This weekend eight NFL teams will compete in the conference semifinals in the march to the Super Bowl.

Last week’s wild-card round wasn’t very interesting, with only two of the six games providing any suspense in the form of close-call finishes. Cincinnati defeated Las Vegas by seven points. San Francisco held on at Dallas for a six-point win. The four other victorious teams – Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and the LA Rams – won by an average of 22.5 points.

Hopefully the action will be more thrilling this weekend. Will the road teams do better this time around? In the opening round home teams won five of the six games.

Here’s the schedule, with all games listed at St. Louis time:

Saturday: In the AFC, Cincinnati travels to No. 1 AFC seed Tennessee for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. That’s followed by San Francisco at No. 1 NFC seed Green Bay at 7:15 p.m.

Sunday: The LA Rams at Tampa Bay (2 p.m.) Then comes the anticipated extravaganza between Buffalo and Kansas City at KC (5:30 p.m.)

There are a bunch of intriguing storylines packed into these four games. I’ll take a look at the plot pieces that interest me the most.


After too many postseason disappointments, can Green Bay’s future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback put a problematic past behind by finally winning a second Super Bowl?

First of all, I want to be fair by pointing out that Rodgers isn’t the only historically acclaimed quarterback to have a so-so postseason record. And we don’t have to go back too far to see that Peyton Manning was 14-13 in the postseason, and Rodgers’ teammate Brett Favre went 13-11. Dan Marino was 8-10, Jim Kelly 9-8, and Drew Brees 9-9.

But as he goes for a second ring, there’s enormous pressure on Rodgers because of his age (38) and a contentious pre-2021 offseason. Packers trolled the Packers, roiled the trade-rumor market, and made sure that everyone knew of his unhappiness – but doing so in a vague, teasing sort of way. The Packers pretty much gave him what he wanted, including a better supporting cast.

Rodgers owns the second-highest passer rating of all time, is fifth for most career touchdown passes and no regular starting quarterback has been more difficult to intercept since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

No one questions his Hall of Fame credentials, but there is one unlikely flaw on the Rodgers resume: the Packers are 11-9 when Rodgers starts a postseason game. Since the Packers won the Super Bowl to cap the 2010 season, the Rodgers-led Pack are 7-8 in the postseason and haven’t won a game beyond the divisional round.

During this frustrating stretch Rodgers is 0-4 in the NFC Championship Game. In the four losses he’s thrown for nine touchdowns and six interceptions and has a passer rating of 88.9, and it would be wrong to distance him from the failure. The list of quarterbacks that have won more conference title games than Rodgers since 2011 include Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff and Joe Flacco.

This will be Rodgers’ ninth trip to the postseason since winning the Super Bowl. And he’s 0-for-8 so far in the quest for a second super triumph.

Rodgers is in the late-career phase when legacies are reshaped and finalized. A quarterback will almost always be judged by postseason success or failure. And though Peyton Manning had a mediocre 14-13 record as a postseason starter, he avoided damage to his overall legacy by winning the Super Bowl for the second time in his final NFL season. The shine of multiple Super Bowl rings tends to conceal the cracks and the dents.

If Rodgers doesn’t advance to the Super Bowl this month the defeat will be Green Bay’s third consecutive season of failing as the NFC’s top seed.

Among the 10 quarterbacks with the most playoff victories in NFL history, Rodgers has the third-lowest winning percentage (.550.)

“It’s all a part of it,” Rodgers told reporters earlier this week. “I think success is often based, for quarterbacks, on championships won. I think success, individually, is much more than that, and failure, on the flip side of that, should not, in my opinion, be based solely on your losses and your failures, your mistakes, your low points. It’s so much more than that. It’s mindset. It’s an approach. It’s the total package. But I understand that in our business, so much of it is focused on the wins and losses, especially in the playoffs, Super Bowl rings and all that stuff.”

