NFL Conference Championship Weekend Breakdown

After two weeks of NFL playoff football, four teams remain in the fold with aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 53.

The top two seeds in both the NFC – Rams and Saints – and the AFC – Patriots and Chiefs – will face each other for the second time after having already met in the regular season. The Saints defeated the Rams 45-35 during week 9 in the Superdome. The Patriots topped the Chiefs 43-40 on a week 6 Sunday Night Football affair, but that game took place in a different venue than this weekend’s.

The four top offenses in the NFL will be represented during conference championship weekend. It shouldn’t shock anyone that both aforementioned head-to-head games, as well as the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs in week 11 on Monday Night Football were three of the best games of the regular season.

It won’t be easy for these four teams to replicate the offensive numbers put up from a short while ago. All four squads have film from the previous meetings, in addition to the hours of film compiled up from the divisional round and the last few weeks of the regular season. But after seeing all four teams combine for 163 points in their prior meetings, anything’s possible.

Conference Championship weekend features two games, both on Sunday. Time to see how the Charm City Bird Watch staff thinks these games will play out.


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Image Credit: USA Today

NFC: #2 Los Angeles Rams @ #1 New Orleans Saints – 3:05 pm – FOX

JakeAfter falling victim to the Minneapolis miracle in last year’s divisional round, the Saints are a better team that’s one win away from the Super Bowl. New Orleans has reached the team’s third NFC Championship game of the Drew Brees era. In 2007 the Saints lost to the Chicago Bears, but in 2010 Brees and company took down Brett Favre and the Vikings before winning Super Bowl 44.

Last week’s 30-22 with over the Cowboys did more for the Rams than people realize. In the divisional round last year, the Atlanta Falcons marched into Los Angeles and walked out with a 26-13 win. Sean McVay, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley now have a playoff win under their belts. That alone will give this Rams team confidence entering their third trip (preseason included) to the Superdome this season.

Taking a look at the Rams offense against the Saints defense, Gurley and C.J. Anderson have their work cut out for them against the NFL’s second-ranked run defense. The Saints also racked up the fifth-most sacks in the regular season. If the Rams cannot get the run game going, which they almost fully relied on last week against Dallas, Goff and company are in trouble. As I said in last week’s divisional round preview, Goff gets flustered when the Rams need to abandon the run and trust his arm. Last week the Rams ran the ball 48 times compared to 28 pass plays. In week 9 Goff threw for 391 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, but the Rams failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards. If the same happens on Sunday, I’ll be intrigued to see how Goff responds.

Focusing on the Saints offense against the Rams defense, if the Rams let up 45 points again, they’ll be watching the Super Bowl on the couch. In that November 4 meeting, Brees posted 346 passing yards with four touchdowns, while the Saints combined for 141 yards on the ground. Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, eerily similar to his line against the Eagles on Sunday – 12 receptions, 171 yards, and a touchdown. Thomas vs. Marcus Peters is a matchup that everyone will have their eye on following some interesting comments from Peters in response to Sean Payton. A piece of the Rams defense that they did not have in week 9 is cornerback Aqib Talib, who will bring some physicality that wasn’t there in November.

In the end, I think the Saints find a way to advance to their second Super Bowl of Brees’s career. I have confidence that the Saints defense will take away the run and put the game on the shoulders of Goff. I think Wade Phillips and the Rams defense correct a lot of the mistakes that they made in their prior meeting with New Orleans, leading to a lower-scoring game. I think the Saints score a go-ahead touchdown with two of three minutes remaining in the game and Goff comes just short of bringing the Rams back.

Score: Saints 34 Rams 29

NolanThe Rams pose a big threat to the Saints this weekend but I am going to stand by New Orleans as my pick to win it all. I was very nervous at the end of the Eagles and Saints game last week simply because I didn’t think the game would be close late in the fourth quarter. The good news is the Saints showed they were able to not only come back from a 14-point deficit, but also come away with a turnover with the game on the line. Much like the other three teams playing this weekend, the Saints rolled past a majority of their opponents because of their high scoring offense. I am even more confident in them after watching last week’s game because it showed me that New Orleans can handle themselves when things don’t go their way.

