We’re about 24 hours from kickoff of the first half of tomorrow’s championship doubleheader, and the anticipation is palpable. So, too, are the my aforementioned, self-guided “theories” I use to pick the games. Still, I wanted to take a little time to examine some of these said theories as to why, in fact, any of these four teams could not only win tomorrow, but win Super Bowl LV. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Kansas City Chiefs
1. Repeat After Me
It hasn’t happened since 2004, when Tom Brady and the Patriots did it, but at some point we’re going to have a back-to-back Super Bowl champion again, aren’t we? It would be fitting if the Chiefs toppled Brady himself to get that second Lombardi in as many years, but there would be some similarities to 2004 if they did it against the Packers.
Back in ’04, the Patriots faced the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, a team they appeared destined to face the previous year. But Andy Reid lost one of his five career conference title games, and it was New England-Carolina in 2003. A rematch of Super Bowl I, Chiefs-Packers was on the table last year until San Francisco intervened. Should Aaron Rodgers lead the Pack to the Big Game, he, like Donovan McNabb in 2004, will have done so by breaking a three-game conference championship game losing streak.
2. Andy Reid… that is all
Bearing resemblance to the late Wilfred Brimley, should we now call Reid “the Postseason Master General” if he wins another one? I mentioned previously that I see it as highly unlikely that Reid falls to 2-6 in conference title games. He seems poised to win a couple after some hard luck, and that could carry over into the Super Bowl, as well.
3. Patrick Mahomes is healthy (mostly)
No concussion. A toe that is feeling better. And a Mahomes that is actually a little less reckless, if you can believe it. Mahomes has shown a lot more willingness to eschew the big play potential in favor of the safer options, and it has paid off. Mahomes has thrown only six interceptions in 15+ games this season, and unless the Bills can really fluster him, it seems unlikely Kansas City’s signal-caller will cough up any gifts.
4. Home cooking
It’s interesting to note that Mahomes’ career road record (21-4) outshines his home mark (17-4), but Arrowhead Stadium is a different beast. Of course, the Super Bowl will be played at a neutral site (at least if the Bucs don’t get there, anyway). But getting there will require a big home effort from a team that has been playing in front of some of its fans all year. Buffalo has played a few of road games in front of fans this year, but nothing like Arrowhead.
5. The offense makes a comeback seem impossible
There is some inverse logic I’ve been chewing on lately. You would think that rallying against a team with a great defense is really difficult, the same way you would expect to struggle coming back to win games if you don’t have a good offense. Instead, I’m finding how hard it is for teams to come back against a team with a great offense, and the Chiefs are living proof of this. Much has been made of them winning a lot of close games, but the truth is, in a lot of them, the Chiefs get out to a big lead, relax a little, then simply need to make a few plays offensively to chew up the clock and put the game away.
Consider their only road loss the last two years, a 35-32 defeat at the hands of the Titans last season. The Chiefs needed two yards for a first down to ice the game, but were stuffed. The Titans went down and scored the winning touchdown in the final minute, perhaps highlighting that it isn’t the Chiefs’ defense that makes a rally difficult, but rather the offense. This was also the case when Chad Henne’s legs, then arm, helped put away the Browns for good last week.
1. Hungry eyes
Perhaps no team and no city is hungrier for a chance at glory than the Buffalo Bills. In many ways it’s a crying shame that the year the Bills finally enter the class of the elite is the one year the city can’t properly celebrate, but that is also a large reason why this is so important for the Bills. The city of Buffalo isn’t exactly a balmy climate this time of year, nor is there much to do other than follow the Bills even when the country isn’t battling a pandemic. Something tells me that the Bills, even if they don’t reach the promised land, will not go down without a fight.
2. Top-flight quarterbacking
We can’t say for certain yet that Josh Allen is truly a top-flight quarterback, but we can at least say that the 2020-21 version is pretty darn close. Allen has cut down on many of the foolish mistakes that plagued him in his first two years, which were also displayed glaringly in last season’s postseason loss to Houston. Any team that has a chance to take down the Chiefs, let alone the Packers or Bucs, will need to be able to keep up in a shootout. If Allen plays the way he has most of the year, the Bills have a shot.
3. A head of steam
Since losing on that Hail Murray to the Cardinals in mid-November, the Bills have not lost, and in most cases seem to be getting better every week. They understandably had to grind to get their first playoff win in 25 years, but with that monkey off their back, they took down a team in the Ravens that has been as adept as any at winning road playoff games. The Bills’ defense held Baltimore to a mere field goal and if it can duplicate that effort against the Chiefs, hopes are high for an upset. And if the Bills can brush aside the Chiefs en route to Tampa, talk about a head of steam…
4. Limited baggage
First playoff win in 25 years? Check. Sweep New England for the first time in two decades? Check. The Bills have exorcised some demons here in 2020-21, and even though the Chiefs appear to be the resident AFC dynasty at the moment, there isn’y that lengthy history that there was for so many years when the Bills could literally almost never beat the Patriots. Given that the balance of power has shifted in the AFC, this doesn’t feel as “David vs. Goliath” as you might expect.
