Well here we are, conference championship Sunday.
After the home team won each game in the divisional round, each conference championship will feature the 1 and 2 seeds in each respective conference.
New England at Kansas City.
Los Angeles at New Orleans.
Each conference championship game will be a rematch from the regular season, so lets recap those games before going into predictions.
New England 43, Kansas City 40 (Week 6)
The teams to reach the AFC Championship Game faced off during Week 6 of this past season. The Chiefs (5-0) went to New England (3-2) during Week 6. The Patriots, who started 1-2. were coming off of two straight wins, and looking to keep up with the powerhouse Chiefs. KC had started off 5-0 behind the magnificent play of second-year player (and first-year starter) Patrick Mahomes, who entered with 14 TD and 2 INT (110 passer rating).
New England, playing in their third straight home game, came out firing on all cylinders.
After a field goal apiece, the Pats went on to outscore Kansas City 21-6 to finish the half, bringing the game to 24-9. However, the Chiefs would not go silently into the night. During the next 22+ minutes of gameplay, Kansas City scored 23 points, while the Pats only scored 6 points, which gave the Chiefs a 33-30 lead with over 8 minutes left.
New England scored on a run by Tom Brady, and then kicked a field goal their next possession to take a 40-33 lead. Not to be outdone, when the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes found Tyreek Hill wide open for a 75-yard TD on their first play to tie the game at 40.
This was honestly the best case scenario, as New England, who had no problems moving the ball on KC all game, walked down the field, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to end the game at 43-40.
Saints 45, Rams 35 (Week 9)
Entering this game, the Rams were 8-0, while the Saints were 6-1, having won 6 straight games since losing to Tampa Bay in Week 1.
This match was close to start, as each team scored two touchdowns, making it 14-14 early in the second quarter. Less than minute after tying the game, the Rams forced a Mark Ingram fumble, getting the ball back deep in New Orleans territory. However, they were unable to score a touchdown. Instead of going for a field goal, the Rams attempted a fake kick, as kicker Greg Zuerlein tried to run for a first down; he was close, but was ruled to have missed getting a first down.
New Orleans responded by scoring a touchdown, making it 21-14. The Rams then made it past the 50-yard line, but were stopped there. They were not able to make the game closer, as Greg Zuerlein missed a 51-yard field goal. New Orleans got another touchdown, making it 28-14 with 1:06 left in the second quarter. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Jared Goff threw an interception on the Rams next play, and suddenly the Saints were in great field position.
The Saints scored another touchdown, making it 35-14, but the Rams were able to get a field goal before halftime, making it 35-17… yes, 17 points were scored in the span of 66 seconds.
The third quarter was all about the Rams, who scored a touchdown on their first possession, then after stopping the Saints on a 3 & 7, got the ball back, and were able to kick a field goal to make it 35-27.
The Saints went three and out on their next possession (which extended into the 4th quarter), and the Rams responded by driving down the field, capping off their drive with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp, making it 35-33. The Rams went for 2, and a Jared Goff pass to Gerald Everett was successful, tying the game at 35.
The Saints were able to score on their next possession by way of a field goal, retaking the lead (38-35) with 6:23 to go.
The Rams went three and out on their next possession. On the Saints next possession, down to a 3rd and 7 on their own 28, Drew Brees found Michael Thomas, placing the ball perfectly over a defender’s outstretched arm, leading to a 72-yard score, making the game 45-35 (the final score).
If we get anything like these games, fans everywhere will be happy. Temperatures are expected to be cold in Kansas City, so maybe the Rams and Saints will have an easier time replicating their Week 9 performances, but you never know.
NFC Championship Game
Sunday, January 20, 3:05 PM
Los Angeles Rams (12-4) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Preview: Both teams did their job last weekend against NFC East teams, but it certainly was a lot closer than many were expecting. The Cowboys hung around for awhile, and if it were not for Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles are probably here on the verge of reaching the Super Bowl again. Anyway, the Saints and Rams each had the best record for part of the 2018 season, and if Week 9 served as any indication, this will be great game. This will be Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s third time in the NFC Championship Game (first since 2009), while Jared Goff and Sean McVay will be making their first appearances. A student-master type of game, Brees (40) is trying to reach his second Super Bowl, while Goff (24) is still new to it all. The coaching matchup will be great as well, and McVay looks to get one step closer to adding some bling to his already astounding resume.
