NFL 2021 Conference Championships Preview

Adrian Holman

We have two very good games on Sunday which will decide who will advance to Super Bowl LV (55 for those who are clueless about Roman numerals). The first game will be for the NFC Conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) going up to the cold at Lambeau Field to play against the Green Bay Packers (13-3) at 3:05 PM EST on Fox. Remember to watch this game on mute; you will thank me later.

These two teams played earlier in the season in Tampa Bay. In that game, the Packers controlled the first few minutes of the game by going up 10-0 quickly in the first quarter. However, the momentum changed when Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw a pick-six to make the score 10-7. After that interception, the Bucs scored the next 31 points to win 38-10.

The second game will be for the AFC Championship with the Buffalo Bills (13-3) travelling to Arrowhead Stadium to go up against the Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) at 6:40 PM EST on CBS. These teams also played against each other earlier in the season when the Chiefs won 26-17 in Buffalo in a game that was moved to Monday due to COVID-19.

Fortunately, the coronavirus is not postponing either of these games. Here is a quick preview that will give you some insight on both championship games on Sunday.

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NFC Championship - Tampa Bay vs Green Bay

Quarterbacks: This game will have two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. The fortunes for Tampa Bay changed when they signed Tom Brady (4633 passing yds, 40 TD). Brady is now attempting to reach his ninth career Super Bowl. He began to pick things up towards the end of the season after fully adjusting to his new team. The Packers are going with Aaron Rodgers (4,299 yds, 48 TD) who has led Green Bay to their second straight NFC Championship Game. Advantage: Even.

Running Backs: Despite of the fact that both teams rely on the passing game, they also have solid depth at RB. The Buccaneers rely upon Ronald Jones (978 rushing yds, 7 TD) and Leonard Fournette (367 rushing yds, 6 TD). The Packers go with Aaron Jones (1,104 rushing yds, 9 TD), Jamaal Williams (505 rushing yds, 2 TD), and A.J. Dillon (242 rushing yds, 2 TD). Basically, you will have to keep up with the Joneses in this game. Advantage: Green Bay.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Although Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown will not be able to play in this game, Tampa Bay will still be stacked in the receiving department with Mike Evans (70 rec, 1,006 yds, 13 TD), Chris Godwin (65 rec, 840 yds, 7 TD), and Scotty Miller (33 rec, 501 yds, 3 TD) along with tight ends Rob Gronkowski (45 rec, 623 yds, 7 TD) and Cameron Brate (28 rec, 282 yds, 2 TD). The Packers are also loaded at wide receiver with Davante Adams (115 rec, 1,374 yds, 18 TD), Allen Lazard (33 rec, 451 yds, 3 TD), and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (33 rec, 690 yds, 6 TD) along with tight ends Robert Tonyan (52 rec, 586 yds, 11 TD) and Marcedes Lewis (10 rec, 107 yds, 3 TD). Both teams will mix formations going with either 3 wide receiver sets or 2 TE sets. Advantage: Even.

Defensive Line: The Bucs defensive line can stuff the run, but they can also get to the quarterback with Ndamukong Suh (6 sacks) and William Gholston (3 sacks). Tampa Bay's defensive line will also be bolstered by the return of Vita Vea (2 sacks). The Packers defensive line looks to keep the opposing offensive line off of their linebackers with Kenny Clark (2 sacks) and Dean Lowry (3 sacks). The Green Bay defensive line will be affected with Kingsley Keke (4 sacks) being out due to injury. Advantage: Tampa Bay.

Linebackers: Tampa Bay has one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul (9.5 sacks) (it's a miracle that he is still playing!) and Shaquil Barrett (8 sacks) will get to the quarterback while inside linebackers Devin White (140 tackles, 9 sacks) and Lavonte David (117 tackles) are the heartbeart of the defense. The Packers also bring from the edge with outside linebackers Preston Smith (4 sacks) and Za'Darius Smith (12.5 sacks). Advantage: Tampa Bay.

Secondary: Tampa Bay boasts a physical secondary with cornerbacks Carlton Davis (68 tackles, 4 INT) and Jamel Dean (62 tackles, 1 INT) and with safeties Antoine Winfield, Jr. (94 tackles, 3 sacks) and Jordan Whitehead (74 tackles, 2 sacks). Safety blitzes are a part of the blitz packages in Tampa Bay's defense. For the Packers, Jaire Alexander (51 tackles, 1 INT) is one of the best cover corners in the game. Safeties Adrian Amos (83 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and Darnell Savage (75 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT) make plays all over the field. Advantage: Even.

