2018 Conference Championship Games Preview

It's down to the Rams, Saints, Patriots and Chiefs. Four teams each looking to reach Super Bowl LIII at Atlanta.

2018 Conference Championship Games Preview

By Julie Voigt and Russell S. Baxter (VIBE)

Special to Pro Football Guru

A week ago, all four home teams held serve in the Divisional Playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs handled the Indianapolis Colts, the Los Angeles Rams held off the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots routed the Los Angeles Chargers and the New Orleans Saints rallied to beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now Andy Reid has the Chiefs in the AFC title game for the first time since 1993. Meanwhile, the Saints are back in the conference title clash for the first time since ’09. And the Rams are this deep in the playoffs for the first time since ’01.

Meanwhile, the Pats are back in the AFC Championship Game for the eighth consecutive year. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Hence, here is PFG Vibe’s somewhat-unique look at the AFC-NFC Championship Games. Julie Voigt (VI) and Russell S. Baxter (BE) offer their quick analysis on both contests (All times ET). And by Sunday evening, who know which two teams are headed to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.

Note: Win-loss records include playoffs

Sunday, January 20

L.A. Rams (14-3) at New Orleans Saints (14-3), 3:05 pm

VI: Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is now the NFL’s all-time career passing yardage leader and continues to put up impressive overall numbers in his 18th season. The Rams are slight underdogs in this game and a second trip to New Orleans this season (the Saints won in Week 9, 45-35) doesn’t figure to be easy. But Sean McVay’s team is very healthy and running back Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson could prove to be a big-time handful for New Orleans’ defensive unit.

BE: What stands out is the fact that the Rams totaled 48 rushing plays for 273 yards last week against the Cowboys and struggled to put Jason Garrett’s team away. The Saints looked rusty last week perhaps due in part to the long layoff by Drew Brees and many of the other starters. But after giving up 151 total yards and 14 points on the Eagles’ first two drives last Sunday, Sean Payton’s club pitched a shutout and held the Birds to 99 yards on 30 offensive plays. Minus Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans’ second-ranked run defense will be challenged.

New England Patriots (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-4), 6:40 pm

VI: Sunday evening’s matchup cannot get any better than this. Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady. Kansas City is the number one seed in the AFC. But back in Week 6 on a Sunday night at New England, the Patriots defeated the Chiefs, 43-40. However, Andy Reid’s team is red hot at the moment and the Patriots did lose five road games. This will be Mahomes first AFC Championship Game appearance. For Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, it’s just another day in the office. A win over Kansas City gives the Pat their 11th Super Bowl Appearance and the franchise’s third straight.

BE: The Chiefs’ defense showed up in a big way last week against the Colts. More importantly, the team’s offense relied on the run and dominated Indianapolis in this regard. Four different players ran for touchdowns, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes – who threw for 278 yards. Obviously, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick bring a lot of championship game experience to this contest. But the Patriots also bring a 3-5 road record and it’s been an unpredictable year for this club – especially away from home.

Julie Voigt (JulieNoted_PFG) and Russell S. Baxter (@BaxFootballGuru) are the co-founders of @pfgVIBE. Julie is also the Colts’ reporter for OurTurf Football while Russell writes for FanSided and NFL Spin Zone.

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