If Los Angeles is going to go into the superdome and win on Sunday they will have to continue to run the ball extremely well. Todd Gurley was able to play last week against Dallas but did not have to do it all as C.J Anderson continued to be a reliable option in the Rams backfield. Taking the pressure off of their young quarterback Jared Goff will be essential, especially in a very wild road environment. To his credit, Goff had a great game when the Rams visited New Orleans earlier this year. However, the Saints were up by 21 at one point in the second half and won.

Score: Saints 31 Rams 30

IanThe Rams come into this game fresh off the heels of a dominant 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys last week. I have often doubted the Rams’ toughness throughout their renaissance over the last few years. They are a flashy team in a flashy town and in the playoffs. Those types of teams will usually falter against a tougher, hard-nosed team.

The Rams shut that notion down last week as they out Dallas’ed Dallas. The Rams rushed for 273 yards in the contest and held Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushing attack to 50 yards. The Rams had two 100-yard rushers in journeymen CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley. I’d look for the Rams to try to lean on this type of ball-control, run-oriented offense this Sunday in New Orleans.

They need to commit to bracketing Michael Thomas defensively and will need their run defense to continue their run of strong play against Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. If they are able to do these things, I think they could emerge victorious.

They are taking on a Saints team that cruised throughout much of the regular season and has arguably the best homefield advantage in the NFL. They played the closest game of last week both in final score and to the eye test as they won a 20-14 decision against the Eagles.

The Saints struggled early, allowing Philly to jump out to a 14-0 lead before getting their way back into the game in the second quarter and going in front for good late in the third quarter on a Thomas touchdown catch. Thomas is a beast and the Saints will need to him to come up with another big game if they want to make it to the Super Bowl. If he duplicates the 120-catch 171-yard performance, it will be a sad day in New Orleans for the Rams.

The Saints defense held the Eagles to 99 yards after the first two drives of the game and that unit has been playing as good as any defense in football heading into this one. I think Sean Belichi…. McVay will have some new wrinkles in his offense this week. Couple that with a great game plan from Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and the Rams will punch their tickets to Atlanta. 

Score: Rams 31 Saints 27


 

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Image Credit: Musket Fire

AFC: #2 New England Patriots @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs – 6:40 pm – CBS

Jake: What can be stated about the Patriots that you don’t already know? They’ve made the AFC Championship game eight years in a row now, and are fighting to reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last five years. If you’re a fan of any team other than the Patriots, you’re most likely rooting against them for several reasons, one of them simply being that watching the Patriots in the Super Bowl has gotten old. That’s certainly why I hope they don’t win.

On Saturday the Chiefs’ 31-13 win over the Colts gave Kansas City their first home playoff victory in 28 years. This is the fifth year in Andy Reid‘s six-year tenure that the Chiefs have reached the postseason, and the second time Kansas City was awarded a bye. In the 2016 season the Chiefs clinched the #2 seed, but lost to the Steelers in the divisional round. Last year told a similar tale as the 9-7 Tennessee Titans marched into Arrowhead Stadium and pulled off a 22-21 upset.

The difference for the Chiefs this year is that they now have Patrick Mahomes playing quarterback at an MVP-caliber level. In his first full season as Kansas City’s starting quarterback, In the regular season Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns came at the expense of the Patriots in October, with Tyreek Hill finishing the game with 142 yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions.

Tom Brady and the Patriots were disrespected last week before they gave the Chargers a 41-28 spanking. For the last few years the Patriots have looked old and slow at times in the regular season, but they always play their best football in the playoffs. What should scare Patriots fans is that while New England went 9-0 at Gillette Stadium this season, the Pats are 3-5 on the road and have lost their last three AFC Championship games played outside of Foxborough. Luckily for them, the quarterback that handed the Patriots all three of those losses – Peyton Manning – is retired.

