NFL fans are in for a treat this weekend with two epic matchups featuring the four best and highest scoring teams in the league. Who will claim the AFC and NFC Championships and book their place in the Super Bowl LIII?
Although the divisional round of the playoffs was short on upsets, it was satisfying all the same to see the four best sides in the NFL progress to the Championship games.
Sure, a part of us were desperate for the Nick Foles postseason magic to continue (and but for Alshon Jeffery’s 4th quarter non-catch, perhaps it would have) but at the same time the Eagles have been riding their luck for a while now and though brave in the extreme, it also felt like the right time for them to exit the Championship.
For poor Phil Rivers there was more playoff misery as his LA Chargers side were blown off the park by a rampant New England. And while I’m sure the veteran Rivers won’t begrudge quality quarterbacks like Brady, Mahomes and Brees their place in the last four, it must grate at him that Jared Goff will have a shot at Super Bowl glory and he will not.
Speaking of Goff, his Rams were plenty impressive in seeing off a spirited Dallas. We all knew Todd ‘The God’ Gurley was going to cause them all sorts of problems, but what about the 123 yards and two rush touchdowns from CJ Anderson? The guy was cut by the Raiders only a month ago as well has having been previously axed by the Broncos and the Raiders. Now he is a key player in a team that is just one game away from a Super Bowl.
But that is how playoff football is in the NFL. Players whose careers have been faltering get an opportunity on the biggest stage and grab it with both hands and the has-been can become the hero.
So get your American Pale Ale’s chilling nicely in the fridge, dust off your oversize NFL jersey that you never wear out in public and get ready for the best that American football has to offer.
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
When: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019
Time: 8.05 pm
Let’s rewind to November of last year, the regular season and the meeting of the Saints and the Rams in New Orleans.
If that fixture is any indication of what we can expect on Sunday then we are in for a game. There were 80 points scored that day with the Saints emerging with a 45-35 victory and putting an end to the Ram’s unbeaten season.
And the key to that victory was twofold – an authoritative offensive line and Alvin Kamara.
Kamara was unplayable that day, his athleticism and quick thinking getting him in for three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Drew Brees is going to look to Kamara right from the outset against the Rams and see if he can’t replicate that particular performance.
The fact that Brees also has one of the best receivers in the league in the form of Michael Thomas gives the New Orleans offense some real dynamism.
The offensive line has been boosted significantly by the return of left tackle Terron Armstead who is arguably the best in the league in the position. Alongside the likes of Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints might just have the best offensive line in the business.
Considering the amount of game time Brees has played this season, he has been sacked the least amount of times of any quarterback and almost half the number of times Jared Goff has.
Being able to keep the Ram’s defence at bay and give Brees a precious few extra seconds in the pocket could be what wins this game for the Saints.
But where there is Todd Gurley, there is hope.
The number one ranked running back in football has been slowly but surely coming back to fitness following a knee injury at the end of the regular season. His workload was shared in last weekend’s divisional game, which allowed CJ Anderson to show what he can do. Head coach Sean McVay now has more options in what was already a high functioning rush attack.
The fact that the Saints have lost defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will further boost the Rams offense. The longer the Rams can run the football, make first downs and keep the Saints offense on the sideline, the better the chance that the Rams make the Super Bowl.
Prediction: This one is going to be close, maybe even field goal close. But home advantage could be decisive and I’m going to pick the Saints by 3.
New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas
When: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019
It’s the AFC Championship game and inevitably that means the New England Patriots and Tom Brady.
This is the eighth successive season that the Boston franchise will contest the AFC final which is a feat that is truly astonishing. Those who had predicted that TB12 was slowing down are now manically cleaning egg from their faces.
The Pats ended the Super Bowl hopes of the LA Chargers in Foxborough on Sunday evening in brutal fashion, sticking on five touchdowns before they were through with them. It was vintage Belichick, vintage Brady, vintage Patriots.
But in the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots will face a wholly different threat.
For one thing, his side are up against Patrick Mahomes who, in his first full season as a starting quarterback, is lighting the league on fire.
This guy is the number one quarterback in the game right now and will almost certainly be MVP. He has thrown 50 touchdown passes already this season and became the first player in NFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards in his first ten games.
And while the likes of Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold have struggled with the pressures of life as an NFL quarterback, Mahomes looks completely at home.
And as a unit, this Chiefs offense is a pretty terrifying prospect. They are averaging over 35 points per game and the New England defence are going to struggle to stop them from scoring.
But on the flip side of that, you have to consider the drawbacks of the Chiefs defence. Kansas City was the lowest ranked team in the league against the pass in the regular season. The rush defence imploded towards the end of the season too.
Stopping Mahomes may not be possible for the Patriots, but picking apart their defence definitely is.
This one could become an old fashioned shootout, as it did in Foxborough back in October. That game ended 43-40 to the Patriots. However, with arctic conditions forecast in Arrowhead Stadium, weather could force some mistakes and therefore a lower scoring game.
One player that was excellent that day, and indeed has been for much of the season, was Sony Michel.
The Patriots chose to throw for much of the first half of last week’s game but also showed that they can switch to a running game flawlessly. You suspect against a rush defence as vulnerable as the Chief’s the likes of Sony Michel could be the guys who make the biggest impact on Sunday.
Prediction: The bookies have the rampant Kansas City Chiefs as favourites and there are plenty of reasons for that – an outrageous offense, the best QB in the league, home advantage, and the indifferent away form the Patriots have shown this season. But this is the AFC Championship game and it’s the Patriots!
Bold prediction – the game goes to overtime after a high scoring affair and Chiefs win.