NFL: 10 stories to watch in conference finals
Now is the time for the NFL quarterback, with the last four surviving. Starting at 3 p.m. on Sunday, the Packers and Buccaneers will kick off this final football weekend before the Super Bowl on February 7 in Green Bay. Then, at 6:40 p.m., the Bills and Chiefs will follow in Kansas City. Before offering you an exhaustive analysis of the two duels in our Saturday and Sunday deliveries, here are 10 stories to watch, just to get in the bath.
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A final at Lambeau Field
For the Packers, it will be the first participation in a conference final game at home since 2007. It will clearly not be a refusal for this team which has torn away in the opposing stadiums in the last three appearances in conference finals in Seattle (2014), Atlanta (2016) and San Francisco (2019). Despite their rich history, the Packers did not often have the opportunity to host a conference final, in the era of the Super Bowl. It only happened in 1967, 1996 and 2007. The first two times the team won the game at Lambeau Field before going on to win the Super Bowl afterwards. Last time around, a surprise loss was taken at the hands of the Giants on the frozen tundra. Sunday, the weather promises to be rather mild for Green Bay, but snow is likely to get involved.
This year’s two conference finals pit teams that have already crossed swords earlier this season. By Week 6, the Buccaneers had wiped out the Packers by a 38-10 mark. Aaron Rodgers had had a rare difficult game with two interceptions and four sacks at his expense. In the Bucs, Ronald Jones had shone with 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In defense, linebacker Devin White, sublime last Sunday against the Saints, had been sensational with 10 tackles (including three for losses) and a sack. Also in Week 6, the Chiefs had beaten the Bills at 26-17. The Chiefs’ rushing game got the job done with 245 yards. Since that time, however, the Bills and Buccaneers have been teams that appear to have been transformed.
A first in sight
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has spent the last few days in concussion protocol, but he seems on track to take part in the game against the Bills. If so, Mahomes will become the first U-26 quarterback to take part in a third conference final. As a result, the Chiefs will also become the very first team in the American conference to receive the playoffs three seasons in a row. In the national conference, only the Eagles have done so by hosting the final from 2002 to 2004. This will be the Chiefs’ seventh appearance in their conference final. For those who wonder, at 26, Tom Brady had taken part in two association finals. Just like a guy called Colin Kaepernick, for that matter.
A fact rather rare
Veteran Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady will achieve a feat of arms on Sunday that few quarterbacks have experienced before him. In the era of the Super Bowl, only three pivots reached the quadruple of both a team of the American conference and the national conference. The last to have had such an experience is the legendary Joe Montana, who relished the event as a starter six times with the 49ers and once with the Chiefs. The others who have experienced such a journey are much less notorious. Jay Schroeder led Washington twice and the Raiders once in both association finals, in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. Craig Morton was the first to experience this scenario, in the 1970s, at the helm of the Cowboys , then the Broncos. Brady will look to become the second after Morton to lead his team to the Super Bowl as a starter in two different conferences.
Jon Gruden and the 2002 Bucs.
For the Packers and Chiefs, a presence in the conference finals is nothing short of amazing, them who were also there a year ago. For the Bills and Buccaneers, it’s a whole different story. As for the Bills, it’s a bit of a step back in time. In their last appearance in the American conference final, at the end of the 1993 season, they faced the Chiefs. At the time, they were betting on veteran Jim Kelly, while the Chiefs had made a lot of noise by acquiring a certain Joe Montana, a bit like the current Buccaneers with Tom Brady. Buccaneers who, incidentally, have not been the four aces since the end of the 2002 season.
The best attack?
If one did a quick little poll on which team in the four-quarter has the best offense, many respondents would go for the Chiefs. Strangely, however, despite all their weapons, the Chiefs are pretty good last among the four finalists, from a strictly statistical point of view. Indeed, for points scored per game, the Packers (31.8), Bills (31.3) and Buccaneers (30.8) were the top three in the standings. The Chiefs (29.6), had to be « content » with sixth place in this chapter. However, based on the yards accumulated, the Chiefs are the only ones to have crossed the bar of 400 yards per game in the entire league. The Bills are second (396.4), while the Packers are fifth (389) and the Buccaneers seventh (384.1). Basically, the Packers have been more opportunistic with touchdowns on 78.5% of their appearances in the pay zone, while the Chiefs are in the middle of the pack at 59.4%. Their tight end Travis Kelce is their most formidable weapon at the gate.
Quite a reconstruction!
Four years ago, the Bills were going absolutely nowhere and the organization decided to go for what became a huge home run by hiring general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott. This tandem has done a colossal job to rebuild the alignment from top to bottom. So right now, only two pre-era players Beane and McDermott are still with the squad, defensive end Jerry Hughes and long-throw specialist Reid Ferguson. Quite a change of course! Since taking the helm, McDermott has led his team in the playoffs three times in four seasons. No less than seven head coaches marched in Buffalo between the legendary Marv Levy and McDermott and none of them has guided the Bills in the playoffs.
A major exchange
Ironically, the two teams that concocted the most impactful trade together in the 2017 draft come face to face in the conference final. At the time, the Bills held the 10e choice of the auction and had traded it to the Chiefs, who took the opportunity to get their hands on a certain Patrick Mahomes. But don’t think the Bills walked away empty-handed! In return, the Chiefs surrendered their 27e choice, who went on to become all-star cornerback Tre’Davious White. They also gave the Bills their third-round pick, which they used in another rally to allow them to get their hands on excellent tackle Dion Dawkins. The Chiefs also gave up their 2018 first-round pick, which the Bills used in another trade that sent them up to 16.e rank, where they opted for one of the pillars of their current defense, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. In short, all these beautiful people clash and the exchange has benefited both teams.
Josh Allen on a mission
Of the four remaining quarterbacks, Tom Brady is a living legend, Aaron Rodgers is set to become the Tour’s MVP for a third time and Patrick Mahomes is the new face of the NFL. However, we should not forget especially Josh Allen. The Bills’ offensive conductor has just become the third passer in history to win two games in the same playoffs in addition to posting an efficiency coefficient (rating) over 100, to less than 25 years. Before him, only Patrick Mahomes, in 2019, and a young Ben Roethlisberger, in 2005, had accomplished as much. This season, Allen became the first quarterback in history to accumulate more than 4,500 passing yards, with at least 35 touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns.
A regular subscriber
It is a known fact since the statistics have been running at full speed in the last few days, Tom Brady will take part in a conference final for the 14e times of his illustrious career. What is less well known is that he will become the second quarterback to appear in a playoff game in three different decades (2000, 2010 and 2020). Long before him, one of the mainstays of the NFL, Johnny Unitas, had achieved a similar feat with the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Brady’s record in the conference finals to date is nine wins. and four setbacks. His 14 appearances in the final are obviously more than anyone before him. Joe Montana with seven appearances is next on the list. John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach each have six appearances.