Before I break down the matchups, I think it’s worth noting that Sunday’s forecast for Kansas City calls for a high of 25 degrees and a low of 20 degrees, but it will feel colder with the wind chill and the sun already setting before kickoff.

This game will likely turn into a similar shootout that we saw in October. It’s no mistake that the Chiefs have heavily relied on their offense this season. Kansas City finished with the NFL’s 31st ranked defense, going 31st against the pass and 27th versus the run. The Patriots will be just fine on offense. Anticipate Brady and Julian Edelman‘s connection to be strong just like last week, where Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards. Although these two make up one of the NFL’s oldest quarterback-receiver duos, they’ve played on big stages like this for years. Combine that along with New England’s fifth-ranked run offense that ended with 155 yards during last Sunday’s win over the Chargers, and the Patriots will likely be scoring often. Honestly, the hardest challenge for the Patriots offense on Sunday will be the extremely loud crowd at Arrowhead.

Mahomes and company will also spend a lot of time scoring touchdowns on Sunday against the Patriots 21st-overall defense. Having Sammy Watkins back in-the-fold last week against the Colts proved big dividends. Watkins only caught six passes for 62 yards, but his presence alone took the Colts’ attention away from guys like Hill, Travis Kelce, and Damien Williams. This season the Chiefs are 9-2 with Watkins in the lineup and 3-2 without him. Kansas City faced some tough opponents without Watkins like the Rams, and his absence led to the Chiefs offense struggling at times late in the regular season. If Watkins takes the attention away from Hill and Kelce, the Chiefs can pick apart the Patriots defense. Don’t forget that Williams dashed for 129 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against the Chargers. If he can replicate that performance again on the frigid Arrowhead grass, look out.

This is a tough call, but the reason why I’m picking the Chiefs is because their weapons on offense are a lot better than what the Patriots have. The Chiefs are the #1 seed in the AFC for a reason. I picked against the Patriots last week and ate my words, and if the Patriots escape Kansas City with a win I would not be shocked at all. The Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championships on the road to Manning-led teams. I think that trend continues on Sunday. The Eagles dethroned the Patriots in Super Bowl 52 last season, and I think the Philly magic rubs off on Reid, a former Eagles head coach, this weekend.

Score: Chiefs 27 Patriots 24

Nolan: Just when you thought the Patriots couldn’t get any more unbearable, they come out this week and try to push themselves as an underdog team. Just because the Chiefs are a three-point favorite at home on Sunday doesn’t mean you can call yourself an underdog. Especially not the team that is playing in their eighth straight AFC championship game. In reality, it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else has to say because the Patriots are only doing this to appeal to their fan base and build some extra motivation.

As far as the game goes, I am going to pick the so-called underdogs. I still don’t have confidence that the Chiefs defense can stop Tom Brady or that strong Patriots run game with the game on the line. Patrick Mahomes will likely find a way to put up a good amount of points, even if the weather is foul, but I don’t think the Chiefs defense will stop the Patriots from storming back if it turns into a shootout like their meeting earlier this year. Kansas City will enjoy the benefits of playing at home but in the end the experience of Bill Belichick and Brady makes them more favorable than Andy Reid and Mahomes in my eyes.

Score: Patriots 38 Chiefs 35

Ian: Here we are getting ready for the AFC Championship and the Patriots are here again. Lady Brady and Lord Belichick guided their Patriots machine to their eighth  consecutive AFC Championship appearance courtesy of a  41-28 shellacking of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Patriots dominated against LA, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives of the game and staking themselves to what amounted to a 35-7 lead at halftime. Brady was lights out per usual, finishing 34-for-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots have found a running game to in rookie running back Sony Michel, who picked up 129 yards and three touchdowns. Brady wasn’t sacked and that will be the key to New England’s success at Arrowhead this Sunday.

New England’s defense shut down the Chargers offense last weekend. The Patriots defense held  them to punts on five of their first six drives before allowing a few fourth quarter touchdowns late to make the score line look better. It could be a long day for this group as Patrick Mahomes and company have scored an average of 32 points-per-game at home this season.

