NFL Game Picks: Conference Championships Week
Only two games remain until what is expected to be a thrilling conclusion of the 2018 NFL season. Conference championship weekend is shaping up to be one of the best in years, as the NFL’s four highest-scoring teams will all be taking the field. Both the AFC and NFC title games will feature rematches from earlier this season, but will the results be the same? It’s time to break down what’s to come this conference championship Sunday.
No. 2 Los Angeles Rams (14-3) @ No. 1 New Orleans Saints (14-3)
It’s really not much of a surprise to see these two teams in the NFC championship game. All season long, New Orleans and Los Angeles looked to be a step ahead of the competition, and sure enough, they’ve both landed in the conference’s final.
When these teams last met in week nine, the Saints came out victorious, handing the Rams their first loss of the season in a thrilling 45-35 shootout. Now it’s time for part two. Who will come out on top?
It’s tough to pick a winner on offense. Los Angeles and New Orleans ranked second and third respectively in total points scored this season, joining Kansas City as the only teams to hit 500. Of course, this is largely thanks to an explosive passing attack from both teams.
Jared Goff and Drew Brees both put up stellar seasons, with the latter often playing like an MVP candidate. As for the receiving corps, Brees has a better number one weapon in Michael Thomas, but Goff has a multitude of options in the likes of Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks.
Let’s not forget the run game, which features the likes of all-pro back Todd Gurley and dual threat Alvin Kamara. Clearly, there’s no shortage of offensive weapons for either team, and there’s no clear winner either. There could be a lot of points scored in this one if all the tools are in top shape and working cohesively.
As for the defense, New Orleans has the slight advantage. Though the Saints defense has allowed the occasional outburst in 2018, it’s been lights out recently as they have held opposing teams off 14 or fewer points in seven of the last nine games.
The most incredible part about this is that the New Orleans defense largely lacks big-name playmakers. Only Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore stick out as instantly recognizable. This improved defensive play has been a total team effort.
Even though the Saints win this battle, the Los Angeles defense is nothing to ignore. As long as Aaron Donald is present, the Rams’ pass rush remains a force to be reckoned with. Add in the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Cory Littleton and other stars, and you’ve got a problem for opposing offenses.
So, who advances? All this considered, the home team has the slight edge. The formidable Saints defense will be a tough challenge for Goff, Gurley and company to overcome, and Brees could have an easy time slicing through the Los Angeles secondary.
If the Rams want to have a chance at grabbing the road victory, they’ll have to contain Thomas and the passing game, which is no easy test. It should be close, but ultimately, expect the Saints to advance to Super Bowl 53.
The pick: New Orleans 36, Los Angeles 32.
No. 2 New England Patriots (12-5) @ No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
Just like the NFC, it should come as no surprise to see these two teams playing for a trip to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have been a powerhouse for the entire season, and they proved so once again by stomping the visiting Colts 31-13 in the divisional round.
Even though Tom Brady may be playing the “underdog” card for New England, there was no reason not to expect the Patriots to reach the AFC championship game again for the eighth straight season. The AFC’s two best teams will duke it out on Sunday night, just as they did back in October.
When these teams met in week six, New England escaped with a last-second 43-40 victory. Now, however, the location has changed. The Patriots no longer have the home field advantage, and the raucous Arrowhead Stadium crowd certainly won’t make things easy for the visiting team, as this is the first time that the Chiefs have hosted the AFC championship game in franchise history.
Obviously, Kansas City’s offense knows no equal. The Chiefs averaged 35.3 points per game in the regular season, and, although New England’s defense ranked seventh in points allowed, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots being able to keep Patrick Mahomes and company, even with the temperatures expected to be below freezing.
Luckily, New England has a solid offense of its own, thanks to Brady and a deep run game that could prove helpful should the cold slow down the aerial attack. Sony Michel led the charge last week with 129 yards and three touchdowns, so expect him to be a factor once again.
But here’s the burning question: Can Kansas City’s defense stop Brady and the Patriots? The defense has shown signs of struggle all year, but last week’s stellar performance against Indianapolis is a reason to be hopeful.
Having Eric Berry’s presence on the field for Kansas City sure would be helpful, as he’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Getting pressure on Brady is a must, or else he may pick apart the Kansas City secondary just as he did with Los Angeles last week. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Chiefs adjust to taking on one of the all-time greats when the ball is not in their hands.
From top to bottom, this is an even matchup, and the storylines make this one of the most intriguing games of the season. It’s the NFL legend Brady vs. the sophomore sensation Mahomes. Bill Belichick is trying to continue his reign of dominance while Andy Reid looks to finally get over the hump.
With the home atmosphere, the slight advantage goes to Kansas City, but it would be no surprise at all to see New England reach the grand stage once again. The 2018 NFL season’s penultimate showdown should be one for the ages.
The pick: Kansas City 39, New England 37.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.