And if the Packers don’t win it all this time around, the disappointment will become a painful offseason headache. As of today, Green Bay has the second-worst salary-cap problem in the NFL for 2022. Should Rodgers leave Green Bay after another premature postseason exit, he’ll take another hit to his reputation. If Green Bay wins a second Super Bowl with Rodgers as their starter, he can leave in peace.


In their team’s blowout victories in the wild card round, Allen (Buffalo) and Mahomes (Chiefs) had a combined 712 yards passing with 10 touchdowns, and took off on nine runs that gained 98 total yards. The scintillating performances geeked up a football nation that already was going bonkers over a potential Bills vs. Chiefs matchup highlighted by a sensational duel of the two quarterbacks.

Buffalo pounded Kansas City in KC earlier this season but the Oct. 10 result was virtually meaningless. Since then the Chiefs have made significant changes in defensive personnel, and their offense has dramatically reduced its turnover rate. Those who attach too much importance to Buffalo’s 38-20 win at Arrowhead are overlooking the Bills’ subsequent issues including an inexplicable 9-6 loss at Jacksonville and a 41-15 beatdown by visiting Indianapolis.

After going 3-4 in their first seven the Chiefs have won 10 of their last 11 including the wild-card win over Pittsburgh. On Dec. 12 the Bills were an ordinary 7-6, and Josh Allen was slumping. But Buffalo rediscovered its running game, found its offensive rhythm, and Allen adjusted to the defensive strategy being used against him. The rejuvenated Bills are bringing a five-game winning streak into Kansas City.

Both quarterbacks experienced nearly identical tests this season. Opponents were determined to prevent downfield lightning strikes in the passing game. Allen and Mahomes both saw a high percentage of two-high defensive alignments, with the safeties playing back to reduce big-play completions.

The tactic worked very well – until Mahomes and Allen moved away from the bombs-away approach to settle for shorter gains. Allen isn’t a dink-or-dunk quarterback by nature. Mahomes is perhaps the most aggressive quarterback in the league. When the defense plays deep, both quarterbacks exploit it with their running ability. By settling for short passes – and relying on excellent receivers to roll up yards after the catch – Mahomes and Allen reverted to a more conservative approach. It worked; both quarterbacks improved their accuracy and cut down on mistakes. With two safeties playing off the ball, the QBs began to use the open space to break out on runs. It worked.

At a time when Buffalo’s offense couldn’t get up to speed, the coaching staff made a determined decision to put more emphasis on running the football. In their last six games (5-1 record) the Bills have averaged 163.8 yards rushing per game, scoring an average of 32.3 points. Allen joined the run fun by dashing for 407 yards and 7.76 yards per rushing attempt over his last six games. Allen still forces too many throws that lead to mistakes. But his big-play capability continues to rattle defenses. Ask New England. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen has a 105.6 passer rating and more “big-time throws” than all but two NFL quarterbacks this season on pass attempts of 20+ yards. The threat of Allen running makes the defense vulnerable to longer passes. His passing has benefited from his running – and the contributions of tailback Devin Singleton, who has 407 yards rushing and seven touchdowns over his last seven games.

“When you have everybody out there and you’re able to run the ball, and you’re able to work in some quick game and play action, it just kind of opens everything up,” he added.

After 81.0 passer rating, 61 percent completion rate, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions through a difficult eight-game stretch, Mahomes has a 126.3 passer rating, completed 73% of his throws and passed for 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions in his last six games. He’s added 160 yards rushing over that time.

Both quarterbacks are primed to put on a show Sunday night. But in addition to appreciating their massive talent, let’s respect Allen and Mahomes for their maturity in adapting and adjusting and finding new ways to conquer a defense and win games. Nothing is certain, but the quarterback that wins the night will also take this game and move onto the AFC Championship match.


This is my favorite matchup-type of thing of the weekend. In the wild card round, the Rams’ defensive line and front seven pass-rush packages were terrifying for the Arizona Cardinals – an offense that all but ran away in fear. The Rams were great, but Arizona was too easy.

