A decade ago, after his Jets beat the Patriots to advance to the AFC Championship game, Bart Scott famously screamed into an ESPN camera: “Can’t wait.’’
Given the four teams remaining in these NFL playoff after this weekend’s divisional round, we’re in for a can’t miss Super Bowl.
The NFL and its fans sit in a sweet spot right now with the league’s conference championships games this Sunday about to be whittled down to the two teams that will play in Super Bowl 55 in Tampa.
Based on the four remaining teams, we’re in a can’t-miss position for a compelling Super Bowl, because there isn’t an uninteresting team in the group.
Sunday’s conference championship games feature two marquee matchups largely because of the quarterbacks leading each team — the Packers and Aaron Rodgers hosting Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the NFC and the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes hosting the Bills and Josh Allen in the AFC.
Any permutation that comes out of Sunday’s games is certain to give us a delicious Super Bowl.
Take your pick:
• The Packers against the Chiefs would feature the two teams that played in Super Bowl I.
• The Packers against the Bills would feature Rodgers trying to win his second Super Bowl and the Bills trying to win their first as a franchise, exorcizing the demons from the four consecutive trips they made without hoisting the Lombardi Trophy from 1991-94.
• The Buccaneers against either the Chiefs or Bills would mark the first time in Super Bowl history that a team plays the sport’s ultimate game in its home stadium, with Super Bowl 55 being played at Raymond James Stadium.
• The Bucs against the Chiefs would feature Brady playing in his 10th Super Bowl and seeking to win his seventh while Mahomes, the new face of the NFL, would be trying win his second in a row as the Chiefs try to become the first team since Brady’s 2003-04 Patriots to defend its title.
• The Buccaneers against the Bills would feature Brady against Allen, who’s made the most significant strides of improvement from last season to this year and, like Mahomes, is part of the new breed of star quarterbacks in the league.
Without question, the sexiest conference title game matchup Sunday is Brady against Rodgers — No. 12 wearing green and yellow versus No. 12 in pewter and red.
The two have met head-to-head only three times, with Brady holding a 2-1 edge. In those three games, Brady was 61 of 97 for 805 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions and Rodgers was 64 of 116 for 787 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Brady, in his 21st season, is the all-time NFL leader with 581 touchdown passes and ranks second in career passing yards with 79,204. He also has a 97.3 career passer rating, which ranks seventh all time.
Rodgers, in his 16th season, ranks third in the NFL in career passer rating at 103.0 and is seventh all time in passing touchdowns with 412 and 11th in passing yards with 51,245.
In the AFC, all eyes this week are on Mahomes and his recovery from that concerning head/neck injury that knocked him out of Sunday’s AFC divisional game win over the Browns. Mahomes left midway through the third quarter after a hard tackle to the ground that had him staggering to regain his balance, went into concussion protocol and never returned to the game.
This, of course, will be an issue to watch as the week unfolds, whether he’s cleared for practice. Coach Andy Reid told reporters Monday that Mahomes is still in concussion protocol and he was not certain whether he’d pass all the guidelines to be ready for Sunday.
Between Mahomes and Allen, Mahomes is the more accomplished. He owns a 38-8 regular-season record and is 4-0 in the postseason. Dating back to November 2019, Mahomes is 25-1. This season, he threw 36 touchdowns to only six interceptions and had a passer rating of 108.2.
Allen, since last season, has gone from a sometimes unharnessed, mistake-prone passer into one of the best in the game. He went from completing 58.8 percent of his passes in 2019 with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2019 to completing 69.2 percent with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.
Hopefully, Mahomes is healthy enough for us to enjoy a potential shoot-out between these two in their game, which will begin as soon as Brady and Rodgers are finished doing battle.
Then we move on to Super Bowl 55.