Chalk held the day once again in the NFL playoffs, as these offensive beasts are also the top four teams in the NFL by points scored per game. The idea that defense was going to uproot the revolution underway in the NFL of creative offensive minds was just as shortsighted as the assumption that the Chiefs or Patriots would struggle with their bye week against teams like the Colts or Chargers, both of whom were dealing with impossible travel situations and tough weather against more rested and dangerous opponents.
There’s no trickeration for my penultimate picks piece here, though. These are just good matchups. Vegas doesn’t know what to do with the championship game spreads,by giving them the standard three points for homefield advantage.
Las Vegas also set the over/under in both games at 57, which is a good 25 points lower than the total score from the first time these teams matched up. I would lean over for both games, but that might be the sucker in me speaking up. Have fun getting in front of the freight train that is these defenses.
Patriots at Chiefs (-3)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS, stream on CBS All Access)
There’s SO MUCH at stake here. The obvious situation is the Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady matchup, the future of the NFL squaring off against the past/present of the NFL. A former first-round pick vs. the quintessential late-round success story. Andy Reid versus Bill Belichick is a legitimate thing — Belichick owned Reid when the mustachioed coach ran the Eagles and beat him in Reid’s only Super Bowl appearance. Reid is 2-2 against the Patriots since arriving in Kansas City but has never beaten Bill Belichick in the playoffs. Ever! That’s not really a huge issue, since they’ve only played twice and there are a lot of people who have struggled against Belichick in the playoffs. But there’s some ghosts there. Reid wants a Super Bowl badly. He’s got some years left, but this might be his best shot ever at taking home a Lombardi Trophy and drastically shifting the narrative about his career.
Playing Belichick and the Patriots twice in one season does not feel like an advantage: New England isn’t grinding through tape and trying to see what the Chiefs offense did against different defenses while also trying to figure out what defenses they were doing it against. They’re going to break down tendencies from their matchup against Mahomes the first time around.
But Kansas City is different now too. Eric Berry didn’t play against the Colts but could be back for this massive matchup, especially knowing a win would give them a two-week cushion to get ready for the Super Bowl. Justin Houston didn’t play in New England during the regular season. That is a big deal. Josh Gordon won’t play for the Patriots. Notably, Sony Michel will: he ran wild on the Chiefs the last time and just annihilated the Chargers, who have a much better defense. Slowing down the Patriots power run game will be paramount for the Chiefs to win, but the Pats have to stop the Chiefs too.
I don’t think they can do it. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense never slowed down. The will-be MVP got his first taste of a playoff atmosphere against the Colts on Saturday afternoon and he did not flinch. Mahomes has better road statistics overall than home stats, but I think he plays better at home and I’m not sure the Patriots can do defensively what they did to the Chargers. Chiefs win in a surprisingly low-scoring affair that still goes over.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Patriots 28
Rams at Saints (-3.5)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (Fox, stream on fuboTV, try for free)
How will the Saints hold up against the run? Because the Cowboys were terrible against it when the Rams offensive line decided to impose its will on the young Dallas defense. New Orleans is not as good as Dallas, but they’re not bad: after allowing 14 first-quarter points to the Eagles on Sunday, they shut out Nick Foles and Co. for the rest of the game. It sort of flew under the radar, but it was an impressive effort. The Saints defense should be motivated to keep that roll going.
But the Rams defense should be motivated as well. Marcus Peters smack-talked Sean Payton after the Saints coach said he was pleased Peters traveled to cover Michael Thomas all game (Thomas went off for 211 yards and a flip-phone touchdown), saying he wants to sit down and eat a bowl of gumbo with the Saints coach.
“Tell Sean Payton, keep talking that s—, we gonna see him soon. You feel me? Yeah,” Peters said during the first matchup. “Cause I like what he was saying on the sideline too. Tell him he can keep talking that s—. And I hope he sees me soon. You feel me? Then we’re gonna have a good little, nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
He’ll get his chance to sample the Cajun stew with the Saints coach. The first game was a wild affair back in Week 9: there were three touchdowns scored in the final 2:30 of the first half and 18 points scored in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter after the two teams failed to produce any points in the final quarter before that. Largely it was full of methodical drives almost all of which resulted in touchdowns: the Saints had 11 drives (not counting the kneeldown at the end) and only three failed to result in points. Seven of them were touchdown drives.
Not too much is different about these teams. They’re well-coached, have outstanding running games, underrated defenses and top-tier quarterbacks. Jared Goff hasn’t played well lately, but neither has Drew Brees — the future Hall of Fame quarterback missed multiple shots down the field against Philly. Ultimately I’m gonna go with the chalk here and take the home team again. Home teams are 8-2 in the last five years against the spread during these championship games.
Prediction: Saints 31, Rams 27