Just like that, the NFL season has come down to the final four teams. Are you shocked at all about who is still standing?
Tom Brady’s and Patrick Mahomes are probably two unsurprising names to hear playing for conference championships, but Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen may be. We’ll get more into that here in a second, but it was an interesting and emotional weekend that these victors rose from to continue their pursuit of a championship. Headed home are the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints.
Before we move past them completely, let’s look at the three things I learned from last week. After that I’ll share what I’m watching for next week on Conference Championship Weekend.
Three Things I Learned
Defense Still Wins Championships – Or At Least Gets You Closer
Across the four games, one thing was consistent, and that was the dominance of the defenses on the winning side.
It’s one thing to have a good defense statistically, but the NFL playoffs are about preparing for each opponent, and for the defenses, that means being prepared for how the other team wants to beat you. Forget the 16 weeks that give you your average rating at the end of the season; The postseason is week to week adjustments and execution. The Bills limited Lamar Jackson on the ground and took advantage of a poor pass and a pick-six. The Packers got to Jared Goff and sacked him four times, three in the second half, with two of them coming on each of LA’s final drives. The Buccaneers picked off Drew Brees three times in what has the feel of his last game, and the Chiefs limited the Browns’ powerful rushing attack to get their win.
The bigger names in the playoffs like Rodgers and Allen are on the offensive side of the ball, but for those looking to win the Super Bowl, the performance of the defense will be crucial.
The Old Guard Isn’t Done Yet, But the Time Is Nearing
Much talk was made last week about the youth of the quarterbacks remaining in the AFC, including here, but coming out of the NFC are two of the best signal callers in the league for nearly the last two decades in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. What’s more wild, is both Brady and Rodgers are coming off of strong performances that show they’re still near the top of their game.
Tom Brady completed 18/33 passes for 199 yards and two scores while picking up another on the ground, and Rodgers connected on 23/36 of his passes for 296 yards and two scores as well as adding a rushing touchdown. These are two leaders nearing the end of their respective careers, and both are doing what they need too. They’ll battle this coming weekend for the chance to show the league that their time isn’t done, which unfortunately can’t be said for Drew Brees. The other two will reach the end of their line before too long as well.
New Age Of Problems for A New Age of Quarterback
Sure Rodgers and Brady each ran for a touchdown this last weekend, but they netted -1 yards between them. As previously mentioned, they are nearing the end of their time in the league, and that’s probably for the better as teams are looking for more mobile quarterbacks nowadays. The problem with mobile quarterbacks is that they open themselves to be hit more, and this weekend was no exception.
Across the weekend, both Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes went down with injuries in the second half, and both finished the game on the bench. Representing two of the last MVPs, as well as a Super Bowl MVP, it’s rough for the NFL to see their stars go down on the biggest stage, and maybe could lead to some rule changes down the road. For now, the league would just be happy to see Mahomes cleared from his nerve injury to play next Sunday in a showdown of two of the best young gunslingers in his matchup with Josh Allen.
Three Things I’m Watching For This Weekend
Does the Bills Defense Hold?
The Buffalo Bills have found themselves in the AFC Championship Game by riding a much improved Josh Allen who is benefiting from having a true #1 wide receiver in Stefon Diggs. Allen went on a tear against the Colts, but Philip Rivers still nearly led his team back against the Bills defense, and had Lamar Jackson not gone down at the end of the third quarter, he may have had a chance to try a comeback.
As mentioned previously, the Bills did well in limiting Lamar on the ground, but Jackson is a true dual-threat quarterback and could’ve gotten it done. Buffalo now has to leave the comforts of their home field and head to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Chiefs. If Mahomes is healthy and good to go, he’s the best that Buffalo has faced in the postseason.
When the two teams played in Week 6, Mahomes only had five incompletions and tossed a couple of touchdowns. Additionally, Clyde Edwards-Elaire had 161 yards on the ground on 26 carries, and there’s an outside shot that he’s ready to make his return. Kansas City will have their other weapons available for the AFC Championship, and that’s a lot for this Bills defense to handle.
Is Tom Brady Facing His Reflection?
OK, so Tom Brady obviously has had unmatched success in his career, but if there’s a quarterback under the age of 40 that is even close to being near Brady’s level, it’s Rodgers. Aaron and the Packers could be a late bloomer, now that he has a head coach that he works better with in LaFleur. Additionally, Aaron is currently a franchise quarterback with a potential replacement waiting in the wings in Jordan Love. That’s a situation that Brady is all too familiar with, and knows what kind of motivation that can bring to a quarterback. The 37 year-old Rodgers has about 5 years to chase down Brady and his success, but I can’t help but think Brady sees some of himself in Aaron.
Jared Goff’s Redemption
It is speculated that Jared Goff in fact isn’t the quarterback of the future for the Los Angeles Rams. He played well in the divisional round, but was it enough to shed that disbelief in the former top pick? I don’t know that the Rams organization is going to say much on the matter, if anything, as they may look to keep the cards close ahead of the draft, free agency and offseason. Still, the question is going to be asked. Sell high and get a new caller, or ride out his deal?
That’s what I noticed and am looking for this weekend. How about you? Is there something that I missed or maybe downplayed and didn’t put here. Let me know on Twitter @JarkClonas and tag @110Sports.
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