Black Quarterback: 2019 Conference Championship Preview
By Brandon Simmons
Rams vs. Saints
The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints will kick off Championship Sunday with their rematch from Week 9. The Saints won that game 45-35 and established themselves as a top dog among the elite of the NFC. For the Rams, they soon bounced back after that game but could never regain their footing as the number one team in the conference. Fast forward to the divisional round of the playoffs, where both teams got wins but looked a little sluggish starting those games. Instead of the usual aerial attack, the Rams took to the ground to stave off the Dallas Cowboys for 30-23 win. The Saints fell behind the Philadelphia Eagles 14-0 in the first quarter, before penalties and other mistakes put them in the game and pushed them to a 20-14 victory.
The Saints overcame shaky start in their playoff win. The first pass from Saints QB Drew Brees was intercepted and it led to the first of two Eagles touchdown drives. Down 14-0, the Saints answered with their own interception by cornerback Marshon Lattimore. It was that point in the game when the Saints began to take over with their balanced offense, scoring 20 straight points. The Rams had a similar approach with their Divisional Round win. They fell behind 7-3 to the Cowboys, before committing to the run and gashing a stout Dallas defense. L.A. finished with a franchise playoff record 269 yards on the ground. This included scoring 17 straight in the 2nd quarter. Dallas staged a mini comeback late in the 2nd half, but the Rams were able to hold them off.
Ironically, both offenses are very similar in one simple aspect: They both can destroy you through the air but have running back tandems that can stomp you as well. Last week, while the Rams had their historic running night, the Saints also put up 137 yards rushing against a solid run defense. The difference between the Rams group of back and what the Saints have is that the latter has had a longer tenure with this group. Rams running back C.J. Anderson provided a nice compliment to teammate Todd Gurley, but Anderson has only been around for a few weeks. He was cut by two teams earlier this season, but he arrived just in time when the team needed to fill running back Malcolm Brown’s spot, who had a season-ending injury.
However, the advantage in this matchup will have to go to the New Orleans Saints. The outright advantage this team is that the game is being played in New Orleans, where they are just look unbeatable at home. Their offense comes off as more consistent, persistent and relentless. If they go to the passing game, but get some hiccups, they will still go back to throwing the football and still finish you with the run game. This will cause a problem for the Rams who had issues putting the points on the board in the 2nd half, only putting up 10, compared to the 20 put up in the 1st. New Orleans will walk away with this victory and into their 2nd Super Bowl.
Chiefs vs. Patriots
Unlike the last matchup’s divisional round outings, the Kansas Chiefs and New England Patriots had more impressive performances in their divisional matchups. Both teams dominated their opponents, who also happened to be the 5th and 6th seeds of the conference. Everything seemed to be hitting on all cylinders. The Chiefs pretty much stormed through the Indianapolis Colts for their win, dominating on all phases of the game. The same thing happened with the Patriots, as they busted the Chargers up by halftime and cruised through the rest of the game just holding a bigger lead.
The main factor for these teams was how well their defenses played. In the first half of the Patriots’ win, they jumped to a 35-7 halftime lead on the Chargers. L.A. quarterback Philip Rivers finished the game with 331 yards but it was at the expense of 2 sacks and a pick; not to mention it took him 51 passes to get to that feat. What should also be noted, is that the Patriots forced the Chargers to abandon the run, as they only had 10 rushes for 19 yards. The Chiefs had a very similar defensive performance against the Colts. They were able to hold Indy to only 13 points while sacking Colts QB Andrew Luck 3 times.
However, the defenses for these teams are not as prolific as their offenses, which is obvious. The Chiefs have lit up teams all season with QB Patrick Mahomes. His ability to make impossible throws, combined with the offensive genius of head coach Andy Reid, has made this team an offensive powerhouse. Kansas City has stayed on their league-leading scoring brand, lighting up scoreboards this year, even in their losses. They lost to the Rams, despite scoring 51 points; they scored 31 in a loss to the Seahawks, 28 in a loss to the Chargers and 43 in a loss to the same Patriots they face this weekend. New England might not be on the level of the Chiefs, when it comes to consistently putting points on the board, but this 5th ranked offense will score enough to win and do so methodically. They do not have the explosive weapons, that the Chiefs provide but they pick you apart in the right spots. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team’s obvious best option, is not a deep threat but he can find little open spots 5 yards in and turn them into 10 or 15 yard plays.
The Kansas City Chiefs both have weapons, but the speed of the Chiefs will push them past the defending AFC champs in this rematch. In the last game, Chiefs receiver Tyreke Hill broke out for 7 catches and 142 yards, including 3 touchdowns in the 2nd half. Those scores were key in keeping Kansas City in the game after a 24-9 halftime deficit. Since the first matchup in Week 6, the Chiefs have lost running back Kareem Hunt to disciplinary issues, who has had some big games against the Pats in his short career. In the last game, Hunt had 5 catches for 105 yards and still rushed 10 times for 80 yards. His replacement, Damien Williams, can be just as dangerous on the ground. Since taking over the starting spot December 2, he has only averaged less than 4.5 yards per attempt once and had 2 100 yard rushing games, including a 129 yard day against Indianapolis last week. The Chiefs defense has also been a concern, but seems to have gotten better as evidenced in the Colts game. They tackled a lot better than they had all season, which was one of the problems that led to them being near the bottom of the league. This will probably be a close game, but expect the explosiveness of Kansas City to get them the win.
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