We're halfway to Championship Sunday after both home teams held serve. The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship for the first time in 25 years with a 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. In the regular season Andrew Luck and Patrick Mahomes combined for 89 touchdown passes. Yesterday, there was only one between them.
The Los Angeles Rams powered their way to the NFC title game with an impressive ground attack with a 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders castoff C.J. Anderson rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns while Todd Gurley took a back seat rushing for 115 yards and a score. Anderson and Gurley became the sixth pair of teammates to rush for 100+ yards in a postseason game.
Who: Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) vs. New England Patriots (11-5)
When: 1:05 PM EST
The health and overall effectiveness of Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is a concern. Although Gordon will more than likely suit up, it's not sure how durable his left knee is after tweaking it in last week's Wild-Card game. Reserve backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are capable of toting the load if Gordon's play is limited.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers has to attack the New England Patriots from snap one. Ekeler and Jackson can create mismatches in the passing game which sets up the Chargers deep ball game with Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Mike Williams. Tight end Hunter Henry will be in limited action after suffering a torn ACL last season. The offensive line played exceptionally well, giving up one sack and should have similar success as the Patriots rely more on coverage than a pass rush. The Chargers offense must remain balanced throughout this contest.
Two of the Chargers eight sacks on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson came from linebacker Melvin Ingram whose strip sack and fumble recovery killed a potential game winning drive. The front seven has no worries when it comes to Tom Brady's mobility it's his capability to find open receivers when the walls are closing in.
Safeties Derwin James, Adrian Phillips and the rest of the Chargers secondary will have to deal with a number of looks and as many as seven possible receivers.
The Patriots looked more than ready for another charge into the conference championship, but the loss of wide receiver Josh Gordon and back to back losses to the Dolphins and Steelers put them on their heels. The Chargers come into Foxboro confident that they can end the Patriots run and move Tom Brady closer to retirement. At times, the Chargers used seven defensive backs in last week's game to try and neutralize Lamar Jackson, don't be surprised to see some of those same sets this week.
Brady is fighting Father Time tooth and nail and the most part he's winning. James White, Sony Michel, Julian Edelman and others have given him sure hands at every turn. Only three of Brady's 29 touchdown passes have gone to tight end Rob Gronkowski who finished with only 47 receptions this season. I believe the Patriots coaching staff have been saving Gronk for this moment.
James White is New England's most dangerous player and sets the tone for their offensive game plan. They rely on Michel for heavy carries and Edelman to move the chains, but it's White who creates mismatches throughout the game. Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram will need to know where White is at all times. The offensive x-factor is Cordarrelle Patterson who may line up in the backfield.
The Patriots strength lies in their linebackers and secondary. Kyle Van Noy leads the team in tackles and is joined by Dont'a Hightower. Safety Patrick Chung is a Patriots lifer and at times serves as an additional linebacker. Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore has plenty of help with the McCourty twins. Defensive end Tre Flowers is the Patriots sack leader Deatrich Wise is questionable as he deals with an ankle injury.
It's easy to look at the way things have gone for the Patriots this season and go with the Chargers. My fear is if Gordon isn't effective the offense will switch to Rivers trying to beat them on his own,
The Chargers can't give Brady time to look downfield, stay in his face and knock him down when you can.
Prediction: Patriots 27 - Chargers 21
Who: Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)
When: 4:40 PM EST
When we look back on the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 season, the 48-7 Week 11 blowout at the hands of the New Orleans Saints will serve as the moment things turned around. That loss dropped the Birds to 4-6. In that time, the Eagles have won six of seven including an improbable 16-15 win over the Chicago Bears last week.
Other than Tom Brady no one has the capability to spread the ball around like Nick Foles. A backfield by committee, three capable receivers and the NFL receptions record holder for tight ends in a season and it's easy to see why this is a tough team to get off the field on third down. Foles is completing passes at a 79 percent clip with four touchdowns. Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles are vital to what Foles will be able to do today. Ertz for the intermediate routes and Sproles for get mismatches at the next level. Success in those areas open up their runs between the tackles and their ability to go deep with one-on-one coverage.
In their first meeting with the Saints, the Eagles secondary literally fell apart. In the weeks that followed, the secondary has become a factor down the stretch. Rasul Douglas, Cre'von LeBlanc and Avonte Maddox were great last week against the Bears. Sidney Jones who was inured in the first meeting against the Saints will return to action for this meeting. Malcolm Jenkins should be up for the task against his former team.
The Eagles front seven is back to its hell-raising self. Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett have been disruptive and should be able to get to Drew Brees. Stopping Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield will be a huge test, but far from impossible.
After their Week 11 victory over the Eagles, Drew Brees was averaging 295 passing yards per game. In his final six games, he has averaged a jaw-dropping 180 yards per contest. Brees is at home today against an Eagles team full of pride and hell bent on revenge. After Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas the dropoff in production is startling, but it was Tre'Quan Smith and not Thomas who pulled in 11 passes in the first meeting against the Eagles. Expect plenty of quad (four wideout) formations which will allow Brees to pick his spots.
Backup quarterback Taysom Hill and head coach Sean Payton's penchant for the trick play cannot be overlooked.
Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins have a combined 20 sacks and are just as problematic as run defenders. Demario Davis is a superior tackler and will have the responsibility of shadowing Darren Sproles. Eli Apple, Marshawn Lattimore and Marcus Williams are a young, aggressive secondary that takes chances at times. That may not be something to practice too often against Foles.
I don't believe rust will be an issue with Drew Brees, the energy that comes from the Superdome crowd is enough to rejuvenate anyone. If the Eagles are going to be in this game late they must survive the crowd and surges by the Saints. If the Eagles are hanging around in the 3rd quarter, prepare for a great ending.
Last season the Saints missed out on meeting the Eagles. New Orleans players spoke out about how they would've handled the Eagles in the postseason. The Eagles need to look no further than Week 11 for motivation. No one is blinking today.
Prediction: Eagles 33 - Saints 27