We're down to one round of playoff football before it's time to gear up for Super Bowl Sunday. Four teams. Two conference championships. Between Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, we'll find out who will be going head to head for the Super Bowl LV title. You know what that means, don't you? It's time to make some bold predictions!
As the Buccaneers and Packers prepare to square off in the NFC, and the Bills and Chiefs size each other up for a showdown in the AFC, here are four early projections for this weekend's conference title matchups:
1. Patrick Mahomes plays, but the Bills advance to the Super Bowl
Mahomes announced Friday he passed concussion protocol and will be suiting up for the Chiefs in a bid for his second Super Bowl appearance in as many seasons. And make no mistake: Kansas City will not bow out easily with No. 15 is under center, even at less than full speed. The thing is, Mahomes himself is no guarantee of a return trip to Super Bowl Sunday. The superstar quarterback has been just a touch looser with the football since mid-December (three fumbles, four interceptions), and Buffalo's defense is coming off an inspired rout of the Ravens. Even more threatening is the Bills' offense, which has rivaled the Chiefs at times in terms of sheer explosiveness. Andy Reid's squad is superior on paper, but this feels like the season where Sean McDermott finally and fully rises to the occasion.
2. Stefon Diggs approaches 200 yards receiving against the Chiefs
Kansas City is no slouch against the pass. But the Bills cruised past the Ravens while basically avoiding the run, and in this matchup, Josh Allen will have even more reason to go to his top target, assuming Mahomes keeps the Chiefs in the mix as part of a shootout. Diggs has eclipsed 100 receiving yards in nine games this year, including the playoffs, and topped 130 four times. He's also garnered no fewer than 10 targets in seven of his last 10 outings. Give him one bomb against the Chiefs, and he'll already be well on his way to approaching 200, because there's no doubt Allen will be looking his way throughout the night, especially as the finish line draws near.
3. Packers hand Tom Brady his first conference title-game loss in five years
Brady didn't make it past the wild-card round in his final season with the Patriots, but he's gone 3-0 in his last three conference championships, which came back-to-back-to-back from 2016-18. His Buccaneers are also far more explosive than his Patriots were, and Tampa Bay's strong defensive showing against the Saints bodes well for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. But here's the deal: The Packers are flat-out more balanced and more consistent, and they have something New Orleans did not: Aaron Rodgers. Unlike at the Superdome, where a fading Drew Brees gifted Brady's Bucs great field position, this one -- in cold, snowy Lambeau, with Rodgers dead set on exacting revenge from earlier in the year -- is going to be tough sledding for Bruce Arians' squad.
4. Aaron Rodgers throws four touchdowns against Todd Bowles' defense
If the Packers advance to the Super Bowl, it'll likely be because Rodgers shows up at home, where he's so often looked like the MVP favorite this year. But throwing four touchdowns against a defense that just got done neutering Brees and the Saints? Yeah, we're not counting it out, because, for one, Rodgers is at least several levels above what Brees is at this stage of his (finished?) career. Secondly, while Bowles' unit has posted some of the best marks in the NFL, the Packers also had little trouble connecting on big plays when they needed to against the feared Rams "D." Green Bay, get ready for your return to the Super Bowl.