NFL Conference Championship predictions and preview notes from the league

Charlotte, NC – December 17, 2018 – Bank of America Stadium: Alvin Kamara (41) of the New Orleans Saints during a regular season Monday Night Football game (Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Here’s my preview of the Conference Championships of the NFL Playoffs with the schedule, my predicted winners and some great notes directly from the league office.

Join myself and other Sports Animal hosts on The NFL Report Sundays from 10am to 12:30pm as we break down all the games in great detail. That will be followed by the NFL Game of the Week from Sports USA Media with a top tier early kickoff live broadcast.

Playoff Prediction Record: 5-3 overall (3-1 Wildcard Weekend & 2-2 Divisional Round) *Chiefs & Saints were my correct picks last week
2018 Season Prediction Record: 167-97 (63%)


NFL Conference Championship Games Schedule
Vinny’s predicted winners in BOLD

Visitor Home Time Network
NFC Championship Game Los Angeles Rams New Orleans Saints 3:05 PM ET FOX
AFC Championship Game New England Patriots Kansas City Chiefs 6:40 PM ET CBS

My pre-playoff Super Bowl prediction was Saints vs. Chiefs.

The 6 VFLs (U. of Tennessee players) in the NFL’s final four are RB John Kelly (Rams)…RB Alvin Kamara (Saints)…WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Patriots)…S Eric Berry (Chiefs)…P Dustin Colquitt (Chiefs)…OG Reginald Kahlil McKenzie (Chiefs)

With every team having at least one UT player, that guarantees that there will be at least two playing in this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.


FOUR TEAMS REMAIN AS NFL ENTERS CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND

The final four teams are set and this Sunday will determine the two teams heading to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.

Championship Sunday begins with the NFC title game, presented by Intuit Turbo Tax Live, between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints followed by the AFC Championship Game, presented by Intuit Turbo Tax Live, featuring the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The top two seeds in each conference advanced to the Conference Championship games for the first time since 2015 and for just the eighth time in the 29 seasons since the 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990.

During the 2018 regular season, the Chiefs led the league with a scoring average of 35.3 points per game, followed by the Rams (32.9), Saints (31.5) and Patriots (27.3). This Sunday will mark the first time in the Super Bowl era in which the four highest scoring teams in the regular season all advanced to the Conference Championships.

However, in the Divisional round, defense loomed large as each of the four remaining teams came up with big defensive plays on their way to victory. In the NFC, New Orleans cornerback MARSHON LATTIMORE had two interceptions, including the game-sealing pick in the fourth quarter, while the Rams defense came up with a fourth-down stop in their own territory to begin the fourth quarter against Dallas that led to the eventual game-winning touchdown. In the AFC, Kansas City linebacker JUSTIN HOUSTON recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in the Chiefs win over Indianapolis last weekend while New England held the Chargers to 19 rushing yards in their Divisional round victory.

The Conference Championship games features a rematch of memorable 2018 regular season games and are highlighted by their quarterbacks, as each matchup includes an all-time great against an outstanding young star.

At the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Saints quarterback DREW BREES, the league’s all-time leading passer, faces off against Rams third-year quarterback JARED GOFF. In their Week 9 meeting, a 45-35 win by New Orleans, Brees passed for 346 yards and four touchdowns while Goff totaled 391 passing yards and three touchdowns.

In the AFC, Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY, the NFL’s all-time postseason leader in wins (28), passing yards (10,569) and touchdown passes (72), heads to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on Chiefs second-year quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES, who became the third quarterback to record at least 50 touchdown passes in a single season. In their Week 6 meeting, a 43-40 win by New England, Brady passed for 340 yards and had two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) while Mahomes recorded 352 passing yards and four touchdown passes.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (14-3) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 3:05 PM ET)      

