After making it through a harrowing divisional round all four of the remaining teams are like horror movie survivors returning for the sequel. Weathered vets who now sleep with one eye open. Though in this comparison the Chiefs are probably more like the slasher because they refuse to die. Even when they've definitely done for and there's only :13 left. They’re also picking AFC teams off one by one. This will be the eighth different conference foe KC has played in the postseason in the Mahomes era. Will they mow their way through every single one? Or can the Bengals be the final girl? Hmm, it would be rare for a red head to fill that role, so I tend to doubt it. Though, maybe it’s foolish to pick this important of a game based on a team’s color scheme and it’s relation to a strained analogy. Cincy did prove they could beat the Chiefs when these squads met in Week 17, but if anything, I think that makes it more likely that KC will win this time since the Bengals won’t be catching them off guard. You might be wondering, is there any team that could catch someone off guard in the AFC Championship game? I mean there’s a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, you’d think everybody would be fully prepared. Well sure, but what if the Utah Jazz showed up? Wouldn’t that catch everybody off guard? They’re not even a football team, so I’d have to imagine that would be a shock. And good luck catching the Jazz’s off guard. Donovan Mitchell is a tough match-up regardless of the sport. But again, that likely won’t be the case, and the Chiefs should be fully prepared for the Bengals.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have the rare distinction of hosting a conference championship game as a number 4 seed. The last time that happened was January of 2009 when the Cardinals beat the Eagles in Arizona. In fact, that’s the only such instance in the 32 seasons since the league expanded the playoffs to six teams per conference. So LA is certainly not the Super Bowl shoo-in that a home team might normally be at this juncture. To make matters more difficult they’ve lost to the 49ers six straight times. And that includes twice last season when San Francisco only won 6 games overall. It’s safe to say that the Niners seem to have the Rams number. But it’s also safe to say that the idea of Jimmy Garoppolo being a Super Bowl starting quarterback twice in a 3 year span is so hard to wrap my head around that the primal urge to pick against it is the most powerful guiding force I have in regards to this game. With that in mind ...
And finally, even though he won't be in the booth for either of these games, I have to imagine Cris Collinsworth will be able to provide insight into these title games. Let's check-in with him now:
Well, guess I was wrong about the insight. See ya in two weeks!
Both of these teams should have a chip on their shoulder. The Titans because nobody seems to take them seriously as a Super Bowl contender even though they’re a 1 seed. And the Bengals because they're playing their second straight Saturday afternoon game. The league clearly considers them the worst ratings draw in the playoffs. So what’s the solution? Keep winning, right? Well sure, that’s one tack, but I suggest they take a page of out of scripted television’s book. You want ratings, have a wedding. That’s right, I’m proposing that two of the players get married during the game. Preferably Cincy's two biggest stars. So if Joe Burrow and Jamar Chase decide to take their connection to the next level it could be exactly the spectacle that would cause the NFL to finally take notice. I just hope no one shows up to interrupt the proceedings. Like a past lover, or a celebrity guest star, or Derrick Henry. Or that’s right, Derrick Henry is back. I think that gives the Titans edge, nuptials or not.
San Francisco at Green Bay
I have to imagine that Aaron Rodgers is sick of losing in the NFC Championship game (he’s done it 4 times in the past 7 seasons). One way to get around that crushing disappointment would be to lose in the Divisional Round. Problem solved! And it shouldn’t be hard considering the QB he’s going against is 1-0 in the divisional round. That’s right, Jimmy G is unbeaten! However, he’s not unbeatable. In fact I’d say he’s the remaining quarterback I have the least confidence in. But to be fair, I’m only basing that on watching him play all season, and the past couple before that. Really it’s not fair to judge a quarterback until he has about 8 seasons as a starter under his belt. The jury’s still out on Blaine Gabbert if you ask me. Of course, Garoppolo doesn’t necessarily have to outplay Rodgers on Saturday night, he just has to avoid a catastrophic mistake. Is that asking too much? Yeah, probably.
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay
Both of these teams are coming off of blowout wins in the Wild Card round. Now they meet for the second time this season with the first contest resulting in a 34-24 Rams win back in Week 3. Will the outcome be the same this time around? Or even similar?!? Let's check in with Cris Collinsworth to hear his thoughts on the matter. Good and relevant point Cris. You gotta wonder, will Brady's own strange pee be his undoing? I think it just might.