Fredy: Saints 31, Rams 20
The Rams at the beginning of the season looked poised to be the Super Bowl favorites after impressive win after impressive win. But that all changed with Brees absolutely crushing it this season. The Rams are facing a decent defense that isn’t afraid of anybody. This isn’t the Chiefs defense!
Jared Goff can’t carry a team in the playoffs all by himself. If they can find a way to contain Gurley, and beware of Cooks (who Payton once coached)… there’s no way the Saints lose if they can do this. But easier said than done!
Nick: Saints 38, Rams 28
Against the Cowboys, the Rams absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 273 yards against one of the better rush defenses in the NFL. The Saints boasted an even better rush defense in 2018, ranking second in rushing yards allowed. Now if I’m New Orleans, I want to have Jared Goff beat me. Maybe make a concerted effort to run the ball (the Rams aren’t too good against the run) and sway time of possession in your direction, or bait the Rams into throwing the ball more than they would want to, I just don’t trust Jared Goff to go out and win this game.
Each team will have to do better than they did last week (especially New Orleans), but the Saints have a lot more to lose here than the Rams do. I know that’s easy to say, because for all we know, the Rams could simply never make it this far again (see: 2009-2010 New York Jets), but Brees is 40, and these opportunities don’t come around often. With the way another Super Bowl could affect his legacy, in addition to playing at home, I think Brees is competent enough (unlike Philip Rivers) to come out and will his team to victory, no matter the circumstances. Unless the Rams can have another dominate rushing day, I can’t see them winning this game.
New Orleans reaches the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.
AFC Championship Game
Sunday, January 20, 6:40 PM
New England Patriots (11-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Preview: Both Kansas City and New England came out with resounding victories last weekend, as many (more than normal, we can all agree on that) were picking the Colts (cough, Fredy and Nick, cough) and Chargers (COUGH, Fredy, COUGH) to pull off the upsets. Mahomes looked great in his first playoff game, and Tom Brady silenced a LOT of critics by having a spectacular performance. This will be Andy Reid’s first time coaching the Chiefs in a conference championship, and his 6th overall appearance in the game (he reached the NFC Championship 5 times with Philly, going 1-4). This will be Bill Belichick’s 13th conference championship game as a head coach (previous 12 with the Pats; 8-4 record). If Mahomes is all he’s cracked up to be, this game could be a passing of the torch… or, if last week was any indication, maybe Brady was on cruise control throughout the regular season, and took names in the process. Either way, this rematch will be GREAT.
Fredy: Patriots 21, Chiefs 17
*Cracks knuckles but it doesn’t crack because I’m weak* TOM BRADY IS THE GOAT.
Okay that’s not all I have to say. The Patriots had the eyes of stone and looked ready to kick some Charger ass last week. Now they face the Chiefs to go to the Super Bowl.
Someone brought up the fact that the Chiefs play better defense at home; duringthe regular season they only allowed 18 PPG at Arrowhead Stadium, albeit, against some of the worst offenses in the NFL. The only formidable offense they faced were the Chargers, and they scored 29 points against them. They contained the Colts to just 13 points a week ago, but after the Colts went and made “1-0” shirts, they were bound to lose.
The Patriots are a veteran team who looked 3 years younger this past Sunday with Brady plopping a steamer right on the face of critics, like me. I love it! Gimme the Patriots all day baby!
Nick: Patriots 28, Chiefs 24
How can I not pick the Patriots? Listen, I was obviously hesitant picking the Patriots last week, but as the week was going on, I had a talk with a friend of mine, and we both agreed that everyone picking against the Pats in the national media, and being the underdog like that, there would be no way the Pats would go down so easily. Now I thought a “statement” victory might be a close one score game, but MAN, 35-7 at halftime… that was DOMINATION. Do not let the final score (41-28) fool you, the Patriots owned that game.
Now this in no way discredits what the Chiefs did, because they also came out and had the Colts looking like peewee football players, but for a Patriots team that had not had a performance like that all season, it left you coming away with a lot more. Now it was a prefect game, and it’s gonna be impossible to replicate, but I’m back at a point I kept telling myself all season: no team in this conference scares me, no team is definitively better than the Pats, and with the season on the line, I can’t bet against Brady and Belichick. Last week proves that logic made plenty of sense. Andy Reid is a good coach, and Mahomes is a great QB, and I expect this to be a close game, a true 50/50, but I’m not doing it, especially after last week; I’m all-in.
Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.
Follow Hold My Drink Sports on Twitter (@holdmysporttake)