Tampa Bay candidate for the double but diminished
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defending champions, have Tom Brady with them. For that alone, they are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl again. And there is also Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s faithful companion. In the play-offs, the two friends get along like thieves in the fair. Together, they combined 14 touchdowns there. But Tampa Bay approaches the play-offs with several injured players. Receiver Chris Godwin’s season is over (knee injury). On Saturday, runner Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and linebacker Lavonte David (foot) were still on the unavailable list. Not to mention that Antonio Brown was fired. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are finally human and will play Sunday (7 p.m. French time) against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Green Bay and Kansas City hold their own
The Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs emerge as the strongest teams in their respective conferences. N°1 of the NFC, Green Bay will enter the scene in the second round of the play-offs. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has delivered another magnificent season and his agreement with receiver Davante Adams has been perfect. Green Bay’s main opponent may be himself. It’s been 12 years since the Packers played in the Super Bowl and the home field advantage they will have throughout the play-offs no longer works in their favor (50% home wins only for 20 year).
Champions two years ago, finalists last year, the Kansas City Chiefs have all the assets to return to the final. After a difficult start to the season, they have won nine of their last 10 matches. The attack, led by Patrick Mahomes, is still excellent, but above all the defense shone in the second half of the season and is a big part of the Chiefs’ comeback. After all, not everything is perfect either. Kansas City conceded a lot of ball losses (Mahomes was thus intercepted 13 times, his worst total since entering the NFL). The defense faltered late in the regular season, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Mahomes’ two favorite targets, were hit. On Sunday, the Chiefs will host Pittsburgh.
Opponents last year, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will they meet at the Super Bowl? (J. Lang/USA Today Sports/Sports Press)
Dallas, Los Angeles et Arizona outsiders
The Dallas Cowboys have had their best regular season in six years and have very good individuals in attack (Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper). A few downsides, however. Prescott was especially effective in the first part of the season and Elliott was far from his best level. The Cowboys also have an excellent defense, number 1 in turnovers, with young linebacker Micah Parsons (22), revelation of the season, and cornerback Trevon Diggs. On Sunday (10:30 p.m.), Dallas will host San Francisco.
The Los Angeles Rams will enter the play-offs with a formidable duo in the aerial game: quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp, No. 1 of the season. Many players who participated in the Super Bowl three years ago are still there, and the team is full of talent (O. Beckham, A. Donald, V. Miller, J. Ramsey…). But beware: Stafford slumped in the second half of the season and he never experienced success in the play-offs (no victory). Los Angeles hosts Arizona on Monday.
The Arizona Cardinals had started the season with a bang, winning their first seven matches. The rest was much more laborious, and the Phoenix franchise will not play any home game during the play-offs. Yet this is where the luck of Kyler Murray and his partners lies. The Cardinals have indeed won eight times in nine trips this season.
Will Matthew Stafford finally win in the play-offs? (J. Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports/Reuters)
Who will be in the AFC conference final?
If Kansas City seems to have a small head start in the AFC conference, many other teams have arguments to make. Starting with the Tennessee Titans, n°1 in the conference and therefore automatically qualified for the second round of the play-offs. The Nashville franchise has also succeeded in this performance, by doing without, in the second half of the season, its runner Derrick Henry, who injured his foot. The Titans present a homogeneous team and have a good defense. But their scoring average has dropped since Henry’s absence and, in the second half of the Championship, Tennessee did not face any of the NFL’s big cars. Still, Henry is hoped for the play-offs, which could give more strength to the Titans.
The Cincinnati Bengals will approach the play-offs with a young and spectacular attack. After a first pro season marred by injury, quarterback Joe Burrow confirmed all the good we thought of him. And he was very well surrounded by runner Joe Mixon and receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. But Burrow has to contend with an average offensive line, and the defense isn’t up to par either. The Bengals also have a big challenge ahead in the play-offs. It has been 32 years since they last won a match in the finals. They will host the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday (10:30 p.m.).
After a very good 2020 season (conference final), the Buffalo Bills have alternated hot and cold this year. If they managed to beat Kansas City at the start of the Championship, they mostly defeated relatively weak teams or who used a substitute quarterback. QB Josh Allen, after a good start, conceded a lot of interceptions in the second half of the season. But he still threw almost as many yards and touchdowns as he did in 2020, the year he was All-Star. Allen also proved to be comfortable as a runner. And his tandem with receiver Stefon Diggs continues to work. Buffalo especially has the best defense of the season (No. 1 in the number of yards conceded and points against). But she will have to do without cornerback Tre’Davious White, injured in a knee. On Saturday, Buffalo will host New England.
After shining in the regular season, Tennessee is ambitious in the play-offs. (S.Roberts/USA Today Sports/Reuters)
A new achievement for Belichick and the Patriots?
Two years after the departure of Tom Brady, the New England Patriots have healed their wounds. They found their way back to the play-offs, with a rookie quarterback (Mac Jones) and good defenders (Matthew Judon and JC Jackson). A priori, it seems a bit fair to hope to go far in the final phase. But Bill Belichick, the coach with six Super Bowl victories, is still in charge of the team. Will he find a magic formula to make the Patriots shine again? After all, New England beat Tennessee and Buffalo during the regular season. And, 20 years ago, with an unknown young quarterback, Belichick took his team to the Super Bowl. The quarterback was Tom Brady, and the Patriots had been crowned champions.