Buffalo at Kansas City
A lot of folks out there would tell you that this is the real AFC championship. There are three possible interpretations of that statement. 1: the person making it does not understand how the playoffs work, or has either ignored or forgotten about the other two remaining teams in the AFC playoffs. 2: the person making that statement thinks this is last season when these teams did meet in the AFC championship game. 3: the person making that statement believes that whoever emerges from this game will easily dispatch either the Bengals or Titans. The third interpretation is likely the correct one, but the first two can’t be completely discounted, especially if the person you’re talking to is dumb. But even the assumption that one of these teams is going to the Super Bowl isn’t necessarily a wise one. Consider that Kansas City is 0-3 against the remaining AFC playoff teams. Meanwhile, Buffalo lost to Tennessee earlier this season, and were so afraid to play Cincinnati that they left them off of their schedule entirely! None of that, however, should take away from the entertainment level of this contest. We’re talking non-stop fireworks! Which will make the stadium very hazy and result in game action that’s difficult to discern. Eventually, once the smoke clears, I’m guessing the home team will come out on top. But despite what you may have been told, they’ll still have to win one more to get back to the Super Bowl.
Saturday will be just the second playoff game the Raiders have played since losing Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003. That was so long ago they were still playing Super Bowls in January! In the one other postseason trip since, the Oakland Raiders took on the Houston Texans following the 2016 season. Due to a Derek Carr injury, the Raiders’ quarterback was Connor Cook. Meanwhile, the Texans' signal caller was Brock Osweiler, however they had no injury to blame that on, he was just their starting quarterback. Even before it begins I can virtually guarantee that this Saturday’s game will be more entertaining. And if it isn’t, then god help us all. It's hard to believbe, but the Bengals may have the Raiders beat in terms of recent playoff futility. While Cincy had a number of postseason appearances last decade they haven’t actually won a playoff game in 31 years. A time when none of the players in this game were even born! And the most interesting part of that stat is that it might even be true! I haven’t had a chance to research it yet. The bottom line is that this Saturday recent history will be made one way or the other. Unless, of course these teams get ravaged by COVID and have to call in Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler to make emergency starts. Then it will likely be same ol’ same ol’.
New England at Buffalo
There’s an old adage in the NFL that it’s hard to beat a team 3 times in one season. Luckily for the Patriots and Bills, they split the two regular season match-ups, so both squads are still fully eligible to win this one. Obviously the initial thought would be that the advantage belongs to Bill Belichick. With his resume that’s hard to argue against, even if he may have the inferior roster. But there’s one aspect I haven’t heard discussed much in the lead up to this game that I think needs to be taken into consideration. Now maybe this is silly, but is there any chance that Bill Belichick will get confused by a team of Bills? And sure this could be nonsensical, but will he think that he’s competing against a bunch of people with the same name as him? I acknowledge the possible absurdity of this scnenario, but will that cause an existential crisis for him? Or maybe even engender sympathy towards his opponent? I mean sure, Belichick has gone against Buffalo 40+ times as New England’s coach and had tons of success, but who knows, maybe prior to his first postseason match-up against the Bills will be the first time he dwells upon it. And if he does, the Patriots could be in trouble, especially because Sean McDermott’s name is Sean and not Pat.
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is playing in his first playoff game, while Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is playing in his 302nd. That inexperience could be an issue. Another potential problem for Philly is that they’re 0-7 against this season’s playoff teams. So their quarterback has never been to the playoffs and they seemingly can’t beat any of the other teams in the playoffs. That means the Eagles can’t possibly win on Sunday, right? Wrong! Oh whoops, I meant to say “right.” They’re screwed.
San Francisco at Dallas
Taking into account the postseason history between these teams and the recent passing of a broadcasting legend who called many of their classic contests, I hereby submit that John Madden announce this game. Enough archival audio exists, especially from the Madden video games, that it would be possible to set up a soundboard and make this happen. Would it be seamless? Absolutely not. Would it be very confusing to casual and diehard fans alike? Almost assuredly yes. But would it be entertaining? Maybe! And that’s a trade off I’m willing to make. It would also open the door to a nearly unlimited catalogue of guest stars. Just imagine the following exchange:
Joe Buck: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the booth Mr. Humphrey Bogart.”
Humphrey Bogart: “Here’s lookin’ at you kid.”
Buck: “Bogie, what do you think of AT&T Stadium.”
Bogart: “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Buck: “Who do you think will come out on top in this one?”
Bogart: “Here’s lookin’ at you kid.”
Buck: “Before we let you go, can we get a Super Bowl pick?”
Bogart: “Buccaneers by 20. Back to back baby. I love that Super Bowl. So slick. Here’s lookin’ at you kid."
