From left: Staff Writer Karl Winter, Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Assistant News Editor Kyle McCabe, Photo Editor Ali Levens, Assistant Sports Editor Justin Touhey and Staff Writer Austin Hall. This group of six made its picks for the NFL conference championship games, which feature two historically great quarterbacks and two young gunslingers. Art by Madeline Duvall
The past week in the NFL world was a changing of the guard.
With the Lions hiring former Saints assistant Dan Campbell on Inauguration Day, five of the seven NFL head coaching vacancies are now filled. Only the Eagles’ and Texans’ jobs remain.
The Cleveland Browns, despite narrowly falling to the defending champion Chiefs, turned around two decades of ineptitude this season. The Buffalo Bills, in beating the Ravens and reaching their first AFC Championship game since 1993, did the same.
Philip Rivers, a 17-year league veteran, announced his retirement. Drew Brees, who had a dismal performance in a Divisional round loss to Tampa Bay, is expected to do the same this offseason.
This leads us to conference championship games featuring historic quarterback matchups. The NFC game showcases the old guard of likely MVP Aaron Rodgers against 43-year-old legend Tom Brady, while the AFC edition includes young and flashy MVP candidates Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
Our staff each has plenty of opinions regarding these four, and everyone is excited for Sunday’s games to determine the Super Bowl LV participants.
The PGM Sports desk members promised each other to pick truthfully without tactically attempting to move up the standings. With these picks, Assistant Sports Editor Justin Touhey clinched a third-place finish in the standings, but other spots have yet to be decided.
Without further ado, allow staff writers Karl Winter and Austin Hall, Touhey, Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Photo Editor Ali Levens and Assistant News Editor Kyle McCabe to make their selections, starting with yet another chilly battle at Lambeau Field.
NFC No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13–5) at No. 1 Green Bay Packers (14–3) (Sunday, Jan. 24 at 12:05 p.m., PST)
“I’m taking the Bucs and Tom Brady. They had a wider spread to lose to the Saints last week, and guess what? They won by 10. I know the Saints made some mistakes, but last week, without me knowing, was the last time I was ever gonna say, ‘Cheese,’ and pick the Packers. The Bucs are together. They’re playing very well together. [The Packers] do have home advantage, but Tom Brady came from the northeast. He knows how to play in the cold. I think this will be a really good game. I ultimately think that Tom Brady will just get on it and hopefully beat Aaron Rodgers at his own field. That’d be funny.” — Ali
“The cold weather is going to matter. I’ve been saying that about Lambeau all playoffs. I don’t think Green Bay loses in Lambeau. We’ll see how they’re looking when we get to the Super Bowl, but I just don’t think any team in football can beat Green Bay at Lambeau right now. It’ll be a better game than you would have thought at the start of the year because the Bucs truly are playing their best football right now too. Tom Brady had a quote that basically said, ‘It was Week 16 when the Bucs’ offense felt like they were clicking for the first time,’ which is a little scary, but not scary enough to make me pick against the team that’s been the most complete team in the NFC — if not the NFL — this year. They can run the football, they can throw, they play defense, they pass rush and they have a home field advantage. The Packers’ offense is designed to be able to seamlessly get the ball out quick even if you don’t have good protection. Green Bay will be unstoppable this week. Rodgers is going to want to prove a point, and they’ll get the win and deny Tampa their home Super Bowl.” — Paxton
“The Bucs’ only three touchdowns [against New Orleans] came off three turnovers. Other than that, the Saints defense played really good — five punts and three field goals. The Packers are a team that will outscore them. They have the best skill player on the field, and that goes for any of the four units that are out there. Davante Adams is the best athlete on the field. I don’t see anyone on the Bucs checking him successfully. Brady looked good enough in the Saints game and capitalized off of the turnovers, the three of them that happened in plus territory, but this is a game the Packers win. It’ll be interesting to see if this ends up being two of the No. 1 seeds. People that are thinking about this game probably feel better about the result of this one than the Buffalo game, if, of course, Patrick Mahomes plays.” — Austin
