The NFL Playoffs are here and each week BettingPro.com will be offering our favourite bets from the National Football League as the road to the Super Bowl continues.
NFC Championship Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers (Sunday 20:05 GMT)
There are not many firsts left for Tom Brady to achieve in his glittering career, but he has an opportunity to achieve another on Sunday when he plays in the NFC Championship Game for the very first time. The sight of Brady competing on Championship Sunday is nothing new – he did year after year during an incredible run with the New England Patriots that saw him lead the team to the AFC Championship Game on 13 occasions, winning it nine times, but can he now replicate those nine victories in order to win his first NFC crown and send Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl, which will take place in their own stadium?
Standing in the way are the Green Bay Packers. I was brutally blunt when it came to the Packers’ run to the NFC Championship Game a year ago – they were arguably one of the worst teams to make the conference’s biggest game over the past couple of decades and it was no shock when they were smashed by San Francisco. However, the same cannot be said for the 2020 group. Green Bay have undoubtedly been the cream of the crop in the National Football Conference and they showcased their Super Bowl credentials a week ago when they made straightforward work of the Los Angeles Rams. Granted, the Rams were impacted by Aaron Donald not being at 100%, but even if he had been it would have been hard to see #99 and the rest of that talented defense slowing down Aaron Rodgers, who has been in sensational MVP-winning form this year. Protected by one of the best offensive lines in the league and surrounded by weapons, Rodgers has tortured opposition defenses all season long. Well, all but one defense. This Tampa Bay group!
The Buccaneers and Packers met in Florida back in Week 6, when the hosts were looking to bounce back from an embarrassing end to a loss in Chicago, and Tampa Bay overcame a slow start to dominate Green Bay and run away with it. The Packers raced out to a 10- lead by the end of the first quarter, but momentum swung in Tampa’s favour early in the second when Jamel Dean picked off Rodgers, and they never looked back, putting up 38 unanswered points to run out winners. Rodgers experienced one of his worst ever days as he completed just 16 passes for 160 yards and a couple of picks. He was also sacked four times as Tampa harassed him all game long. He got little help from the defense either as they were ran over by Ronald Jones III, so could history repeat itself here? There will be a sense of déjà vu because last season’s NFC Championship Game hammering at the hands of San Francisco followed up a regular season beating they also suffered at the hands of the 49ers. Could a regular season drubbing in Tampa be followed up by a home defeat to the Bucs?
My answer is ‘no’. This is a different Green Bay team and this is a different setting. This is Lambeau Field in the middle of January and this is a Packers offense that is firing on all cylinders right now with Rodgers in the best form he has been in over the past few years. He is going to make plays in this one and it is all about whether or not Brady and this Tampa offense can respond. Brady did not need to throw the ball much in that Week 6 meeting, with Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn carrying the load on the ground, and we should see more of the same here because this Green Bay defense continues to struggle against the run. Tampa should enjoy more productivity in the passing game too, with Brady and his receivers looking to have much more chemistry than they did in October, but I am not convinced that will be enough. This could turn into a high-scoring shootout that goes right down to the wire, and if it does then I have to back Rodgers on his home turf.
AFC Championship Game: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 23:40 GMT)
There is no bigger storyline heading into Championship Sunday than the status of Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was unable to finish last weekend’s win over Cleveland. Mahomes was hit in the back of the head, had his neck twisted and then banged his head on the ground as he was tackled in the third quarter, and when he attempted to get back to his feet there were worrying signs of a concussion as he struggled to maintain his balance. Backup Chad Henne was called into action to keep KC’s postseason challenge alive and he did just that, but now all eyes are on whether or not Mahomes will be back in time for Sunday. While Henne did an admirable job, this Chiefs team is severely weakened when their supremely talented QB is not in the ranks.
So where do we stand with Mahomes right now? At the time of writing it had been confirmed that the Kansas City quarterback is in the league’s concussion protocol, and he must now successfully past this process in order to play in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. However, there have been reports locally that he the QB passed all of the concussion tests after being forced out of the game because he never had a concussion to begin with. The report claims that he suffered a ‘tweaked neck’ or compressed a nerve in his neck during the tackle, resulting in the scary scenes as he tried to get up, and if that is the case then he should successfully make it through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be cleared to face Buffalo on Sunday. So for now, I am going to act as though Mahomes will start.
What does that mean for Buffalo? Well, it clearly means that defense is going to have its work cut out in trying to stop Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and the rest of this all-star Kansas City offense. However, if there is a team in the AFC that can perhaps go toe-to-toe with them on the scoreboard it is Buffalo. They have not been firing on all cylinders in the playoffs so far, but through the last several weeks of the regular season we got a good idea of what Josh Allen & Co. can do and we have seen flashes of that in their postseason wins over Indianapolis and Baltimore. Allen’s chemistry with Stefon Diggs is developing week after week, making them one of the most dangerous duos in the passing game in the entire league, and there is a strong supporting cast alongside Diggs so this is hardly a one-man show. The Bills have the firepower to compete here.
So can Buffalo pull off the upset? Kansas City came out on top in what was a surprisingly low-scoring game, and although the Bills have grown offensively since that day, I am predicting disappointment for Allen and his team-mates. I expect them to have more success on the scoreboard on Sunday night, but the Chiefs defense will make a few big plays here and there to slow down Allen, Diggs and the rest of that Buffalo offense. On the opposite side of the ball Mahomes will efficiently have his way with the Bills’ secondary like he did in that 26-17 win in upstate New York earlier this season, and that should be enough to see KC into the Super Bowl for the second season running.
But if Mahomes is ruled out… well, I will find myself re-writing this preview later in the week! For now, my recommendation is to hold off betting on the AFC Championship Game until his status is confirmed. His availability is huge when it comes to the outcome of this matchup.