The NFL’s conference championship games this weekend in the AFC and NFC feature the NFL’s top four teams in pivotal rematches from earlier this season. The games will determine which teams will earn the right to vie for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
In the NFC, the New Orleans Saints host a rematch against the Los Angeles Rams. On Nov. 4, the Saints defeated the Rams by a score of 45-35 in a clash at the Superdome. The game featured a series of dominant stretches by each team before the Saints ultimately cemented the victory on a 72-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to wideout Michael Thomas.
The game had tremendous ramifications. At the time, the Rams’ loss ended their eight game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Saints proved their mettle and established themselves as true Super Bowl contenders. The rematch will again be played in the Superdome because the head-to-head victory gave the Saints the tiebreaker over the Rams in playoff seeding.
The Rams’ key to victory will be a revitalized rushing attack. The late season injury to star running back Todd Gurley led the Rams to utilize C.J. Anderson, who has played exceptionally well.
The Rams elected to deploy both Gurley and Anderson in the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys, and they combined for 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The duo propelled the Rams to victory, despite quarterback Jared Goff’s underwhelming performance.
A strong Los Angeles running attack can provide a balanced offensive approach, taking advantage of the absence of New Orleans lineman Sheldon Rankins in the middle of the Saints defensive line and keep the Saints’ potent offense on the bench.
Conversely, the Saints will need veteran Brees to orchestrate a successful passing attack to come away with a victory. In the previous game against the Rams, Brees threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns.
Another Saints star playmaker, Thomas, torched the Rams as he accumulated 211 receiving yards and a touchdown in the week nine matchup. The Rams will make an effort to limit Thomas by matching him up against cornerback Aqib Talib, who missed the first showdown with an ankle injury.
Nonetheless, the Saints’ success will depend on their ability create favorable matchups for Thomas and allow for big performances from receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. or Tre’Quan Smith.
In the end, expect the Rams’ ability to run the ball and stop the run to be the difference as they avenge their previous loss in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, in the AFC, the New England Patriots will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs. On Oct. 14, the Patriots won an exciting matchup 43-40 on a game-winning field goal by Stephen Gostkowski as time expired.
In that week six game, Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has proven to be a young star, threw two interceptions as the Patriots slowed down the Chiefs’ offense in the first half. However, Mahomes found his stride in the second half, and Kansas City exploded for 31 points in the second half.
If the Chiefs reach the Super Bowl, it will require a dominant performance from their defensive line, which overpowered the lauded offensive line of the Indianapolis Colts in last week’s divisional round. The Chiefs’ defense, led by Dee Ford, wreaked havoc in the Colts’ backfield on the way to three sacks, five tackles for loss and six quarterback hits as a team. This effort completely disrupted the Colts’ rhythm on offense.
The Chiefs will need a repeat performance to apply pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Los Angeles Chargers failed to do so last week, and Brady surgically picked apart their zone defense.
In the first matchup, the Chiefs had moderate success with two sacks and three tackles for loss, but they will need to step up the pressure to secure a win on Sunday.
New England’s main priority is to neutralize Tyreek Hill, a speedy wideout who is always a threat to make a big play. Hill exploded for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting.
As a result, the Patriots could elect to use All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore to shadow Hill. Additionally, the Patriots will likely employ a safety help to double cover Hill in an effort to prevent big plays. For the Patriots to win, they will need to contain Hill, especially on broken plays when Mahomes escapes the pocket.
Ultimately, the Chiefs’ defense will do just enough to slow the Patriots’ offense, while Mahomes will lead an effective offensive attack that carries the Chiefs to victory and into the 2019 Super Bowl.