The NFL has one last hoorah before Super Bowl LIII, and this weekend’s games will surely entertain. Although the matchups pit the two top teams from each conference against one another, the four teams left are arguably the four best from the past season. The early game sees the Los Angeles Rams travel to face the New Orleans Saints while the Kansas City Chiefs play host to the New England Patriots in the late game.
Without further ado, let’s get into my picks for this weekend’s games.
New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams
This is an intriguing matchup as it pits two head coaches who are on either side of the experience spectrum, but are largely regarded as some of the greatest head coaches and offensive masterminds in the league. The New Orleans Saints needed gutsy calls and the elite play of Drew Brees to lead them to their Super Bowl triumph in 2009. Once again, Sean Payton showed his ability to take a risk in order to give his team a chance to win as he dialed up a fake punt against the Philadelphia Eagles to convert a first down, and it ultimately led to a crucial score by his team. However, the biggest difference between 2009 and the present is the help that is surrounding Drew Brees. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have given the Saints a valuable running game while young stars Vonn Bell and Marshon Lattimore lead one of the best defenses in the NFL. All of this means that this Saints team may be the best Payton has ever coached, and they have the ability to make plays on offense, defense, and special teams. The Los Angeles Rams have made it this far, and it’s no mistake. Last offseason, they brought in offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth who has been one of the best, and under-appreciated, offseason signings. Most of the time, offensive lineman get very little praise for the work they do, but Whitworth has brought quality leadership along with Rodger Saffold III and John Sullivan to create one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. This has allowed Jared Goff and Todd Gurley II to improve their game, and the addition of C.J. Anderson has only added to the dynamic playmaking of the Rams offense. On defense, the Rams also have a dynamic young core, headlined by Aaron Donald, but reinforced by the likes of Cory Littleton and John Johnson III. As a neutral fan, I really love what this matchup will bring as this seems like the first of the two clashes of titans. I firmly believe that this game will come down to the ability of each team to limit the big plays, which is a major component to each offense. In the end, I think the Saints have just enough to edge out the Rams, but this game should be on a knife’s edge throughout.
Prediction: Saints 30-27
Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots
This is a matchup between the upstart new kid and the grizzled veteran who seems like a mainstay in the AFC Championship Game. The Kansas City Chiefs may possess the most explosive offense in the NFL with the ability of Tyreek Hill to stretch the field and the ability of Patrick Mahomes II to make plays with both his arm and legs. This has been the product of Andy Reid and his renowned ability to develop quarterbacks, and it has him on the cusp of winning an elusive Super Bowl ring. Defensively, the Chiefs have a major boost in the return of Eric Berry who brings a steady veteran presence and a playmaking ability to a Chiefs secondary that has struggled this season. Up front, they will need Dee Ford and the rest of the front seven to limit the impact of Sony Michel on the ground, and pressure Tom Brady. For the New England Patriots, it seems like they will continue to roll with the formula of Brady and average defense to get them to the Super Bowl. Last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, Brady put on a masterclass performance, always finding a way to pick apart the zone coverage of the Chargers. On defense, the Patriots will hope that Trey Flowers is able to provide them with a consistent pass rush to make Mahomes uncomfortable behind center. For the Chiefs, the key to the game is not leaving points on the field like they did against the Indianapolis Colts. Against the Patriots, that will cost them the game. Much like I wrote for the Chargers last week, the Chiefs defense will need to come up with a big play or two whether that be a forced turnover or a crucial stop against Brady. The Patriots will need to limit the big play in order to counter the Chiefs because so much of their offense relies on plays that pick up chunks of yardage. For that, they will need to apply pressure on Mahomes, but also maintain discipline in containing Mahomes to the pocket. I predict a matchup full of points, and much like the game that took place in Foxborough during the regular season, a late field goal will prove decisive.
Prediction: Chiefs 38-35