After all the talk about this playoff being anyone’s game and having no clear favorites, we somehow ended up with matchups between the 1 and 2 seed in both conferences. I’m not complaining, I’m sure that these will both be very exciting games, but I was hoping for some lower seeds to run the table. I somehow went 3–1 in my Divisional Round predictions, bringing my playoff record to a nice even 4–4. I’m not sure if I’ve done much to increase my credibility in making these guesses, but I’ll keep it going nonetheless. Onwards!
NFC Championship Game: (1) New Orleans Saints vs. (2) LA Rams
After these 2 teams faced off in Week 9, I think everyone knew that there would be a rematch. The Rams and Saints were at the top of the NFC the entire season, so it’s only right that they get to square off once again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
The Rams made quick work of the Cowboys last week, ending what was a season way above expectations for Dallas. With Todd Gurley still not at 100%, the Rams turned to the human bowling ball known as CJ Anderson to do the bulk of the work. Anderson went off for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries and absolutely demoralized the Cowboys defense. Oh, and not-100% Todd Gurley also added 115 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Sheesh. They enter New Orleans to face one of the best run-stopping units in the NFL.
The Saints did the impossible and pulled out a miracle win over Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Michael Thomas lived up to his Twitter handle to the tune of 12 receptions, 171 yards, and 1 touchdown. It was the hands of fate shifting their fortune to the Saints this time around, and pushing the ball through Alshon Jeffery’s hands to seal the game. The football gods that scorned the Saints last postseason gave them a miracle of their own: a chance to host the NFC Championship Game with a trip to the Super Bowl within their reach.
Everyone knows this game will be a shootout. And as is the case with most shootouts, it’s the team that can make one more key defensive stop than the other that will win the game. I think the Saints will earn a trip to Super Bowl 53 and beat the Rams 36–34. I see more or less a repeat of the game earlier this year. Even with Aquib Talib back in the lineup, I don’t see the Rams being able to shut down Michael Thomas in any way, shape, or form. The Saints run defense is near the top of the league and it will do just enough to force Jared Goff to try and win the game.
AFC Championship Game: (1) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (2) New England Patriots
Andy Reid is forced to go up against his kryptonite, Bill Belichick, in the playoffs once more. Coach Belichick has a 6–2 series edge over Reid in their head-to-head games, including a 2–0 advantage in the playoffs. Does he have what it takes to rewrite the script this time and lead his team to the Super Bowl?
The Chiefs proved a lot of people wrong last week by dominating the Colts in a snow game that, in theory, favored Indianapolis. Pat Mahomes couldn’t be stopped, and a Damien Williams-led rushing attack looked as dangerous as ever. Sammy Watkins returned from his injury and added another dimension to the passing game, and the Chiefs expect Spencer Ware to return this week as well. Add in home-field advantage for the Chiefs, and they have their best shot at a Super Bowl in a long, long time.
The Patriots did everything that was expected of them in their public shaming of the Los Angeles Chargers. They were ruthless in their pressure against Phillip Rivers and as methodical as ever on offense. As exciting as the Chargers’ Big Dime Defense was against the Ravens, it was no match for the Patriots and their playcalling from the 1970s. Bill dialed up never-ending runs up the middle out of the I-formation and used play-action very effectively. A simple formula, but one that made it feel as if the Chargers defense wasn’t even out there for a majority of the game. Here we all are, proven wrong by the damn Pats once again.
“This time, the Chiefs are going to win. They’re going to learn from their mistakes in the first game and go to the Super Bowl.” I think optimistically to myself. Then reality comes and kicks me in the face. The Patriots are going to win this game 35–28. The Chiefs defense isn’t any better than it was at any point in the season. Tom Brady will tear it apart, piece-by-piece. The Chiefs offense is close to impossible, yes, but better coaching, experience, and defense will prevail in the playoffs. The evil empire marches onward.
So my prediction is a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl. Exactly what the people of Atlanta want in their city. Brees and Brady going after one more ring before hanging up the cleats for good. I’m excited already.