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NFL forecast: An extremely rare Sunday in store

Frosty weather is forecast to greet the combatants in the two NFL conference finals scheduled for Sunday (high five!) when the upstart Tampa Bay Bucs visit Lambeau Field in Green Bay to face the Packers, followed by Kansas City playing host in its third consecutive AFC title game, this time with the Chiefs meeting Buffalo.

Look for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to lead his team to the Super Bowl with a victory against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday. (Brett Duke/Associated Press)

These games will be rematches from Week 6 when KC won at Buffalo, 26-17, and Tampa Bay rallied from a 10-0 deficit to give visiting Green Bay its worst loss of the season, 38-10. It’s the most lopsided win for any team the past two seasons when overcoming a double-digit hole.

With KC and GB being small favorites, it marks the 17th time since the conferences were established in 1970 that both home teams are listed as the choices.

But hold on. The view here is that both favorites will go down with a thud, marking only the second time in history visiting underdogs sweep this round. It happened two seasons ago when New England won at Kansas City, 37-31, and the LA Rams ousted New Orleans, 26-23.

Anyway, enough rambling. Now for a closer look at the games with some nifty facts/trends thrown in. The odds are provided by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:


No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Bucs (13-5) at No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers (14-3)

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Line: Packers by 3.5 (total 52) forecast as of Saturday afternoon: A temp of 29 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill of 20. A 7% chance of precipitation.

Facts: This will be the Bucs’ first game in freezing weather at kickoff in nine years, when TB was a 35-26 loser at Green Bay (32 degrees, 25 wind chill) as a 13.5-point underdog. Since that meeting, the Packers have played in freezing weather 28 times, with QB Aaron Rodgers starting in 23 of them and going 19-4 (16-6-1 ATS). … Tampa Bay is attempting to become the second team in playoff history to reach the Super Bowl with three consecutive road wins as an underdog. NYG did it 13 seasons ago, capping the run with a 23-20 win vs. Brett Favre’s Packers at Lambeau with a temp at kickoff of minus-1. … Deja vu for Green Bay: For the second straight year in the NFC title game, the Packers will face a team that gave them their worst loss of the year. The 49ers beat visiting GB 37-8 in the regular season in 2019 and then again, 37-20, in the playoff at San Fran. … Bucs QB Tom Brady is 6-4 on the road in the playoffs in his career, including wins at Washington and New Orleans this season. … In Green Bay’s Week 6 loss at TB, presumptive league MVP QB Aaron Rodgers had the second worst complete game of his career with a sub-Mendoza Line passer rating of 35.4. Included were two INTs, one being a pick-six … Tampa Bay is one win from become the first team to play in the Super Bowl on its home field. The closest anyone has come was three seasons ago when Minnesota reached the NFC final before getting drilled in Philadelphia, 38-7, despite being a 3-point favorite. … The Bucs had three TDs off short fields last week in New Orleans, a 30-20 win. To put that in perspective, that’s one more than the Vikings had all season.

Analysis: As Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of that beatdown of the Packers earlier, his guys pitched a perfect game – no turnovers, no penalties, no sacks yielded. It was the only such game this season. Fat chance Tampa Bay will come close to that here but will benefit from the return of standout nose tackle Vita Vea, the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft, who fractured an ankle the week before getting to face Green Bay. On the other hand, WR Antonio Brown (knee) has been ruled out and won’t play. But he wasn’t even on the team for that previous meeting, so Brady shouldn’t miss a beat with throws to his tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate, plus speedy Scotty Miller going deep. And then there are Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the team’s leading receivers. And RB Ronald Jones should bolster play-action. As for Green Bay, the run game could have trouble again vs. TB’s fleet LBs, including the dynamic Devin White. and Lavonte David. And, of course, it won’t be easy without standout OLT David Baktiari (knee).

Forecast: Bucs 28, Packers 23

No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills (15-3) at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)

Time: 4:40 p.m.

Line: Chiefs by 3 (total 54.5) forecast: A temp at kickoff of 37 degrees with a wind chill of 30. A 6% chance of precipitation.

Facts: In their earlier meeting, the Chiefs gained 245 ground yards on 46 carries, the third most rushes by anyone in a game this year. Conversely, in Buffalo’s two playoff victories, it has totaled 19 carries by its running backs. … The Bills are 8-1 ATS in their past nine outings; KC 1-8, including last week’s too-close 22-17 win over Cleveland. The sole point-spread win was by only half a point in New Orleans. Had the Chiefs not covered there, they would have matched Dallas’ season-high nine straight losing ATS games. … Buffalo has benefited from four return scores since Week 15, highlighted by Taron Johnson’s 101-yard INT return last week in its 17-3 win over Baltimore. In that span, all other league teams have totaled six such scores. … Kansas City’s leading rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who hasn’t played since suffering a high-ankle sprain Dec. 20, is questionable. And so is second-leading RB Le’Veon Bell (knee). … Buffalo is giving up 4.6 yards a rush during the regular season, the worst among the final four. But big deal. The champion Chiefs yielded 4.9 a run last year, and in 2006 the Super Colts’ number was 5.3.

Analysis: Counting last week’s win over the Ravens, the Bills have given a league-high six foes their worst loss of the season, three of which were playoff squads. To make it seven they’ll have to win by at least 17 here. Don’t count on that, but the Bills rate an edge in several categories, such as QB mobility. Is Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, just out of concussion protocol, still wrestling with a toe/foot injury that had him limping last week? Analysts have mentioned that if all is not 100 percent he might not fully step into all throws, resulting in the ball sailing. And without Edwards-Helaire, no other Chiefs RB has had a run of 20 yards all season. Sheesh! KC does have backup RB Darrel Williams, who had 78 yards last week. Bills QB Josh Allen, meanwhile, is not only the league’s fourth-most accurate passer (Mahomes is 16th) but a top rushing threat, along with RB Devin Singletary. And no one has yet stopped/slowed WR Stefon Diggs, the league leader in receptions and yards. And what about that Bills defense that choked the Ravens last week?

Forecast: Bills 31, Chiefs 24

Last week: 2-2 against the spread; 3-1 straight up Season total: 64-67-09 (.489) ATS; 95-44-1 (.683) SU

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