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Don’t stop us if you’ve heard this before: The New England Patriots are headed back to the AFC Championship.
For the eighth straight year, Bill Belichick‘s team is one victory away from the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and Co. ripped past the Los Angeles Chargers to earn the Patriots’ eight straight AFC title berth.
On the other side of the NFL, the New Orleans Saints will host the Los Angeles Rams in a rematch of a high-scoring regular-season clash. The Saints sealed their place behind a terrific defensive performance against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The long story short? The top-seeded team plays the No. 2 seed in both conferences; Super Bowl LIII will be a great one.
Conference Championships Schedule
AFC: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Date: Sunday, January 20, at 6:40 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -3
NFC: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
Date: Sunday, January 20, at 3:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -3.5
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
Divisional Round Recap
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Sunday afternoon, New England wasted no time pulling ahead of the Chargers. The Patriots scored touchdowns on three straight drives to begin a playoff game for the first time in franchise history and held a 41-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Brady picked apart the Chargers defense with a 34-of-44 line for 343 yards and a touchdown. Sony Michel scampered for 129 yards and three scores in his postseason debut.
Now, the Patriots will hit the road.
Incidentally, the reason they must travel is because of the regular season’s most ridiculous play―the Miami Dolphins’ game-winning lateral touchdown. New England otherwise would’ve held the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed.
Although the Pats are seeking their first playoff road win since 2006, it’s only a two-game losing streak. One real concern is New England ended the regular season 3-5 outside of Foxborough, Massachusetts. Kansas City, conversely, was 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium in 2018.
Those trends equal one clear advantage for the Chiefs.
True, no matter if New England or KC hosted, the temperature would likely be frigid. But, as long as the weather cooperates, a chilly day shouldn’t slow these high-scoring offenses.
Scott Kacsmar @FO_ScottKacsmar
Jaguars-Steelers was 45-42 in 18 degrees last year.
The Chiefs advanced to their first AFC Championship in 25 years following a 31-13 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts. Patrick Mahomes threw for 278 yards and scored one of Kansas City’s four rushing touchdowns in his first playoff start.
While it’s unfair to suggest this is a potential “torch-passing” moment―Brady’s career likely isn’t over yet―Mahomes has a chance to officially seal KC’s presence as a Super Bowl threat.
Unlike the AFC, the NFC featured a couple of tightly contested games.
The Rams needed a defensive stop, touchdown and clock-killing drive to hold off a pesky Dallas Cowboys squad. Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson both topped the century mark on the ground, combining for 238 yards and three scores in a 30-22 win.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Los Angeles also limited Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott to 47 rushing yards on 20 attempts. That effort atoned for an unspectacular showing from the secondary, a unit that must put together a near-perfect day to handle the Saints.
After all, the Rams dropped their first game of the regular season in Week 9 when Drew Brees threw for 346 yards and four scores. New Orleans won that contest 45-35 at home.
Yet on Sunday, it was the defense that saved the Saints. Marshon Lattimore picked off two passes, including a fortuitous one that bounced off Alshon Jeffery’s hands late in the fourth quarter. That interception iced the result.
New Orleans has a major advantage on defense. The unit has allowed more than 20 points only once since that victory over Los Angeles, excluding a meaningless Week 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
But if the Saints encounter any issues on the scoring side, there should be two captivating finishes in the conference championships.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
New England’s road woes are a legitimate issue that persisted throughout the entire season. There were early losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions and late shortcomings against Miami and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And none of them compare remotely favorably to Kansas City.
Belichick and his staff do a tremendous job limiting the opposition’s best weapon, but the Chiefs should overpower New England because of their skill-position depth and home-field advantage.
New Orleans hasn’t displayed the same type of offensive explosiveness that shined in the Week 9 matchup. Still, this is a flawed Los Angeles team, particularly when Jared Goff struggles. And he’s about to face a substantially improved Saints defense.
The Rams cannot afford to lose the turnover battle; otherwise, a late score might only make the margin closer than it seemed on the field.
AFC: Chiefs 38, Patriots 31
NFC: Saints 31, Rams 26
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter@Kenyon19_BR.