Here are Sunday’s NFL championship games predictions:
Buffalo Bills (+3) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS; Over 51.5
Patrick Mahomes cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and will play in Sunday’s AFC Championship against the Buffalo Bills, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll be 100 percent or somewhat less than that because of a toe injury.
I’m looking at it this way:
- If you’re backing the Bills, presume they’ll have to face the real Mahomes and determine whether they can beat him at his best.
- If you’re on the Chiefs, figure Mahomes will be diminished or that your money will be in Chad Henne’s hands at some point. Would you still want to make that bet?
Of those two scenarios, I like the first one better. The Bills feel like an ascendant team that steamrolled the league in the second half of the season, covering the spread almost every week. They have won their past eight games and gone 7-1 ATS, failing to cover only in the wild-card 27-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
True, last week’s 17-3 divisional round victory over the Baltimore Ravens turned on a 101-yard interception return by Buffalo’s Taron Johnson, one play after Baltimore should have tied the score at 10. But there’s no need to apologize for covering a spread because someone made a big play. That’s how it’s supposed to work. This performance gave me more confidence in the Bills defense, and I’m not going to doubt what I’ve seen all season from Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
The Chiefs took a 10-game winning streak into Week 17, when they rested Mahomes and other starters and lost big to the Chargers. So let’s take that game completely out of the equation. Since Nov. 8 in their other games, the Chiefs are 8-0 straight up but just 1-6-1 against the spread.
On Oct. 19, the Chiefs did cover as 5.5-point favorites in a 26-17 win on a Monday night at Buffalo. Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 161 yards in that game, and the Chiefs defense limited Allen to 122 yards passing.
Couple of things about that result: The Bills had gotten off to a 4-0 start then lost 42-16 at Tennessee Titans on a Tuesday in a COVID-delayed game. This was their only two-game losing streak of the season, and the only other game they lost came at Arizona on Nov. 15 on the “Hail Murray” pass.
I have confidence Bills coach Sean McDermott (a former Andy Reid defensive assistant) and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will adjust and make this far more of a challenge for Mahomes and Edwards-Helaire. And I have faith Allen and Diggs will move the chains and put points on the board.
The Chiefs were magical last year, making big comebacks against the Texans, Titans and 49ers to win the Super Bowl. That type of ride is hard to repeat. The Bills are big, strong, hungry and ready for their moment.
Bills 26, Chiefs 24.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3.5) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Over 51.5
Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers for a shot at the Super Bowl — Brady’s 10th or Rodgers’ second. Both quarterbacks have had excellent seasons. Rodgers, the favorite for regular-season MVP, is 14-3 with 50 touchdown passes and five interceptions, including one postseason game. Brady is 13-5 with 44 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
Beyond the huge edge in championship-game wins, Brady has done something this season that Rodgers will need to do on Sunday. The Bucs had lost two games to the Saints, 34-23 and 38-3, before knocking off New Orleans last week. Now it’s on Rodgers to turn around an earlier ugly result.
On Oct. 18, the Packers were 4-0 and coming off a bye when they lost 38-10 at Tampa Bay. One fact that may have been forgotten from that game was Green Bay had a 10-0 lead with the ball early in the second quarter when Jamel Dean intercepted Rodgers and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. Three plays later, Rodgers was intercepted again, and the Bucs quickly took the lead then ran away. Rodgers has thrown just three other interceptions all season and postseason.
Turnovers were key again last week for the Bucs as they intercepted Drew Brees three times and forced a fumble. I don’t foresee Rodgers giving them that many extra opportunities.
Bucs backers also should be a little concerned about how Washington novice Taylor Heinicke threw for 306 yards in Tampa Bay’s 31-23 victory in the wild-card round. Now they have to deal not only with Rodgers but Aaron Jones (1,104 rushing yards), Davante Adams (1,374 receiving yards and an insane 18 touchdowns), and Robert Tonyan (11 receiving touchdowns).
As for the total, I’m not expecting 32 degrees, light winds and some lingering morning snow to be much of a deterrent. Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown all migrated to Florida from the colder climates and shouldn’t have too many problems, even if the weather edge favors the Packers.
Packers 30, Bucs 24.
Last Week: 2-2 vs. spread, 1-3 Over/Under.