It's been a dreadful week of counting the seconds until the Kansas City Chiefs take the field against the Buffalo Bills. When we last left them, the Chiefs were hosting Ben Rothlisberger's retirement party: a 42-21 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In last week's Wild Card games, we saw good football played by good teams, and then we also saw the Las Vegas Raiders choke and the New England Patriots take a nap for four quarters.
I don't know which I enjoyed more, watching Bill Belichick show up to the game dressed in a cosplay costume as Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat, or seeing Derek Carr throw a fourth-down pass short of the goal line — what has to be one of the most Carr-like plays in the history of the sport.
At the end of the day, only one team gets to hoist the Lombardi trophy — while everyone else is left licking their wounds, obsessing over what could have been.
If the pressure was on last week, it has doubled now. Each fanbase is filled with the hope that this could be their year. But with hope comes expectation. The higher you climb this mountain, the more painful the fall can be.
On Sunday night, the Chiefs will attempt to ascend to the halfway point of this mountain — in what promises to be one of the most anticipated playoff games in recent memory.
Micahel Jordan had Isiah Thomas. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Patrick Mahomes has Josh Allen.
Just like last week, Winning probabilities are from FiveThirtyEight's quarterback-adjusted E.L.O. model.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans
Time: 3:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Titans 66%
Preview: It's looking increasingly likely that Derek Henry will play on Saturday. While we don't know how many snaps he'll play — or what sort of shape he'll is in when he is on the field — the Bengals' entire defensive philosophy has to revolve around stopping him. As powerful of a runner as he is, Henry has skinny legs — and if you hit him low, he goes down relatively easy.
The Raiders took the Bengals down to the wire last week by committing to stopping the running game — they held running back Joe Mixon to under 50 yards rushing on 17 carries — and limiting quarterback Joe Burrow's secondary receiving targets: Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. But if I'm Tennesee head coach Mike Vrabel, I double team rookie standout Ja'Marr Chase all day and trust that my defensive ends Denice Autry and Jeffery Simmons can get home against the Bengals' horrible offensive line.
Old Friends: Titans head coach Mike Vrabel spent the last two seasons playing in Kansas City. He came over as part of the Patriots' trade package that included former starting quarterback Matt Cassell.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Time: 7:15 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Packers 75%
Preview: At kickoff, the temperature in Green Bay is forecasted to be 11 degrees — which is exactly what you would expect in a Packers playoff game. A frozen Lambeau Field that is packed to the gills with Cheeseheads — with steam rising off the bodies of the players on the field — evokes memories of the classic games of yesteryear.
These are two of the highest-flying offenses in the N.F.C. The difference is that one of these teams has M.V.P. favorite Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback. The other has Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Packers currently have five linebackers on injured reserve. So look for the 49ers to try and create mismatches in the seams for wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, utilizing quick slants and crossing patterns.
Green Bay will try to minimize edge rusher Nick Bosa's impact by running the ball to his side and using a tight end to help double-team him in the passing game. Otherwise, this will be the Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams Show.
Old Friends: Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett graduated from Blue Valley Northwest High School — and is the son of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who worked under head coach Marty Schottenheimer from 1993 to 1997.
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Time: 2 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Buccaneers 68%
Preview: The moment the Rams traded for 33-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford, the team made it known to the world that they were in win-now mode. With Odell Beckham Jr. finally settling into his role with his new team — and with the league's No. 1 wide receiver Cooper Kupp lining up both outside and in the slot — this is the best offense the Rams have fielded since 2018.
But as long as Tom Brady keeps sucking the life force out of puppies — or whatever it is that he does to fight off Father Time — Tampa Bay will continue to be the favorites in almost any postseason game they play. That being said, Brady's Achilles heel has always been pressure up the middle. If you can find a way to collapse the pocket and force him to throw on the run, he goes from being the G.O.A.T. to being a guy who loses the Super Bowl to Eli Manning.
If only the Rams had an interior defensive lineman capable of wreaking havoc... oh, wait!
Old Friends: Longtime villain Von Miller — who played nine seasons for the Denver Broncos — was traded to the Rams earlier this year.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Time: 5:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time
Winning probability: Chiefs 65%
Preview: In my mind, whichever team wins this game is the favorite to win the Super Bowl. It has all of the makings of a heavyweight title fight — like in the classic boxing movie Rocky III.
In that story, Rocky Balboa is coming off his thrilling victory for the heavyweight title belt. But the newly-crowned champ struggles to stay focused when he is surrounded by the glitz and glamour that comes with being the champ. Meanwhile, a gritty brawler named Clubber Lang (portrayed by Mr. T) calls Rocky out for being a paper champion. The two fight — and Lang knocks him out toward the end of the first act.
Rocky is at an all-time low. He doesn't know where to go or what to do.
Enter Rocky's old friend Apollo Creed, who agrees to train Rocky as he refocuses himself — and in the rematch with Lang, knocks him out to reclaim the belt.
The last time these two teams met, it wasn't particularly pretty. Playing conditions were horrible — thanks to a lightning storm that caused the game to be paused at one point — and safety Daniel Sorensen was on the field for 100% of the Chiefs' defensive snaps. Chris Jones missed the game with a broken wrist. And Mahomes played one of the worst games of his career, turning the ball over three times.
This time around, Chris Jones is not only healthy but is also back on the inside playing defensive tackle. By itself, this could prove to be the most significant difference between the two games.
One of Josh Allen's biggest strengths is his ability to use his legs in the running game — whether on designed runs or scrambling when the play breaks down. The way to combat this is to blow up the middle of their offensive line and seal the edges with your defensive ends. The matchup between Jones and Buffalo's Mitch Morse and Ryan Bates could be the deciding factor in this game. If Jones has a big game, then the Bills are going to have a hard time sustaining drives.
Based on FiveThirtyEight's quarterback-adjusted E.L.O. model, here are the most likely matchups for the remainder of the playoffs.
Chiefs (65%) at Titans (66%)
Buccaneers (68%) at Packers (75%)
Chiefs (43%) vs. Packers (48%)
Like all heavyweight fights, this one will come down to who can land the biggest blows. When the dust settles, I have one prediction for this game.
In the postseason, the Chiefs team is a different monster — and I expect them to come out of the gates and maul the Bills from the very first snap, marching on to their third straight A.F.C. Championship appearance.
THE TAKE IT BACK TOUR KEEPS ROLLING, BABY!