NFL championship Sunday: Schedule, predictions, odds and picks
The Times’ Sam Farmer examines the NFL conference championship games. Last week, Farmer went 4-0 in his divisional-round predictions (9-1 for playoffs). Using point spreads with the scores he predicted, the record against the spread would have been 3-1 (8-1-1 for playoffs):
No. 5 Tampa Bay at No. 1 Green Bay
Sunday, noon PST, Channel 11. Line: Packers by 3½.
First meeting: In Week 6 at Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers fell behind 10-0 before outscoring the Packers, 38-0, in the final three quarters for a 38-10 victory. Aaron Rodgers was held to a season-low 160 yards passing and had two interceptions.
Buccaneers keys: They have to take away Green Bay’s running game. If Rodgers is allowed to hand it off more than 50% of the time, that will make it too easy for him. … Avoid the defensive holding penalties that hurt them against New Orleans. … Establish a running game that lets Tom Brady stay on schedule. … Mike Evans and Chris Godwin can make catches against tight coverage, but they tend not to separate. Tight end Cameron Brate is the most-open guy much of the time.
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Packers keys: Get the running game going to set up the play-action and keep Rodgers in rhythm. … Try to rev up Aaron Jones, who was held to 15 yards in 10 carries the first time. … Neutralize the Tampa Bay pass rush by putting Rodgers in those second-and-sixes and third-and-fours. … On defense, hold the Buccaneers to less than 40% on third down. … With so much focus on Davante Adams, create some explosive plays with their other receiving weapons.
Farmer’s pick: From the Colts to the Cardinals to the Buccaneers, Bruce Arians has had a lot of success against the Packers in recent years. Green Bay is playing with incredible efficiency on offense, with that hinging on establishing the run. That’s harder to do with Vita Vea returning for Tampa Bay. Cold weather doesn’t scare Tom Brady. BUCCANEERS 28, PACKERS 24
No. 2 Buffalo at No. 1 Kansas City
Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Channel 2. Line: Chiefs by 3.
First meeting: In Week 6 in Buffalo, the Chiefs won, 26-17, with Patrick Mahomes throwing two touchdown passes to Travis Kelce. Kansas City won the time-of-possession battle by 15 minutes.
Bills keys: Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is perfectly comfortable letting Josh Allen throw on just about every down, and foul weather doesn’t scare them. … Get slot receiver Cole Beasley more involved. … This will be a game of “Our guy’s more durable than your guy,” especially with Mahomes coming off a concussion. … Defensively, take advantage of the fact the Chiefs aren’t going to want Mahomes to run. … Keep everything in front of you, and don’t let Tyreek Hill beat you. If it’s somebody else, so be it.
Chiefs keys: If the Chiefs play their game, generating offense won’t be a problem. Falling behind doesn’t rattle them, either, judging by the way Mahomes led those comebacks in the 2019 postseason. … The key will be slowing Allen, who’s dangerous with his arm and legs. Try to keep the Buffalo quarterback in the pocket, make him throw on schedule, and don’t let him escape to his right. If he rolls out, try to make it away from his throwing arm.
Raheem Morris is named defensive coordinator by the Rams, replacing Brandon Staley, who left after one season to become coach of the Chargers.
Farmer’s pick: There could be a combined 100 passing attempts in this game. The Chiefs have a ton of offensive weapons and can score in bunches, but the injuries to Mahomes are a real concern. Not just the concussion but the turf toe. Allen is playing like a young John Elway, and having Stefon Diggs and John Brown allows the Bills to stretch the field vertically. Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has been fantastic. BILLS 33, CHIEFS 31
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