NFL’s final 4 are about to face tougher tests

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NFL’s final four is set

A pair of excellent matchups are on tap for Sunday as Tampa Bay faces Green Bay in the NFC championship game and Buffalo takes on Kansas City for the AFC title. The winners meet in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Tampa.

Here’s a quick look at how the final four teams advanced this past weekend and what it says about their chances on Sunday, when they’ll each face a tougher opponent:

Buffalo

How they won: The Bills smothered Baltimore 17-3 on a gusty Saturday night in Orchard Park, N.Y., to reach their first AFC title game in 27 years. The play of the game — and probably the weekend — came late in the third quarter. With Baltimore looking poised to tie the game at 10-10, Bills cornerback Taron Johnson intercepted a Lamar Jackson pass in the end zone and returned it 101 yards for a pick-6 (pick-12?). The Ravens’ fate was sealed a few plays later when Jackson suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the game.

What it means: Buffalo’s defence looked capable of slowing Kansas City’s unstoppable offence. But the wind played a huge role. It made scoring so challenging that Baltimore’s near-automatic kicker Justin Tucker missed his first two field-goal tries. He’s had two full seasons where he didn’t miss two.

Kansas City

How they won: Like Baltimore, Kansas City lost a recent-MVP quarterback to a concussion when Patrick Mahomes was knocked woozy by a tackle in the third quarter. But K.C. held on to beat Cleveland 22-17 on Sunday with big plays on the final two meaningful snaps. Facing 3rd-and-14 with two minutes left, backup QB Chad Henne scrambled for 13 yards. Then, rather than punt on 4th-and-1 with about 75 seconds left, K.C. coach Andy Reid called a gutsy pass to Tyreek Hill for the game-clinching first down.

What it means: Mahomes’ status is everything right now. If he’s able to play Sunday, Kansas City remains the favourite to repeat as Super Bowl champs. If he can’t, K.C. won’t even be favoured to beat the Bills. Reid said today that Mahomes is in the concussion protocol and “we’ll see how he does the next couple days.” Oddsmakers seem bullish on Mahomes playing: the line for Sunday’s game is Kansas City -3.

Green Bay

How they won: The L.A. Rams’ red-hot defence gave them hope for an upset Saturday at Lambeau Field. But, among his many talents, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers specializes in not turning the ball over while also making big plays. The MVP frontrunner wasn’t perfect, but he threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns and ran in another as the Packers overwhelmed L.A. 32-18.

What it means: In today’s NFL, it’s hard for even the best defences to stop a great offence. The Packers re-taught that lesson and also showed why they have the top-rated attack in football. Rodgers looks like the best quarterback in the league right now, Davante Adams is probably the best receiver and Aaron Jones is one of the better running backs. As long as the defence remains decent, Green Bay is very tough to keep up with.

Tampa Bay

How they won: For mass-consumption purposes, the story of Sunday night’s divisional-round finale was 43-year-old Tom Brady beating 42-year-old Drew Brees in a battle of working-legend QBs, likely ending Brees’ career. Hats off to Brady, who threw two TD passes and snuck in for another in the Bucs’ 30-20 win at New Orleans. But he had only 199 yards passing. Tampa Bay’s defence was the real star, intercepting Brees three times and forcing a big fumble late in the game.

What it means: The Buccaneers showed why they’re the most balanced team left in the playoffs. Having both a good offence and a good defence gives them multiple ways to upset the Packers, and they’ve already proved they can bother Rodgers. Tampa Bay picked him off twice and sacked him four times in a 38-10 rout in November. We’ll see if it translates to the cold at Lambeau. The Bucs are 3.5-point underdogs.

43-year-old Tom Brady contributed three touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s Divisional round win over New Orleans. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Quickly…

More than 70 tennis players are under strict quarantine before the Australian Open — and no one seems happy about it. After several people arriving on charter flights for the Feb. 8-21 event tested positive for the coronavirus, everyone on those planes was ordered to serve a hard 14-day quarantine in their hotel rooms. The group includes Canadian player Vasek Pospisil and Bianca Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau. Some players are already complaining about the quarantine conditions. Top-ranked men’s player Novak Djokovic reportedly asked tournament organizers to let players serve their time at houses with tennis courts so they can train properly and have access to better food. Meanwhile, some people in Australia are calling for the tournament to be cancelled because they believe it’s too risky for the country. Read more about the controversy here.

The men’s hockey world championship was pulled from Belarus. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel wanted to keep the country as a co-host (with Latvia) of this year’s event. But then three sponsors threatened to bail because of the mass arrests at largely peaceful demonstrations against authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election last year. Today, the IIHF said it was pulling the tournament from Belarus due to safety concerns. A decision on where to hold it hasn’t been made. Latvia could still co-host with another country, or the event could be moved to a single location — probably in Europe. The tournament is scheduled for late May. Read more about the move out of Belarus here.

And in case you missed it…

A couple of Olympic-sports results from the weekend that are worth knowing about:

Canada’s Justin Kripps and Cam Stones won two bobsleigh bronze medals. They finished third in Saturday’s two-man World Cup race in St. Moritz, then did it again with their four-man sled on Sunday. Also, Kripps & Stones: what a fantastic team name. (They’ll break your bones!Read more about their podium finishes and watch highlights here.

Canadian Lewis Irving took bronze in aerials. The 25-year-old’s performance in Russia gave him his fourth career podium spot and his first since last March. Read more about it here.

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