A mantra you often hear in sports is “defense wins championships”. Not even a month ago, NFL prognosticators began raving about the NFL’s top defensive teams. The Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears all had statement wins which labeled them as scary playoffs teams. At the same time, we had the NFL’s top offenses struggle to compete against good defensive teams and/or score points.
As we all have witnessed, this year’s playoffs proved to be quite the opposite. Regardless of poor defensive outings, these playoffs appear to be a unique moment in NFL history.
Passing a Pair of Legends
What if I told you (ESPN 30 for 30 voice) the league would be led by a first year starting quarterback, would you have believed me? Well Pat Mahomes did just that with his stellar QB play. Week after week, Mahomes provided plenty of top 10 highlights and led the league in passing yards and touchdown passes. NFL fans were anxiously waiting to see how Mahomes would perform in his first playoff game and by no surprise passed with ease.
NFL fans have grown accustomed to watching the Mannings, the Breeses, the Rodgers, and especially the Bradys of the world make playoff runs but this year feels different. Both NFC and AFC conference championships feature two quarterback legends going up against two of the league’s youngest passers.
NFC QBs Passing Yds TDs Completion % Interceptions
Drew Brees 3922 32 74.4% 5
Jared Goff 4688 32 64.9% 12
AFC QBs Passing Yds TDs Completion % Interceptions
Tom Brady 4355 29 65.8% 11
Pat Mahomes 5097 50 66.0% 13
Based on their regular season production, both Goff and Mahomes outperformed Brady and Brees in passing yards. For scoring purposes, Mahomes easily outperformed his quarterback peers with a “Madden like” 50 touchdown passes.
It’s not safe to assume these stats will catapult Goff or Mahomes into the Super Bowl but it does showcase the potency of the offenses they both operate. We were lucky enough to witness the most exciting Monday Night Football game to date and fans (not in Boston or New Orleans) are hopeful for Round 2. To reach the ultimate game, Goff and Mahomes must outperform the legends.
On the contrary, it is dangerous to count out Tom Brady’s or Drew Brees’s championship experience. No matter the score, both quarterbacks have shown the ability to lead a comeback and both rarely lose their confidence. With that said, it would make an epic matchup if both these quarterbacks went head to head. Both are reaching the tail end of their careers and this could be their last opportunity to win another championship.
NFL History in the Making
Believe it or not, this marks the first time in NFL history to have the regular season top four offenses all play in the conference championships. This is the statistic which intrigues me the most. Year after year, we have seen top offenses compete against top defenses for the Lombardi trophy. Never have I seen, a back and forth championship affair where two teams were stuck in the midst of 60 minute shootout.
In the past I have heard several NFL fans complain about the lack of scoring, the domination of one team over another or a lack of big plays as the downfall of the most anticipated game of the year. There’s always a team in control for the majority of the game, until a momentous play changes the outcome. Momentum will always bear its ugly head but it’s not as noticeable when two teams match each other score for score.
One of the most exciting and most memorable playoff games burned into my memory is the 2011 NFC Divisional matchup between the Saints and 49ers. This game was the epitome of back and forth scoring which came down to the last seconds. If this year’s Super Bowl has a similar outcome, I will be one very happy football fan. If I could be selfish and ask for one more thing to happen in Super Bowl LIII (53), it would be to have a punt-less game. I believe this would mark another historic event where both teams fail to punt in a Super Bowl. Makes for an interesting prop bet.
This has to be the most difficult conference championship games to predict. With the level of offensive talent, each game could go either way. Both games offer a rematch of regular season matchups. The Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the season in week 9, winning 45-35. The Patriots accomplished the same task in week 6, when they beat the Chiefs 43-40. Th
The NFC Championship game provides two great offenses that operate quite differently. The Saints are known for their down field passing and do an excellent job of playing physical at the line of scrimmage. Not even press coverage can stop Michael Thomas from making big plays. Just when teams find a way to limit Thomas, speedsters Tedd Ginn Jr and Alvin Kamara rack up tons of yards after catch.
The strength of the Rams offense is their running game. Due to their offensive line, Gurley consistently reaches the 2nd level of the defense, forcing corners and safety to bring him down. One of the smartest moves the Rams made this season was signing free agent RB, C.J. Anderson. This gives the Rams the opportunity to punish a defense for 60 minutes with no drop off in running back talent.
Just when teams begin to focus on the running backs, the Rams produce one of the most fluid play action passes in the game, making them dangerous downfield.
Although the Saints have home field advantage, I believe the Saints defense will have a hard time stopping the Rams rushing attack. For the first time this season, the Rams defensive line looked in sync limiting Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards. This trend continues on Sunday, forcing Brees to throw a ton, giving Talib and Peters the opportunity to make key plays.
NFC Champion: Rams 37-24
To start, I am just like any other NFL fan who hopes for a Pats loss. I don’t know about you but eight straights AFC Championships and the possibility of three straight Super Bowl appearances is dreadful. The Kansas City Chiefs have been the most dynamic offense all season long. On paper, the Chiefs boast a talented group of pass catchers, who can easily blow the top off any coverage. To make matters worse, the Patriots have struggled in pass defending, ranking 22nd.
Unfortunately these games aren’t played on paper and its unwise to count out the Patriots. If any coach can devise a plan to limit the Chiefs offense, of course it would be Bill Belichick. Pair a great coach with a fighting team who has been labeled an “underdog” and you have a recipe for success. Patriots find a way to cheat and win the AFC title (just kidding Patriots fans).
AFC Champion: Patriots 41- 31
If your team isn’t in the playoffs, sit back and enjoy the show. Just like T.O. says “get your popcorn ready”.