Mahomes and the Chiefs throttled the Indianpolis Colts 31-13 this past Saturday to advance to the AFC title game. Mahomes didn’t pass for any touchdowns for the first time this season but he finished 27-for-41 for 278 yards and a rushing touchdown. In the passing game Travis Kelce had 108 yards receiving and Tyreek Hill chipped in eight catches for 72 yards. Sammy Watkins returned to the lineup and added six catches for 62 yards.

Mahomes’s  touchdown run was one of four rushing touchdowns for Kansas City on the day with Hill, Darrel Williams, and Damien Williams also adding scores on the ground. The Chiefs passing attack is normally where their bread is buttered, but their ability to establish a running game last week leads to another dimension for Belichick to gameplan for this Sunday.

The much-maligned Chiefs defense does one thing well: get to the quarterback. They finished tied for first in sacks with 52 on the season. Chris Jones finished third in the NFL with 15.5 sacks and fellow sack artist Dee Ford finished tied for eighth with 13. Ford picked up one of three sacks last week against the Colts with veteran Justin Houston picking up the other two. J. Houston finished with nine sacks in the regular season.

Brady doesn’t move well, the Chiefs consistently get to the quarterback. I am not one to pick against Brady and Belichick often especially in the playoffs, but I think the pass rush will be too much for the Pats.

Score: Chiefs 30 Patriots 22

Featured Image Credit: Vegas Sports Zone

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Podcast Episode 34: Talking Ravens OC change, who’s going to the Super Bowl, and the red hot Terps

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NFL Divisional Round Breakdown

Even though the Ravens find themselves on the outside looking in at the rest of the NFL postseason, the Charm City Bird Watch writers continue their playoff breakdown with some thoughts and picks for the four games making up the divisional round this weekend.

Just like Wild Card weekend, there are two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday.


Saturday, January 12

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Image Credit: Bleacher Report 

AFC: #6 Colts @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs – 4:35 pm – NBC

JakeUp until their bye week in week 12, the Chiefs were the hottest team in the AFC and up there with the Saints and Rams as the best team in the NFL. But in the five games since their bye week, the Chiefs went 3-2 and were one play away from losing to the Ravens in week 14. Since week 7, the Colts went 10-1, including last week’s 21-7 Wild Card win over Houston.

Even without Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs have plenty of weapons on offense. Watkins returned to practice this week and has a chance to play on Saturday. The Chiefs defense is another story. Kansas City’s defense allowed 27 or more points eight times this season, while Andrew Luck and the Colts offense scored 27 or more points nine times. If you thought what Luck did to the Texans defense was impressive last week, wait until Saturday. I think this game will turn into a shootout. In the end, Patrick Mahomes makes the first mistake and Luck’s playoff experience leads Indy to a game-winning drive.

Score: Colts 37 Chiefs 34

NolanWhen I look at this matchup I see a Colts team that has won six straight and a Chiefs team that lost two of its final three games and has been sitting around for a week. Make no mistake, this Chiefs offense is as good as it gets but they have not been able to make up for their atrocious defense. All four of the Chiefs losses this season came against playoff teams in high scoring shootouts.

Patrick Mahomes and company can put up all the points they want but the defense has rarely held a lead against quality opponents. I think that Andrew Luck and the Colts will march into Arrowhead with all the confidence in the world. They have been playing win or go home games for so many weeks in a row that the playoffs probably don’t feel any different for them. For that reason, I believe all the pressure will be on the Chiefs as Mahomes makes his first playoff start and Andy Reid desperately tries to prove he can keep a team from choking in the postseason.

Score: Colts 35 Chiefs 33

Ian: Andy Reid-coached teams have a terrible reputation of failing to get the job done in big games. From back in his days with the Eagles, playoff disappointments have been his MO. Reid is 11-13 lifetime in the postseason, fresh off the heels of a 22-21 home loss in last year’s AFC Wildcard round to the Titans. In that game the Chiefs failed to score a second-half point and saw their 21-3 halftime lead evaporate.

