2019 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Preview

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs

Headley – New School vs Old School…Second year QB Patrick Mahomes gets his opportunity to take down the GOAT Tom Brady. Obviously they won’t be facing off against each other directly, they will be matched up against two defenses that are playing their best football this season; but if Mahomes wants to win this game he will need to out-duel a legend. In their first matchup during the regular season there were offensive fireworks as Brady got the ball last in the Patriots epic 43-40 victory over the Chiefs. The main difference in that game from the game that will be played this Sunday is the location. The #ChiefsKingdom will get to host their first-ever title game in Arrowhead and it will be a cold one. I know it’s never a good option to bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady but the crowd noise plus that ferocious Chiefs defensive line will tag team to make things difficult for Brady and the Patriots. I am picking the Chiefs and I will tell you what they need to do in order to get it done. The defensive line powered by Chris Jones, Dee Ford and Justin Houston will need their linebackers and defensive backs to play in unison with them to disrupt the timing of Brady and his weapons. And when I say weapons I am mainly talking about Julian Edelman and James White. Edelman and White combined last week to catch 24 of Brady’s 34 completions. 70% of Brady’s completions went to just two guys as the Chargers stayed in zone coverage and got exploited. Rule #1 is to play man defense…Rule #2 is to put hands on Edelman at the line of scrimmage…Rule #3 is to have 2 defenders with eyes on Edelman…Rule #4 and what might be the hardest thing to do is to not allow White to find holes in your defense out of the backfield. You got to take him away with a man and a spy. Take your chances and force all other WRs and an aging Rob Gronkowski to beat 1 on 1 coverage. The Patriots will try and establish the run but when they choose to pass they will spread out the Chiefs in order to force their linebackers and safeties to cover Edelman and White in space. I am confident that the Chiefs defensive front can win their matchups but it will not make much difference if Brady can get the ball out of his hands quickly to his two security blankets. Follow those rules above and you will be in Atlanta in two weeks playing for the Bowl.

Drew – So much went right (No punts or penalties) for the Patriots in the regular season match-up against the Chiefs while just enough went wrong (2 interceptions and no passing touch down passes in the first half ) for the Chiefs in a 43 – 40 points bonanza that saw the Patriots come out on top. Let’s not forget Julian Edelman didn’t play in that game as well as a Patriots defense that was still trying to find itself. While the Chiefs defense… well let’s be real, it ain’t good. That defense lives in a reality where they just have to play well enough and wait on their offense to do what it has done all season score, score, score, and just when you think it’s done they score some more. Pedal to the metal applying so much pressure that the opposing teams offense is playing catch-up and not necessarily the game plan they came in with. Which in turn plays right into the hands of any defense, one dimensional ball, a defensive coordinator’s dream. Unfortunately for the Chiefs the best to ever coach the sport is on the other side and they will dictate what they do when they have the ball regardless of what the score is. Oh, did I forget to mention the Patriots defense has found themselves despite lacking in stand out talent. They have less than a handful of players we all know and everybody else (the vast majority) are role players, but I’m here to tell you that is no longer the tale I can tell. Case and point they put a muzzle on the run and pass game of the Los Angeles Chargers. I don’t believe there’ll be a muzzle this Sunday for the Chiefs offense but there might be some obstacles for Patrick Mahomes to deal with seeing how there are thirteen more games of tape for Belichick and crew to comb through.

Juice – Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice…. not gonna happen. I picked against the Patriots last week because I thought the Chargers were the most complete team in the AFC. I still believe they are even after they were dismantled by New England but what the Chargers AND Chiefs lack is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Patrick Mahomes has had an MVP campaign and Andy Reid is the preeminent quarterback whisperer in the NFL. The Chiefs defense has been stingy at home led by a terrific pass rush; and their willingness to play man-to-man and challenge the opposition’s receivers at the line of scrimmage is part of the requisite formula to beat New England. Not to mention New England just isn’t the same team away from Foxboro… It makes sense why the Chiefs are the favorites and many pundits have them representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. However, the battle tested Pats can take a punch which is exactly what they will have to do early in the game considering Andy Reid’s masterful ability to script up the first 15 plays or so.

