NFL conference championships preview

Rematches.

That’s the theme of the two conference title games. Both are rematches. The Bucs routed the Packers 38-10 and the Chiefs beat the Bills 26-17 in the regular season.

The big question is whether the team that won the regular season game will prevail in the conference title game.

The other big question is whether the two home teams will win. This is the first year that the only teams to get the bye were the first seeds. That should give the Packers and Chiefs an advantage.

—There are interesting quarterback matches in both games. The Bucs-Packers game features two aging veterans heading to the HOF – Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The Chiefs-Bills game features two young guns who are likely to be dueling each other for the next decade long after Brady and Rodgers are retired – Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Mahomes has the most at stake this weekend. A victory and he goes for his second Super Bowl title in a row, and if he pulls that off again next year, he will attempt to become the first quarterback to threepeat in the Super Bowl era. The Chiefs also have to give him the best chance of staying healthy and not call any risky option plays that resulted in a concussion last week. Mahomes probably shouldn’t be playing because players who suffer concussions are in more danger of suffering another one. But there was no way Mahomes was going to be held out of this game. If he is not injured again, the Chiefs figure to win. Rodgers figures to have the edge on Brady, who is 43 but Rodgers is missing two starting offensive linemen so that may be a problem. Rodgers has more at stake because he has won only one Super Bowl and is 1-3 in conference title games. Brady has won six rings so his legacy is set in stone.

—Green Bay usually has a big edge at Lambeau Field in January, especially against a warm weather team. But there won’t be Ice Bowl conditions in Green Bay. The forecast is for the low 30s so weather won’t be a factor. The Bucs, though, have to be concerned about wind because Brady’s arm is no longer what it once was.

—A Tampa Bay victory will give them a shot at becoming the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The 49ers and Rams played Super Bowls in the San Francisco and Los Angeles area but neither played in their home stadium. The 49ers played at Stanford and the Rams at the Rose Bowl. The 49ers won and the Rams lost.

—I’m going with the home teams and with Mahomes and Rodgers.

NFL division round in review

The Back to the Future scenario for the NFL has virtually become a reality.

In 1966, the Chiefs played the Bills in the AFL title game and the winner went on to play Green Bay in the first Super Bowl.

This year, the Chiefs are playing the Bills in the AFC title game and the winner is almost certain to play Green Bay in the 55th Super Bowl.

—Green Bay now seems almost a lock to make the Super Bowl after crushing the Rams in the divisional game. They will now meet the Bucs, who beat the Saints. Five years ago, an Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady Super Bowl would have been a must watch game. But Brady showed his age in the victory over the Bucs. Rodgers is six years younger and still at the top of the game and the Packers are home and should win easily.

—The Chiefs kept their streak alive with their eighth win in a row by one score in the win over Browns (Chiefs lost to Chargers in season finale after Chiefs had clinched). But it shouldn’t have been that close if not for a gaffe by Chiefs coach Andy Reid,who had Patrick Mahomes run an option on a short yardage play. He suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the game. Chad Henne bailed the Chiefs out by milking the last four minutes off the clock, scrambling on a third and 14 play to come within inches of a first down and then throwing a fourth down pass for the first down that clinched it. But if not for Reid’s bad call the Chiefs would have won easily although they got a break with a fumble out of the end zone when the Chiefs should have been penalized for a helmet hit. Reid has now taken two teams to the conference title game three years in a row but has won only one Super Bowl. He also lost one to the Pats in 2004 game when he didn’t go to the hurry up trailing by 10 in fourth quarter and lost by three. Reid is a good coach but not a great one.

—The Bills did not look particularly impressive in the win over the Ravens, but Lamar Jackson handed them the game with an ill-timed Pick Six. Now the Bills have to wait to see if Mahomes passes the concussion protocol and is allowed to play. It is hard to imagine Chad Henne beating the Bills.

—Drew Brees will likely now retire to the broadcast booth but it is obvious he stayed one year too long. Brees didn’t have much zip on the ball in the home loss to the Bucs. Brees finished his two decade career by losing on the last play in the playoffs three years in a row and then going out with the loss to the Bucs. Brees is a HOFer but wound up winning only one Super Bowl in his career. But it is one more than Dan Marino won.

Previewing the NFL Divisional Round

The Kansas City Chiefs take the first step in their bid for a repeat when they face the Browns.

The Chiefs figure to take that step and beat the Browns, but the surprising thing is they’re 10-point favorites. This is a team that has posted its last seven wins by one score. And last year they had to come from behind in all three playoff wins.

You might think the oddsmakers would be wary of all their close wins and be concerned they could be vulnerable against an up and coming Browns’ team.On the other hand, they are not likely to overlook the Browns after the Browns upset the Steelers last week.

Still, Andy Reid had two weeks to prepare. Look for the Chiefs to advance to the AFC title game.