  • The Rams and Saints meet in the postseason for the second time. In the two teams’ only postseason meeting, the Saints defeated the Rams 31-28 in the 2000 NFC Wild Card Playoffs (December 30, 2000).
  • The Rams hold a 41-34 advantage in 75 all-time meetings between the clubs (including the postseason). The teams last played in Week 9 (November 4), with the Saints winning 45-35.
  • The Rams have advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the tenth time in franchise history. The Rams’ most recent NFC Championship Game appearance was in 2001 against Philadelphia (January 27, 2002).
  • Rams running backs C.J. ANDERSON (123 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and TODD GURLEY (115 rushing yards, one touchdown) each eclipsed 100 rushing yards in the Divisional Playoffs, becoming the first duo of running back teammates to each rush for at least 100 yards in a playoff game since the 1997 Wild Card Round (Denver running backs TERRELL DAVIS and DEREK LOVILLE vs. Jacksonville, December 27, 1997).
  • Gurley leads the NFL with 22 scrimmage touchdowns and 18 rushing scores this season (including the playoffs).
  • The Rams, who led the NFC in total offense in the regular season, recorded 459 net yards of offense in the Divisional Round, a franchise postseason record. Los Angeles’ 273 rushing yards in the Divisional Round also marked a postseason franchise record.
  • Los Angeles won the NFC West for the second consecutive season and the team’s 13 wins are the most for the franchise since 2001, when the team won the NFC and advanced to Super Bowl XXXVI.
  • The Rams had four players selected to the 2019 Pro Bowl: defensive tackle AARON DONALD, quarterback JARED GOFF, running back TODD GURLEY and special teamer CORY LITTLETON.
  • The Saints have advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in franchise history. New Orleans previously played in the NFC Championship Game in 2009 (January 24, 2010) and 2006 (January 21, 2007).
  • New Orleans wide receiver MICHAEL THOMAS caught 12 passes for 171 yards in the Divisional Round. His 171 receiving yards were a single-game franchise postseason record.
  • Saints quarterback DREW BREES threw for 301 yards last week and holds the NFL record for the most 300-yard passing games, including the postseason (123 games).
  • New Orleans captured the NFC South for the second consecutive season, the first time in franchise history they have won back-to-back division titles, and earned a first-round bye for the first time since 2009. The team’s 13 regular-season wins match a franchise record and are the most since 2011.
  • The Saints had five players selected to the 2019 Pro Bowl: tackle TERRON ARMSTEAD, quarterback DREW BREES, defensive end CAMERON JORDAN, wide receiver MICHAEL THOMAS and center MAX UNGER.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-5) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:40 PM ET)      

  • The Patriots and Chiefs meet in the postseason for the second time. New England won the previous meeting, 27-20, in the 2015 Divisional Round (January 16, 2016).
  • The Chiefs lead the all-time series (including postseason), 18-15-3. The teams last played in Week 6 (October 14), a 43-40 Patriots victory.
  • New England has advanced to its eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game and are the first team since the 1970 merger to play in eight consecutive Conference Championship Games.
  • New England won its 10th consecutive division title, the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots are the only team to win 15 division titles in a 16-year span.
  • The Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 last week in the Divisional Playoffs. Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK and quarterback TOM BRADY have won 28 postseason games together, the most in NFL history by a head coach and starting quarterback combination.
  • Belichick has advanced to 13 Conference Championship Games, the most by a head coach since the 1970 merger.
  • Brady has 28 career playoff wins, the most by any starting quarterback in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL’s all-time postseason leader in career completions (954), attempts (1,508), passing yards (10,569) and touchdown passes (72). Last week against the Chargers, Brady passed for 343 yards and one touchdown for a 106.5 passer rating. He has 15 playoff games with at least 300 passing yards, the most in NFL history.
  • Patriots rookie running back SONY MICHEL rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns in his postseason debut, while running back JAMES WHITE caught 15 passes in the Divisional Round, tying an NFL postseason record (running back DARREN SPROLES, New Orleans at San Francisco, 1/14/12).
  • The Patriots had two players selected to the 2019 Pro Bowl: quarterback TOM BRADY and cornerback STEPHON GILMORE.
  • Kansas City will play in the team’s fifth AFL/AFC Championship Game and Sunday’s contest will marks the franchise’s first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1993 (January 23, 1994 at Buffalo). The Chiefs are 3-1 in the club’s previous four appearances.
  • Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES led the NFL with 50 touchdown passes this season, joining TOM BRADY (50 in 2007) and PEYTON MANNING (55 in 2013) as the only quarterbacks with at least 50 touchdown passes in a single season in NFL history.
  • Kansas City tight end TRAVIS KELCE caught seven passes for 108 yards in the Divisional Round. In the regular season, Kelce had 1,336 receiving yards, the second-most in a single season all-time by a tight end.
  • Defensive lineman CHRIS JONES ranked third in the NFL this season with 15.5 sacks and had at least one sack in 11 consecutive games (Weeks 5-16), the longest streak in a single season since the individual sack became an official statistic in 1982.
  • The Chiefs had six players selected to the 2019 Pro Bowl: tackle ERIC FISHER, outside linebacker DEE FORD, wide receiver TYREEK HILL, tight end TRAVIS KELCE, quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES and fullback ANTHONY SHERMAN

WHAT TO LOOK FOR – CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

HIGH OCTANE OFFENSES: On Championship Sunday, the Super Bowl LIII participants will be decided. In the NFC, the LOS ANGELES RAMS take on the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3:05 PM ET, FOX) while the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (6:40 PM ET, CBS) in the AFC. The Conference Championships feature the four highest-scoring teams from the regular season for the first time in the Super Bowl era.

With victories by the Rams and Chiefs on Sunday, the Super Bowl would feature the two highest-scoring teams from the regular season for the fifth time since 1970 and the first time since 1997.​​

The Super Bowls featuring the two highest-scoring teams from the regular season since 1970:​

SEASON NO. 1 OFFENSE NO. 2 OFFENSE SUPER BOWL
1997 Denver Broncos Green Bay Packers XXXII
1996 Green Bay Packers New England Patriots XXXI
1991 Washington Redskins Buffalo Bills XXVI
1984 Miami Dolphins San Francisco 49ers XIX

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

THE PATRIOT WAY: The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS have reached the Super Bowl in each of the past two seasons. With a win against Kansas City on Sunday, the Patriots would join the BUFFALO BILLS (1990-93) and MIAMI DOLPHINS (1971-73) as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls.