Enter NFL MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes. The first-year starter tallied over 5,000 yards passing and tossed a NFL-high 50 touchdowns. At every turn, Mahomes has proven to be the real deal, leading the Chiefs to a 12-4 record and the number one seed in the AFC. Can things be different for Reid this time?

The Andrew Luck-led Colts come calling, winners of 10 of their last 11 contests including last week’s 21-7 embarrassment of the Houston Texans. Indy has leaned on Luck throughout most of this run but have also revived their running game thanks to Marlon Mack, who has racked up five 100-yard games during the streak.

Three of the young quarterbacks (DeShaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Mitchell Trubisky) lost last week. Mahomes is the best of that bunch and something tells me he makes just enough plays to get the Chiefs on to the AFC Championship game.

Key stat to watch here: Colts are just 4-4 on the road and average almost a touchdown less per game away from home.

Score: Chiefs 31 Colts 26

JayThis matchup is one I am extremely excited for. Two powerful offenses led by excellent quarterbacks. The likely MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL’s top offense against Andrew Luck and the surprisingly good Indianapolis Colts.

Mahomes has led this Chiefs offense to elite status with his quarterback play. He’s thrown 50 touchdown passes during the regular season. The Chiefs are far from famished when it comes to offensive talent. They are blessed with arguably the best tight end in the NFL with Travis Kelce, a top 5 wide receiver with Tyreek Hill who had nearly 1,500 yards receiving during the regular season.

As stacked as the Chiefs seem to be, the Colts aren’t far behind. While Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns, the next closest quarterback was Andrew Luck with 39. Luck has an absolutely lethal target with T.Y. Hilton who is an extremely underrated wide receiver. In my book, Hill is certainly a top 10 target for any NFL quarterback.

Besides starting 1-5 and making it to the divisional round, the biggest surprise to come out of Indianapolis has been the Colt defense. The defense, which really turned things around in the second half of the season, is led by rookie phenom Darius Leonard who led the league with 163 tackles. As well as the Colts defense has played, it has been nearly impossible for any defense to stop the Mahomes show. But I believe the Colts get it done on the road behind a steady run game along with the arm of Luck. Look for the Colts to eke out a win here in a gunfight at Arrowhead.

Score: Colts 31 Chiefs 28


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Image Credit: Turf Show Times 

NFC: #4 Dallas Cowboys @ #2 Los Angeles Rams – 8:15 pm – FOX

Jake: Like the Chiefs, the Rams went 3-2 after their bye after winning 10 of 11 games. Those two losses came against two teams who made the playoffs – the Bears and the Eagles – and the Jared Goff-led offense scored a combined 29 points over those two games. Over the final five games, Goff threw six touchdowns and six interceptions. Four of those six touchdowns came in the Rams’ 48-32 week 17 win against the 49ers.

Against the Bears third-ranked defense 14, Goff threw for 180 yards and four interceptions. Dallas owns the seventh-ranked defense in the NFL, but they come in fifth against the run. That will put all the pressure on Goff’s shoulders, and he’s gotten flustered when asked to carry the Rams offense.

Including Dallas’ 24-22 Wild Card win over the Seahawks, the Cowboys have won eight of their last nine. For all the criticism Dak Prescott gets, he’s done what Tony Romo couldn’t do throughout his career, and that was come through in the clutch. Both offenses will struggle to move the ball. Unlike my projections for Saturday’s AFC Tilt, this game will be low-scoring. It will be close, but I think Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott putting together a game-winning drive is more likely than Goff and Todd Gurley getting it done.

Score: Cowboys 23, Rams 19

Nolan: I was the only one who believed in the Cowboys last week but that nice win over Seattle did not come without an injury tax. Dallas lost Allen Hurns to a season-ending injury while fellow receivers Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin got banged up as well. Jerry Jones has stated that he thinks both Beasley and Austin will suit up on Saturday but they are still questionable for now.

