Two rounds of incredible NFL playoff action have whittled what was a 14-team postseason field down to the final four.
This quartet of clubs will now fight for the right to take home the Super Bowl LV trophy.
In the NFC, only the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and top-seeded Green Bay Packers remain; in the AFC, it's down to the second-seeded Buffalo Bills and top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
The quarterback collection in this field is a who's who of MVP winners and candidates of past, present and future. There's an asterisk on that distinction, though, given the uncertainty surrounding Kansas City signal-caller Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 MVP who was knocked out of the Chiefs' divisional-round win over the Cleveland Browns and into the concussion protocol.
The status of the 25-year-old is the biggest unknown heading into the conference championships on Sunday, but it's just one of myriad intriguing plotlines for the two high-level collisions on the docket.
We'll break down each matchup below to determine which two teams will be left standing once the dust settles ahead of the 2021 title game.
Remaining NFL Playoff Schedule
NFC Championship: (5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (1) Green Bay Packers
Date: Sunday, January 24
Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
AFC Championship: (2) Buffalo Bills at (1) Kansas City Chiefs
Date: Sunday, January 24
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET
Super Bowl LV: AFC champion vs. NFC champion
Date: Sunday, February 7
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Place: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
Conference Championship Preview and Predictions
When 43-year-old Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa this offseason, it was fair to wonder just how much of an impact the veteran signal-caller would be able to make.
The Bucs were more than a decade removed from their last playoff trip and nearly two decades clear of their most recent postseason victory. Brady, meanwhile, was quite possibly losing his tussle with Father Time. In 2019, he had a 60.8 completion percentage and just 24 touchdown passes. The last time his numbers landed any lower in both categories over a full season was in 2003.
But the Packers might have been the first team to see that something special might be brewing with the Bucs. After all, they were on the wrong end of Tampa's major message-sender, a 38-10 steamrolling of the Packers—then undefeated and coming out of their bye week—in Week 6.
While Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said that result "really doesn't matter" for this matchup, he did address the unique challenge posed by the Buccaneers' disruptive defense.
"Certainly that is a damn good defense," he said. "They've got star-studded players across the board. They play a really fast, aggressive type scheme. They can bring multiple different pressures."
Aaron Rodgers was uncharacteristically wobbly in that contest. He completed just 45.7 percent of his passes—by far his lowest rate of the campaign—was sacked twice and threw two of his five interceptions on the season. The Bucs shouldn't bank on a repeat by any stretch, but they did just rattle the typically unflappable Drew Brees to get here (19-of-34 for 134 yards with one touchdown against three interceptions).
The quarterback collision between Brady and Rodgers should be one for the ages, but this game could be decided by the ground games and the defenses. If the Bucs can avoid allowing too many chunk plays, their defense can wreak enough havoc to get this done.
Our crystal ball sees a motivated Brady—out to prove he can win big without Bill Belichick—helping the Buccaneers become the first NFL team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Packers 24
Not to go all Jerry Seinfeld on everyone, but what's the deal with Mahomes? Is there really a chance he may not go on Sunday?
That's impossible to know from the outside, but Kansas City's injury participation report from practice could offer some clues. The Texas Tech product has a five-step process to return to the field, and since Step 3 of the protocol involves a limited amount of football-specific exercise, anything saying he's a limited participant in practice could be big for his chances of giving it a go.
Not to take anything away from Chad Henne, who may never have to buy a drink again in Kansas City after his heroics on Sunday, but it's not a stretch to say Mahomes' status will make or break this game. The Buffalo Bills, led by MVP candidate quarterback Josh Allen, are simply too talented to take down with a backup quarterback.
"If [Mahomes] plays, the Chiefs would be a threat to score on every play," ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote. "If not? It's tough to make a straight-faced argument."
Since our glass is always three-quarters full, we're hoping for a healthy Mahomes and all the fireworks that would emerge from his head-to-head matchup with Allen. ESPN's Total QBR put Mahomes second in the NFL and first in the AFC at 82.9; Allen was one slot behind at 81.6.
Buffalo did Allen a lot of favors by getting him Stefon Diggs this offseason, as the pair have linked up 14 times for 234 yards and two scores this postseason. But is that enough to match wits with Mahomes and his plethora of playmakers, led by Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce?
Color us skeptical—again, assuming that Mahomes plays.
If Kansas City has its quarterback, then it should have its ticket to return to the championship round.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Bills 26