Defensively New England did a great job against Kansas City for a half during the regular season contest and the Colts adjusted well in the second half of the divisional game against the Chiefs. Trust me, Belichick took note of that as well as how the Ravens contained Mahomes during the majority of the Ravens and Chiefs regular season matchup. Hell, the Patriots looked like the Ravens defense a week ago so expect a great game plan and effort from the New England defense. The arctic forecast favors New England’s running game against the Chiefs that have allowed 5.0 yards a carry this season. Kansas City will play man-to-man but I don’t think they have the horses to get it done for four quarters especially without little known Dorian O’Daniel (out with injury), a speedy second level defender who would have been tasked with covering James White out of the backfield. Everyone wants to know how New England is going to slow down the Chiefs offense; but not enough people are asking whether the Chiefs have the personnel to stop the chameleon-like offense of the Patriots? I got the Pats by six.

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

Headley – It is Rematch Sunday for the Conference Championship games. Two offensive geniuses get to dig deep in their playbooks to try and one up each other. Sean Payton vs Sean McVay…the battle of the Seans. Their first matchup was an offensive shootout as the Saints got the better of the Rams in a 45-35 victory in the Super Dome. Same venue but I am going with a different result. First off I don’t think this game will be high scoring like their first matchup and I like the Rams mainly because of that new two-headed running game. Yea the Saints have their own two headed monster in the backfield but what C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley did last week against the Cowboys was eye opening. 273 yards! I expect McVay to implement the same formula of misdirection, cutbacks, motions and outside zone schemes to bludgeon the Sheldon Rankings-less New Orleans Saints defensive line. The All-Pro Cameron Jordan will be there this Sunday but losing Rankings is a huge loss for a Saints defense that finished second in the league in rush defense at 80.2 yards per game. On the other side of the ball I like the matchup of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh against the interior of the Saints offensive line but the true challenge will be to contain Michael Thomas who went for 211 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches during their Week 9 matchup. The good news for the Rams is that Aqib Talib who missed that game due to injury is back in the lineup and should see a lot of Thomas in coverage. This will free up Marcus Peters to do what he does best against a lesser receiver in off coverage, get his hands on the football, get the last laugh and stick it to Payton and the Saints.

Drew – We all saw this coming right? About midway through the season or so, right? It’s funny how coaching matters so damn much! Just two years ago the Los Angeles Rams were one of the worst teams in the league and one of those teams on offense that you just couldn’t watch. Watching that offense was like listening to finger nails on a chalkboard. Todd Gurely was a bust, Jared Goff was a bust. What the hell were Les Snead and Jeff Fisher doing? I could sit here and type about all the talent on both teams one doing most of it through the draft while the other did a lot more of it through Free Agency but at the end of the day both teams are one step away from that finally match-up. My heart is telling me the Saints but my head is telling me the Rams and I’m going to take the latter. As much as I like the Saints defense who hasn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher all season, I can’t look passed the fact that this time around Aqib Talib is healthy and available. In a sense the Rams defense was playing left handed the last time these two teams met, not having your best player in the secondary. As talented as Marcus Peters is he isn’t at the same level as his teammate Talib. What I can promise you is the Saints will get plenty of different looks from the Rams defense unlike what they got from the Eagles who lived in the Cover 3. Folks have crowned Michael Thomas the best receiver in the game for last week’s performance and while it was sensational it was what he and Brees were suppose to do. The Eagles were stubborn in their approach and lost because of said approach. For this reason, I do believe the Rams will pull it out in a close one.

Juice – If Jared Goff goes OFF “he’s a product of the system” (as is every other quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers). If Goff doesn’t put up big numbers and just manages the game, he’s the “weakest link”. If Goff struggles, “he’s a bust!” I wonder what folks will say after the Rams not only win the NFC Conference Championship but the Super Bowl as well? Yes, I like the Rams in this contest. The loss of Sheldon Rankins looms big for the Saints considering what the Rams offensive line did to Dallas’ defense a week ago; and as well as the Saints play at home I’m not convinced their typically stout run defense will be up to the task for all four quarters. Michael Thomas should see a ton of Aqib Talib in man coverage which is a far cry from Marcus Peters who is better suited for zone defense. Unless someone other than Michael Thomas can get open quickly and be a consistent threat in the passing game I can’t imagine the Saints can win in the multitude of ways necessary to beat opponents at this stage of the season. Drew Brees and company will be game and the outcome won’t be determined until the final stages of the contest but the best player in the NFL, Aaron Donald, will make a play late to seal the deal.



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