The Rams are much healthier. Todd Gurley’s status will be a huge factor but he has had some extra time to rest with the bye week. Even if Gurley is not ready to go, C.J Anderson has shown he can step up and be a go-to option after racking up 299 yards on the ground in the Rams final two games of the season. The Rams may have disappointed in the playoffs last year but I think they will be just fine at home on Saturday. Sean McVay’s team has hosted a handful of tough opponents at the Coliseum this year and still finished with a 7-1 home record.

Score: Rams 29 Cowboys 20

Ian: Dak Preskott and the Cowboys come into Saturday night’s contest winners of eight of their last nine games with their only setback being a 23-0 road loss to the Colts. The Cowboys feature one of the NFL’ top running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and the Rams are 23rd against the run, giving up over five yards a carry.

Dallas also ranks seventh in total defense, good for the highest-ranked defense remaining in the playoffs. Leighton Vander Esch is a frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year on that unit and DeMarcus Lawrence has his second straight 10+ sack season.

The Rams are the two seed in the NFC and are at 13-3 on the year. They split their last four games with wins over the Cardinals and 49ers with losses to the Bears and Eagles. LA has not been the same since their bye week and that is non-negotiable.

But the Rams are loaded. They are hopeful to get a healthy Todd Gurley back and that should help bring some of the spark back to their offense. The Rams are 7-1 at home while Dallas is 3-5 on the road this season.

Plus it’s the Cowboys. They always choke right?

Score: Rams 26 Cowboys 24

Jay: This matchup features the quarterbacks of the future. Both Jared Goff and Dak Prescott are from the 2016 draft class. And Both have led their respective teams to big wins this season. Prescott has had controversy swirling around him, elevating his game play to the next level of consistency. Ezekiel Elliot is without a doubt the best offensive weapon the Cowboys have. In my opinion, their only chance to win this game is for Elliott to have a HUGE game.

The Rams are dripping with talent on both sides of the ball. The Rams have Todd Gurley who led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns, they have a plethora of wide receivers that Goff has no problem spreading the ball around to. They have two receivers with over 1,200 yards receiving and at least 80+ catches. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods will test this Dallas secondary very early in the game. I would like for the Rams to get off to a hot start and take away the Dallas running game. If they do so they rely on Dak’s arm and the Cowboys offensive line to protect him. If the Cowboys are forced to go one dimensional it will leave the Rams with Aaron Donald chomping at the bit.

Score: Rams 23 Cowboys 16


Sunday, January 13

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Image Credit: Pats Pulpit 

AFC: #5 Los Angeles Chargers @ #2 New England Patriots – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: I understand that together, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will go down as the best quarterback-head coach partnership of all time. I get that that no one goes into New England and beats the Patriots in the playoffs. I agree that the Patriots would much rather play the Chargers this week than the Ravens if Baltimore had squeaked out a win over Los Angeles in the Wild Card round.

But after watching how the Chargers defense absolutely destroyed the Ravens offense, I don’t know how Brady and his below-average weapons will put up points against the likes of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James. You could make an argument that the Ravens group of running backs, receivers, and tight ends are more talented than what the Patriots have, especially after Josh Gordon went back to rehab. That’s saying something.

I’m expecting a close game for a number of reasons. Philip Rivers is reportedly dealing with a sore arm and Melvin Gordon got banged up again last week. On Monday the early weather forecast in Foxboro called for snow, but that’s since changed. It’s still going to be below freezing, which wasn’t the case in sunny Baltimore on Sunday.

Fans across the NFL (except Patriots fans) have long waited for the collapse of the Patriots. We saw some signs of regression throughout the regular season, and I think the Chargers put the nail in the coffin and punch their ticket to their first AFC Championship since 2008.

Score: Chargers 26, Patriots 24

Nolan: Only two teams in the last 20 years have gone into Foxborough in the playoffs and defeated the Patriots on their home turf. This Sunday the Los Angeles Chargers will become the third.

The Chargers have been road warriors all year, moving to 8-1 last week with a 23-17 win in Baltimore. They’ve shown that they are the most balanced team in the AFC.