Special Teams: Both teams have outstanding kickers. Packers kicker Mason Crosby has not missed a field goal all season (16 for 16). Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop (28 for 31) has not missed a field goal within 40 yards. Both punters average over 45 yards per punt. The return specialists are mediocre. Advantage: Even.

As you can see from the analysis, this game will be pretty close. However, I am picking Tampa Bay for the 27-24 victory.

AFC Championship - Buffalo vs Kansas City

Quarterbacks: This QB matchup will feature two of the youngest quarterbacks in the NFL. Bills QB Josh Allen (24 yrs) is able to change the game with his arm (4,544 passing yds, 37 TD) and with his legs (421 rushing yds, 8 TD). Fortunately, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (25 yrs) will be able to play Sunday evening. Mahomes has the best 3-year start of any quarterback in NFL history. Advantage: Chiefs.

Running Backs: The Bills really do not run the ball much, but will depend on Devin Singletary (687 rushing yds, 269 receiving yds) to allow for Buffalo to change the pace from time to time. The Chiefs received a huge boost for this week with RB's Clyde Edwards-Helaire (803 rushing yds, 297 receiving yds) and Le'Veon Bell (328 rushing yds) being listed as questionable after not playing last week. Advantage: Chiefs.

Receivers: Trading for WR Stefon Diggs (127 rec, 1,535 yds, 8 TD) in the offseason turned Buffalo from a pretender to a contender. The depth at receiver is extensive for the Bills with Cole Beasley (82 rec, 967 yds, 4 TD), John Brown (33 rec, 458 yds, 3 TD), Gabriel Davis (35 rec, 599 yds, 7 TD), and Isaiah McKenzie (30 rec, 282 yds, 5 TD). The Chiefs have the most dynamic receiving duo in the NFL in TE Travis Kelce (105 rec, 1,416 yds, 11 TD) and WR Tyreek Hill (87 rec, 1,276 yds, 15 TD). Advantage: Even.

Defensive Line: The Bills defensive line does not bring as much pressure as other teams, but their main goal is to maintain consistency so that the offensive line cannot go the next level and place a block on their linebackers. The Chiefs bring the pressure with DT Chris Jones (7.5 sacks) and DE Frank Clark (6 sacks). Advantage: Chiefs.

Linebackers: Both teams primarily go with a 4-2-5 formation. The two linebackers must be able to make tackles and must be able to cover as well. The Bills has one of the best linebackers in the NFL in Tremaine Edmunds (119 tackles, 2 sacks) because he makes plays all over the field. Matt Milano (45 tackles, 3.5 sacks) is one of the better cover linebackers in the NFL. For the Chiefs, Anthony Hitchens (78 tackles) and Damien Wilson (73 tackles) are a good tackling duo which has led to Kansas City being a better defense this season against the run. Advantage: Bills.

Secondary: The Bills have one of the best cover corners in the League in Tre'Davious White (57 tackles, 3 INT). Nickel Back Taron Johnson proved he has big-time playing ability when he returned an interception the length of the field last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Safety Jordan Poyer (124 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) makes an impact all over the field each and every week. The Chiefs have one of the best safety combos in the NFL with Tyrann Mathieu (62 tackles, 6 INT) and Daniel Sorensen (91 tackles, 3 INT). Earlier in the season, Mathieu's interception sealed the Chiefs victory against the Bills. Advantage: Even.

Special Teams: Bills kicker Tyler Bass (28 for 34) has been solid even with dealing the weather in Buffalo. Bills punter Corey Bojorquez is one of the best punters in the game with a 50.8 punting average. Buffalo returner Andre Roberts is an above-average returner (30 yds/kick return, 9.9 yds/punt return). For the Chiefs, kicker Harrison Butker (25 for 27) has been almost automatic all season. Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend (45 yds/punt) has been solid all season long. Kick returner Byron Pringle (32.4 yds avg, 1 TD) and punt returner Mecole Hardman (7 yds avg, 1 TD) have the potential to score on any return. Advantage: Even.

I am picking the Chiefs to win because Mahomes has been cleared to play. Let's go with a 27-20 score this time for Kansas City.

Image is from Pixabay.com. All stats are from NFL.com.

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