Jan. 29, 2019
NFL Championship Sunday Preview/Prediction
We have one more stop before we get to Atlanta. Two teams can pack their bags after a long season. The other two will go on for a chance to achieve their Super Bowl dreams. So who’s going to Super Bowl LIII? Welcome to Championship Sunday
Prediction Record: 163-96-2 (Regular Season) | 5-3 (Playoffs)
NFC Championship Game: New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams
This blog predicted the Los Angeles Rams would defeat the Dallas Cowboys, but how it happened was a complete surprise. The Rams didn’t win with fancy schemes or over the top plays. They beat the Cowboys at their own game. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. This allowed them to run the ball with Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson while stopping Zeke Elliot. It really just displayed the potential layers of this Rams team. Yes, they enjoy airing it out, but they proved they can get their hands dirty. This makes the rematch with the Saints all the more interesting and opens up a lot of different ways they can attack them.
The Saints also won in an unexpected fashion. After a slow start that saw the Saints fall into a 14-0 hole, their defense didn’t allow another point. This allowed the Saints offense to get enough points on the board to win the game. Again, a lot of credit has to go to the defense. At the beginning of the game, it was as if the Saints offense went cold and they couldn’t match the intensity of the Eagles defense. The Saints defense did, however. They kept Nick Foles off balance and forced turnovers out of him. If they’re able to play defense at this level, they’ll be tough to beat for any team left in the playoffs.
Both of these teams have sat atop the NFC for the entire season. Will the Saints complete their march to Atlanta? Or will the Rams continue their Hollywood resurrection, and return to the scene of their only Super Bowl triumph?
Keys for Rams
Contain Michael Thomas And Alvin Kamara: I use the word contain because there’s no real way of completely stopping these guys. The last time Thomas played against the Rams, he torched them with 12 catches, 211 yards, and a touchdown. Fortunately for Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib will be with him in this one. When Talib starts, the Rams have only allowed 17.8 points per game. Alvin Kamara is the home run threat the Rams will also need to keep an eye on. Against the Rams, Kamara totaled 136 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Get Home on Drew Brees: Another key will be for the pass rush to get to Drew Brees. They key here, however, is where that pressure is coming from. Brees can get the ball out of his hands very quickly but struggles when the pressure is coming up the middle. It’s exactly how the Cowboys were able to keep him uncomfortable. So this means that Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh will have to play well. Getting pressure up the middle will force Brees to have to roll out to throw. And the Rams secondary will take any extra time they can get.
Run The Ball: The Rams found great success against a Cowboys team that ranked in the top-five in regards to run defense. The Saints finished second in the regular season in the same category, but they’ll be playing without Sheldon Rankins. Rankins is the anchor of the Saints run defense and his absence. Pro Football Focus ranked him 21st among defensive tackles and he racked up 15 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. When Rankins went down against the Eagles, Philly was able to increase their yards per carry. The Rams should take note of this and use the run game as their primary form of attack. And of course, this could also keep the game at a controllable pace while keeping the Saints offense off the field.
Keys For Saints
Avoid Starting Slow: When red flag from last week was the Saints slow start to the game. They looked out of sorts and quickly fell behind by two scores. During their regular season matchup with the Rams, the Saints were able to jump out in front before the Rams began to get back into the game. Now imagine if the Saints started slow and the Rams offense got going? Drive killing turnovers and quick three and outs could prove disastrous for the Saints. So they must not have a repeat of last week.
Take Away The Run: Easier said than done without the services of Sheldon Rankins, but the Saints have to find a way to do so. The Saints found success against the Rams by getting in Jared Goff’s face and forcing him to turn the ball over. The belief around the league is that Goff can be rattled. Well, it’ll be hard to do that if the Rams have the run easily available to them. So they’ll need to find a way to take that aspect of the game away from them.
Get Playmakers Involved: Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both had big games against the Rams when they last played them. If it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. It’s on the Rams to prove they can do anything against those two. And if the majority of the focus is on two players, it will open up opportunities for others to make plays.
Prediction: Since Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans, the Saints have never lost a home playoff game. Furthermore, the last five NFC Championships have been won by the home team. The last three were in dominant fashion. It’s hard to go against that type of history. And it’s hard to bet on the Rams find a way to stop Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara. I’m looking for a high scoring game with the Saints hanging on for a trip to the Super Bowl. Saints win 34-31.
