A place in Super Bowl LIII is tantalisingly close for the last four teams standing as we prepare for the AFC and NFC Championship games on Sunday.
Three of the four semi-finalists gave a glimpse of their Super Bowl credentials in the divisional round of the play-offs, but for New Orleans Saints there were more questions than answers after their unconvincing triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Let’s start with the NFC Championship game as the Saints welcome the Los Angeles Rams to the Big Easy.
Rams +3 handicap
With both teams finishing the regular season 13-3, New Orleans earned the right to host this game by beating the Rams in week nine in one of the games of the season.
The Saints came out on top 45-35 and were threatening to destroy all before them at that time given their high-powered offence. However, they have slowed down since then and have only put up over 30 points once in their last six matches.
The Eagles stunned New Orleans in the first quarter last week, racing into a 14-0 lead before their comeback, thanks mainly to the defence stepping up to stop Philly scoring again in the final three quarters.
The Saints averaged 31.5 points per game during the regular season and so have it within them to keep pace with the high-powered Rams, who put up an average of 32.9 points per game.
LA’s win over Dallas last week saw them ram the ball down the throats of the Cowboys, rushing for 273 yards. The Saints have the second-best rushing defence and whether or not the Rams can run the ball will likely decide the outcome of this game.
Rams QB Jared Goff hasn’t been at his best of late although that shouldn’t stop you backing over 56.5 points at in what should be a thriller.
New England v Kansas City – over 56 points
Following on from Saints against the Rams, we have what promises to be another offense-dominated championship game. These two shared 83 points when they met at Foxborough in October, with the Pats edging out the Chiefs by three.
The Patriots gave a timely reminder of why they should never be counted out while Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still working together as they destroyed the LA Chargers to reach an eighth successive AFC Championship game.
Brady looked great last week but will need to go up another level if he is to stop rising superstar Patrick Mahomes. Having thrown for 50 touchdowns during the regular season – a record only he, Brady and Peyton Manning can lay claim to – Mahomes led Kansas City to their first home play-off win in 25 years.
Mahomes’ performance wasn’t the surprising element of the victory over the Indianapolis Colts, though, as it was the defensive showing from the Chiefs. Having been ranked 31st in the regular season, Kansas City limited the Colts to just 263 total yards in the 31-13 win.
Can they do the same against the Patriots? It is unlikely and makes getting on the overs at a freezing Arrowhead the smart choice.