Who will win Sunday’s AFC and NFC Championship games and play in the Super Bowl?
Saints alive, the Patriots are stopped?
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: if this game were played in Foxboro and not KC, I would lean heavily toward the Patriots. But New England’s path to the Super Bowl rarely strays from Gillette Stadium. Also, the Patriots lost all five games on the road. This was a terrific game earlier this season and the temptation is to think Bill Belichick will conjure up something to stop Patrick Mahomes. He’s a better big game coach than Andy Reid. But I’m taking the Chiefs. As for the NFC, the Saints don’t look as explosive for some reason on offense. And they will give you chances to make plays down the field against man coverage. But the Saints are so tough to beat at home and Drew Brees doesn’t look like he will be denied. The difference in this year’s Saints team is its defense. Cam Jordan is a game-wrecker. I think the Rams aren’t as good without Cooper Kupp. If the Saints can slow the Rams run game, they win.
Prediction: Chiefs 28, Patriots 24. Saints 28, Rams 27.
Can anyone stop these offenses?
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: So it’s gonna be hella cold in Kansas City. The forecast calls for 19 degrees at kickoff but it will feel more like 7 degrees with the wind chill. Last postseason, the Steelers and Jags combined for 923 yards of total offense when it was 18 degrees. The Chiefs have the league’s best offense, and Pat Mahomes doesn’t seem like one who allows the moment get to him. And I’m tired of Tom Brady’s desire to suddenly identify as the underdog. Really, TB12? I’d rather anoint a Chiefs defense that was wrecked early, but has gotten better as the season progressed. As for the NFC title game, Drew Brees has so many weapons and home-field advantage. But the loss of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will hurt the Saints in pressuring Rams quarterback Jarrod Goff and stopping the Rams’ running back duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, who combined for 273 rushing yards last week against Dallas, from gashing the heart of the Saints defense. I’ll take the Chiefs and Rams in the Super Bowl and get your popcorn ready.
Gimme a Chiefs-Rams rematch
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: Those poor, plucky Patriots — underdogs for the second time since 2014. You wonder how they manage to overcome all the adversity. Here’s to hoping that the Chiefs punt the Patriots out of the playoffs so that we don’t have to endure two weeks of Tom Brady throwing an “everybody thinks we suck” pity party. I like Kansas City’s chances, especially considering that New England has lost four of its past five road playoff games. The Chiefs defense is a weakness, yes, but it played better as the season wore on. It allowed 6.3 yards per play during the first half of the season and 5.4 yards per play during the second half. Over in the NFC, I’m sticking with my preseason pick to win it all: the Rams. Their pass offense isn’t as dangerous without Cooper Kupp, but Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are more than capable of dismantling the Saints’ shaky secondary. The defense, led by defensive tackle and eater of souls Aaron Donald, generated pressure on more than a third of pass plays. Prediction: Chiefs 27-23, Rams 77-70
Broken scoreboards, here we come!
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: Since the regular-season meeting, a wild New Orleans win, L.A. regained cornerback Aqib Talib, who’ll do a better job on Saints star wideout Michael Thomas, and bulked up its running game, with CJ Anderson joining Todd Gurley. The Rams should be able to move the ball on the ground to make play-action unstoppable, though Drew Brees will not go gently into that good night. In the AFC, youth is served. It’s hard to pick against Belichick and Brady, but the Patriots won’t be able to contain Mahomes, who doesn’t know enough to be afraid. Kansas City will feed off that and make its first Super Bowl in half a century.
Prediction: Rams 38-25, Chiefs 31-27
Young guns will win shootouts
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: If this was a classic western, the old hands would be given the nod over the young gunslingers. An appreciation for wisdom and experience would lead you to pick Drew Brees and the Saints to beat Jared Goff and the Rams. Ditto for Tom Brady and the Patriots over Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs. But look for the new guard to rise up. Former Buc Aqib Talib will give the Rams an edge against a receiving corps that has only one star in Michael Thomas. Todd Gurley will become the first back to go over 100 yards against the Saints since November of 2017. In the AFC game, Mahomes will prove too much for New England. Of course, neither future Hall of Famer will go down without a valiant effort.
Prediction: Rams 31-30, Chiefs 40-33
Rooting for a great narrative
John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: Coaches, scouts and gamblers look for an edge. I prefer to look for a good story. Bill Belichick grunting through another another Super Bowl? Not a good story. Tom Brady polishing his legend? Not a good story. Give me Andy Reid. Give me Patrick Mahomes. Give me a starving fan base. Give me a team of destiny. The Chiefs can be beat; I just don’t think they will be. As for the NFC, I’ve always had a soft spot for Drew Brees. If someone deserves a last hurrah in Super Bowl LIII, I’d rather see Brees than Brady. Looking for more than gut feelings and soft spots? How about this: Nine of the last 10 teams that led their conference in point differential ended up in the Super Bowl. Kansas City and New Orleans led the AFC and NFC in point differential.
Prediction: Saints 31-21, Chiefs 42-38
It’s an old man’s game
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Here’s to 40-something quarterbacks! The Patriots are playing in their eighth straight AFC Championship Game and are 4-3 in the previous seven. All three losses came to elite defenses (Baltimore and Denver twice). Kansas City is not an elite defense. I’m going with Brady and Belichick. In the NFC, regular seasons — like elections — have consequences. The Saints in the Superdome. Oh, and happy 40th, Drew Brees.
Prediction: Patriots 34-27, Saints 35-27