“I’m going to go with the Packers. Reasoning? I hate Tom Brady. I don’t have any beef with Aaron Rodgers. I also think they’ll win.” — Kyle
“It’s going to be pretty cold in this one, as we know. The high is, like, 28 degrees, 50% chance of snow as we speak. I don’t know that it will be that much of a factor. I’m going with the Packers as well. I hate Brady and Rodgers, but for different reasons — Rodgers because he plays against my team multiple times a year, Brady because I think he’s overrated. He did earn that win last week; he obviously outplayed Brees. But when you think about the Week 6 game where the Bucs beat [the Packers] 38–10, Rodgers threw two early interceptions — two of only five that he threw the entire season. There’s just no way that happens again, and the Packers have to play from behind. I’ll say it in Rodgers’ words: ‘I think the Week 6 game matters just about as much as when the Saints went to Tampa and beat them 38–3,’ meaning it doesn’t matter at all. The Packers are playing their best football lately. They have a great rushing game to complement their passing game. Right before the playoffs, they lost David Bakhtiari, arguably their best offensive lineman, and I thought that might mess up their offense going into the playoffs — and it didn’t at all. Their O-line still looks as good as I’ve ever seen Rodgers pass protection be. They’ll be able to give him plenty of time in the pocket, and I also think their secondary’s better than the Bucs secondary. They just annihilated the No. 1 defense in the league and made it look easy. They will do that again this week, and Aaron Rodgers will outplay Brady by a mile.” — Karl
“I’m a staunch Tom Brady supporter. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, in the fact that he is the exact opposite of ‘overrated.’ Karl has been blabbing in my ear two years about how Tom Brady’s a system quarterback. Tom Brady proved last week that he was, in fact, the system in New England, considering they went 7–9 and he’s taking a Bucs team to the NFC Championship again. Amazing what happens when you have good wide receivers. Tom Brady has about as good of a shot of beating the Packers as anyone does. He’s playing his best football; he’s experienced. Every time Tom Brady goes into a playoff game, you just feel like he’s going to pull it out. He lives rent-free in the entire NFL world’s heads for the last 20 years. But this is the bad man’s year. It is time for him to unleash and complete his revenge tour. Aaron Rodgers. I said last week that the Packers make it to the Super Bowl, and I’m sticking with it. The bad man will complete his revenge tour and march his way down to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl. The Packers will win this football game, and Rodgers is playing at an elite level. […] This is just the year of Aaron Rodgers.” — Justin
Infographic by Inez Kim
AFC No. 2 Buffalo Bills (15–3) at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (15–2) (Sunday, Jan. 24 at 3:40 p.m., PST)
“This is a tough one. The Packers, the Chiefs and the Bills are the clear top-three teams in the NFL, which is why it’s great that they’re all here. That doesn’t always happen. […] And I don’t think anything will keep [Patrick Mahomes] out of this football game, especially since he really didn’t hit his head. He got a neck stinger. It’s getting to that time of year where, as a results-oriented business, sometimes you have to pick your head over your heart. The Kansas City Chiefs are going to win this game. It comes down to the fourth quarter. The Buffalo Bills are not going anywhere. They’re going to be in this AFC Championship game in the next 10 years almost as frequently as New England has been. But when you’re talking about this year, this is a Kansas City Chiefs team that knows how to win and doesn’t get intimidated if it gets down 10, down 14, down 24 early. It’s happened to them in the playoffs already, and they’ve overcome it. They showed that they don’t even need Patrick Mahomes on the field to flawlessly execute when the game is on the line. The Bills have been vulnerable in the playoffs. For as good as they’ve been in the regular season for the past two years, they blew a fourth-quarter lead in their loss to the Texans last year, they almost blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Colts in the first round, and they were almost on their way to letting the Ravens back in the game. […] I look forward to the Bills going to Super Bowls in the future. This year, the Chiefs just know how to finish games better and they’re going to be more prepared for this moment.” — Paxton
