NFL Conference Championship Game Picks

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NFL Conference Championship Game Picks

All times Eastern

Wild Card results: Rick: 0-2; Coin: 1-1
Cumulative: Rick: 120-136-7; Coin: 129-127-7


Sunday, January 24

3:05 pm Tampa Bay at Green Bay (-3, 51) - In the divisional round win over the LA Rams, Green Bay's defense was demonstrably better than it had shown throughout the season. The Packers are going to have to be at least that good defending against Tom Brady and his multitude of offensive weapons. Otherwise, Green Bay may be forced into a shooting war, which may be preferable, because Aaron Rodgers has an admirable group of receivers and a strong rushing attack.

Offensively, the Packers scored 30 or more points in 13 of 17 games, including last week's 32-18 divisional victory. The week six, 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay was Green Bay's low point total of the season, by far. Next lowest was a 28-22 loss to the Vikings in week eight, but can that big win for Bucs be discounted?

In that game, Rodgers was just 16-35 for 160 yards. He had no touchdown passes and tossed two picks, one returned for a touchdown, the other returned to the Green Bay two-yard line. Both came early in the second quarter. Tampa Bay scored two more TDs in the quarter and the game was essentially over after the Buccaneers took a 28-10 lead into the half. Brady was not exactly on fire, going 17-27, 168 yards and two TDs. He didn't have to be. Ronald Jones ran for 113 of Tampa Bay's 158 total rushing yards and Tampa controlled the clock.

Additionally, Tampa's defense sacked Rodgers four times and the Packers punted seven times. The game was highly anticipated and hardly a typical Green Bay performance but the Buccaneers served notice that they were a team in contention. Last week's 30-20 win at New Orleans cemented their claim as the real deal. Their defense picked off Drew Brees three times and forced a fumble while the Bucs didn't turn the ball over all day.

That's unlikely to happen against the Packers, who have learned their lessons and captured home field with the best record in the conference (13-3), giving them at least that advantage over Tampa Bay.

Their improved defense and better ball management by Rodgers should make for a much more competitive game that the first meeting between these two teams.

There's no discounting Tom Brady's desire to get to another Super Bowl and secure his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time, but Rodgers has had a sensational season, for which he's likely to be awarded the MVP. With the line set at just a filed goal's difference, it would be understandable to go either way in this conference championship.

The Buccaneers avenged two losses to the Saints with their divisional round win and their defense appears to be peaking at the right time. Brady has everybody playing on a championship level. His leadership and insistence on perfection should lead to a fairly convincing Buccaneer victory.

Coin Flip: Tampa Bay

Prediction: Tampa Bay 34 Green Bay 23



6:40 pm Buffalo at Kansas City (-3, 53 1/2) - How this game plays out will have much to do about the health of Kansas City quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Prior to leaving last week's unimpressive 22-17 win over Cleveland with a concussion, Mahomes was hampered by what's commonly referred to as "turf toe" resulting in an inability to fully step into some throws and put weight on the injury.

Mahomes is crucial to the Chiefs' success. Without him, the Chiefs turned to Chad Henne, who has plenty of experience but hardly the pizazz and ability of last year's Super Bowl MVP. Mahomes has been a participant in practice this week but still has to clear the medical protocol for concussions, which is a technical matter. In the case that he does clear, he'll no doubt start, and he should be effective, though if that turf toe is re-injured, his game will suffer.

Regardless of Mahomes' condition, the Chiefs and Bills were #1 and #2 seeds in the AFC, respectively. Kansas City ran up a 14-2 record, while the Bills finished 13-3, winning their final six straight and nine of their last ten. The lone loss was a flukey 32-30 defeat on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game at Arizona. The Bills turned out to be the best team league-wide down the stretch. Since the end of the regular season, they've tacked on two more victories: a 27-24 win over the Colts in the wild card round and a 17-3 mopping up of Baltimore last week in the divisional round.

Buffalo's win over Indianapolis wasn't as close as the score makes it look. The Colts scored a touchdown with a little more than six minutes remaining to reduce the margin to just a field goal, but the Bills were able to run some clock and shut down the Colts as time expired.

Against Baltimore, the game turned on a 101-yard interception return by Aaron Johnson as the Ravens were driving to tie the score at 10-all. Instead, the turn-around put the Bills up 17-3 late in the third quarter and that was all the scoring for the day. Holding the Ravens to just three points - their season low by far - was a tribute to the Bills' defense and to the windy conditions. Both place-kickers - Bufalo's Tyler Bass and Baltimore's Justin Tucker - were 1-for-3 in the game which contributed to the low score.

Buffalo was actually out-gained by the Ravens, 340 yards to 220. Johnson's pick six was huge.

In the match-up for this Sunday, Buffalo actually was the higher-scoring team during the regular season, averaging 31.3 points per game (2nd in the NFL) to Kansas City's 29.6 (6th). Neither team excelled on defense, though the Chiefs allowed 22.6 points per outing, slightly better than Buffalo's 23.4, though the Bills haven't allowed more than 26 points in any game since week 11 and that was in their seasonal finale, a 56-26 rout of Miami which knocked the Dolphins out of playoff contention.

Kansas City took down the Bills, 26-17, in Buffalo, week six, but much has changed since then, the most important element being the loss of Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who missed four of the last five games and is probably out for this contest. No other back for Kansas City has provided the spark he did and it has affected the offense negatively.

For Buffalo, quarterback Josh Allen has had a remarkable season both throwing and running with the ball. With Mahomes likely to be protected this week, Allen gives the Bills an additional running threat that should help them secure a victory and a shot at the Super Bowl.

Coin Flip: Kansas City

Prediction: Bills 31 Chiefs 27



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