Pretty amazing technology considering Bogart died in 1957.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
It's a rematch of Week 16 when the Chiefs beat the Steelers 36-10. Will this time around be any closer, or even the slightest bit entertaining? That's not for me to say. But one man who may have a better handle on things is Cris Collinsworth. Let's hear what he has to say:
I think Cris got a text there at some point.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams
Both teams are coming off losses to end their regular season. I’m not sure either of them has what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. Then again, I’m not sure any team in the league does. But somebody has to. Or do they? Is it possible that every team loses before the Super Bowl? No. Right? Right. Then again, stranger things have happened. I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure they have. The Cardinals have been nearly unbeatable on the road this season, and now will likely have to win three straight away from home to get to the Super Bowl. Despite their road dominance, I'm not sold on the Cardinals without DeAndre Hopkins, which is the main reason I'll go with the Rams here. Of course, it won't matter much when LA eventually loses like every other playoff team. Hey, it could happen!
SEASON: 164-92-1 (Which is a total of 257, so I mis-added at some point)
Kansas City at Denver
After 17 weeks all the teams in the league have normal, familiar records. Chiefs are 11-5? Ok, sure, I’ve heard of that one. Broncos 7-9? A classic! So I guess that’s that, season over? Nope! We’re tacking on one more. I should clarify though, the season is over for Denver. It was over the minute they had to employ Drew Lock's services. KC is still plenty relevant though, and they actually need this win to have any shot at a first round bye in the playoffs. Typical millennials, wanting to take time off from work. Unlike typical millennials though, I’m guessing they’ll do their part on Saturday, because again, the opposing quarterback is Drew Lock.
Dallas at Philadelphia
Last Sunday the Cowboys were defeated at home by the Cardinals, and depending on how things shake out, they could be facing that same match-up in the first round of the playoffs next week. A frightening prospect for Dallas to be sure. Then again, any game against a winning team should be worrisome for the Cowboys. They have only one win against a team currently in playoff position in the NFC. The good news? That win came against these Eagles! Still I have the feeling that Dallas is going to get to the postseason and be like, “Oh so all these teams are just good then? This blows. We’re outta here.” I don’t blame them, the playoffs are stressful.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
The Ravens need a lot of help. And I’m not just talking about getting into the playoffs. These guys are seriously messed up. I heard they own every volume of Faces of Death. That’s the level of depravity we’re dealing with here. On the flip side, the Steelers need less outside assistance to reach the postseason, but both there’s and Baltimore’s hopes rely on the Jags beating the Colts. So in other words, this will be the last game either of these teams plays this season.
Cincinnati at Cleveland
The Bengals seem to rise to the occasion when they play good teams. But they’ve also lost to the Bears and Jets. Add those performances to a 3 point win over the Jags, and a 25 point loss to these Browns, and there’s cause for concern. The good news is, none of those sucks are going to be in the playoffs. If Cincy can keep showing up for big games, they should go far this January/February(?). And I mean that in the most literal sense. If they’re showing up, I’m guessing that means that they’re scheduled to play that day, which means they haven’t been eliminated.
Green Bay at Detroit
The Packers are 13-3 for the third straight season, the first three of the Matt Lafleur's tenure as head coach. That’s very impressive. However, it hasn’t worked out for them yet. They’ve lost in the conference championship game each of the past two seasons, which shouldn’t be dismissed as a failure, but I have to believe that if that’s their fate for a third straight year Green Bay will start to be saddled with the reputation of not being able to win the big one. Fortunately for them though, that ending to the season would surely result in Aaron Rodgers departing and the team getting to start fresh with Jordan Love. Which, of course, would mean that they won’t be involved in any “big ones” for some time, causing that rap to fall by the wayside.
Tennessee at Houston
Surprisingly the Titans need only a win over the lowly Texans to capture the #1 seed in the AFC and a first round bye in the playoffs. That seems wrong. Gonna double check ... Hmm no. It’s somehow correct, despite the fact that Tennessee has the 6th best point differential in the conference it currently sits atop. Does that matter? Maybe to the analytic nerds, but not to tough asses like you, me, and Mike Vrabel. Also, there’s a chance the Titans will get Derrick Henry back for the playoffs, which means you can throw most numbers out the window. Including 2, 16, and likely even 39. I could go on, but I think you get the point. And if you don’t it would take too long to explain. Oh you have plenty of time? Uh ... err ... Well I don’t! Let’s move on!
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
The Jags can all but completely spoil the Colts’ playoff hopes by beating them. The Colts can all but spoil the Jags' #1 pick dreams by beating them. Seems mutually beneficial if Indy just wins, right? There should be some sort of meeting at half time if Jacksonville is winning, just to get everybody on the same page and make sure things play out correctly. I mean can you imagine if Indy misses the playoffs because they lost to the Jags?!? And what if Jacksonville ends up with the 2nd pick and has to take Kayvon Thibodeaux instead of Aidan Hutchinson?!? On second thought, maybe it wouldn’t matter if the Jags just won. But ya know, they’re the Jags, so ... probably not worth consideration.
