NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Conference championship X factors

Sam Acho joins Martine Gaillard to look-ahead to the NFC and AFC championship round and discusses why the Kansas City Chiefs need Patrick Mahomes to play against the Buffalo Bills.

The 2020 regular season has wrapped up, but Sportsnet’s NFL Power Rankings haven’t gone anywhere.

Ahead of every round of the playoffs, we’ll rank each of the remaining teams from best to worst and, like during the regular season, have a theme for each edition. With the conference championships upon us, we’re checking in on X factors for each team.

This week, the panel includes editors Geoff Lowe and Craig Battle, and staff writers Mike Johnston and Emily Sadler.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Last week: 1
Conference championship X factor: Patrick Mahomes’s status

The scariest moment of the weekend was Mahomes walking shakily off the field after a hit in the Chiefs’ eventual victory over the Browns. The reigning Super Bowl MVP didn’t return, and is now in the NFL’s concussion protocol. While head coach Andy Reid said Mahomes was “doing great” after the game, his status for Sunday is still up in the air.

If Mahomes can’t go, that’s obviously a big loss for the Chiefs and NFL fans in general. It will also mean a heavy dose of Chad Henne, who threw a bad pick after coming in but also helped close out the game with a key conversion on fourth and inches late in the fourth. (CB)

2. Green Bay Packers

Last week: 2
Conference championship X factor: Aaron Rodgers’ bodyguards

Against the Rams' top-rated defence, Rodgers went untouched — the fifth game this season in which he’s not been sacked — as his offensive line put on an absolute clinic. The Packers’ O-Line has been dominant all year, giving MVP-to-be Rodgers the time and space to work his magic and register a career-high 48 touchdown passes.

The Buccaneers’ defence stole the show against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday, and it’ll be up to Rodgers’ bodyguards to make sure they don’t steal this one, too. (ES)

3. Buffalo Bills

Last week: 3
Conference championship X factor: How Bills defence fares against Chiefs’ playmakers

Like every conversation about the Bills, Josh Allen is the centrepiece; Buffalo will go as far as No. 17 can take them. But against the Chiefs, whether it’s Patrick Mahomes of Chad Henne under centre, the key to victory is containing their big-time playmakers.

Head coach Sean McDermott and defensive co-ordinator Leslie Frazier did an excellent job preparing the Buffalo defence to bottle up Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, and how the Bills fare against the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will likely determine the outcome of Sunday’s game. (GL)

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: 5
Conference championship X factor: The defensive secondary

Green Bay lost by more than one score only once this season — it was against Tampa. Rodgers threw just five interceptions all season — two were against Tampa. Led by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, the Bucs completely shut down Michael Thomas in Sunday’s win over the Saints.

However, it’ll be a different challenge containing Davante Adams, the NFL's best WR at the moment. Adams was coming off a hamstring injury back in that Week 4 loss. If the Bucs can limit Adams’s production and force Rodgers to make errors yet again, they'll earn a spot in the Super Bowl. (MJ)

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