CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY HOLDS KEYS
TO OPEN DOOR TO SUPER BOWL LV
The final four teams are set and this Sunday will determine the two clubs heading to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV.
Championship Sunday begins with the NFC Championship Game, presented by Intuit TurboTax Live, when the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (13-5) travel to play the GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-3) for the George Halas Trophy at Lambeau Field (3:05 PM ET, FOX). The Buccaneers are appearing in their first Championship Game since the 2002 season, when they went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII, while the Packers are making their second consecutive appearance. The game features the quarterback with the most postseason wins in NFL history, Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY (32), against the franchise with the most world championships, Green Bay (13).
In the AFC on Sunday (6:40 PM ET, CBS), the top two seeds in the conference, the BUFFALO BILLS (15-3) and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (15-2), face off at Arrowhead Stadium for the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN (24 years old)and Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES (25) could become just the second pair of opposing quarterbacks under the age of 26 to start a conference Championship Game, joining VINCE FERRAGAMO (25 years old) of the Los Angeles Rams and DOUG WILLIAMS (24) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1979 NFC title game. The Bills are playing in the AFC Championship for the first time since the 1993 season, when they defeated the Chiefs to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII. Kansas City, meanwhile, is only the second team in NFL history to host three consecutive Championship Games, joining the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles, who were also led by head coach ANDY REID.
WILD RIDE: For a second straight season, a Wild Card team has reached its conference Championship Game, as the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS follow in the footsteps of the 2019 Tennessee Titans. Tampa Bay is the first NFC Wild Card team to reach the Championship Game since the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, and the ninth overall Wild Card team to advance to that round since 2007. Two of those teams – the 2007 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers – won the Super Bowl. Six teams overall, including the 1980 Oakland Raiders, 1997 Denver Broncos, 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, have won the Super Bowl as Wild Card teams.
LEGENDS IN THEIR OWN LIFETIMES: Quarterbacks TOM BRADY and AARON RODGERS are meeting head-to-head for the fourth time but Sunday marks their first meeting in the postseason. Brady has won two of the previous three games, 31-17 at Gillette Stadium in 2018 with New England, and 38-10 in Week 6 earlier this season at Raymond James Stadium. Rodgers won their first meeting, a 26-21 triumph over New England at Lambeau Field in 2014.
Brady and Rodgers rank first and fourth, respectively, among the NFL’s career postseason leaders in touchdown passes.
HOPE FOR TEAMS THAT MISS PLAYOFFS: The TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS advanced to their conference Championship Game the year after missing the playoffs. Last season, three teams earned berths in the Championship Game after failing to qualify for the playoffs: Green Bay, San Francisco and Tennessee. Three teams did it in 2017 (Jacksonville, Minnesota and Philadelphia) while eight overall teams since the 2016 playoffs have advanced to their conference Championship Games the year after missing the postseason. Three of the last eight teams that played in the Super Bowl – the 2019 San Francisco 49ers, 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and 2016 Atlanta Falcons – reached that pinnacle after missing the playoffs the prior season.
WEEK 6 REMATCHES: Each Championship Game contest is a rematch of a 2020 regular-season game, and both contests took place in Week 6. Tampa Bay defeated Green Bay, 38-10, on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium, and Kansas City traveled to Buffalo to earn a 26-17 victory on Oct. 19.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (13-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX/FOX Deportes, 3:05 PM ET)
- The Buccaneers and Packers, division rivals in the NFC Central from 1977-2001, meet in the postseason for the second time. Green Bay won the only prior postseason meeting, 21-7, in the 1997 Divisional playoffs en route to a berth in Super Bowl XXXII.
- Green Bay holds a 33-22-1 all-time series advantage (including the postseason). The teams last played in Week 6 (Oct. 18), with the Buccaneers winning in Tampa Bay, 38-10.
- Tampa Bay will appear in its fourth NFC Championship Game and its first since the 2002 season, when the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Buccaneers head coach BRUCE ARIANS, in his second season at the Tampa Bay helm, guided his team to its first franchise playoff berth in 13 years and its first postseason victories since that 2002 Super Bowl season. Arians also led the Arizona Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game in 2015 and is the 12th head coach since the league merger in 1970 to take multiple franchises to a conference Championship Game.
