Conference Championship Preview and Predictions

Wild Card Weekend was definitely wild, but the Divisional Round was much more predictable. As is usually the case, the top seeds came out on top, and now the #1 and #2 seeds from each conference will face off in the Conference Championships.

The best teams in the NFL this year are set to clash in the Super Bowl, something NFL fans can only be happy about. Before diving into why I think the Patriots and Saints are going to be playing in the Super Bowl this year, let’s look back at how we got here.

Divisional Round

#1 Chiefs – 31 vs. #6 Colts – 13

The Luck had to end at some point for Indianapolis. The Chiefs were up 14-0 just over halfway through the 1st quarter and then added a field goal early in the 2nd quarter to extend that lead. The Colts looked to show some signs of life after a blocked punt was returned for a field goal, but the Chiefs scored again before halftime to take a 24-7 lead into the break. The Colts came out flat in the second half, and both teams exchanged touchdowns again in the 4th quarter, but Kansas City controlled this game from start to finish. In the end, the Chiefs advanced to the Conference Championship with a 31-13 win.

#2 Rams – 30 vs. #4 Cowboys – 22

While Todd Gurley has been the star for the Rams all season long, it was C.J. Anderson who stole the show for Los Angeles in their 30-22 win over Dallas. He finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. It’s been a challenging year for the former Denver Bronco; he signed with the Panthers in the offseason, was cut, signed with the Raiders but was cut again just a week later, but signed with the Rams on December 18th and has rushed for 422 yards and four touchdowns in his three games with Los Angeles. After a tough year, he’s now in a position to help the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance. The difference in this game was the 2nd quarter, where the Rams outscored the Cowboys 17-0. The running game of LA dominated the defensive front of Dallas. Jared Goff wasn’t outstanding, but he did enough to manage the game and let his team take care of the rest.

#2 Patriots – 41 vs. #5 Chargers – 28

New England scored early and often against a Chargers team that simply got outmuscled for most of the game. The Patriots offense was led by a 129 yard and three touchdown performance by Sony Michel in his first career playoff game. The Patriots were up 35-7 at halftime, and the game was pretty much over at that point. The score would lead people to believe that the game was much closer than it actually was, as the Chargers scored their final 14 points in garbage time. New England’s defense frustrated Rivers from start to finish, capped off with a Stephon Gilmore interception. The Patriots also won the special teams battle. The Chargers were concerned about Cordarrelle Patterson and his ability to break off big returns, but it was a fumbled punt by Desmond King that was the turning point on special teams.

#1 Saints – 20 vs. # Eagles – 14

New Orleans overcame just about the worst possible start to a game to send the defending Super Bowl Champions home. The Saints got the ball to start the game, and promptly turned it over with an interception thrown by Drew Brees. The Eagles were up 14-0 after the 1st quarter and it looked like the legend of Nick Foles would grow even larger. The Saints cut the deficit to 14-10 by halftime and a touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Thomas in the 3rd quarter gave New Orleans their first lead of the game. They added a field goal in the 4th, but the Eagles were driving late with a chance to win. The Eagles got by with some luck against the Bears, but that luck ran out against the Saints.

Not to brag or anything, but I’m now up to 7-1 with my picks this postseason. Maybe I picked the easy way out by taking all of the favourites last week, but hey, being right isn’t about being different.

Conference Championships

#1 Saints vs. #2 Rams

The Saints got the edge the first time around, but the Rams gave them just about all they could handle. Will things be different this time around? The Rams have the second highest scoring offense at 32.9 points per game, but the Saints are right behind them in third place at 31.5. The last time these two teams met was in early November, a 45-35 win for New Orleans. The Saints controlled the game early, but the Rams nearly fought their way back into it in the second half. This time around looks to be another high scoring tilt, and the Saints are the favourites to win again, but after their performance against the Eagles there are a few questions about the offense right now. The good news for the Saints  is that they just had a bad game and still came out on top. The bad news is that if they don’t figure things out before kickoff, they won’t get so lucky with the result against a team as good as the Rams.

Los Angeles has been dominant as of late, and the resurgence of C.J. Anderson adds another layer to an already dynamite offense. Jared Goff has proven that he can take control of a game, but with Gurley and Anderson running wild lately, he hasn’t needed to do so. A big focus for the Rams heading into the game should be to slow down Michael Thomas as much as possible. He burned Marcus Peters on multiple occasions in their last meeting, and that’s still on the minds of both teams heading into their most important games of the season. For New Orleans, they’ll be looking for ways to get Thomas open, but they’ll need other receivers to step up if the Rams try to double up on him. It sounds crazy to say, but backup quarterback and all-around utility player Taysom Hill could become an important part of the offense in addition to special teams.

Winner: Saints

It’s tough to beat a team twice in the same season, but the Saints look to be the most well-rounded team in the NFL this season. Brees has won a Super Bowl before, and the now 40-year old quarterback hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this season. Similar to the first time around, this should be another high scoring game, and it might come down to a big play on defense one way or the other, but I give the edge to New Orleans in this one.

#1 Chiefs vs. #2 Patriots

It’s a rematch of the 43-40 game from earlier this season. That time the Patriots came out with the win in Foxboro, but this time around the game will be in Kansas City. People are picking the Chiefs because the game is at Arrowhead and Patriots have lost their last two playoff road games. Well, since 2007 there have only been two of those.

The Patriots are the betting underdogs in this game, and after Tom Brady acknowledged in his post-game interview last week that he’s heard everyone talking about how they suck, the Patriots have bought into this underdog narrative. It seems like everyone is waiting for the Patriots dynasty to end, but I have news for you: that time isn’t coming soon. As long as Bill Belichick is the head coach, and Tom Brady is the quarterback, the Patriots will be in the AFC Championship game. Luckily, Tedy Bruschi is here to put that idiot Max Kellerman in his place.

If Brady and the Patriots really were falling off the cliff, would they have the 4th highest scoring offense in the NFL? Probably not. The biggest challenge they face in this game is that they’re up against the highest scoring offense in the NFL. The Chiefs average 35.3 points per game, while the Patriots average 27.3. An 8 point difference between first and fourth seems absurd, but that just shows what Mahomes and the Chiefs have been able to accomplish this season. Even after losing Kareem Hunt due to poor life choices, Kansas City was able to keep their offense rolling. Tyreek Hill is probably the fastest human alive, Travis Kelce has been one of the best tight ends in the NFL for years, and of course, Mahomes has been MVP-level in his first season as a starter. Neither team is great on defense, but the Chiefs are near the bottom of the league in every category, including 31st in Yards per Game and Passing Yards per game, and 27th in rushing yards per game. The real edge for the Patriots on defense can be seen with the Points Allowed per game. The Patriots have always played a “bend but don’t break” style of defense, where they give up yards but shut teams down in the redzone. As a result, they average just 20.3 points given up, tied for 6th best in the NFL. Meanwhile, Kansas City is 24th in the league with 26.3.

Winner: Patriots

Their defense can be downright frustrating to watch sometimes, but they usually find a way to get the job done. If New England can limit the big plays of the Chiefs, I like the odds of New England coming out with a win. For Brady the AFC Championship game has become like just another game. For Mahomes, this is the biggest game of his life. I’m taking experience over youth in this one.

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