henne to be able to lead them past the Bills, he will have a hard time matching scores with Allen, who is good enough to beat anyone, especially a guy that most of us weren’t even aware was still in the league. Henne’s best talent is being remembered for playing in the epic 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game that pitted the #1 team in the country vs the #2 and was decided by a mere three points in a 42-39 shootout for the ages.
For Kansas City, this game probably feels like old news. This is their third consecutive championship game, losing to New England two years ago, and defeating Tennessee last year. The defending champs are fully loaded with playmakers, have one of the most creative and aggressive coaches in Andy Reid, and their defense is just good enough to slow down their opponent from matching the wizardry Mahomes and Reid conjure up at a moment’s notice. What’s bonkers is that the last time the Bills were in the AFC Championship game 27 years ago, neither of these QBs were even born yet, but the teams remain the same. That’s right, this game is a rematch of the 1994 AFC Championship between the Bills and Chiefs. The Bills won that game 30-13, advancing to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl and a rematch with their opponent from the previous year, the Dallas Cowboys. Buffalo would lose by an identical score of 30-13, matching their AFC Championship game winning score. Spooky, right?
In that game, Bills QB Jim Kelly was 33, and Chiefs QB Joe Montana was 37, with Montana retiring a year later and Kelly following a year after that. It was Montana’s only appearance in the AFC championship game after appearing in six NFC Championships with San Francisco, winning four. In the other game, you had 32 year old Steve Young dueling with 27 year old Troy Aikman. At the time, Aikman had already won the Super Bowl the year prior, and Young was still searching for his first after taking over for Montana. Aikman would get the best of Young, winning 38-21 and advancing to again defeat Kelly and Buffalo in the Super Bowl. Does this sound at all like Brady-Rodgers and Allen-Mahomes? To me it does, right down to one of the QBs going through concussion protocol, which fans of Young and Aikman are all too familiar with.
Like the expectations for Brady and Rodgers, Allen and Mahomes will have to guide their teams to victory. Neither of these teams are set up to win if their star QB struggles. All of these teams have capable defenses, and I would wager that the Bucs and Bills have the best defenses out of the four, while Green Bay and Kansas City have the best offenses. As we witnessed last week, a historically great offense can get the desired results against a season long great defense – and dont think for a second any of the defenses left are historically great, they aren’t. These are four very capable, very talented, very proud defenses, but we won’t be confusing them with the Rams defense, let alone the 70’s Steelers. On the other hand, none of the offenses are on the level of last year’s Chiefs, let alone the 2007 Patriots, so these matchups are probably going to be a lot more even than some experts are giving them credit.
Vegas currently likes the Chiefs as the home favorite – by a mere three points. If Mahomes is cleared to play I would imagine they give the Chiefs a wider spread, but who knows. These two teams were so good throughout the season, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Vegas asks you to flip a coin, which is essentially what a field goal favorite is. They’re telling you that if this game were played on a neutral field, there wouldn’t be a favorite at all. Does the return of a healthy Patrick Mahomes turn that three into a six or an eight? We’ll find out soon. Mahomes being seen at practice and being the game day starter are not the same. We saw a similar twist when the Rams opted to go with backup John Wolford in their win over the Seahawks, but the drop off from Jared Goff to Wolfold is not exactly the same as the difference in playmaking ability between Henne and Mahomes. The Rams still had enough defense to get by if either QB struggled, it’s not likely to be the same case for the Chiefs if they have to rely on their defense to bail out Henne against a star like Allen.
If Mahomes doesn’t start but is the QB for the Chiefs for at least the second half, I’m taking the Chiefs. If Henne is the QB by the end of the third quarter, I’m guessing something horrible has happened and the Bills win, probably too easily. Right now it looks like Mahomes is trending toward playing, so let’s hope we get the two matchups we all deserve, rather than one and a half.
If everything goes according to plan, Green Bay will be facing Kansas City in a rematch of Super Bowl I. Even if something else happens, that’s alright. The good news is that no matter which two teams out of the four advance, it should make for one great finale to the season.
You can catch the NFC Championship Game on FOX starting at 12:05pm, with the AFC Championship to follow on CBS at 3:40pm. With these being the final games for two weeks, the NFL won’t risk a split audience, so plan on the AFC game kicking off late if the NFC game runs long.