I had a much better week with my predictions of the NFL divisional round. I was 3-1. My one incorrect pick was choosing the Colts to upset the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
I picked the Colts because for two reasons. One: I thought Andrew Luck would have the better game than Patrick Mahomes. Luck was 19-36 for 203 yards and one touchdown. Mahomes was 27-41 for 278. Strike one.
The other reason was that I thought the Chiefs wouldn’t advance in the playoffs without Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt, who was let go by the team after a video surfaced of him involved in a domestic violence incident. I didn’t take into account that Damien Williams would run all over the Colts defense, totaling 129 yards rushing and a TD on 25 carries. Strike two.
Oh, well. At least I was right on the other playoff games.
The Rams defense contained Ezekiel Elliott to just 47 yards on 20 carries, and the Rams topped the Cowboys.
Tom Brady continues to make his case for G.O.A.T. At age 41, he threw for 343 yards and a touchdown to lead the Patriots over the Chargers.
The Eagles won’t repeat, and the Saints march on. In the Eagles’ final drive, a Nick Foles pass to the usually sure-handed Alshon Jeffrey went through his hands and was picked off by Saints DB Marcus Lattimore.
So, here we are. The conference championships.
Two games. Two teams will punch their tickets to the Super Bowl. Here we go:
Los Angeles Rams (13-3) at New Orleans Saints (13-3); Saints -3.5 favorite
Both these games feature quarterback battles that could be considered old guard vs. new guard.
In the NFC title game, we have future hall of famer Drew Brees against young hotshot Jared Goff.
Typically when making these picks, I’m prone to favor experience. Brees is a Super Bowl champ, so wouldn’t be a reason for me to not pick the Saints.
But perhaps the Saints should be on upset alert here.
The Saints have averaged 31.5 points a game this season, which is third best in the NFL. New Orleans scored just 20 against Philadelphia.
And if not for that pass that went right through Jeffrey’s hands and got picked off, perhaps the Eagles would have marched down to score a late touchdown.
Saints rusher Alvin Kamara ran for 71 yards on 16 carries, and backfield mate Mark Ingram ran for 53 yards on nine carries including one rush for 36 yards.
If neither one can find a way to be more productive against this Rams defense that was able to contain a running back like Elliott, the Saints might be in trouble here.
But, while the Rams are set up to make playoff runs for years to come led by young talents Goff, RB Todd Gurley and DT Aaron Donald, I just can’t help but think that Brees, head coach Sean Payton and the Saints are going to find a way to get the win at home.
Just a gut feeling, but I’m sticking with experience in this matchup.
I say the Saints march on to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4); Chiefs -3.0 favorite
The AFC championship, too, features a quarterback battle between a future hall of famer and a young upstart.
Brady is going for a fifth Super Bowl ring. No need to go down the list of his accolades.
Mahomes, on the other hand, aims to continue to rewrite the books on what’s been an already historic season.
Mahomes this year has totaled 5,097 passing yards, 50 TDs and just 12 interceptions. In the process, he’s set three Chiefs franchise records and became just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in one season — the other is the great Peyton Manning.
That on top of leading the team to host the AFC Championship game for the first time. Have a year, young man.
I said I’d typically side with experience, but Mahomes is forcing me to give this pick a second, third and fourth thoughts.
Both the Chiefs and the Pats were dominant in their respective divisional games, so current form isn’t the issue.
One thing to consider, though, is the Patriots are just 3-5 on the road while the Chiefs are 7-1 at home. But also, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is just 12-13 in the playoffs.
Despite great seasons, both have pros and cons. Ultimately, and this just another gut feeling, I think the Chiefs just have something figured out with Mahomes. The numbers just prove it.
With him leading the way, I say the Chiefs beat the great Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots in Arrowhead.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.