- This week, Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY is expected to make his 14th start in a conference Championship Game. Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA ranks second with seven. Brady is 9-4 in those games.
- In Tampa Bay’s 30-20 Divisional victory at New Orleans, Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, becoming the oldest player in NFL history (43 years, 167 days) to score a postseason touchdown, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (40 years, 105 days) in Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Brady has the most postseason games played (43), wins (32), passing yards (11,968) and passing touchdowns (77) of any player in NFL history.
- Buccaneers wide receiver MIKE EVANS, who caught a touchdown pass in the team’s Divisional playoff win last week, had 1,006 receiving yards in 2020 to become the first player in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons.
- Tampa Bay cornerback SEAN MURPHY-BUNTING, whose second-quarter interception and 36-yard return set up a go-ahead touchdown in the team’s Divisional playoff win, now has interceptions in each of the Buccaneers’ two playoff wins this season. The last player with interceptions in three consecutive playoff games in the same postseason was the Giants’ R.W. MCQUARTERS (three consecutive games) during the 2007 playoffs.
- In the Buccaneers’ Divisional playoff win, linebacker DEVIN WHITE had 11 tackles, a 28-yard interception return and an 18-yard fumble return in his first NFL playoff game. White was the team’s first-round selection (fifth overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft.
- The Buccaneers had one player selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Linebacker JASON PIERRE-PAUL.
- Green Bay has advanced to a second straight Championship Game for the first time since the 1996-97 seasons. Since the league merger in 1970, the Packers are hosting their third Championship. Lambeau Field also hosted the 1996 and 2007 NFC Championship Games. Overall, Green Bay has played in the NFC Championship on 10 prior occasions.
- Packers head coach MATT LAFLEUR is the sixth individual since the league merger in 1970 to reach the conference Championship Game in each of his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, joining DON MCCAFFERTY (Baltimore Colts, 1970-71), GEORGE SEIFERT (San Francisco, 1989-90), BARRY SWITZER (Dallas, 1994-95), REX RYAN (New York Jets, 2009-10) and JIM HARBAUGH (San Francisco, 2011-12).
- The Packers defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 32-18, last week in the Divisional playoffs. With the victory, Green Bay registered the 36th postseason victory in franchise annals, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers (36) for the second-most postseason wins in history. With a win this week, Green Bay will tie the NFL record held by the New England Patriots (37).
- Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 108.1 passer rating in the Divisional round, marking his eighth consecutive postseason game with multiple touchdown passes, tying the NFL record held by JOE FLACCO (eight games from 2011-14).
- Rodgers (12 career postseason games) is one of four players in history with at least 10 postseason games of 250-or-more passing yards and two-or-more touchdown passes. The others are TOM BRADY (17), Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (12) and DREW BREES (10).
- Rodgers is expected to make his fifth career start in a Championship Game, but his first at home.
- Rodgers led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes this season, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (48 touchdown passes in 1984) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in a single season in NFL history. The Packers’ quarterback also led the NFL with a 121.5 passer rating, the second-highest single-season mark by a quarterback in NFL history, trailing only his 122.5 rating in 2011.
- Rodgers enters Sunday’s game having thrown a touchdown pass in 15 consecutive postseason games, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (20 games from 1995-2009), TOM BRADY (18 from 2001-11) and DREW BREES (18 from 2004-20) have longer streaks.
- Green Bay running back AARON JONES, who had 113 scrimmage yards (99 rushing, 14 receiving) and rushed for a touchdown in the Divisional win over the Rams, has five career postseason touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) in three career playoff games and aims for his fourth straight postseason game with a touchdown.
- Packers wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS had nine receptions for 66 yards and touchdown in Green Bay’s Divisional playoff win. Adams led the NFL this season with 18 touchdown receptions, tied for the third-most touchdowns by a wide receiver in a single-season in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers RANDY MOSS (23 touchdowns in 2007) and JERRY RICE (23 touchdowns in 1987) had more.
- The Packers had seven players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS, cornerback JAIRE ALEXANDER, tackle DAVID BAKHTIARI, guard ELGTON JENKINS, running back AARON JONES, quarterback AARON RODGERS and linebacker ZA’DARIUS SMITH.
