After an eventful Divisional Round that saw the Eagles, Colts, Chargers, and Cowboys pack their bags, we have arrived at the Championship games for each conference. The Patriots, Chiefs, Rams and Saints all remain alive, and were considered the best four teams heading into the playoffs, so we should have a couple of exciting games on our hand. Let's dive into my predictions and what to expect from each team on Sunday.
#2 New England Patriots vs. #1 Kansas City Chiefs
The matchup that everyone was hoping for, this is a rematch of the Week 6 game that saw the Patriots come out on top in Foxboro, 43-40. Both teams have lost significant pieces since then, with the Chiefs losing Kareem Hunt and the Patriots losing Josh Gordon, but both teams are coming off of some of their best play all season long last week. The Chiefs dominated the Colts 31-13, led surprising by their defense as they held Andrew Luck in check all game long. While Patrick Mahomes did throw for 278 yards, it was the running game that drove the offense, as Damien Williams ran for 129 and a score while Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Darrel Williams each added touchdowns of their own. The Patriots were also very dominant against the Chargers, winning 41-28 even though the score was nowhere near as close as it looks, as the Pats were up 38-7 midway through the third quarter. Say what about the dink and dunk passing, Tom Brady was magnificent, completing 34 passes for 343 yards and a score, with 24 of those passes to some of his favorite targets, Julian Edelman and James White. Sony Michel had a great game, rushing for 129 and three touchdowns, and the defense only gave up 19 rushing yards on 10 carries. It's a given that both offenses will produce aerial attacks just like we saw in Week 6, but if one of these teams can produce the same rushing attack they did in their previous matchup, that could be the deciding factor in this game. Another thing to note; it snowed this week in Kansas City, and Mahomes and the Chiefs are not used to conditions like this (Mahomes never had to in college as well; he played at Texas Tech), while the Patriots have dealt with the cold and snow countless times, so I'm expecting that to affect this game as well. A lot of people are expecting this to be the game where Brady passes the torch of greatness to Mahomes, but I still think Brady will hold the torch for one more season in a thrilling game.
Prediction: New England def. Kansas City, 31-28
#2 Los Angeles Rams vs. #1 New Orleans Saints
Much like the first game, these are two insanely high-powered offenses that shared the field in Week 9, where the Saints came out on top 45-35. Both teams haven't changed much since that matchup, although the Rams did lose wide receiver Cooper Kupp to injury and signed veteran running back C.J. Anderson late in the season. This proved to be a very smart signing last week, as Anderson and Todd Gurley combined for 238 yards on the ground and three touchdowns en route to a 30-22 win over the Cowboys. While Jared Goff didn't have the best day passing and failed to reach 175 yards passing, the running game dominated a usually potent Dallas run defense, and the Rams run defense of their own held Ezekiel Elliott in check all game long. The one area of concern for this team is the pass defense, and while Dak Prescott threw for 266 yards against LA, Drew Brees carved up the Rams secondary the last time these two teams met. Speaking of Brees, he actually started the game horrendously just like the rest of the Saints team against the Eagles, but he was on fire during the last three quarters and New Orleans eventually pulled away 20-14. Philly scored two quick touchdowns in the first quarter, but even after losing star defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans' defense was lights out for the rest of the game, making countless key plays and preventing the Eagles from scoring another point. The story of the offense was Michael Thomas, as he exploded for 12 catches and 171 and a score and constantly finding ways to get open down field. While Thomas is a great receiver and will very likely have a great game, my x-factors for the Saints are the other primary receivers in Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith, as a lot of the attention will be delegated to Thomas and Alvin Kamara which should open plenty of opportunities for both of these deep threats. For the Rams, they had an incredible ground game last week, but the Saints run defense is considered by many as the best in the NFL. With Sheldon Rankins out, this could make things easier for Gurley and Anderson, and if the Rams can replicate last week's rushing rampage, the Rams will win this game. However, I'm not really expecting any sort of defensive impact, and with perfect conditions in a dome, a shootout is only bound to happen. But, after last week's dominant rebound, the Saints showed how to flip the switch on both sides of the ball, and match that up with their playoff experience and previous success, and Los Angeles is in for a nightmare.
Prediction: New Orleans def. Los Angeles; 41-37