I am not discrediting the Patriots. I understand their history in the postseason and the fact that they are undefeated at home this year. However, this might be the weakest New England team we have seen in a long time. Brady lost a nice weapon a few weeks ago when Josh Gordon decided to step away from the league. Rob Gronkowski has not been fully healthy in years and it’s really starting to have a significant impact on his performance. That leaves Julian Edelman as the only big threat in the Patriots passing game.

The only thing standing in the Chargers way is themselves. Despite handling the Ravens with ease last week, they still came up short in the red zone too often. Settling for field goals will not be an option if they want to beat the Patriots.

Score: Chargers 23 Patriots 21

Ian: As we all know the Chargers are the jerks that ended the Ravens season. They have lost only twice in their last 14 games and are arguably the most talented team in the NFL top to bottom. Philip Rivers has been terrible the last three weeks and is unlikely to deliver another clunker. Melvin Gordon should have another week of health under his belt as well. The Chargers have capable wide receivers all over the field and will officially welcome back Hunter Henry to the mix. Henry was activated to the Chargers 53-man roster on Monday. 

LA’s defense ruined the Ravens offense’s entire gameplan last week by switching to seven defensive backs and putting their two beast pass rushers – Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa – inside on the Ravens turnstile interior linemen. Ingram and Bosa wrecked the game from the beginning and the Ravens had no answers as the Chargers racked up seven sacks.

The Patriots come into this matchup with the Chargers once again being doubted. The yearly mantra of “New England doesn’t look so tough this year” has been circulating once again. The Pats have looked old at time this season. Gronk looks done. Tom Brady is fading. Yadda Yadda Yadda.

Brady and Bill Belichick are 27-10 in the playoffs together. They are 19-3 at home in the playoffs (two losses to Flac Daddy and the Ravens, and one to Sanchize and the Jets).  Brady had eight touchdowns and no picks in the playoffs last season after once again hearing how weak the Patriots looked going into the postseason.

Score: Patriots 30 Chargers 17

Jay: Are the Patriots still good? Yes. As long as Bill Belichick is still coaching and Tom Brady is under center the Patriots will be good. Did they have a “DOWN” season? That I don’t understand the Patriots are still 11-5 coming off a first-round bye with another road team coming into Foxboro. Road teams haven’t won in Foxboro during the playoffs since the Baltimore Ravens did it on their way to the Superbowl in 2013.

Sure, Brady is slowing down and Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been healthy, so the stats might not be there like they once were. But they still have the best head coach/quarterback duo in the history of the NFL.

Now to the Chargers, who looks like they are the most well-rounded team in the NFL. They can beat you at all facets of the game. Although historically unsuccessful in the playoffs, Philip Rivers has been one most consistent starting quarterbacks in the NFL for more than a decade. This game features a great matchup between two wily old vets who aren’t strangers in the postseason. Brady and the Patriots are 2-0 in the playoff versus Rivers and the Chargers. But many think this Chargers team is different they have a top 10 running back in the league with Melvin Gordon. Gordon has had over 2,000 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons combined. The Chargers also boast deep wide receiver/tight end group led by Keenan Allen and the crafty veteran Antonio Gates.

Many would argue the Chargers’ biggest weapon is on their defense with the pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa. The Chargers defense is certainly legit and has given teams fits all season long. In this game I anticipate Brady will put together another dazzling game-winning drive. I’m taking the Patriots in a close one.

Score: Patriots 28, Chargers 24


NFC: #6 Philadelphia Eagles @ #1 New Orleans Saints – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: Much to the chagrin of all the Eagles fans I know, I picked against them in both the divisional round and conference championship round last year before picking them to win Super Bowl 52. I picked them again last week against Chicago and thanks to a blocked field goal, I ended Wild Card weekend 3-1 overall.

I’m sorry, Philadelphia, but I cannot pick the Eagles this week. I give all the credit in the world to what Nick Foles did in the final few weeks of the season (along with other help around the NFC) to get the Eagles back into the postseason. There is indeed something magical about Foles and this Eagles team that cannot be explained, but Philly’s hopes and dreams of winning their second straight Super Bowl  will end this weekend in the Superdome.

