Not to brag – well, yes, to BRAG – Pro Picks was perfect straight up last weekend, selecting all four winners in the NFL’s divisional round.
The problem with conference championship weekend is simple: We are torn. Any of the four not only can get to the Super Bowl, but win it.
Some might want to evaluate the remaining teams by quarterback pedigree, from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers to Patrick Mahomes to Josh Allen. Others will examine the coaches: Andy Reid, Sean McDermott, Bruce Arians and Matt LaFleur.
Still others pore through stats.
And then there’s the old Ouija board.
We’re a bit more scientific. But only a bit.
TAMPA BAY (plus 3 1/2) at GREEN BAY
Such a delicious menu. Starting with Brady and Rodgers, naturally. Rodgers and Brady have never faced off in the postseason.
Super Bowls for much of the last two decades have been about Brady. He proved his greatness in taking New England to nine of them, winning six. He’s recertifying that in his first season with the Buccaneers (13-5).
As a reminder, Brady holds postseason records for starts (43), victories (32), completions (1,065), passing yards (11,968), passing touchdowns (77). Only Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Craig Morton led two separate franchises into the Super Bowl.
This is the best array of offensive talent with Brady since he had Randy Moss in the record-setting 2007 season. And while Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t overpowering, it’s the most solid of the four units still playing, particularly at linebacker.
Rodgers is in the midst of perhaps his best season, and he has already won two NFL MVP awards as well as the 2010 league title. His work with favorite receiver and fellow All-Pro Davante Adams has been exemplary, catapulting Green Bay to a second straight 13-3 mark.
”A lot of people didn’t think we’d be back here after last season,” Rodgers said. ”We got a lot of interesting comments last year about us being the worst 13-3 team that people had seen. Not the same type of comments this year.”
Nope. The Packers are steady enough on defense, though they can be vulnerable against the run. They play such precise football, yet with imagination, a difficult blend.
It’s going to be cold but probably not frigid at Lambeau Field, not that Brady and Rob Gronkowski will be uncomfortable. And the Bucs have won a franchise-record seven consecutive road games, including playoff wins at Washington and New Orleans.
Will they head back to Tampa to appear in a Super Bowl at their home stadium, an NFL first?
They could, but …
PACKERS 30, BUCCANEERS 27
And in the AFC:
BUFFALO (plus 3 1/2) at KANSAS CITY
As the reigning champions seek to become the first to repeat since Brady and the Patriots for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, they have to be at least a bit concerned that Mahomes left last week’s victory with a concussion. The Chiefs aren’t going to advance with Chad Henne at the helm.
Of course, Mahomes could be fine and as magical as usual. He has all the targets he needs in unanimous All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, another All-Pro in WR Tyreek Hill, and company. Kansas City’s defense, led by yet another All-Pro in safety Tyrann Mathieu, gets overlooked for how improved it is.
The Chiefs are at home, will have some 17,000 very loud fans on hand, and carry the confidence and swagger from what they achieved last season.
And here comes Buffalo, which has been the AFC’s best team the last two months. There is a solid balance between offense and defense on a roster that has matured impressively. The Allen to league receptions leader Stefon Diggs connection is as good as Rodgers to Adams. Allen is more of a threat to run for big plays than Mahomes – though not by much if Mahomes is healthy – and also has a deep receiving corps.
Where Buffalo must show its skill most is in pass coverage. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is superb, and the rest of the relatively unnoticed secondary is very capable. Look for plenty of big plays in this one.
We swear that Bills Mafia is not pressuring us. Yet …
BILLS 30, CHIEFS 27
Last Week: Straight up: 4-0. Against spread: 2-2
Season: Straight up: 176-88-1. Against spread: 131-116-8
Best Bet: Straight up: 14-5. Against spread: 10-9
Upset Special: Straight up: 8-10. Against spread: 8-8-2