–The Saints-Bucs game is all about Drew Brees, who will likely retire at the end of the season, vs. Tom Brady. The Saints will be trying to beat the Bucs for the third time, which isn’t as difficult as one might thing. Since 2002, seven teams went for the three-game sweep and five of them pulled it off. Brady figures to return next year win or lose and the odds are that he will lose. Brees has the better matchup against the Bucs’ defense. The last three years the Saints have lost in the playoffs on the final play so the Saints fans will be nervous if it is close at the end.

–The Packers have a big advantage at home against a warm weather team in January. Although they are dealing with injuries in the offensive line, Aaron Rodgers also gives them an edge over the Rams Jared Golf. He is back practicing full time, but has an injured thumb. The Packers should advance to the NFC title game.

–The Bills-Ravens game should be the feature attraction of the divisional around with a lot of emphasis on both young quarterbacks. Josh Allen has taken a major stride forward this year while Lamar Jackson finally won his first playoff game last week and now wants to show he can take the team deep into the playoffs. The Bills have the edge with the home field advantage.

–The big question this week is whether there will be an upset with all four home teams favored.

NFL Wild Card Weekend in review

The Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Jackson were the big winners during the NFL’s first tripleheader wild card weekend.

The Chiefs didn’t even play, but got a break when the Browns upset the Steelers. That means they will play against the Browns in the divisional round and if they beat the Browns, they will play the winner of the Bills-Ravens game. If the Steelers had won, they might have had to beat both the Bills and Ravens to get to the Super Bowl.

Jackson, meanwhile, doesn’t have to deal with the “can’t win in the playoffs” scenario after leading the Ravens to the victory over the Titans with the help of a defense that contained Derrick Henry.

Now he’s got a tough game at Buffalo. He also overcame a 10-point deficit after losing the first six times he was down by 10.

—The big losers were the Steelers. After going 11-0, they lost five of their last six games and were blown out by the Browns. They now haven’t won a playoff game the last four years and have to wonder whether Ben Roethlisberger has anything left in the tank. They had beaten the Browns 17 times in a row in Pittsburgh.

—Tom Brady showed his tank isn’t empty as he led the Bucs to the win over Washington. Among other things, he became the oldest player at 43 to throw a touchdown pass.

—Mike Tomlin, Frank Reich and Mike Vrabel all made questionable game management decisions that help cost their teams games. Vrabel faced a 2nd-and-2 at Baltimore 40, the Titans coach didn’t give Henry the ball. Instead, he dialed up two passes. Both were incomplete and he punted. Reich passed up a field goal to go for it on 4th-and-2 and Tomlin punted on 4th and one early in the fourth quarter. All three decisions backfired.

—Green Bay had the first-round bye and now has the home field edge in January. They get to host the Rams in their first game and if they win that one, they play the winner of the game between two aging quarterbacks – Brady and Drew Brees.

Previewing NFL Wild Card Weekend

The NFL unveils its new playoff format this weekend with tripleheaders Saturday and Sunday.

Seven teams qualified from each conference with only the top seeds in each conference having byes. But the attractions probably aren’t as good as the league had hoped.

For example, the Bucs are favored by 10.5 points over the Washington football club and the Saints are favored by 9.5 over the Bears.

Adding more playoff games doesn’t mean they are better games, but the idea is to make more money.

—Two other games, Pittsburgh hosting Cleveland and Seahawks facing the Rams, also figure to be easy wins for the home teams although the spreads are only 3.5 and 4.5 points. Cleveland has been hit by the virus and the Rams don’t know the condition of quarterback Jared Goff. And the Bills are 6.5-point favorites over the Colts. The Bills appear to be the hottest team and figure to advance.–That leaves just one really good attraction – Ravens at Titans. Both teams are 11-5 and both teams like to run. The Ravens are the hotter team as they closed out the season with five consecutive wins. And they are favored by 3.5 points even though they are on the road and Lamar Jackson is still looking for his first playoff win after losing the last two years. Another first round loss would raise questions about whether Jackson can win in the playoffs. There may be more pressure on Jackson than any other player in the playoffs. The winner of this game and Buffalo are the two teams with a realistic chance of keeping the defending champion Chiefs out of the Super Bowl.

—The Chiefs have the bye but are not overwhelming favorites to repeat because they won seven one score games in a row before they lost their finale to the Chargers after they had clinched. They are three wins – two at home – away from repeating. The last team to repeat was the 2003-2004 Patriots. Can they do it? Stay tuned.

The two quarterbacks to watch in the playoffs are two veterans – Tom Brady and Drew Brees. This is probably Brees last season regardless of whether the Saints win or lose. He is likely headed towards the announcer’s booth. But Brady, trying to win his seventh Super Bowl and first without Bill Belichick, appears likely to keep playing.