While I think the Eagles offense will be just fine, this game will come down to Drew Brees picking apart the Eagles secondary that’s been rattled with injuries throughout the season. In the first half of the regular season you could have made the case for the best team in the NFL being either the Saints, Chiefs, or Rams. As time went on, the Saints emerged as the best team and I believe Brees will win his second Lombardi trophy when it’s all said and done.

I will not be surprised at all if the magic in Philly continues this weekend, but I cannot pick against the Saints, the best team in the NFL.

Score: Saints 35, Eagles 24

Nolan: The Nick Foles magic in Philly seems unstoppable at this point. As much as I sound like a hater when it comes to the Eagles, I genuinely did not see them winning any of the playoff games they have been in over the past two years. That will be the case once again this week as they travel to New Orleans.

The Saints are my pick to win it all this year so I don’t care who they are matched up against. The road to the Super bowl will go through the Superdome and I don’t think anyone can go in there and take down the Saints. If New Orleans can jump out to an early lead, like they did when they hosted the Eagles earlier this year, I think they will run away with it. Since Foles has taken over as starter, the Eagles have never trailed an opponent by more than five points. Their ability to win close games should not be overlooked. I just don’t like their chances if they find themselves down by more than a possession, which will likely be the case when taking on the high-powered Saints offense.

Score: Saints 31 Eagles 21

Ian: This should be the easiest game of the weekend to pick. The Eagles limped into the playoffs at 9-7 and the Saints are the SuperBowl favorites, sitting at 13-3 and having just enjoyed a bye week. Philly was in Chicago on Sunday night, moving forward in the playoffs thanks to a blocked field goal.

Nick Foles and company will continue to try and defy the odds when they head to the SuperDome to take on the Saints. Foles went 25-for-40 for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in Chicago against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Philly has no running game and Foles will need to be much better than what he showed against Chicago. 

Defensively the Eagles did a nice job Sunday shutting down Mitchell Trubisky and the upstart Bears offense. This was fresh off a shutout performance against the Redskins which helped propel them to the playoffs.  

Drew Brees leads a rested Saints unit that throttled the Eagles 48-7 on November 18 in New Orleans. Brees, the other most popular selection for MVP in the NFL this season, tossed 32 touchdowns in leading the Saints to the one seed in the NFC.

The Saints are arguably the best team in the NFL. They are at home and this feels like a season of destiny type thing for a Saints team trying to rebound from last season’s heartbreaking loss in the divisional round to the Minnesota Vikings.

Score: Saints 30 Eagles 22

Jay: The Philadelphia lord and savior Nick Foles did it again. Last week the Eagles upset the Bears in heart-breaking fashion when Cody Parkey double-doinked what would have been the game-winning field goal off the post and cross bar.

Of course, everyone is asking the same question following the upset, are the Eagles a better team without Carson Wentz? Wentz, just a year ago, led the Eagles through much of the season to be the best team in the NFC. But after injury, it was the play of Foles that won them the game that matters the most. He has been really good when the Eagles need him. And they will certainly need him to glow on Sunday when they take on the Saints.

The Drew Brees-led Saints have been arguably the best team this season, boasting an NFL-best 13-3 record. But as of late they’ve seemed to struggle getting their once high-powered offense rolling. Brees’s connection with Michael Thomas was extraordinary this season as Thomas caught 125 balls for 1,400+ yards. The Saints certainly have a plethora of offensive talent with Brees, Thomas, and the exceptional running/catching abilities of Alvin Kamara. The Saints are well rounded, and their defense has been pretty good down the stretch. If Cameron Jordan and company can get pressure to stop Foles, and pressure into early mistakes, I think this Saints team will run away handily. Bress and Thomas will have a huge game against this tattered Eagle secondary.  

Score: Saints 31 Eagles 20


Image Credit: USA Online Sportsbooks 

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