Offense, as we all know, wins games in the NFL. Whereas defense…well, perhaps not this year.
Given that for the first time ever, the top four offenses are playing in the league championship games, it might be time to reconsider a venerable but, perhaps, obsolete axiom.
It stands to reason. The rules protecting quarterbacks have given palpable advantages to brilliant young players such as Pat Mahomes and, uh…well, let’s leave it at Mahomes.
The point obtains, however. If offense was what got the four remaining teams this far, why shouldn’t offense determine the winners on Sunday? It’s a shaky premise at best, but it’s all I got. That and a conviction that it’s time that two elderly quarterbacks rest on their laurels and, quite possibly, their arthritic bodies. That said, some further rationales.
L.A. Rams at New Orleans
I handicap this game with a heavy heart and a very light bankroll, meaning that if you’re looking for guidance here, you ought to consider me a Negative Indicator.
When I watched the Saints defeat (but not cover against) the Eagles last week, I found myself questioning Sean Payton’s play calling. Why did Drew Brees keep trying to connect with Ted Ginn Jr., a veteran who runs poor routes, has brilliant speed and hands of cement?
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m wondering if the Saints were simply looking ahead to this game. When these two played in early November, Michael Thomas burned the Rams for 211 yards, and New Orleans handed the Rams their first loss. But L.A.’s best corner, Aqib Talib, missed that game because of an injury. Now he’s back. So perhaps the Saints will need a second receiver this time. I still don’t think that Ginn is the man for the job, but Payton and the Saints usually think of something.
Oddly enough, however, both teams have arguably been better on the road this year. The Saints have used a quixotic slow-down game much of the year, but is that going to make a difference? Mostly, I suspect, they liked to chip away because Brees’ arm strength seems somewhat depleted. Fine old wine should be savored and sipped carefully. The Saints made hard work of defeating Philly last week, in part because what should have been a long touchdown pass on the Saints’ first play was intercepted. Brees simply couldn’t throw the ball far enough.
I’m counting on that kind of attrition to tip the scales in favor of the Rams and their dynamic coach, Sean McVay. You can take my pick to the bank, but you’d probably be there to make a withdrawal.
The pick: Rams 27, Saints 24 Rams plus 3 for $60
New England at Kansas City
While I certainly don’t need another reason to despise the Patriots, I do need a reason to bet against them. After all, they’ve made it to the Super Bowl in four of the past seven seasons. Sure, Belichick and Brady might cheat; and, yes, Brady is smug and somewhat delusional. Until this year — when he showed signs of losing at least a step — he insisted he was going to play until he was 50. But, in all fairness, that might have been merely a sign of hubris, rather than delusion.
Either way, you don’t have to like them, but you do have to fear them. It’s almost as if you can’t have an AFC championship game without New England. It’s a symbiotic thing, like Dick Vitale and the mute button.
But this might give decent, God-fearing Americans — real patriots — hope: New England hasn’t won a playoff game on the road since 2007. And this year, the home-road dichotomy has been a factor all year. The Pats are 9-0 straight-up at home, but just 3-5 on the road.
The x-factor, of course, is the Patriots’ knack for, shall we say, shading the rules when talent isn’t quite enough. But, given the fact that shutdown defenses (if they even exist) aren’t represented in the playoffs at this point, I’m leaning toward the dominant offense. And, even without Kareem Hunt, I’m pretty sure that’s KC.
Belichick can sleep in his office for months, and study video until he memorizes every frame, but stopping the Chiefs isn’t possible. They’re too fast, and quarterback Pat Mahomes is not of this planet. New England certainly didn’t stop the Chiefs when they defeated them 43-40 in October, so flip the field and it’s at least a toss-up.
However, I’m sitting this one out, because while my heart says Chiefs, my head says WTF? (And I’m not crazy about the wind chill thing.)
For the record, and on the frozen turf, Chiefs 30, Patriots 23