The NFL Conference Championships are here, and both games are looking like they’re going to be amazing. Even for those of us whose teams crashed out of the playoffs or missed out entirely.
First up it’s the New Orleans Saints taking on the LA Rams in the NFC Championship game. Followed by the AFC Championship. Which has started to feel less like a championship game, and more like one lucky team gets to play the New England Patriots. This year it’s the Kanas City Chiefs.
LA Rams @ New Orleans Saints
The Rams are travelling to the Superdome in New Orleans for their conference final against the Saints. Both teams have been cutting loose both the via the air and on the ground in recent weeks so this one figures to be a shootout. Last time they met, the Saints emerged victorious 45 – 35.
On the LA side of the ball, they’re coming off a dominant performance against the Dallas Cowboys where they flashed true championship material. Star running back Todd Gurley rushed for over 100 yards, while his backfield colleague CJ Anderson did the same. Combined they put up 238 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Jared Goff didn’t tally any touchdown passes against Dallas and only threw for 186 yards. However, it became apparent early that the ground game was working to devastating effect, so the Rams just stuck with it.
Defensively the Rams were able to shut down the Cowboys’ run game. Holding running back Ezekiel Elliot to just 47 yards from 20 carries. They’ll need to do the same again tonight and hold Saints dynamic playmaker Alvin Kamara to similar numbers. If the defense can’t stop Kamara early on, it’s going to be a long night for them.
For the Saints, last week wasn’t their best showing. Quarterback Drew Brees threw an interception to open the game and struggled early on against the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Once he found his rhythm, Brees looked far better. Ultimately tallying 301 yards passing, 2 of which were touchdowns.
Though not as effective last week as their west coast counterparts, the New Orleans backfield of Kamara and Mark Ingram held their own. Kamara rushed for 71 yards, while Ingram got 53 yards on the ground. Neither one managed to find the end zone though. Kamara did also catch 4 passes for 35 yards, and it’s this versatility on both the run and pass games that make him such a threat if he can get going.
Defensively, it wasn’t a bad showing for the Saints. They picked off Eagles quarterback Nick Foles twice and held Philly to only 250 yards of total offense for the game. They will almost certainly be tested to a far greater degree against the Rams who boast one of the leagues most high-powered offenses.
Ultimately, I see this game coming down to one or two crucial stops. I’m not convinced that either team can really stop the other one outright, so it could well come down to one single defensive play.
Prediction: LA Rams: 38 – New Orleans Saints: 42
New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs.
Does Tom Brady remember what it’s like to play a playoff game away from Foxborough anymore? He’s going to have to try, as tonight the Patriots travel to Kansas City to take on the #1 seeded Chiefs. When they faced each other in October, the Pats snuck out a 3-point win, although that was at Gillette Stadium. Playing at Arrowhead is a different beast.
Last week may have been the best I’ve seen the Patriots look all season, as they systematically dismantled the LA Chargers. Firstly, Tom Brady seems to just defy ageing. He completed 34 / 44 passing attempts, for 343 yards and a touchdown, and this dude’s 41 years old!
I happened to spot the NFL officials checking the game balls over periodically. Obviously checking the pressure. While commissioner Rodger Goodell sat at home giving his TV the stink-eye every time the Patriots were shown. They should have checked the Chargers’ locker room because, at half time, that whole team looked deflated.
The Patriots managed to beat the brakes off the Chargers thanks to the combined efforts of running back Sony Michel, and wide receiver Julian Edelman. For Michel, he racked up 129 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, Edelman dominated the opposing secondary, catching 9 passes for a whopping 151 yards. Both players looked unstoppable and could be key to giving Tom Brady a shot at his 6th Super Bowl ring.
While we’re mentioning beating the brakes off of folks. The Chiefs did exactly that in their divisional game against the Indianapolis Colts. Endearingly froggy-voiced quarterback Patrick Mahomes put up 278 yards passing against a Colts secondary with seemingly no answers. Culminating in a 31 – 13 Chiefs victory.
This game was also dominated by a pair of skill position players. Chiefs running back Damien Williams finally got a chance to show what he can do, and boy did he ever. Williams gashed the Indianapolis defense for 129 yards and 1 score. Meanwhile, his teammate and athletic monster, tight end Travis Kelce tallied 108 yards receiving.
Most impressively for KC however was their defense. Coming into the game, Indy looked like their offensive line was going to hold up against one of the league’s best pass rushes. They did not. The Chiefs held the Colts to just 266 yards of total offense while putting up 433 yards of their own. Their pass rush pressured Colts quarterback Andrew Luck at every turn. As a team, finishing with 4 sacks, 6 quarterback hits and shutting down every 3rd down attempt. If the Chiefs defense has another night like that, it’s hard to see anyone beating them.
This game may not come down to the wire. If either of tonight’s games could be a blowout, it’s this one. Based on the coaching prowess of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and the overwhelming force of the Kansas defense, if one gets going it’s curtains for the other.
It will be fun to see two premier tight ends in Kelce and Patriots mechanical polar-bear Rob Gronkowski go head to head. Since I have to pick a winner, and history has taught me never bet against the Brady / Belichick combo, I’m picking the Pats, but I don’t feel good about it.
Prediction: New England Patriots: 28 – Kanas City Chiefs: 25