In NFL terms, last weekend was a letdown.
Every home team won. Only one of the games — New Orleans and Philadelphia — felt much like it could be an upset. It was all kind of blah.
What it has set up, though, is one of the best final fours in NFL history. All four of the highest seeds are here. All four of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses. And we’ve got two games that are rematches of incredibly exciting games in the regular season — New England’s 43-40 victory over Kansas City and New Orleans’ 45-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
I guess it’s possible we will get two blowouts Sunday, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Let’s do a quick note about each game, and then I’ll offer a prediction.
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▪New Orleans and the Rams kick it off at 3:05 p.m. Sunday, in a Superdome that can rival anywhere as the loudest building in the league. We’re going to get a double dose of the “Young QB vs. Old QB” theme Sunday, and first up will be 24-year-old Jared Goff vs. 40-year-old Drew Brees.
Both teams average 30-plus points, and both will come close to that Sunday. Panthers fans will have another Sunday to cringe a little every time C.J. Anderson breaks off an important run, even as they soothe themselves with the words: “But the running game wasn’t the problem.”
There are two differences to me: First of all, the Saints are far better at home than on the road. Secondly, all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald (20.5 sacks) for the Rams is the best defensive player in the NFL. But his presence disguises the fact that the Rams really don’t have a lot of defense behind him.
I don’t think the Rams will slow down New Orleans often enough. My pick:
New Orleans 37, Los Angeles 29.
▪ Round 2 of “Young QB vs. Old QB” has an even wider age range, as Kansas City’s 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes faces off against New England’s 41-year-old superstar, Tom Brady (6:40 p.m. kickoff).
This is the eighth time in a row New England has made it to the AFC Championship, and I’m as sick of it as you probably are. But you’ve got to respect what the Patriots do, year in and year out, with Brady and coach Bill Belichick and an otherwise rotating cast of characters. Everyone in the NFL tries to duplicate the magic. No one can.
But this version of the Patriots is not the best. New England was a very pedestrian 3-5 on the road this season. The Pats are underdogs this week, which is a real rarity and has led to the rare sight of Brady playing the “Nobody believes in us” underdog card.
I believe the Patriots have a better chance to win than the Rams do. However, it feels like Mahomes’ year. I selected the old guy in the first QB matchup; let’s go with the young guy in the second. My pick:
Kansas City 36, New England 30.