The Final Four in the NFL’s annual tournament square off momentarily to determine who will move on to this year’s Super Bowl. Probably more exciting, than the Super Bowl, the Conference Championship game can exude more emotion and desperation than the grandest stage. Here’s what I’m looking at in these two games:
AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
What better storyline this year than the kid who has thrown for a million yards and wow’d everyone with sidearm and no-look throws going to the Super Bowl? I mean, honestly- Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has surpassed anyone’s expectations for the young man, especially for year two. All season I’ve waited for the tape to catch up to him and for him to suddenly struggle. Is this, the mother of all weeks, the week that it finally does? Does Darth Belichick prove to be the only one to solve the quantum theory equation that is Mahomes?
Mahomes may very well impress today, but the fact that the Chiefs defense is nothing to write home about is as well-known as it is true. S Eric Berry is reportedly playing today after dealing with a calf injury, so that should help the secondary but those defensive numbers are just too unimpressive. Whether or not defense has become persona-non-grata in the NFL, you still need to be able to make a stop when you need to. The Patriots still can score in a variety of ways and the Chiefs 27th ranked rush defense will have to be better.
Pick; Patriots 37-31.
NFC Championship Game: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, along with Patriots QB Tom Brady, are the elder statesmen in the Final Four. And while the Saints looked damn near unstoppable early in the season, lately their offense has come down to earth. The Rams defense was supposed to be no joke, but they have underwhelmed all year.
Both teams have scored over 500 points this season. The Saints rush defense gave up an average of 80 yards per game. The Rams pass defense, while not stellar, finished ranked 14th. An unstoppable force meeting an immoveable object? Maybe.
The question here is Rams QB Jared Goff. If the Rams can’t run the ball and he struggles early and becomes a non-factor, the Saints could very well have a 14-0 lead by the time he figures it out. That can’t happen. Unlike most years, the Saints defense is a difference maker in this one.
Pick: Saints 27-21