2020 NFL Playoffs: Storylines and Predictions
The American Football Conference (AFC) Championship brings fans a battle between the top two offenses (in yards per game) in the National Football League (NFL), as the 13-3 Buffalo Bills travel to Kansas City to face the 14-2 Chiefs.
AFC Championship: #2 Buffalo Bills at #1 Kansas City Chiefs
The American Football Conference (AFC) Championship brings fans a battle between the top two offenses (in yards per game) in the National Football League (NFL), as the 13-3 Buffalo Bills travel to Kansas City to face the 14-2 Chiefs. This game has “quarterback (QB) shootout” written all over it, featuring a much-anticipated battle between two of the best young QBs in the league. Patrick Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP), leads the NFL’s top passing offense in the Chiefs per ESPN, while Josh Allen and the Bills possess the third-ranked passing attack. One thing to keep track of throughout the week is Mahomes’ status for the game, as he entered concussion protocol after taking a big hit in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. For the Bills, the key to upsetting the Chiefs will be to utilize Allen’s legs, given Allen’s X factor ability to escape the pocket and extend plays. Moreover, the Bills are 8-0 in games when Allen scores a rushing touchdown. The Chiefs should trust the formula they’ve used all year: get the ball into the hands of their playmakers, namely tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill, who have combined for 192 receptions and 2692 receiving yards this season, more than any other duo in the league.
Players to Watch
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Buffalo: Diggs led the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1535) during the regular season, and his addition to the Bills’ offense is a major reason for Josh Allen’s drastic improvement from 2019. In his last seven games, Diggs is averaging a ridiculous nine receptions and 118 receiving yards per game. Diggs’ route running is top notch and he has been able to find soft spots in defenses all season by losing opposing cornerbacks on his routes. On top of that, the Chiefs do not have a true lockdown corner to keep up with him, spelling trouble for Kansas City.
Tyrann Mathieu, safety, Kansas City: All the Chiefs’ buzz surrounds their offensive playmakers; however in a high scoring back-and-forth game, the difference will come down to which defense is able to force more turnovers. Mathieu didn’t make first-team All-Pro for nothing: He’s an instinctive playmaker who snagged a career high six interceptions this past season, then added another one in the Divisional Round against the Cleveland Browns. If the Chiefs defense is able to bait Josh Allen into an interception or jar a ball loose, Mathieu will most likely be responsible for it.
If Mahomes plays: Kansas City 38 - Buffalo 31
If Mahomes doesn’t play: Buffalo 24 - KC 16
NFC Championship: #5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at #1 Green Bay Packers
It’s Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, need I say more? This game will be one for the ages, as two of the greatest QBs of all time duel it out with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Despite the elite passing attacks and the myriad of offensive weapons on both sides, the key to success for both teams actually lies in the trenches—more specifically, in the battle between the Packers’ offensive line and the Buccaneers’ defensive line. These two teams met back in Week 6 of the regular season, where the Bucs handily defeated the Packers in a 38-10 romp, thanks in large part to their five sacks on Aaron Rodgers. Of course, a lot has changed since Week 6, but if the Bucs want to beat the Packers again, they’ll need to maintain pressure on Rodgers, because as we’ve seen all year, Rodgers will pick his opponents apart if they give him time in the pocket. In the 13 games where the Packers surrendered at most one sack, Rodgers had an average QB rating of 127.6; in the three games where he took two or more sacks, his average rating was an 85.4. On the other hand, the Bucs are 9-1 in games where they have three or more sacks. Suffice it to say, the pressure that the Bucs defense puts on Aaron Rodgers will shape the outcome of this contest.
Players to Watch
Devin White, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: White led the Bucs’ defense with team-highs in total tackles (140) and tackles for loss (18), earning himself a second-team All-Pro nod in just his second season. He’s a major reason for the Bucs’ league-best rushing defense that held opponents to only 80.6 yards per game, and he’s coming off of an impressive Divisional Round performance where he totaled 11 total tackles and an interception against the New Orleans Saints. His speed allows him to drop back into coverage, and his size allows him to match up against tight ends quite well. If he can neutralize the Packers’ star tight end Robert Tonyan, often Rodgers’ safety blanket in crucial moments, White can help force the Packers offense off the
field in key spots.
Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay Packers: Jones will have his hands full going up against the top rushing defense in the league; however behind the Packers’ stout offensive line, he’ll have opportunities to get to the second level and do what he does best: make opponents miss tackles. Jones ranked fourth in the NFL in yards after contact, and his ability to find the end zone makes him a threat to the Bucs’ top-rated defense. He topped 100 scrimmage yards last week, and as the weather gets colder in Green Bay, the Packers offense will lean on Jones to be the workhorse.
Green Bay 27 - Tampa Bay 24