Here are five key takeaways from the NFL’s conference championship games:
1. Brady and the Bucs
It’s remarkable that Tom Brady went to a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 13 years and now they’re in the Super Bowl. He’s quickly created an aura of association, adding key players like Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette — who chose Tampa because they felt like they had a chance to win because Brady was there. A lot of credit for Sunday’s win goes to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, whose defense contained Aaron Rodgers despite missing its two starting safeties, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead. The Bucs held Rodgers to two touchdowns in four red-zone trips, which proved to be the difference in the game.
2. Rodgers should have run
Rodgers threw for 346 yards and 3 TDs, but the presumptive NFL MVP came up short on Green Bay’s biggest/last drive of the season. On third-and-goal, down by eight, it looked like Rodgers could have run it in. Instead, he threw an incompletion. Green Bay chose to kick a field goal, and they never got the ball back. Their defense played well, forcing three Tom Brady interceptions, but they allowed Tampa Bay to convert 9 of 14 on third down. Perhaps the biggest issue for the Packers was the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari. Billy Turner was okay taking over when Bakhtiari went down late in the season with a knee injury, but Turner was overwhelmed most of the game on Sunday.
3. Chiefs look to repeat
The trio of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce proved too much for Buffalo on Sunday. Mahomes was flawless, completing 29 passes for 325 yards and 3 TDs. Kansas City has the best record in the NFL over the last three years and will be hard to beat in two weeks. The Chiefs defense played well against Buffalo, sacking Josh Allen four times and intercepting him once. Their pressure packages were effective all day and they never let Allen get into a rhythm.
4. Bills fall short
While their season ended in a loss, it was a great campaign for the Bills. Allen took major strides and accounted for 50 total TDs. Buffalo must find another corner and at least two pass rushers to take the next step in a meaningful way.
5. The key to Super Bowl LV
The last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Brady and Mahomes, will face off in two weeks to compete for the NFL championship. Much will be made of the matchup between these two, who are 2-2 in head-to-head games. While the hype machine warms up, the most important thing we should be watching is the injury status of Chiefs LT Eric Fisher. The two-time Pro Bowler suffered an Achilles injury Sunday. If he can’t play in the Super Bowl, it will cause problems for the Chiefs.