Chicago at Minnesota
With the extra wild card there are even fewer Week 18 games that don’t involve a team still in contention. This is one of two such contests. But just try telling the Bears and Vikings that! Seriously, we should see if they know that nothing’s at stake. A lot of players say that they don’t read their press. Who knows, that could include standings. It’s possible that these guys are clueless as to the situation. They say ignorance is bliss, and I can see that argument, but there’s nothing blissful about showing up to the team facility on Monday and finding out there are no more games.
Washington at New York Giants
Remember what I just said about meaningless games? This is the other one. So I have similar questions about these players’ awareness. To help them out I’ve a hired a sky writer to scrawl the NFL standings above MetLife Stadium. And to be safe I also told the guy to spell out every possible playoff scenario. Now that I think about it, I could probably simplify the message and save some money. As it stands now I’m out $13,000. It’s a steep price, but certainly worth it if you ask me. Though it was slightly concerning that when I paid the skywriter he said, “Yippee! Me likey the up front payments, cuz then I don’t gotta do the actual job.” I told him how dope I thought that was, but made him promise that he’d actually do mine. He told me, “We’ll see ...” as he crumpled up my instructions and tossed them in the trash. So, long story short, if you hear a buzz in the skies above MetLife on Sunday, look up, because you’re about to get educated on the NFL’s playoff picture, courtesy of yours truly.
Seattle at Arizona
The Cardinals need a win and a loss by the Rams to start the playoffs at home. But should they want to? They’re 8-1 on the road, with the one loss coming against the Lions, a team that I’m almost certain they won’t have to deal with in the postseason. If the Cardinals can simply continue to be undefeated everywhere but Arizona and Detroit they’ll win the Super Bowl. Easier said than done? Maybe. But it’s worth a shot. And the best way to ensure they’ll be on the road in the playoffs is to lose this game. Just do it Cards, it’s in your best interest.
New Orleans at Atlanta
The Saints have a real shot at the playoffs. They need a win and a Niners loss to the Rams. Neither outcome is unreasonable. In fact, on their own, they could both be considered likely. But when you need a combination of results things start to get tricky. Also, rooting for another team to lose is really mean-spirited. Is a playoff spot worth losing your compassion? That’s the existential quandary Saints players will be wrestling with during this game. If you’re watching at home keep an eye out for thousand yard stares from the entire New Orleans roster while the Falcons run for repeated 80 yard touchdowns. Or, of course, the Saints could win, and if they do we’ll all know that they’re a bunch of heartless bastards.
New York Jets at Buffalo
The Jets franchise has reached a heretofore unrealized depth. They’ve fallen so far that losing to them can drive an opposing player to remove half of their uniform, walk out of the stadium, and possibly quit football forever. It’s the first time someone has hit rock bottom in MetLife Stadium since WrestleMania 29, when the Rock fought John Cena. If you ask me the Jets should take a certain amount of pride in that. Ok, probably not, but what else can they take pride in at this point?
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams
Niners and Rammers, er wait, that's not right. Rammer? I hardly nine her! But seriously folks ... It's possible that these teams will meet next week in the playoffs, then again it's possible that San Francisco won't be in the playoffs at all. A loss here would put the Niners' season in serious jeopardy. They'd need the Falcons to beat the Saints to stay alive. Having your season in Matt Ryan's hands is not ideal, so it would behoove San Fran to just go ahead and win.
New England at Miami
Sadly there is no path for the Dolphins to the playoffs now. What an effort though. From a 1-7 start to the brink of the postseason. Unfortunately they ran into a competent team last week in Tennessee, and that was just too much for them to overcome. Miami would have a decent shot in a hypothetical consolation tournament as they do very well against lousy teams. Unfortunately for the Dolphins that hypothetical tournament is just that, hypothetical, and even if it weren’t it would be rather pointless. Maybe that’s why it’s hypothetical. Miami can put a tiny feather in their cap by ending their season the way they started it, with a win over the Patriots. I’m not sure they’ll achieve that bookend though, because New England is another one of those pesky, competent teams. As a result, the Dolphins’ books will be falling all over the place for the whole offseason.
Carolina at Tampa Bay
The Bucs are coming off an interesting Sunday. They nearly lost to the Jets and came home with one less player than they left with. What are the odds that we see a headline 8 months from now about Antonio Brown suing the Bucs for a Super Bowl ring? Id say fairly low considering that would require Tampa to win the Super Bowl again, and Antonio Brown to find legal counsel willing to represent him. The Bucs don’t have much to play for here as they’re locked into either the 2 or 3 seed in the NFC. That should allow them to sit some of their star players, which will provide them rest, and reduce the risk of them walking off the field shirtless.