What to look forward to in sports this weekend: Jan. 20

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Associated Press

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pumps his fist Saturday after the NFL division playoff game in Green Bay, WI against the Los Angeles Rams.

Wes Sanderdson, Reporter

DeKALB — As temperatures draw colder in Northern Illinois, competitions are heating up across the sports world. The NFL will play its conference championships Sunday, college basketball has a handful of AP top-25 matchups on its docket, while other leagues have very entertaining match-ups slated for the weekend. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the more entertaining match-ups in sports for this coming weekend.

NFL Conference Championship Games

In the penultimate week of the NFL’s schedule, the two top seeds remain in play for a Super Bowl berth. On Sunday, the NFC Championship game will lead off the coverage at 2:05 p.m. The 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Lambeau Field to face the top seeded Green Bay Packers.

The Packers hold a record of 13-3, with one of their losses coming at the hands of Tampa Bay on the same field they play at Sunday. Green Bay is looking to avenge its past performance against the Bucs and punch quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ second ticket to a Super Bowl.

Rodgers has had an MVP caliber year behind center, throwing for 4300 yards, 48 touchdowns to only five interceptions, but Rodgers will need the help of his defense to hold quarterback Tom Brady and company in check if the green and gold want to be playing in Florida in two weeks time. You can catch the NFC Championship on FOX.

Following the conclusion of the NFC title, commentators Jim Nantes and Tony Romo will take over the call on CBS for the AFC Championship game, which pits the 13-3 Buffalo Bills against the defending Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs.

Offense is sure to be the talk of the game with two quarterbacks who, like Rodgers, have put themselves into the MVP conversation. 

Bills quarterback Josh Allen has put the Bills in its best position to make a Super Bowl since 1994, when they made the conference title against none other than Kansas City.

Allens’ 2020 campaign has been impressive, passing for over 4500 yards and 37 scores. The offense became more dynamic in 2020 thanks to the addition of wide receiver Stephon Diggs who hauled in over 1500 yards and eight Touchdowns.

The Chiefs, though, have just as dynamic of a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. In 2020, Mahomes has thrown 38 passing touchdowns to just six interceptions. Though after sustaining a concussion in the divisional round last Sunday against Cleveland, questions loom over whether Mahomes will be cleared to play Sunday night. 

Though Mahomes is still in the NFL’s concussion protocols, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the quarterback has made “some big steps” towards suiting up against the Bills Sunday.

If Mahomes is not cleared to play, backup quarterback Chad Henne would be the starter behind center. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:40 p.m. on CBS.

The two winners Sunday will travel to Tampa, FL to play in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

NCAA Basketball

Conference play rolls on in the NCAA as teams continue to jockey for position in the standings and AP-25 Rankings. 

On Friday, the seventh ranked University of Michigan Wolverines travel to Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, IN to face conference rival Purdue University on the hardwood.

The Boilermakers hold an impressive record of 11-5, but will face its toughest home test of the season. The Wolverines have a record of 12-1 while outscoring their opponents by almost 18 points per game thanks to center Hunter Dickinson who is shooting 70% from the floor, according to ESPN.

The Wolverines are going to be looking to build on their impressive resume in hopes of securing either a one or two seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. This 6 p.m. Friday tip-off could help the maize and blue’s case of doing just that. You can catch the game Friday on FS1.

Saturday, the college hoops action continues when 23rd ranked UConn travels to Omaha, NE to take on 11th ranked Creighton in a Big East showdown. 

While the Creighton Blue Jays have looked to be the second best team in the conference, two of its three losses have come against teams that the Jays should have overpowered. 

This will be the Huskies second time seeing the Blue Jays in just under a month’s time. UConn guard James Bouknight put up an impressive 40-point showing in the 76-74 overtime loss to the Blue Jays. 

UConn will need another big showing from Bouknight as well as guard Tyrese Martin, who is averaging 11 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. 

Tip-off is slated for 11 a.m Saturday on FOX.

Professional Golf

The PGA Tour has left the Aloha state and is now returning to its traditional start of the west coast swing in La Quinta, CA. Meanwhile, the European Tour is kicking off its 2021 season in Abu Dhabi this week, presenting two desert golf tournaments on opposite sides of the globe.

The PGA Tour hosts the American Express at PGA West golf resort in La Quinta, CA. Defending champion Andrew Landry is set to defend his title starting at 10:40 a.m. Thursday at PGA West’s Stadium Course.

The American Express, typically, is a Pro-Am style event. This means each PGA Professional will play along with an amateur golfer in various formats. Due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic in California, the tournament eliminated the amateur portion of the tournament.

Still, with a large field and limited daylight, the first two rounds of the tournament will be played on two separate golf courses at PGA West. The Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Stadium Course will also host both rounds on the weekend.

Notable golfers who have committed to the events include tournament host Phil Mickelson, 2015 Players Champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 NCAA individual champion Matthew Wolff and 2021 Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker. 

The American Express kicks off Thursday with coverage starting at 4 p.m. on Golf Channel.

The European Tour this week also kicks off its season in its traditional spot at Abu Dhabi GC in the UAE. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is the first of the six Rolex Series events hosted by the European Tour in its annual season-long Race to Dubai.

This year’s HSBC Championship holds a strong field consisting of former major champions like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, who will play alongside last year’s Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood for the first two rounds of play.

Other top players who committed to tee it up in the UAE are Englishmen Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton. All three players hold dual eligibility on the PGA Tour and European tours and have become fierce competitors whenever they tee it up.

Due to time zone differences, live coverage starts 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on Golf Channel and will continue 6 to 8 a.m. Thursday. Live final round coverage can be seen from 2 to 8 a.m. Sunday on Golf Channel.