B/R NFL Staff's Biggest Winners and Losers from AFC/NFC Championship Round
Super Bowl LV is set with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ready to host the Kansas City Chiefs on February 7. How the teams reached the finale during their respective conference championship games was quite different, though.
The Buccaneers leaned on a defense that needed to get multiple second-half stops after quarterback Tom Brady tried to give the game away, whereas the Chiefs offense continued to roll through the Buffalo Bills.
Conversely, the Bills and Green Bay Packers left their contests with plenty of questions despite outstanding performances throughout the regular season and into the early portions of the postseason.
What does Aaron Rodgers' future hold? Was Josh Allen's regular-season production a mirage? These two conundrums are merely the starting point of what turned into a far more newsworthy slate than Championship Sunday usually is.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport—covered the contests and named the winners and losers of the two games.
In the end, everyone should be excited for a matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady on the game's biggest stage.
Winner: Andy Reid Continues to Build Hall of Fame Resume
Andy Reid was long considered a head coach who was successful in the regular season but couldn't get it done in the playoffs. Now, Reid has punched a ticket to his third Super Bowl and has a chance to capture a second ring in that role.
Only eight head coaches will have participated in more Super Bowls than Reid, whose offense overcame multiple significant losses to make it back to this game despite having a target on its back throughout the 2020 campaign.
At this juncture, only the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, Dallas Cowboys' Tom Landry and Miami Dolphins' Don Shula have more playoff wins than Reid, who is the sixth-winningest head coach in NFL history.
Another Lombardi Trophy would be a cherry on top, and Reid might have locked up his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with that win over the Buffalo Bills.
Loser: Buffalo Bills' Tre'Davious White Fails to Live Up to Lofty Expectations
Facing the Chiefs is never an easy task for a cornerback, but Tre'Davious White is the third-highest-paid defensive back in the NFL, according to Spotrac.
The Buffalo Bills simply needed more from their star cornerback this postseason, especially against Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Co. on Sunday. Hill and Kelce both set franchise playoff records Sunday with 172 receiving yards and 13 receptions, respectively.
Against the quarterback Buffalo could have selected instead of trading down and taking him late in the first round of the 2017 draft, White was beaten frequently Sunday evening while failing to make an impact play for the third consecutive week this month.
The 26-year-old is one of the best corners in the sport, but he wasn't close to as good this year as he was in 2019 and now there will be concerns about his difference-making ability entering 2021. That puts extra pressure on White in what will be a critical $14.1 million campaign.
Winner: Shaquil Barrett Racks Up Sacks on His Way to Super Bowl, Free Agency
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks during the 2019 campaign, yet he somehow gets lost when discussing the league's best defenders. That won't happen any longer after a dominant performance in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.
Against the Packers' reworked front with Billy Turner at left tackle and Rick Wagner on the right side, Barrett pressured quarterback Aaron Rodgers seven times with two sacks, per ESPN Stats & Info (via ESPN's Rob Demovsky).
"We had a great feeling about both those guys beating the tackles," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told reporters when asked about the performances of Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
The performance could very well carry into Super Bowl LV since the Kansas City Chiefs may be in the same predicament as the Packers. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said Eric Fisher's Achilles injury "doesn't look too good" after their meeting with the Buffalo Bills. With Fisher out of the lineup, right tackle Mike Remmers moved to Patrick Mahomes' blindside, guard Andrew Wylie bumped out to tackle, and Stefen Wisniewski entered the lineup.
A similar performance by Barrett, who played this season under the franchise tag, in the Super Bowl could very well make the 28-year-old one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league with free agency looming.
Loser: Kevin King's Time in Green Bay Likely Ends with Horrific Performance
Welcome to Kevin King's terrible, horrible, very bad day.
With Jaire Alexander on one side of the field, Green Bay Packers opponents will pick on whomever the other staring cornerback is. In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' case, they initially went after Green Back's nickel corner, Chandon Sullivan, before concentrating on King.
King's horrid afternoon can be summed up with four plays.
First, he mistimed and misplayed what turned into the Buccaneers' initial scoring play to wide receiver Mike Evans. Second, the cornerback attempted to tackle Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette, only to have the ball-carrier fall on top of him and cross the goal line.
Third, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine left King one-on-one with wide receiver Scotty Miller despite only six seconds remaining in the first half. Miller easily beat the coverage and gave Tampa Bay an unforgivable 21-10 halftime lead. Finally, a King pass interference penalty gave the Buccaneers a first down with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter and sealed Green Bay's fate.
An individual can't play any worse in big moments.
Adding to the disheartening performance, King is a free agent after this season. The defensive back likely cost himself a lot of money, and he'll almost certainly sign with some other squad.
Winner: Tom Brady's Greatness Never Seems to End
Unless you're a fan of the New England Patriots (or now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), you're likely well and truly sick and tired of hearing about how wiz-bang awesome Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is. There is no shortage of pundits who are tired of talking about it.
But here we are again with Tom Brady heading to a ridiculous 10th Super Bowl after leading the Buccaneers to the first "home" Super Bowl in NFL history.
Was Brady flawless in Tampa's 31-26 victory? Nope. He threw three interceptions in the second half. But the Golden Boy also passed for 280 yards and three scores, lighting up Green Bay's defense down the field on multiple occasions.
Brady has now played in twice as many conference title games as any other player in league history. He has three more wins in that game than any other signal-caller has appearances. At 43 years of age. he took a Buccaneers team that entered the 2020 season with the longest postseason drought in the NFC all the way to a berth in Super Bowl LV.
And now the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever known has an opportunity to do even more things no one else at the position has ever done: win a seventh Super Bowl and collect rings on both the AFC and NFC sides of the bracket.
Loser: Aaron Rodgers' Legacy Tarnished After Another NFC Championship Game Loss
Let's make one thing abundantly clear right off the bat: It's not Aaron Rodgers' fault that the Green Bay Packers lost 31-26 in the NFC Championship Game.
It's not his fault Kevin King couldn't cover a bed with a sheet. It's not his fault a Packers O-Line that looked absolutely dominant last week against the Los Angeles Rams allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits. It's not his fault the Packers managed just 67 yards on the ground against the league's best run defense.
Statistically speaking, Rodgers outplayed Tom Brady by a fair margin with 346 passing yards, three scores, one interception and a 101.6 passer rating. He set a career high with 48 touchdown passes in 2020 and will probably be named the NFL's MVP the day before Super Bowl LV.
But only one number mattered Sunday: the final score. There was only one goal for Rodgers this season: getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade. And once again, he came up short.
As the offseason descends in Titletown, the memory of Rodgers' regular-season success will fade. The likely MVP award will lose some of its luster. What won't fade for a good long while is the fact he has played in five NFC title tilts and lost the last four.
Is it fair? No. But it's the reality of the NFL. While the Packers were peeling off a 13-win season (again), Rodgers got quite a bit of the credit.
Now that that 13-win season ended in defeat one game short of the Super Bowl (again), guess who gets to shoulder the blame.