by Brandon Walker
For New Pittsburgh Courier
On Sunday, Jan. 24, we will see two classic quarterback duels. One of them is a matchup of two all-time greats, which could possibly be the final time in the early game when we see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers finally face off in the playoffs in the NFC Championship game. In the late game, we hope to see two of the brightest young passers that the league has ever seen when Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen square off in the AFC Championship game. Both games are rematches from regular-season matchups from earlier in the season.
NFC Championship Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)
How they got here: Tampa Bay beat Washington, 31-23, in the wild card round and defeated the New Orleans Saints, 30-20, in the divisional round. Green Bay had a first-round bye, then defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 32-18, in the divisional round.
Key matchup: Tampa Bay offensive tackles Donavan Smith and Tristan Wirfs vs. Green Bay edge rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith
The Packers need the Smith Brothers to get pressure on the 43-year-old Brady without having to blitz. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made the mistake of pressuring with three-man coverages and overcomplicated coverages that fell into Brady’s hands, which allowed many big plays in the first half of Tampa Bay’s 38-10 victory over the Packers in Week 6.
X-Factor: Tampa Bay CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
The second-year player from Central Michigan has been stepping up against the best receivers the NFL has to offer in the postseason. Murphy-Bunting held up against Washington’s Terry McLaurin and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas. The rising defensive back’s critical task is to slow down Aaron Rodgers’ best weapon in Davante Adams. Adams was held to 6 catches for 61 yards in the last matchup between these two teams, but he was hampered by a hamstring injury. The Packers’ offense runs through the Rodgers-Adams connection, and if he can be contained, then the Bucs can have an easier time on Sunday, Jan. 24.
My prediction: Both teams are on a roll, but I think that Rodgers is playing the best football of his career, and I believe that him and the Packers know that this is his last best chance to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home, so in a close game where I think the team who gets the ball last wins.
Packers 30, Bucs 27.
AFC Championship Game: Buffalo Bills (15-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)
How they got here: Buffalo beat the Indianapolis Colts, 27-24, in the wild card round and defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 17-3, in the divisional round. The Chiefs had a first-round bye, then defeated the Cleveland Browns, 22-17, in the divisional round.
Key matchup: Bills secondary vs. Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill
The Buffalo secondary has stayed consistent all season long, shutting down most quarterbacks and holding Patrick Mahomes to 225 yards passing in the teams’ Week 6 matchup. The key for Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Taron Johnson is not just keeping up with their receiving corps, but when they allow catches, make the tackle. Buffalo’s defense had many missed tackles earlier in the season and it reared its head in their last meeting.
X-Factor: Patrick Mahomes’ health
Mahomes left last Sunday’s win over the Browns with a concussion. Obviously, his status is up in the air. However, he is still compromised with a foot injury. Even if he does play, will he have the mobility to evade the Bills’ front seven playing their best football all season? A pack that held Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens to three points, five forced fumbles, and three sacks?
My prediction: Although the Bills have been the more consistent team over the last two months, if Mahomes plays on Sunday, Jan. 24, the Chiefs will win because they have the championship medal, and the Bills are newcomers to this stage. To quote one legendary wrestler, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” And Mahomes is the man. Chiefs 27, Bills 23.