AFC Championship Game: Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots
It happened again. The grave was dug, the eulogy was written, and the Patriots were left for dead. Maybe we really believed they were done. Or maybe we just hoped it was over. Well, it’s not over. The Patriot machine is back in the AFC Championship Game for the eighth straight season. Last week, we saw the Patriots in perfect form. They out-schemed, outworked, out executed, and thoroughly outplayed the Los Angeles Chargers. Tom Brady was given a zone defense to destroy, and he proceeded to destroy it. It was as close to a perfect game as a team can get. Now, the Patriots will turn their attention to a Chiefs team they narrowly defeated at home. But this time, the Patriots will have to hit the road to a location that has given them trouble in the past. Winning at Arrowhead won’t be easy, but it would be foolish to continue to doubt this team now. After all, this is what they do better than any team in NFL history. They execute.
The Chiefs were able to overcome the curse of Arrowhead and win a long overdue home playoff game. How they did it was interesting. Their running game was clicking on all cylinders and their defense played very well. It was one of those performances that made you wonder where this Chiefs defense has been all season long. They got after Andrew Luck and held the red hot Colts offense to six points. The pass-happy Chiefs offense never had to shift into that extra gear to score points. Damien Williams was that good against the Colts. Now the Chiefs find themselves in rare territory. This is the first time in franchise history that they will host the AFC Championship Game. Super Bowl IV is their lone appearance in the big game. And now they’ll have to beat perhaps the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport. And what makes this game kind of a downer is that the weather may impact both offenses. It’s going to be a cold one in Kansas City.
The Chiefs have been atop the AFC for the entire season while the Patriots were moving in silence for most of the season. Now it all comes to a head. Will the Chiefs go to their first Super Bowl in 49 years? Or will the Patriots dynasty continue their reign and go to another Super Bowl.
Keys for Patriots
Keep Brady Clean: Kansas City boasts the best pass rush in football. New England cannot allow them to have an impact on the game. I think we may see a little bit of last week's game plan applied to this week’s plan. The Patriots ran the ball well and then set up short passes to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly. No matter how good the Chiefs pass rush is, it’s ultimately meaningless if they aren’t able to cover the Patriots running backs or receivers. So look for good blocking, running the ball, and quick passes to keep Brady upright.
Big Game James: Whenever the Patriots need a play in a big game, it seems like James White is always making that play. Brady’s favorite target is not just good for big plays. His impact on the game makes life hell for inside backers and pass rushers. He’s simply a game breaker that can make life rough for a defender.
‘Bend But Don’t Break’: The timeless mantra of the Patriots defense. This week, they’ll get a little extra help from the weather, but they’ll still have to avoid giving up the big play. Getting third down stops and keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone will all be paramount for New England.
Keys For Chiefs
Get Brady: The Chargers only hit Tom Brady once and never sacked him. We saw what that got the Chargers. The Chiefs pass rush will have to do whatever it takes to get real pressure on Brady. Otherwise, they’ll be getting ready for a vacation instead of the Super Bowl.
Protect The Football: Bad weather usually means a turnover or two. Giving extra possessions to the Patriots is yet another recipe for an early vacation. So Patrick Mahomes will have to be sharp. In the first meeting between these teams this season, his turnovers were costly. KC was left digging out of a hole and ultimately lost the game.
Win The Chess Game: The final key of the Chiefs game plan should be the ability to adjust the said plan if needed. One thing that cost the Chargers last week was their reluctance to change up their plan. They stuck with their zone defense even when it was proven ineffective. The Chiefs have to be ready to adapt.
Prediction: This is a tough call. It’s never wise to bet against the Patriots, but their track record for road playoff wins is very inconsistent. Their last road playoff win was in January 2007 in San Diego. In terms of winning the AFC Championship on the road, the Patriots haven’t done that since the 2004 season. The Chiefs are a tough team to beat at home, but you have to wonder what the cold weather will do to their high octane offense. We know what the Patriots can do in cold weather. Ultimately, I just have a feeling that the Patriots will steal this one. I don’t trust the Chiefs defense to effectively stop the Patriots offense. I also believe the Chiefs offense will have a bit of a down game that will allow the Patriots enough of a window to win. Patriots win 24-21.