We have all the ingredients for two classic conference championship game matchups this weekend.
Quarterbacks: Drew Brees and Tom Brady are two of the five greatest ever. Jared Goff has been to two Pro Bowls and Patrick Mahomes will win MVP.
Coaches: Bill Belichick is going to the Hall of Fame. Andy Reid will go to the Hall of Fame with one Super Bowl title (maybe without one, but that’s cloudier). Sean Payton has a great Hall of Fame argument already, including a Super Bow win, and a lot of people think Sean McVay has the ability to one day be in that conversation.
Teams: It’s hard to argue these are the four most deserving teams. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA, these teams ranked No. 1 (Chiefs), No. 2 (Rams), No. 4 (Saints) and No. 7 (Patriots). And the way the Patriots dispatched the No. 3 Chargers last week means nobody would argue the Chargers should be here instead.
Offenses: This is the first time the top four scoring teams from the NFL regular season made the conference championship round. Each game is a rematch from the regular season, and those contests were 43-40 and 45-35. Defensive football is great too, but if someone complains about points being scored they simply don’t understand that these four offenses (and their coaches) are really, really good. If the games are high scoring this week and you blame the lack of defense, you’re not paying enough attention.
Venues: Other than Seattle, I’m not sure there are two louder stadiums in the NFL than Kansas City and New Orleans. Even if you’re not lucky enough to be at one of those two stadiums on Sunday, you’ll feel the energy through your television. It makes for a great setting.
Great matchups don’t always produce classic games. We’ve had eight great matchups this postseason and only two games even approached classic status (both Eagles games, and neither will be on any all-time greatest list). But we have seen some good football, and plenty more is coming on Sunday.
Rams (+3.5) over Saints: I’m riding a fine line where I think the Saints win, but the Rams cover. And it wouldn’t shock me if the Rams won. They’re a fantastic team.
I think these two teams are evenly matched, and on a neutral field I might pick Los Angeles. But the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a tough place. Since Payton took over as coach, the Saints are 6-0 in home playoff games, according to OddsShark. And the Saints fans will be loud Sunday, especially early in the play clock as Payton asked.
The Saints have morphed into a defensive team. While there are a lot of stars on offense, that group hasn’t been the same the last month-and-a-half. Starting with the Dallas game on Nov. 29, the Saints have scored 10, 28, 12, 31, 14 and 20 points. Luckily the defense has been very good, holding opponents to 17 or fewer points in seven of nine games (one of the two exceptions was a Week 17 games that didn’t matter).
I doubt this will be another 45-35 game. The Saints are a different team. The Rams are a bit too, relying heavily on running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson last week against Dallas. This one should be close.
Chiefs (-3) over Patriots: I hate to play into the “bet against us” nonsense the Patriots have been selling all week, but here we are.
To get some things out of the way, the notion that anyone sane has said the Patriots “suck” is ludicrous. But when did it become unfair to point out that they were 3-5 on the road with double-digit losses to Jacksonville, Detroit and Tennessee? Is everyone supposed to ignore that happened? Or ignore that Tom Brady’s numbers were down from his 2017 MVP season? You can point out facts about a team without saying they are horrible. Context is OK.
The Patriots’ road record above is why I’ll go with the Chiefs. They have been the better team this season, especially when compared to New England’s results on the road. The Chiefs defense was shockingly good last week; I had 2006 Colts flashbacks. Remember, that team had a great offense with Peyton Manning and a defense that was bad all season, then they suddenly and without warning the defense had a great month to win a Super Bowl. Maybe that’s happening with the Chiefs.
It wouldn’t shock me if the Patriots won, because they’re a fantastic team, too. And that’s generally how analysis works. You can think two teams are concurrently good, but for logical reasons believe one is slightly better. That won’t stop this dumb Patriots narrative though.
Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 131-124-9, 5-3 playoffs
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