SAINTS, PA­TRI­OTS BACK IN TI­TLE GAMES

Both con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship games fea­ture re­matches from the sea­son in­volv­ing league’s high­est-scor­ing teams

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN Mc­CLAIN

Re­matches of high-scor­ing reg­u­lar-sea­son games will de­ter­mine the teams that rep­re­sent the AFC and NFC in Su­per Bowl LIII.

Kansas City will en­ter­tain New Eng­land in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game at Ar­row­head Sta­dium, and New Or­leans plays host to the Los An­ge­les Rams in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game at the Su­per­dome.

If the ti­tle games are any­thing like the reg­u­larsea­son matchups, fans should be treated to en­ter­tain­ing, sus­pense­ful games, and tele­vi­sion rat­ings that in­creased this sea­son could sky­rocket even more.

The cham­pi­onship games fea­ture the NFL’s four high­est-scor­ing teams — the Chiefs (35.3 points per game), Rams (32.9), Saints (31.5) and Pa­tri­ots (27.3).

In the reg­u­lar sea­son, New Eng­land de­feated Kansas City 43-40 on Oct. 14 at Gil­lette Sta­dium. New Or­leans beat Los An­ge­les 45-35 on Nov. 4 at New Or­leans.

The Chiefs, Pa­tri­ots, Rams and Saints are play­ing Sun­day be­cause of vic­to­ries in the di­vi­sional round of the play­offs. The win­ners ad­vance to the Su­per Bowl on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium in At­lanta.

In the AFC, Kansas City beat In­di­anapo­lis 31-13, and New Eng­land blasted the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers 41-28. In the NFC, the Rams de­feated Dal­las 30-22, and New Or­leans ral­lied to beat Philadel­phia 20-14.

The Chiefs, who earned home-field ad­van­tage in the reg­u­lar sea­son, pul­ver­ized the Colts. It was their first play­off vic­tory at Ar­row­head since 1994 when Joe Mon­tana led them to the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game. Kansas City broke a six-game home los­ing streak in the play­offs.

The Chiefs earned a chance to avenge the reg­u­lar-sea­son loss at New Eng­land be­cause the Pa­tri­ots jumped on the Charg­ers early, lead­ing 35-7 at half­time be­fore coast­ing to the easy vic­tory.

This is Bill Belichick and the Pa­tri­ots’ eight con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game, but the last time they won on the road was at Pitts­burgh after the 2004 sea­son. The Pa­tri­ots were 3-5 on the road this sea­son, their worst record away from Gil­lette Sta­dium since 2009.

The Rams get an­other shot at the Saints in the Su­per­dome after their eight-point vic­tory over the Cow­boys at Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Coli­seum. The com­bi­na­tion of coach Sean McVay, 32, and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips, 71, was too much for the Cow­boys to over­come.

The Rams ran 48 times for 273 yards. Their of­fen­sive line hu­mil­i­ated the Cow­boys’ front seven, and they had two run­ning backs — C.J. An­der­son (123 yards) and Todd Gur­ley (115) — who reached triple dig­its and com­bined for three touch­downs. Their line was so dom­i­nant that Jared Goff wasn’t sacked and was hit only once.

Phillips’ de­fense smoth­ered Ezekiel El­liott, the NFL’s lead­ing rusher, lim­it­ing him to 47 yards on 20 car­ries.

The L.A. play­ers were cheer­ing for the Ea­gles in the last game of the week­end. Had Philadel­phia won, the Rams would have hosted the Ea­gles in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. Nick Foles led Philadel­phia to a 14-0 lead be­fore Drew Brees ral­lied the Saints to the vic­tory in a bat­tle be­tween Austin West­lake High School quar­ter­backs.

All four home teams that got to take off dur­ing the wild-card round of the play­offs won over the week­end. The top-seeded teams — Kansas City and New Or­leans — are host­ing the sec­ond seeds.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if the Chiefs’ heav­ily crit­i­cized de­fense that fin­ished 31st can stop Tom Brady the way it stopped An­drew Luck on Satur­day. The Colts scored one of­fen­sive touch­down with 5:31 left in the game. Luck fin­ished with 211 yards pass­ing.

Coach Andy Reid is try­ing to reach his sec­ond Su­per Bowl and his first with the Chiefs. Patrick Ma­homes threw for 278 yards in the snow. Led by thirdteam run­ning back Damien Wil­liams, who ran for 129 yards, the Chiefs had 180 yards rush­ing and four touch­downs.

In Kansas City’s reg­u­lar-sea­son loss at New Eng­land, Ma­homes threw for 352 yards and four touch­downs. The Pa­tri­ots in­ter­cepted him twice, but they could not cover Tyreek Hill, who had seven catches for 142 yards and three touch­downs.

Brady was at his usual best in the reg­u­lar-sea­son vic­tory over Kansas City and Sun­day’s play­off con­quest of the Charg­ers.

Against the Chiefs, he threw for 340 yards and a touch­down. He ran for an­other touch­down in a game that was de­cided by Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal as time ex­pired.

Against the Charg­ers, Brady led New Eng­land to a 35-7 half­time lead be­fore coast­ing to the vic­tory. He threw for 343 yards and a touch­down. Led by Sony Michel’s 129 yards rush­ing and three touch­downs, the Pa­tri­ots ran for four scores.

Like the Chiefs, the Rams are look­ing for re­venge Sun­day. Phillips has to make sure his de­fense im­proves from the reg­u­lar sea­son, when Brees threw for 346 yards and four touch­downs with­out an in­ter­cep­tion against Los An­ge­les. Run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara scored three touch­downs. Re­ceiver Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 211 yards and a touch­down against the Rams.

There wasn’t much de­fense that af­ter­noon in the Su­per­dome. The Saints had 487 yards and the Rams 483.

None of the four re­main­ing teams fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son ranked among the top 13 in de­fense. Their de­fenses ranked 14th (Saints), 19th (Rams), 21st (Pa­tri­ots) and 31st (Chiefs).

Who still says de­fense wins cham­pi­onships?

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Can Tom Brady, top left, and the Pa­tri­ots beat Patrick Ma­homes, bot­tom left, and the Chiefs a sec­ond time this sea­son? Does Drew Brees, top right, and the Saints have what it takes to de­feat Jared Goff, bot­tom right, and the Rams again? We’ll know Sun­day.

Elise Amen­dola / As­so­ci­ated Press

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Mark J. Terrill / As­so­ci­ated Press

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.