NFL Power Rankings: Will Rodgers and Mahomes Duel for a Super Bowl?
Updated: Jan 24
Yet another great weekend of football in the NFL playoffs led us into our Conference Championship NFL Power Rankings. We had four divisional games and every one of them was entertaining.
By Mark Ross
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On Saturday we had the league’s best offense up against the league’s best defense at Lambeau Field which was followed by arguably the second-best offense in football against one of the best rushing teams in the NFL at Orchard Park.
Green Bay with their high-powered offense hosted the Los Angeles Rams and ran out 32-18 winners. It was a great performance from Aaron Rodgers as he dismantled a Rams defense that missed Aaron Donald being at his best. Buffalo and Baltimore then squared off in a defensive battle that had a grand total of six points in the first half. Buffalo would go on to win 17-3 and advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1993.
Then, on Sunday night we had the reigning champions the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Cleveland Browns. Kansas started in typical fashion by scoring touchdowns on their opening two drives. During the third quarter, however, the game was turned on its head. A seemingly innocent tackle left Patrick Mahomes dazed and unsteady on his feet before forcing him out of the game with a concussion. In came Chad Henne and other than a terrible interception he was exceptional as he led his Chiefs to their third straight AFC Championship game.
To finish the divisional weekend, we had the battle of the old men. The 43-year-old Tom Brady facing off against the 42-year-old Drew Brees in what could be the last time ever. Brady would come out on top in this one as he led his Buccaneers to a 30-20 victory.
Now that we know what happened, let’s take a look at how the four teams remaining rank in our Conference Championship Power Rankings.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The addition of Tom Brady has paid off big style for the Buccaneers. On Sunday night he didn’t play his best game of football, but he led his team to the Conference Championship Game and just one game away from a Super Bowl in their home stadium. In the game that pitted old man versus old man only one looked like they didn’t belong anymore. Drew Brees is a legend of the game and will be in the hall of fame before too long but his performance on Sunday night will leave a sour taste in his mouth. The inability to get the ball down the field was on show as the Buccaneers played the perfect defense against him.
Todd Bowles dialed up the perfect game plan and his players duly executed. Stuffing the run and bullying the wide receivers of the line took away the quick passes that Brees has come accustomed to. This strong defense forced four turnovers including three interceptions of the Saints QB. Drew Brees did not attempt a pass of over 20 yards and on the one long play of the night for the Saints it was the backup quarterback, Jameis Winston, who threw a 56-yard touchdown. You hardly ever go out on top and unfortunately the same can be said for Drew Brees.
Tom Brady and Tampa Bay continue on to the Conference Championship Game and they are the only team not seeded one or two that have made it this far. Brady drew on all the playmakers in this one as he spread the ball around like he has done all season. Leonard Fournette led the team in receptions as he stepped his game up for the postseason (as he always seems to do).
With this high-flying offense and young talented defense, the Buccaneers should fear no one and will go into Lambeau with all the confidence in the world having already beaten Green Bay once this year.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Everything was going swimmingly for the Chiefs until the third quarter, but more on that later. Kansas headed into this game with the opportunity to be the first AFC team to host three straight AFC Championships. After having the bye week and resting their players the week before as well, the Chiefs showed no signs of rust at all. After opening up with a ten-play drive that culminated with a Patrick Mahomes rushing touchdown the Chiefs would then hold the Cleveland Browns to a field goal. On the very next drive, the Chiefs marched down the field and Travis Kelce found the end zone on a 20-yard reception.
Kansas cemented their lead in the second quarter with two field goals but the important play in the quarter came from the Browns. After moving down the field in five plays, Baker Mayfield found Rashard Higgins on a 25-yard pass. Then the drama begins. Higgins stretches out for the touchdown and as he is a matter of inches short Daniel Sorensen comes from nowhere with a huge hit and forces a fumble out of the end-zone. Kansas then marched and turned that turnover into three points to give them a 19-3 lead at the half.
Now the pivotal moment of the game. A third and one for Kansas on their own 48 and the Chiefs drew up a QB keeper play. Mahomes ran to the right edge and was tackled by Mack Wilson. A seemingly innocent tackle turned out to be a lot more. Mahomes then tried to get up and appeared to be punch drunk.
