1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Strength: One of the reasons Mahomes is so special is because he excels in so many different areas. Most quarterbacks fail somewhere: They can’t throw deep, they commit too many turnovers or they aren’t mobile. Mahomes does not take sacks (and the lowest rate of pressures are converted into sacks against him). He has thrown more interceptions this year but historically has a very low pick rate. He’s mobile. He can make any throw you can imagine and then some you can’t. He had less on-the-run production this season than last but is still elite in that area. Simply put, his strength is his wide range of exceptional talents.
Kaelen Jones: There isn’t an overwhelming Super Bowl favorite this season, but the parity isn’t enough to scare me off picking the Packers and Chiefs.
Green Bay has been the NFL’s best team this season. Matt LaFleur has his team rolling. And in Bakhtiari, it is adding a significant reinforcement to what’s already the league’s most efficient offense, headlined by likely back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers. If Green Bay’s offense is playing at its peak, there isn’t an NFC defense good enough (or, in the Bucs’ case, healthy enough) to slow Rodgers and Co. down.
And then there’s the Chiefs. It might seem bold to pick Kansas City not only to make the championship, but also to beat the Packers, who the Chiefs barely toppled at home when the Packers were without Rodgers earlier in the season. I think that, in a rematch, the Chiefs offense won’t look as inept as it did in November, when it went three-and-out four times. Kansas City has embraced being patient on offense rather than relying on big plays to overwhelm opponents. And that could be the formula it needs to work its way to a second championship in three years.
Super Bowl LVI
(2) Chiefs vs. (1) Packers
This is the Super Bowl we have been eyeing for the past two years. These two teams were supposed to face off in the regular season in 2021, but Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19! Mahomes was set to face Rodgers in 2019 as well, but dislocated his kneecap the week before. The football gods have actively tried to stop a matchup between these two signal-calling deities from occurring, but they won’t be able to this year.
Two explosive offenses and two capable defenses. The emotional roller coasters both of these fanbases have been riding over the past few months rival any amusement park’s creation — especially when it comes to the Packers. They really thought they were about to lose their legendary quarterback, but he returned, won another MVP and led them to the Super Bowl. It just seems fitting that they win, right? Rodgers hoists the Lombardi Trophy again, and he remains with the Packers for the rest of his career.
Projected score: Packers 30-28
Win AFC: 30.1% · Record: 12-5
Odds to win Super Bowl: +475
Odds to win conference: +180
The quick-passing game is a typical tool offenses use to strategically overcome pressure. Just maybe not against Kansas City. Since the Chiefs acquired Melvin Ingram ahead of Week 9, their defense has allowed the NFL’s second-lowest passer rating (81.8) and yards per attempt (5.0), and third-worst completion percentage (66.4%) against quick passes (less than 2.5 seconds to throw), per NGS.
The Chiefs own a major advantage over the Steelers in this area, which doesn’t bode well for Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Despite Ben Roethlisberger ranking second in completions (257) and yards (2,110), and tying for fifth in touchdowns (14), he has been incredibly inefficient on quick throws over the course of the season. The veteran ranks 29th in completion percentage (69.6), 25th in yards per attempt (5.7) and passer rating (93.2), and 27th in completion percentage over expected (-4.2%).
Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu is partnering with the charitable platform CAUZEO to send one fan and a guest to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium to see the Chiefs play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.
A $10 donation provides fans a chance to win two lower-level tickets as well as a parking pass.
Proceeds go to The Tyrann Mathieu Foundation.
To enter to win, fans can donate here until 4 p.m. Saturday.
Once the campaign is closed, the winner will be announced on the foundation’s social media accounts.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver room is decimated; Chris Godwin tore his ACL in December, Antonio Brown was kicked off the team, and Mike Evans has been tending to a hamstring injury.
Because of this, the team signed veteran pass-catcher John Brown to their practice squad on Thursday, January 13 as insurance. To make room for Brown on the practice squad, the Buccaneers released running back Darwin Thompson.
As the Steelers get ready for their Wild Card date with the Kansas City Chiefs, one Steelers’ son had some concern that the team MVP might not be able to take the field on Sunday night.
“TJ’s playing this week?” Cam Heyward asked. “He got hit in the nuts last week, my son watched it and said, ‘TJ got hit in the hot dog!’”
Watt only played about half the snaps in Week 16 against the Chiefs as he was dealing with a rib injury.
“He was dealing with a lot,” Heyward said. “Hopefully, he’s able to go 100-percent.”
Around the NFL
An NFL assistant since 1994, the 66-year-old Culley got his first head coaching opportunity with the Texans in 2021, but it lasted just one campaign in which Houston finished 4-13.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who was brought in during the 2021 offseason as well, will now look for his second coach in as many seasons and the franchise’s third head coach over the last three years.
Culley, who helmed a team filled with veterans on short-term contracts as Caserio overhauled the roster and salary cap, is the first Houston head coach to be fired before coaching at least four seasons, per NFL Research.
Ballard made those comments during his season-ending news conference just days after the Colts didn’t make the playoffs and Wentz played two of his worst games to end the season. Ballard’s comments are eye-raising considering the Colts gave up first- and third-round picks in the upcoming draft to acquire Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason.
“When we made the decision, after Philip [Rivers] retired and we made the decision to make a move on Carson, at the time of the decision we felt good about it and I still don’t regret the decision at the time,” Ballard said Thursday. “Sitting here today, just so y’all know, I won’t make a comment on who is going to be here next year and who is not going to be here next year. That’s not fair to any player.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
As is well known, one of the core reasons for the Chiefs’ consistent success is the looks provided by head coach Andy Reid, who is often considered the game’s greatest offensive mind. But how much difference in game plans can you reasonably expect from a team you just encountered three weeks ago?
“There’s always change that takes place, so I would expect that from Pittsburgh, just like I do from the teams we play in the AFC West,” said Reid. “You play a team twice, you’re going to throw some different wrinkles at them. So, you don’t just study the last couple games, you study the whole season when you go into something like this.”
Pittsburgh may show some of the defensive looks it showed last game — but it would also be wise to expect defensive coordinator Keith Butler to cook up some new things for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who finished last game 23 of 30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think you have to prepare for both,” said Mahomes. “Obviously, they’re going to take away the stuff they did good against us and then they’re going to change stuff that they didn’t have as much success with. They have a lot of really good coaches over there, they have a lot of really good players, and they’ve played in playoff games. They understand how to change stuff up, they understand to go back to what they’re great at.
“We’re expecting a battle. We’ll be ready to go, and we’re going to try to find answers for everything. They’re going to throw all different pitches to us, and we have to be able to respond and have success as much as possible.”