BUFFALO BILLS (15-3) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (15-2) (Sunday, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes, 6:40 PM ET)
- The Bills and Chiefs meet in the postseason for the fourth time, and first time in Kansas City, with Buffalo winning two of the three previous matchups. Buffalo last appeared in the AFC Championship in the 1993 season, when the Bills defeated Kansas City, 30-13, to earn a berth in Super Bowl XXVIII. Two years earlier, Buffalo beat the Chiefs, 37-14, in the 1991 AFC Divisional round, en route to Super Bowl XXVI. Kansas City won the first postseason matchup in the series, 31-7, in the 1966 American Football League title game to earn a berth in the first AFL-NFL World Championship (later renamed the Super Bowl).
- Sunday marks the 50th all-time meeting, including the postseason, between the clubs. Buffalo holds a 26-22-1 advantage in the series. The teams last played in Week 6 (Oct. 19), with the Chiefs winning, 26-17, at Bills Stadium.
- The Bills will play in the franchise’s ninth AFL/AFC Championship Game. Buffalo is 6-2 in those games, having won four straight (1990-93).
- SEAN MCDERMOTT, who has led the Bills to the playoffs in three of his four seasons as head coach, worked 12 years (1999-2010) with ANDY REID on the Eagles’ staff. In total, McDermott has coached in five conference Championships and two Super Bowls. He will be making his first Championship Game appearance as a head coach.
- Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for an 86.1 rating in Buffalo’s 17-3 Divisional playoff win over Baltimore. One week earlier, in the Bills’ Wild Card victory over the Colts, Allen became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards with a completion percentage of 70 or higher and rush for 50-or-more yards in a postseason game.
- Allen during the regular season had 4,544 passing yards with 37 touchdown passes and eight rushing touchdowns, becoming the first player with at least 4,500 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.
- Buffalo wide receiver STEFON DIGGS had eight receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown in the Bills’ Divisional playoff win. Diggs has at least six catches in 15 consecutive games, including the postseason, tied with WES WELKER, ANTONIO BROWN and Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON for the longest such streak in NFL history.
- Bills cornerback TARON JOHNSON in the Divisional playoff victory returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown, tied with Green Bay’s GEORGE TEAGUE (1993) for the longest interception return in NFL postseason history.
- The Bills had five players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Quarterback JOSH ALLEN, wide receiver STEFON DIGGS, linebacker TREMAINE EDMUNDS, kick-returner/punt-returner ANDRE ROBERTS and cornerback TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE.
- Kansas City will play in the team’s seventh AFL/AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs are the first team to host three consecutive Championship Games since the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles.
- ANDY REID, who also served as head coach of those Eagles teams, makes his eighth conference Championship appearance as a head coach, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famers CHUCK NOLL (seven) and DON SHULA (seven) for the third-most by a head coach since 1970. Only BILL BELICHICK (13) and Pro Football Hall of Famer TOM LANDRY (10) have more.
- In the Divisional victory over the Browns, Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES completed 21 of 30 attempts for 255 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 106.9 rating, and rushed for a touchdown. Mahomes has recorded at least one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown in three consecutive postseason games, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (three straight games) for the longest such streak in NFL history.
- Mahomes ranks as the NFL’s career leader among qualified players in both regular-season passer rating (108.7) and postseason passer rating (106.6), with a minimum of 150 attempts.
- With a start on Sunday, Mahomes can become the 12th quarterback since the league merger in 1970 to start three consecutive conference Championship Games and the first to accomplish the feat prior to his 26th birthday.
- Last week, wide receiver TYREEK HILL had eight receptions for 110 yards and tight end TRAVIS KELCE had eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. The only other time in franchise history that two players reached 100 receiving yards in a postseason game was Dec. 25, 1971, when ED PODOLAK and ELMO WRIGHT did it in a Divisional playoff loss against Miami.
- Hill ranked second in the NFL this season with 15 receiving touchdowns.
- Kelce finished second among all players with 1,416 receiving yards this season, the most single-season receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. Kelce, who had 103 receptions in 2018, also had 105 receptions this season to become the first tight end in NFL history with at least 100 receptions in multiple seasons.
- The Chiefs tied for the league lead with seven players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Defensive end FRANK CLARK, tackle ERIC FISHER, wide receiver TYREEK HILL, defensive tackle CHRIS JONES, tight end TRAVIS KELCE, quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES and safety TYRANN MATHIEU.
GAME PREVIEWS COURTESY NFLmedia.com