5. They can Diggs it
Remember Larry Fitzgerald’s epic 2008 postseason? Stefon Diggs isn’t quite at that level, but you feel like if the Bills are to pull off the upset, he might need to be. And he’s certainly capable. He seems focused and playing at the best level of his already-impressive career. Even if he can just divert some of the Chiefs’ defense’s attention, that could go a long way towards a Buffalo win.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
1. It’s time… isn’t it?
Three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game. Only one Big Game appearance and one ring for A-Rod. This franchise has been one of the gold standards of not just the NFC, but the entire NFL, but it feels like they’ve been coming up short for too long. You have to feel like at some point, Rodgers is going to get back, even if that feeling is nothing besides a simple “law of averages” estimate.
2. Lambeau Mania
This will also be Rodgers’ first-ever home NFC title game, and the energy will be electric, even with a significantly reduced capacity. The snow and crowd at Lambeau Field will give the Packers an opportunity they haven’t had on this stage in 13 years.
3. Run, run, run
One thing that seemingly hasn’t been talked much about over the years in general is the Packers’ running game, but it’s definitely been a factor in their championship game losses. In fact, the Pack have averaged just 81 yards on the ground as a team in their previous four title game losses (including the 2007 game at Lambeau when Brett Favre was still starting). This year’s Packers team was eighth in rushing in the regular season at 132.4 yards per game, and busted loose for 188 yards in last week’s win over the Rams. Another strong rushing outing will make an already-dangerous Rodgers even more lethal, especially in the play-action game, where he is the best in football. It can’t hurt that the Packers will be coming in with a little extra confidence from posting that yardage total and hanging 32 points on the Rams’ top-ranked defense last week.
I’m sure that no matter the opponent, the hunger and drive is there for the Packers, but you can’t help but think losing 38-10 earlier this year to Tampa coupled with Rodgers’ first-ever playoff meeting with Brady is adding a little extra juice here. Green Bay was nearly flawless in jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter in Week 6, but fell apart as Tampa stormed back with 38 straight points. No way this game plays out in that type of fashion.
5. Time is of the essence
Rodgers is no spring chicken at 37 years old, not to mention the Packers drafted Jordan Love this past year.presence, Rodgers knows he may not get many more chances to add to his trophy collection. As was the feeling with Drew Brees, Rodgers probably needs at least another Super Bowl appearance to truly cement his legacy as an all-time great. He is a surefire Hall of Famer, but he’d like to at the very least reach a second Super Bowl as his predecessor Favre did.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
1. Tom Brady’s outrageous defiance of father time
In some ways, I’m still amazed that Brady on the cusp of a 10th Super Bowl appearance at 43 years old. Nothing this man does should surprise us, but if you watched some of his regular-season games, even as late as November, he seemed to be struggling with the deep ball. The Bucs did not appear to have the pieces in place for a serious title run. But then again, this is Tom Brady.
It may not make sense. You may have been tempted to count him out. But for the 14th (!) time, he is playing in a conference title game, and has, for the moment anyway, taken the undisputed lead in the chicken-or-egg argument as far as whether it was him or Bill Belichick that was the true reason behind New England’s success.
Anything is possible with Brady in a playoff game, even in the snow. Remember, Brady’s entire legacy began on a snowy Foxborough field when we first learned about the Tuck Rule in 2001.
2. Road warriors?
Many, including me, have often scoffed at Brady’s playoff legacy for the simple fact that he’s been able to play most of his postseason games at home in frigid Foxborough. Prior to this season, Brady was 20-4 in his career at home in the playoffs against just 4-4 on the road. But he has already won half as many games away from home this year as he had in his entire career, and the Bucs as a team are 8-2 away from Raymond James Stadium. Going up to Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 16-2 the past two seasons, and pulling out a win seems a little more feasible than it normally might.
3. In their heads?
I mentioned payback as a potential driving force for the Packers, but the flip side of that could be that maybe the Bucs got in the Packers’ heads a little bit in that Week 6 blowout win. You never know, but given how dominant a performance it was, perhaps Green Bay has some doubt creeping in.
4. Turnovers galore
It’s hard to force Rodgers into too many mistakes, but the Bucs picked him twice in their first meeting, and produced four turnovers against a normally-efficient Saints team last week. The secondary is playing its best football of the year, and will need its best game to date to upset Rodgers and the Packers.
5. A Super first
No team has ever hosted the Super Bowl, and it seems only fitting that Tom Brady would be the first to do it. Case Keenum’s Vikings got flattened, 38-7, when they were the closest team to date to pull the feat in 2017. The prospects of playing a home Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history, even with a reduced crowd, has to be tantalizing to Bucs fans. It never feels that Brady needs extra motivation to win, so this might be more of a nice storyline than an actual reason why the Bucs can win, but it feels worth mentioning nonetheless.