5 Championship ColdHardFootballFacts from the NFL Divisional Playoffs: Brady Wins Again, But Rodgers is Weekend's Standout

Cameron Smith


The season of Aaron Rodgers rolls on, with the Packers cruising past a tough Rams team, shredding the L.A. defense and setting up a mouth-watering NFC Championship Game. Of course, that was just part of the story from a weekend rich with story lines, all of which set the stage for a pretty riveting Championship Sunday ahead.

5) Brady wasn't great, but he was more than good enough: No, this wasn't a vintage, 2007 Tom Brady performance. It was a 2018-level Brady game, with the legendary quarterback providing just enough downfield threat to open up the rushing lanes for the likes of Ronald Jones Jr. and Leonard Fournette. The two running backs combined for 125 yards while Brady passed for fewer than 200 yards ... but also a pair of red zone touchdowns. Brady's longest pass covered just 29 yards, a far cry from the 56-yard best Tre'Quan Smith pulled in for the Saints, though still better than Drew Brees' longest downfield pass (Smith's reception came from a pass by Jameis Winston, not Brees).

In the end, it was the Saints that directly facilitated Brady's success by perpetually giving he and Bucs the ball in plus territory following a whipping four turnovers. Three of those came from Brees hand, which would make for a ridiculously unfortunate final chapter if this is where the road ends for Brees. The true heroes of Sunday's game were all along the Bucs defense, and they'll need to be again in Lambeau if the team harbors hopes of upsetting the Packers. Given Aaron Rodgers' hoodoo against Tom Brady-led teams, we wouldn't put it beyond them.

4) So much for the youth revolution. At its outset, the 2020 playoffs appeared to shape up as a potential changing of the quarterback guard. While the league's four elder quarterback statesmen all qualified with their respective teams, there seemed to be ample opportunity for the youngsters to make their mark. Now, with just four teams remaining, one of the Super Bowl contestants will feature a passer who is 37 years or older, and a third was bailed out Sunday by a 35-year-old backup.

It's not that the younger passers didn't show up in the NFC, it's simply that they couldn't keep up with the quality and experience on offer from the likes of Brady, Brees and Rodgers. It all makes for a feeling of deja vu in the conference championship games, with Rodgers and Brady again competing for a Super Bowl berth, albeit against each other for the first time.

3) Bills make their statement. Yes, Buffalo won in the Wild Card round, and Buffalo's win against Indianapolis was impressive for its persistence. Still, the authoritative victory Buffalo put together in the second half Saturday was the team's true statement of intent. Buffalo showed it was an offensive force ready that could find its way to success even when facing a defense almost perfectly suited to slow it down. The Bills and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll almost completely abandoned the run, found unique ways to free up one-man wrecking crew Stephon Diggs, and, eventually, took control of the game.

On defense, Buffalo constantly harassed Lamar Jackson, eventually forcing him into an interception that was returned for a touchdown and then knocking him from the game with an apparent concussion. None of this is to say that the Bills are expecting to show up in Kansas City and steamroll the Chiefs next Sunday. Still, what it has proved is that the Bills are very capable of beating anyone, and doing it their own way. That should have the likes of the Chiefs very frightened.

2) Rodgers continues to weave a fine tapestry amid COVID-19. The poor Rams never had a shot. Aaron Rodgers passed for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Packers controlled the tempo throughout, and Green Bay's defense lit a fire under poor Jared Goff and company.

There's little question in determining whether the Rams ever had a shot, if they were simply caught in a deer in the headlights situation, and whether they really owe it to their fans to consider options beyond Goff — who finished a very respectable 21-of-27 through the air in Green Bay. That's good, but the MVP was better, and raised the possibility whether this is finally the year he makes it back to the Super Bowl ... at the direct expense of Tom Brady.

1) All eyes on Mahomes. As Patrick Mahomes II goes, so go the Chiefs. For once, that's actually a concern.

Mahomes left Sunday's 22-17 win against the Browns following a hit that appeared to push his helmeted-head toward the turf. He left with a 22-10 lead, handing the ball over to Chad Henne and faith. Both came through just enough for a win, though Henne's performance — 6-of-8 with an interception — raise questions about whether the Chiefs can succeed without the most irreplaceable man in football.

The good news for Kansas City? Mahomes was in a boisterous mood on social media after the win, calling out his backup with a hashtag pun only a mother could love. He seemed to indicate he'll be back Sunday against Buffalo, though that's probably entirely out of his control. For the sake of what could be a truly fantastic AFC Championship Game, everyone should hope Mahomes will show up healthy. If not, this could finally be the Bills' charmed season, though Andy Reid and Henne might just have something to say about that, too.