After being helped off the pitch he briefly went into the blue medical tent before disappearing down the tunnel never to be seen again, well for this game anyway. Cleveland now had a huge chance in this one. In came Chad Henne and the Chiefs managed to get into field goal range and stretch their lead to 22-10.
Cleveland then went on an 18-play drive of their own that culminated with a three-yard rushing touchdown for Kareem Hunt. Suddenly Kansas was beginning to worry. On the next drive, Chad Henne threw possibly the worst interception I have ever seen and sparked life into the Browns yet again. Kansas forced a quick punt and then it was Henne time to run the clock down. Kansas found themselves with a third and fourteen and no Mahomes to do something magic. Up stepped Chad Henne who ran for thirteen and a half yards and almost iced the game there and then. Up comes a fourth and one and surely the Chiefs will just punt the ball away and keep the clock running. Nope, Andy Reid dials up a play and sends Henne out in the shotgun where he finds Tyreek Hill for a completed pass and a game-winning first down.
Kansas goes onto the AFC Championship game but the reason they are in third is purely down to the health of Patrick Mahomes. If he can’t suit up, then Kansas will struggle to keep up with the high-flying Buffalo Bills.
2. Buffalo Bills
The year was 1993 and it was the last time that the Buffalo Bills made it to an AFC Championship Game. All that is now about to change as the Bills played an excellent game against the Baltimore Ravens and marched on to the next round.
Two first round draft picks from 2018 battled it out but only one would survive the full game. It wasn’t the high flying, deep ball offense from Josh Allen that we were used to, but it was still entertaining. Allen finished with 206 passing yards and one score as he continued to hook up with star receiver Stefon Diggs (106 yards and a score).
In a game that was touted as being a high-scoring affair, it was the defenses that ran the game. The first half ended with just three points for each team, three punts each, and we were even treated to not one but two missed Justin Tucker field goals. When Tucker is missing field goals you know that the game is not going your way.
The second half started in the best possible way for the Bills as they took a grip of this game. Buffalo marched 66 yards in eleven plays as Diggs brought in a touchdown pass. Then on the very next drive, Buffalo had to watch as Baltimore went 15 plays to set up a third and goal at the Buffalo nine. Lamar Jackson was about to tie the game heading to the fourth. As he snaps the ball the Bills defense drops into coverage and Taron Johnson comes up with the big interception that he returned for a pick-six.
A score that ended the game as on their next drive the Ravens lost Jackson to an injury and had to use the rookie back-up, Tyler Huntley. Huntley could not do anything as the Bills defense saw out the victory. Buffalo’s hot streak continues as they have now won eight straight heading into the Championship game. A trip to Arrowhead and the way this Bills team is playing they will be relishing their chances against a Chiefs team that may or may not have their star quarterback on the field.
1. Green Bay Packers
So great offense beats great defense. Who would have thought it? Is the old phrase not “defense wins championships?” Green Bay has wrecked the adage as they continue to tear apart defenses.
Los Angeles came into Wisconsin as the number one ranked defense and with high hopes of causing an upset. The Rams had stuffed the run all year and used Jalen Ramsey and their excellent secondary to force teams into a dink-and-dunk offense to beat them. This worked against most teams, but most teams don’t have Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Rodgers was happy to take what the Rams gave him as he dismantled this strong defense.
An early touchdown to Davante Adams, who got the better of Jalen Ramsey, set the Packers up well and allowed the run game to take hold. With Aaron Donald playing at far less than 50% the Rams could get no pressure and allowed the three-headed monster of the Packer’s run game to rack up the yards. Aaron Jones, A.J Dillon, and Jamaal Williams ran for a combined 191 yards as the Rams could do nothing to stop it. This then allowed Rodgers to uncork the deep ball and burn the Rams secondary. A delightful 58-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard sealed the game as the Rams could do nothing to stop the excellence of Matt LeFleur and Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bays’ dominance continues, and they find themselves in their second straight NFC Championship game after their second straight 13-3 season. Nobody is playing better than Aaron Rodgers right now, and he will fancy his chances against any defense. The next step is to get his first Super Bowl since 2011 and he will be hoping for the same result.