“Hopefully this is the start of a really, really cool rivalry between two electric young quarterbacks. […] To me, the Chiefs look like Alabama, and the Bills look like Notre Dame. I’m not saying this is gonna be like a 17-point game — this is going to be very close. The Bills are well-coached. They have stars. They’re getting hot at the right time. They have a couple signature wins this year. You want to root for them, because you want to see something different. […] The Chiefs, whether Patrick Mahomes is 100% or 60%, are kind of like the Alabama to me. I still don’t feel amazing about picking the Chiefs. One of the reasons why is the Bills’ secondary is really, really good — five very good players. I can’t remember the last time a secondary really challenged and got up on the Chiefs’ receivers like I think the Bills secondary could. That’s going to be super interesting, but when I looked at both teams, and I see that the Chiefs — as good as they are — they’re still very balanced. They’re running for almost 130 yards per game. You look at the Bills, and it’s 65 —literally half. The Bills’ defense is better, but the Chiefs have gotten better from last year and kept a lot of the same players. Even though they’re not regarded as one of the best defenses in the NFL, they’ve had to stop a lot of good players to win. […] The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL until someone proves that they’re not.” — Austin
“Maybe it’s the homer in me wanting a New York team to win something for once in my life, even if I don’t root for them. It’s been a terrible, depressing 10 years of watching near-Yankees misses, terrible Giants and Jets football and I don’t care about the Nets. Should the Chiefs win this game? Absolutely. Even with a dizzy Mahomes, they should still be able to win, considering all the weapons he has. But the Bills are on fire, and they’ve got about as much momentum as you could possibly ask for heading into a championship game. They played well against their competition. […] They’re going to pass the ball. If there’s going to be a team to beat the Chiefs, It’ll be the Bills. The Bills are red hot. This is the year they’re putting the state of New York on their back. The real football team of New York will win this game and march on down to Tampa Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers.” — Justin
“As much as it pains me to do it, I am not going to pick the Chiefs this week. The Bills are just so hot right now. It’s their time. The Chiefs have definitely had all of their strengths played up. They are a very good team, but Patrick Mahomes is just going to be a little busy, and I don’t think he’s going to make it all the way. The Bills are just on fire, and there’s no denying that. I said it at the beginning of playoffs: They’re going to the Super Bowl.” — Ali
“The Bills’ hype train is concerning, since usually I’m the only person to ever pick against the Chiefs. But hey, usually, I pick against the Chiefs, and I get it wrong, so maybe you guys picking with me means I’m in a better place this time. Picking the Browns last week — I don’t think it was a bad pick. They almost won. Andy Reid doing the crazy stuff he did, throwing the ball with Chad Henne — that’s just ridiculous. Anything the Chiefs do to win a game is just ridiculous. I still believe that the Chiefs are vulnerable. I watched the Bills absolutely demolish the Broncos in one half of football earlier this year, and watching that half of football, I said, ‘This is a damn good team.’ I’m going to ride with them. They’re going to the Super Bowl. If they go to the Super Bowl and play the Packers, I don’t think they’ll win, but they’re going to go.” — Kyle
“I think Patrick Mahomes is going to play. The NFL medical team would’ve cleared JFK to return to the parade. They’re going to come up with something, and he’s going to play. These two teams also played back in Week 6 and the Chiefs won 26–17. Again, I think it’s pretty irrelevant. At that point in the year, the Bills had not really hit their stride yet on either side of the ball, and now they have. The scariest thing about this is that the Bills haven’t really hit their stride offensively in the playoffs. They’ve been hit or miss in the playoffs. I don’t think Josh Allen’s played his best football of the playoffs yet — and yet they’ve won in spite of that. They can put it all together this week. I don’t think the Chiefs really have anything to hang their heads about; it’s tough to win the Super Bowl and then come back and be as good as they were this year. Andy Reid made an all-time great coaching call last week to go for the fourth and one and ice the game. Winning when your quarterback goes out is tough. I think he’ll play, but yeah, this is the Bills’ year to at least make it to the Super Bowl and then break their fans’ hearts again and lose. They’ll get the ball to Stefon Diggs, and their defense has been shut down over the last two weeks.” — Karl
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