Preview: NFL Championship Sunday


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The matchup of Super Bowl LIII will be decided on Sunday, Jan. 20, as the Rams take on the Saints and the Patriots take on the Chiefs.

Justin Ballou, Reporter

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the Super Bowl LIII matchup will be decided. The winner of the NFC Championship Game (Rams @ Saints) will take on the winner of the AFC Championship Game (Patriots @ Chiefs) in Atlanta at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Feb. 3. Here are my predictions for Championship Sunday and what to watch for.

Rams @ Saints, 2:05 p.m. CT on FOX

The Saints advanced the NFC title game after coming from behind in impressive fashion against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints rallied back from a 14-0 deficit in the first half, and ultimately won the game on a Marshon Lattimore interception. The Rams defeated the Cowboys in a thriller, 30-22, behind 273 combined rushing yards.

The Saints’ defense completely shut down Philadelphia’s rushing attack in the Divisional Round, only allowing 49 total yards. The Saints must shut down Rams’ RBs Todd Gurley and newly acquired C.J. Anderson in the championship game. The Cowboys’ defense seemingly gave up big play after big play when the Rams ran the ball. The two RBs combined for 138 rushing yards and 3 TDs against Dallas. Rams WR Cooper Kupp tore his ACL back in November, and since his injury, the Rams have struggled to throw the ball. Los Angeles must be able to pass the ball against the Saints’ younger corners if New Orleans shuts them down in the run game.

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On the other side of the ball, the Saints have to continue to feed Pro-Bowl WR Michael Thomas. The Eagles couldn’t stop Thomas and he racked up 12 receptions for 171 yards and a TD. Now, the Rams did shut down Cowboys star WR Amari Cooper in the Divisional Round – Cooper had six receptions for 65 yards and a TD. Experts would argue that Thomas is a totally different receiver than Cooper is, especially playing in New Orleans. My matchup to watch for in the NFC Championship Game is Michael Thomas vs. the Rams corners. Thomas is the center point of the Saints’ offense, as Drew Brees throws his way a lot, but the Rams have a great secondary. I ultimately predict the Saints win the game, like they did back in November 45-35, by a score of 27-21, and advance to Super Bowl LIII.

Patriots @ Chiefs, 5:40 p.m. CT on CBS

Just like the Rams and Saints game, the AFC Championship game is a rematch of a wild game that happened earlier in the season when New England won a thriller 43-40 in Foxborough back in October. It was a back-and-forth game for all four quarters, with the Pats ultimately coming away victorious. I expect this matchup to be similar to the October game because both teams are playing great football right now.

The Patriots clobbered the Chargers in the divisional round last weekend, clinching yet another milestone for QB Tom Brady; Brady has now won more playoff games than any other QB in NFL has started. The Chiefs proved their worth in the divisional round by defeating the Colts, avoiding the highly predicted upset. Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is one of the loudest stadiums in all of football, so I expect the crowd to provide their hometown Chiefs with the home field advantage.

The Patriots last week shut down the Chargers’ run game completely, only allowing 19 total yards to pro bowl RB Melvin Gordon. They must continue this success this weekend in KC. Though the Chiefs released RB Kareem Hunt earlier in the year,  Damien Williams has stepped up nicely in his role. New England is loaded up with secondary talent, so it will be a key matchup to see the Patriots’ DBs against the Chiefs’ WRs, especially Tyreek Hill. Hill has one of the better 40-yard dash times in the league and can take a short pass the distance if the defense isn’t ready. The Patriots’ defensive backs must come to play, and for the Chiefs, they must stop the run. Last week, Patriots RB Sony Michel ran all over the Chargers’ defense, racking up 129 yards and three touchdowns. When Brady passes, the Chiefs must generate pressure on him—he seemingly had all day to throw on every drop-back vs. the Chargers. Pats WR Julian Edelman has had tremendous success in the playoffs throughout his career, so I would watch for the Chiefs to double-team him and make Brady throw it to his other WRs.

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In the end, I trust Tom Brady. Patrick Mahomes is a great, young QB, but in only his second career playoff start, I think the stage will just simply be too big for him. Weather reports are saying there will be a blizzard going through Kansas City during the game, which I feel favors the Patriots because of Tom Brady. He’s been here, he’s played in every weather condition imaginable. I predict Patriots will defeat the Chiefs, 33-28, and advance to Super Bowl LIII.