Jan. 31, 2019
NFL Conference Championships Preview
We have reached the final four. While the first week of playoff action brought a trio of upsets, the following week did no such thing. All four of the favorites were well-rested and displayed their dominance in front of the whole country. Only New Orleans showed signs of rust, but by the end, it became quite clear why they were a 13-win team this season. A week of top-ranked teams winning made for a fairly bland Divisional Round, but it also could make for spectacular Conference Championships. As much as I like underdog stories, you can't be disappointed with this situation. These are the best teams the league has to offer. To make it even better, both of these are rematches of two of the best games of the 2018 regular season. It seems nearly impossible for this week to disappoint. Now without further ado, let's talk about some football games.
Rams vs Saints
I don't believe many are surprised to see these two in the NFC title game. Both teams had high expectations going into the year, and they did not disappoint. By the time they faced each other in week 9, I think most of us expected to see a rematch in mid January. These are easily the highest scoring teams in the conference. The Rams and Saints average 32.9 and 31.5 points per game, respectively. The next highest scoring team in the NFC is Seattle with 26.8 points per game. Their defenses are not among the league's elite, but for the most part, they do plenty to take pressure off of their offenses. However, this week will be a long day for both defensive staffs. I see no reason why this won't be an offensive thriller just like the week 9 meeting. And I don't think that will be the only similarity.
In this year's NFL playoffs, I would separate the twelve teams into three groups. There are the good teams, the great teams, and the New Orleans Saints. It took a couple weeks for them to get rolling, but once they did, they looked unstoppable. Drew Brees doesn't need playmakers to do some incredible things, but right now, he has a couple great ones in Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. His offensive line has also provided tremendous protection all year. Stopping this offense in the SuperDome is the hardest thing to do in the NFL right now. The defense doesn't get talked about much, but they are solid. The Saints have prevented opposing teams from running the ball all year long, including the Rams. They force you to play one-dimensional, and then they get pressure on your QB. This makes coming from behind so difficult against them, which opponents often have to do. This team is about as good as they come.
The L.A. Rams are a great football team. They really are. Their offense is right there with New Orleans, and their defense can make a lot of plays. I also really like Sean McVay leading them. But I just don't see them as a match for this Saints' team. I expect them to play at a high level. They might even hold a lead for a portion of the game. However, I can't imagine them getting the best of Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the rest of this incredible Saints team. L.A. is a team fit for winning a Championship. Just not this year.
Saints win, 42-38
Patriots vs Chiefs
It's no doubt that the Patriots and Chiefs have been two of the league's best all season. But other than their success, the two of them couldn't be much different. New England boasts a dynasty spanning nearly two decades, including five Lombardi Trophies and three other Super Bowl appearances. The Chiefs have been one of the league's most snake-bitten franchises in the NFL with no appearances in the big game since 1970. Great head coaches lead both sides, but Belichick has had nothing but success to his name, while Reid has had a legacy of failure. The 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes is the likely 2018 MVP, while the 41-year-old Tom Brady is arguably the league's all-time MVP. Kansas City's success is rooted in their electrifying athletes, while New England is all about teamwork and simply doing your job. One team has nothing to prove. The other has everything to prove. All that combined with blistering winter weather and roaring crowds makes this a near perfect setting for such a huge game.
Both of these teams are terrific, and both are fully capable of winning in Atlanta in a couple weeks. However, it's not hard to explain why one stands out from the other. Every year we seem to talk about New England like their dynasty is finally coming to an end. Every year, we are proven wrong. We see slow starts and assume that means something. What we forget is that that is normal for the Patriots. Come November and beyond, they are always in peak form. This is now the eighth year in a row that the Patriots have made it to the AFC title game. Many of those seasons started in doubt. Tom Brady is as great as ever. Their running game has been underrated. The defense started mediocre, but they allowed only 14.8 points per game from their week 11 bye through week 17. The also dominated the Chargers last weekend, other than some late, meaningless scores. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. This is just the Patriots doing what they do.
I like the Chiefs a lot. I think they are a fantastic team with a great coach and a rising superstar at QB. I also think their pass rush will make Brady's day tough. And on top of it all, Arrowhead is one of the hardest opposing stadiums to play in. However, I just don't see them toppling the NFL's Goliath. Much like the Rams, the Chiefs are running into the wrong team at the wrong time of year. If the Chiefs do pull it off this time, I believe it will be because of a game-wrecking performance by Eric Berry in his possible return. I would love to see that, especially because it would lead him to his home town for a Super Bowl trip. But I just don't see it happening.
Patriots win, 31-30