NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Buccaneers (13-5) at Packers (14-3), 3:05 p.m. (FOX)

Spread: Packers by 3

Outlook: Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback matchup so seismic it almost relegates “Bucs at Packers” to the undercard. They meet for only the fourth time – Brady leads 2-1, including a 38-10 Bucs rout Oct. 18 in Tampa – and first time in the playoffs. Tampa Bay, last this deep in the playoffs in 2002, would play Cinderella here if not for Brady. Rodgers, meanwhile, is after his long-elusive second Super Bowl. Tampa Bay key: Protect Brady, whose efficiency plummets when pressured. Green Bay key: Get Aaron Jones and the running game going, because nobody is deadlier than Rodgers when his play-action is working. This is Rodgers’ fifth NFC title game but first at home, and he has better talent around him than Brady. Rodgers’ favorite target, Davante Adams, figures to dominate Bucs CB Carlton Davis, but the O-line needs to protect Rodgers better than it did in October. Rodgers got the best of an elite Rams defense last week. He will do the same against a lesser D in outdueling Brady.

Prediction: Packers, 31-24

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Bills (15-3) at Chiefs (15-2), 6:40 p.m. (CBS)

Spread: Chiefs by 3

Outlook: Yes, Patrick Mahomes will play. Yes, I’m picking a Bills upset anyway. Either way, Josh Allen and that Bills offense can hang in the shootout I expect, and their defense is improved. Bills key: Offensive balance, maybe? Because KC’s weakness is run defense. Chiefs key: Well, duh. Mahomes playing! Also iffy were RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Sammy Watkins and CB Brashaud Breeland. Buffalo being healthier was one reason I smelled an upset. This is KC’s third consecutive year hosting the AFC finale, but this team isn’t nearly as dominant as the one that won the Super Bowl last year. Eight straight KC wins have been by a single score. Buffalo, this close to a Super Bowl for first time since 1993, seems on a mission to deliver for its long-suffering fans. The Chiefs handled the Bills 26-17 on Oct. 19, but Buffalo Coach Sean McDermott is an Andy Reid protege who knows him too well to not adapt from that earlier meeting. With Mahomes likely not 100 percent, give us Allen and the road dogs.

Prediction: Bills, 33-30

Last week: 2-2, overall; 1-3 vs. spread

Playoffs: 7-3, 5-5, .500

Final 2020: 166-89-1, .651 overall; 130-120-6, .520 vs. spread.


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