My Divisional round picks went 3-1, bringing my 2020 season mark to 178-87.
Here are my Conference Championship round picks. Each section details which team is predicted to win and provides a quick summary of why that selection was made. The picks also contain a confidence value for each selection, based on a 1-10 scale with “10” being the most confident and “1” being the least confident.
Now on to the picks!
Sunday, January 23
Buffalo at Kansas City
KC’s pick: Kansas City
Confidence level: 4
Last week’s weather made it all but impossible to throw the ball with any consistency, but prior to that matchup Buffalo had posted 300+ passing yards in four straight games, indicating their aerial prowess has been back to its early season elite form. That is a major factor in Buffalo having scored 26+ points in eight straight games prior to the windstorm against the Ravens. Buffalo also has zero giveaways on offense in three of the past four games, indicating Josh Allen is doing an excellent job of protecting the ball.
While weather certainly contributed to holding Baltimore to only three points last week, that superb performance is not an anomaly, as Sean McDermott’s defense has held five of its last seven foes to 19 or fewer points.
Some potential problems for the Bills include a struggling Cole Beasley, who was injured in the Week 16 game against New England and has caught only 10 passes for 74 yards since Week 15. Add that to Gabriel Davis being out for this contest and Zack Moss being out for the rest of this season following ankle surgery and the Bills have more than their share of offensive injury issues.
As important as Beasley is to this offense, the Moss injury may be just as impactful as the Bills rush game has been nearly non-existent the past three games with only 206 yards on the ground in that span. Buffalo’s rush defense is also a potential issue, as the Bills have allowed 313 rushing yards in the playoffs and have given up 140+ rushing yards in four of the past five games.
Kansas City’s biggest factor in this contest is whether or not Patrick Mahomes will be able to clear the concussion protocol in time to play. Mahomes was able to participate fully in the Chiefs Wednesday walk through (even though he was technically listed as limited due to concussion protocol rules) and thus is on track to return, although it is possible that will change based on the late week injury report.
Whether or not Mahomes does return as expected, the Chiefs late season stretch could indicate they are returning to their late 2019 season approach of leaning on the ground game more in December and in the playoffs. Kansas City has posted 117+ rushing yards in two of the past three games while posting fewer than 280 passing yards in two of those contests (if the meaningless Week 17 contest against the Chargers is taken out of the equation).
This slow the game down approach was a notable factor in the Chiefs holding the powerhouse Browns rushing attack to only 112 yards last week. It is also part of the reason Kansas City allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards in five out of six games from Weeks 11-16.
Most of the offenses that the Bills face don’t have anyone capable of keeping up with Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, but the Chiefs can easily counteract those two with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Add that to Beasley’s injury, the Bills rush defense issues, and this game being in Kansas City and the Chiefs are the pick in this one.
Tampa Bay at Green Bay
KC’s pick: Green Bay
Confidence level: 5
The Week 13 bye was the best thing to happen to Tampa Bay this season. They had lost three out of four coming into that contest for a variety of reasons, including having tallied seven giveaways, 92 points, and 1,376 offensive yards in those defeats.
They have since won six consecutive contests, scored 30+ points in five straight, held four out of six foes to 23 or fewer points, and have nine takeaways in the past four games.
Tom Brady understandably gets the bulk of the attention on this club, but Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians recently told Peter King that the even though the Bucs are thought of as a pass-heavy team, but he wants Tampa Bay to punch teams in the mouth with the ground game. That mindset that has resulted in the Buccaneers racking up 269 rushing yards in two playoff games. Arians also knows the value of slowing the ground game, as Tampa Bay has held 13 out of 18 opponents this year to under 100 rushing yards.
Having the league MVP under center makes it easy to think of the Packers as a pass-centric offense, yet the reality is Green Bay is at its best when it operates a ground-heavy attack with counterpunch vertical passing. That has been the case the second half of this season, as the Packers have racked up 149+ rushing yards in five of the past seven games. This approach, when combined with Aaron Rodgers elite ability to protect the football, is why Green Bay had zero giveaways in 11 games this year and one giveaway in three contests.
The Packers defense has also been stingy against the pass, as Green Bay didn’t allow a single foe to tally 300+ net passing yards in a game this year and held six teams to fewer than 170 net passing yards. The Green and Gold defense has also been very opportunistic of late, with 14 takeaways in the last 11 games.
Tampa Bay posted arguably its most convincing win of the season in a 38-10 triumph over Green Bay in Week 6 and may be playing better now in many areas, but the Buccaneers have allowed 669 offensive yards and 43 points over the past two weeks to a Washington offense wracked with injuries and piloted by a fourth-string quarterback and a New Orleans offense slowed by multiple injuries to Drew Brees and Michael Thomas that was also missing the services of Taysom Hill and Latavius Murray.
The Packers don’t have any injury limitations of that nature and they are also playing a much higher level than they were back in October. Combine that with home-field advantage and Rodgers being able to more than offset Brady and this selection lands in Green Bay’s column.