(CBS Detroit) — The NFC Championship will feature a matchup of legendary quarterbacks looking to add to their already extensive resumes. Two future first-ballot Hall of Famers — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — will meet when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers. While Brady and Rodgers continue to defy expectations of QBs in the twilight of their careers, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes represent the next generation of passers. And they’ve been impressive this season. But will Mahomes be able to take the field when his Kansas City Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills?
All times listed are Eastern.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday, January 24 @ 3:05 p.m. (FOX)
It’s hard to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs. Six Super Bowl rings have earned him the benefit of the doubt, even at the age of 43. Brady has had a strong season with a Buccaneers team that’s just loaded with offensive talent. He put up 4,633 yards passing in the regular season, third best in the NFL, along with 40 touchdowns, good enough for second best. That production has continued into the postseason, where he’s added 580 yards and four touchdowns in two wins on the road.
Brady once again finds himself one game away from yet another Super Bowl. But the road back to Tampa goes through Green Bay. And his counterpart this Sunday seems to be a lock to win his third NFL MVP. Rodgers was top 10 in passing yards with 4,299 but led the league with 48 touchdowns. He carved up the tough Los Angeles Rams defense in the divisional round, going 23-36 with 296 yards and two TDs.
“I love the one with Aaron Rodgers at home,” says White. “He’s just amazing playing in Lambeau, 62-35-4, covering the point spread 64 percent of the time. He is just amazing. We talked about this one last week. He did not let us down. He played an amazing game against the number-one defense in the NFL. So that was a great performance by Aaron Rodgers.”
Will Rodgers have another strong showing this week? His home record suggests he will. But Brady’s knack for advancing in the postseason suggests otherwise. Something will have to give.
“The Green Bay Packers are three-point favorites to win the game,” White points out. “Money line is about -170, +150 for the Buccaneers. So the betting odds are saying there’s a 40 percent chance that the Bucs can come away with a win here and head to the Super Bowl. They would be the the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.”
Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, January 24 @ 6:40 p.m. (CBS)
The big story for the Bills-Chiefs game is the health of Mahomes. The Chiefs quarterback left last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns with what appeared at the time to be a head injury. The defending Super Bowl MVP looked dazed and unsteady after a seemingly routine tackle. He was helped off the field, and put into the NFL’s concussion protocol soon after. News soon surfaced that he may have sustained some sort of nerve injury in his neck. His status remains in question.
Mahomes’ ability to play will have a material effect on the Chiefs’ matchup with the Bills. And that has been reflected in the line for the game since it opened.
“This line went up right after the game was over,” White notes. “Chiefs were a one-point favorite, and it was bet to pick ’em. And then, all of a sudden, all the money started coming in on Kansas City, and pushed this number up to the Chiefs -3. And that’s where we stand right now. The Chiefs are a three-point favorite, and that is a Patrick Mahomes-in number. Once the word comes out that he is playing for sure, this number will go up higher. I think it could go to four, 4 1/2 for Kansas City. If he does not play, it will spiral the other direction, and the Bills will end up being a favorite in this football game.”
Mahomes has progressed since Sunday but has more steps to take before he’s eligible to play. If he’s unable to play, backup Chad Henne would start. While Henne was solid in wrapping up the win over the Browns, he’s a significant drop-off from the face of the Chiefs franchise. The backup could also struggle to keep pace with a high-powered Bills offense.
Allen’s season has elevated him into the MVP discussion. The Bills quarterback finished the regular season in the top five for passing yards (4,544) and touchdowns (37), at the helm of an offense that averaged over 47 points in its last three games. Defenses have clamped down somewhat in the postseason. But the potential for big numbers remains against a Chiefs defense that can be exploited.
With or without Mahomes, the Chiefs have been here before. And Arrowhead Stadium, even at less than capacity, confers a significant homefield advantage. “The Chiefs three straight years in this game,” says White. “Experience is such a big part of any sport or any walk of life. Experience is key. And the Chiefs playing at home will be good. They had about 40 percent, it looked like about 40 percent fans in the stands last week. They are one of the top home fields in the NFL, right there with the Green Bay Packers. So it’s amazing that two of the teams that are best at home this year, when we didn’t have crowds, are still supporting those home teams.”
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