In Tampa Bay a calmer head awaits the Rams. And though the Buccaneers may be shorthanded on the offensive line, Brady can still win the day with his talent to launch a pass faster than any quarterback in the league.

According to Football Outsiders, Brady’s time-to-throw against the Eagles last Sunday was 2.17 seconds, the fastest figure of any playoff quarterback. Brady was slower in his release when the Rams beat the Bucs in Week 3, but Tampa Bay was playing from behind for much of the game, making it easiest for LA to tee off on him. Despite being sacked three times in that one, Brady still completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

The Arizona rout was misleading. First of all, the Rams faced many teams this year that are on the slow side in terms of the passer getting the ball out of his hand. The Rams had a high sack total because of that, but other indicators are troubling. LA ranked 18th in the NFL in quarterback-hurry percentage, 25th in pass-rush pressure rate, and 31st in quarterback knockdowns.

Look for Brady and the Bucs to offset the Ram rush by taking control of the pace, with Brady setting up to zing the defense with underneath throws that he’ll deliver quickly to negate Aaron Donald and Von Miller. If Brady can do a Brady and frustrate the Rams defense by unloading before they can hit him, Tampa Bay has a good chance to win.

Brady will likely keep his passes short, and he’ll go to his sweet spot. When Brady throws a short pass in the center area of the field, he has 13 touchdowns and one interception and a passer rating of 117.9. Overall this season Brady ranked No. 2 in the league in short-pass rating. Throwing deep will be a problem, especially with multiple wide receivers missing but Brady won’t be predictable. He’ll let it fly a few times at least. But let’s keep our eye on the prize.

For Brady to lead the Bucs to the NFC Conference Championship game for the second consecutive years, he’ll have to deliver quickly, and take advantage of the open areas underneath. And that just happens to be his strength. Of course, there’s no guarantee he can use the formula. Suppose the Rams won’t let it happen?

Brady is 35-11 in his postseason career, but you can throw that out if the Rams get in Brady’s face. This season he has a 109.6 passer rating in a clean pocket, with 38 touchdowns and nine INTs. But when TB12 is under pressure, he has a 68.4 passer rating with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Bucs ranked first in the NFL in seconds per play in the first half of games this season. Basically, they built leads by tiring out defenses and then slowed down a bit to eat time on the clock. The pace race should be a substantial factor in Sunday’s outcome.


Since the 1970 merger, the only starting quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their second season are Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. Burrow has the game to make it happen, but he’ll need a lot of help from his Cincinnati Bengals. The pass protection at Tennessee will be the key to the game, and the Bengal O-line is banged up.

Burrow led NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage (70.4) this season, ranked third in big-time throw percentage, and hooked up with a receiver for 13 deep-ball touchdowns. He had 36 touchdown passes overall. Under pressure, Burrow was rated No. 2 in the league to Aaron Rodgers, and he had a superb 108.4 passer rating when under pass–rush duress.

The evaluation lands on this: Pro Football Focus gave Burrow the highest passing grade for the regular season, putting him ahead of Brady and Rodgers.

“We trust in Joe,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said at one point this season. “The more I’ve been around, I’ve learned to just shut my mouth and let the magic occur.”

Burrow goes into Tennessee with a streak of five consecutive games with a passer rating of 103.8 or higher – with 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. That makes him the first QB in Cincinnati team history to zip his way to five straight games with a 100+ passer rating and no picks. And that’s been done by only three other quarterbacks in NFL history: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck.

Nothing bothers Joe Burrows, who loves the stage and looks forward to handling any challenge and any pass rush that you hit him with. And he has weapons galore in the offensive huddle: Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel will hope to confuse Burrow by giving the second-year QB a thousand things to look at and process pre-snap, and after the snap. Can the Titans baffle Burrow and send him home? That’s an awesome premise and I can’t wait to watch this game.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Stats used for this column were cultivated from these helpful and valuable sources: Football Reference, Football Outsiders, and Pro Football Focus.