In one of the most important games of the season, the New Orleans Saints handed the Los Angeles Rams, their first loss of the season in Week 9 on November 4th. In the Saints 45-35 win at the Superdome, the Rams had no answers for Michael Thomas who had 211 yards on 12 catches, including 72-yard touchdown reception that sealed the win. Rams defensive back Marcus Peters and Saints coach Sean Payton have been trading barbs ever since, as Peters has openly stated that he was embarrassed by his play in that game. With the big game from Thomas, Drew Brees was able to shred the Rams secondary passing for 346 yards with four touchdowns. Jared Goff also had a big game to keep the Rams in the game, passing for 391 yards with three touchdowns and one costly interception.
Playing in the Superdome is one of the hardest tasks for a road team, as the fast track is perfect for the Saints offense, with their crowd helping to serve as the 12th man to cause problems for even the best offenses in the NFL. Last week as the Saints fell behind 14-0 against the reigning champion Eagles; it was the crowd that helped them get the momentum back after the interception by Marcus Latimore as the rest of the game the Eagles feathers seemed ruffled by the noise created by 73,000 Saints fans. The comeback win showed character for the Saints who in the last month at times appeared to be in cruise control as they won home field in the NFC with a record of 13-3. Drew Brees was especially strong in his final game before turning 40, as he passed for 301 yards with two touchdowns after a costly interception to start the game.
The Rams also had their last season struggles, with two losses in December as they also finished 13-3, but lost out on home field, due to that November loss to the Saints. A key reason for the Rams scuffles was an injury to Todd Gurley. However, it led them to sign C.J. Anderson, who was a big factor in their win over the Cowboys in the Divisional Round. Anderson rushed for 123 yards with two touchdowns while Gurley ran for 116 with one score to become the first pair of running backs on the same team to rush for 100 yards in the same playoff game since Terrell Davis and Derek Loville did it in a Wild Card Game against the Jaguars in 1997. Davis and Loville went on to help the Broncos win the Super Bowl that year.
One area of concern for the Los Angeles has to be the play of Jared Goff, who has now struggled in two playoff games. In the Rams win last week, Goff completed just 15 of 28 passes for 186 yards. If the Rams are to beat the Saints, they will need a stronger game from their quarterback. The Saints meanwhile need to go back to the play that allowed them to get home field in the playoffs by winning ten straight and that is a lot of Alvin Kamara. The Saints are at their best when Kamara is making plays either in the backfield or catching short passes from Drew Brees. The better Alvin Kamara plays, the more the secondary opens up and that will help Brees find Michael Thomas for the big knockout punch that they got against the Rams in the first meeting. Now that Drew Brees has turned 40 the sense of taking every last chance to win a second Super Bowl has to be on their minds. I fully expect another big game out of Brees, not wanting to let this chance slip away. The only chance the Rams have is another big running game and for Jared Goff to keep pace with the Brees. However, Goff needs to first be good in the playoffs to be great and in the end, the future Hall of Famer will make the big plays as the Saints go marching into Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
Like the NFC Championship Game, the AFC Championship featured a rematch of a thrilling regular season game. The New England Patriots won the first meeting 43-40 in Week 6 at Foxboro on October 14th. It was a classic example of whoever had the ball last was going to win the game as Patrick Mahomes demonstrated he was worthy of being mentioned with the NFL’s elite quarterbacks as he matched Tom Brady throw for throw. While he did have two costly interceptions, Mahomes passed for 352 yards with four touchdowns, including a 75-yard pass to Tyreek Hill to tie the game in the fourth quarter. However, the old wily Brady answered running out the clock and setting up Stephen Gostkowski for the walk-off field goal.
There is one thing you can say about the Kansas City Chiefs and that is they are not intimidated by the New England Patriots. Besides this year’s early season battle the Chiefs have tended to give the Patriots a hard fight every time they play, even getting the occasional win such as the 2017 season opener, which happens to also be the last time the Patriots lost at home. This game will be at Arrowhead Stadium. The last time the Patriots played in Kansas City in 2014, they suffered a 41-14 loss, as Tom Brady played one of the worst games of his career, leaving Bill Belichick to utter the infamous “We on to Cincinnati” press conference. However, a big part of the Chiefs’ ability in at least the last two games was the running of Kareem Hunt, who had a record-breaking debut in the opener in 2017 and accounted for 185 yards from scrimmage in the Week 6 loss in Foxboro. The loss of Hunt has not really stung the Chiefs yet as they have gotten big games Damien Williams and Spencer Ware. However, if they are to beat New England they will need Williams and Ware to provide the same dual-threat ability that Hunt had and that is the biggest question the Chiefs will face.
What more can be said about the New England Patriots and their two-decade reign of terror on the NFL? This will be the eighth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. To put that in perspective, Patrick Mahomes was still in high school the last time the Patriots were not among the NFL’s final four teams. Only two other teams have made it to three straight Super Bowls, one the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s won two of three, the other was the Buffalo Bills who went 0-for-4 in the 1990s. Of note, the last time the Chiefs played in the AFC Championship Game was in 1993, when they lost to the Bills who were making the last of their four appearances in the big game.
The Chiefs came out strong against the Colts last week, scoring the first three times they had the ball. However, they were a little bogged down in the second half, as the Colts were able to get more pressure on Patrick Mahomes and cover in the secondary. Fortunately the Chiefs able to put forth their best defensive effort of the season as they never were in danger of blowing another big playoff lead as they ended a six-game losing streak at home in the postseason. The Patriots meanwhile played their best game of the season on all phases of the game as they demolished the Chargers at home. The Patriots offense ran like a well-oiled machine and looked unstoppable as they scored a touchdown on their first four drives with Sony Michel rushing for 129 yards on 24 carries, scoring three touchdowns. If Michel is able to do that again the Patriots will be able to climb his back and go all the way to the ATL.
In the end its Bill Belichick against Andy Reid, one has a reputation for finding a way to win these big games, the other usually ends up falling on his face. The game may be in Arrowhead, but the Chiefs always find a way to have that big postseason letdown and this one will be no different as the Patriots have found the next level and will not be denied another trip to the big game.