The teams to appear in at least three consecutive Super Bowls in the Super Bowl era:

TEAM SEASONS CONSECUTIVE SUPER BOWLS SUPER BOWLS
Buffalo Bills 1990-93 4 XXV-XXVIII
Miami Dolphins 1971-73 3 VI-VIII
New England Patriots 2016-17 2* LI-LII
*Active streak

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

HIGH SEED ADVANTAGE: With victories by the No. 1 seeded KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (AFC) and No. 1 seeded NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NFC) on Sunday, it would mark the 14th time since the NFL began seeding teams in 1975 that both top seeds faced off in the Super Bowl and the fifth time in the past six seasons (2013-15, 2017).

With wins on Sunday by both the Chiefs and Saints, it would mark the fifth time since 1975 that consecutive seasons have featured a Super Bowl matchup of the No. 1 seeds.

The Super Bowls featuring both No. 1 seeds in consecutive seasons since the NFL began seeding teams in 1975:

SEASONS SUPER BOWLS
2013-15 XLVIII-50
1983-84 XVIII-XIX
1976-77 XI-XII​

With a win, the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS can become the sixth consecutive No. 1 seed to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, surpassing five consecutive Super Bowls featuring the AFC’s No. 1 seed (1987-1991) for the longest streak by the conference since 1975.

A victory by Kansas City would also mark the second time that either conference has had a streak of six consecutive seasons with a Super Bowl featuring their No. 1 seed since 1975 (NFC – six consecutive seasons from 1981-86).

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

MAGICAL MAHOMES: Kansas City quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES passed for 278 yards in his postseason debut last weekend and ranked second in passing yards (5,097) during the regular season.

With a Chiefs victory against New England, Mahomes would become the fourth quarterback to pass for at least 5,000 yards and reach the Super Bowl in the same season.

The quarterbacks to pass for at least 5,000 yards and reach the Super Bowl in the same season:

PLAYER TEAM SEASON PASSING YARDS SUPER BOWL
Peyton Manning Denver 2013 5,477 XLVIII
Tom Brady New England 2011 5,235 XLVI
Dan Marino^ Miami 1984 5,084 XIX
^Pro Football Hall of Famer

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

EASY BREESY: New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES passed for 301 yards with two touchdowns in the Saints’ Divisional Playoffs win against Philadelphia.

With 300 passing yards on Sunday, Brees would tie PEYTON MANNING (nine games) for the second-most playoff games with at least 300 passing yards.

The players with the most postseason games with at least 300 passing yards:

PLAYER TEAM(S) POSTSEASON GAMES WITH 300+ PASS YARDS
Tom Brady New England 15*
Peyton Manning Indianapolis, Denver 9
Drew Brees San Diego, New Orleans 8*
*Active in Conference Championships

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

GREAT GURLEY: Los Angeles Rams running back TODD GURLEY rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ Divisional round victory against Dallas.

Gurley, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his first two postseason appearances, can join ARIAN FOSTER as the only players in postseason history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of their first three playoff games.

The players with at least 100 rushing yards in each of their first three postseason games:

PLAYER TEAM DATES GAMES
Arian Foster Houston 1/7/12-1/5/13 3
Todd Gurley Los Angeles Rams 1/6/18-1/12/19 2*
*Active streak

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

CATCH & RUN: New England running back JAMES WHITE had 15 receptions in the Divisional Playoffs, tied with DARREN SPROLES (January 14, 2012 with New Orleans) for the most receptions by a player in a single postseason game in the Super Bowl era.

With at least 10 receptions on Sunday at Kansas City, White would become the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to record consecutive postseason games with at least 10 catches.

The players with consecutive postseason games with at least 10 receptions in the Super Bowl era:

PLAYER TEAM DATES CONSECUTIVE GAMES
Tony Nathan Miami 1/20/85-1/4/86 2
Jerry Rice^ San Francisco 1/29/95-1/6/96 2
Steve Smith, Sr. Carolina 1/8/06-1/15/06 2
^Pro Football Hall of Famer

Patriots running back SONY MICHEL rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s Divisional Playoffs victory. With one rushing touchdown on Sunday, Michel can tie the postseason record for the most rushing touchdowns by a rookie.

The rookies with the most rushing touchdowns in a single postseason:

PLAYER TEAM SEASON RUSH TDS
Leonard Fournette Jacksonville 2017 4
Jamal Lewis Baltimore 2000 4
William Floyd San Francisco 1994 4
Tony Dorsett^ Dallas 1977 4
Norm Standlee Chicago 1941 4
Sony Michel New England 2018 3*
*Active
^Pro Football Hall of Famer

Find more of my blogs here on SportsRadioWNML.com and my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net.

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