NFC/AFC Championship Predictions

Updated: January 19th 2019

The road teams dominated the first weekend of the playoffs and the home teams took care of business last weekend in the Divisional Round. Consequently, the four best teams from the regular season are now the final four teams left in the chase to the Lombardi Trophy. The #1 seeded Saints will host the #2 Rams in what will be a very boisterous Super Dome and the #2 Patriots hit the road to Arrowhead to face the #1 Chiefs in Tom Brady’s unprecedented 13th AFC Championship Game and his eighth in a row. Here is how our writers stand after two weeks of the playoffs with their respective predictions:

  1. Stephen Wendell: 6-2 ML & 5-3 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 6-2 ML & 3-5 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 5-3 ML & 4-4 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: 5-3 ML & 4-4 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 5-3 ML & 6-2 ATS

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. #2 Los Angeles Rams @ #1 New Orleans Saints (Line NO -3): ML – 2 LA & 4 NO // ATS – 2 LA & 4 NO
  2. #2 New England Patriots @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -3): ML – 2 NE & 4 KC // ATS – 3 NE & 3 KC

#2 Los Angeles Rams (13-3) @ #1 New Orleans Saints (13-3) [Line: NO -3]

Stephen Wendell: Drew Brees is going to prove too good at home. They showed a ton of poise coming back on the Eagles last week and I think the Saints win a shootout. Projected Score: Saints 35 – Rams 31.

Matt Papson: The Rams lost their way a bit toward the end of the season, but they have the most talented roster in the NFL. Even though the Super Dome will be rocking, I think the Rams will take care of business. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Saints 27.

Kyle English: No analysis, just predictions. Projected Score: Saints 28 – Rams 24.

Matt Goodwin: The Rams getting points as an underdog is appealing on many fronts. While they are on the road and lost handily to the Saints there earlier in the season, I like what the Rams are doing with the run game right now with Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson and the chess match between the All-Sean coaching matchup is going to be fun. I expect the very-banged up offensive line of the Saints (three starters got in limited practice on Wed) and that also adds Terron Armstead, who has been playing through a pectoral injury since Week 10, to get all sorts of overpowered by Aaron Donald and the front four of the Rams. I’d like the Rams to have Cooper Kupp in this game to feel better about their passing offense, but I expect them to do enough there to win this game outright and definitely to cover. To me, the only way the Saints win this game is if Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas both go off in this game, which is certainly possible because “Can’t Guard Mike” has been more than a Twitter handle this year and Marcus Peters talks more than he produces. In the end, my LA-born and huge Rams fan Jory celebrates a Rams victory this weekend. Projected Score: Rams 30 – Saints 27.

Nick Andrews: Will the Saints continue to hold off teams with strong running attacks? They better if they hope to continue on in the playoffs. The Rams ran right through the Cowboys last week and will likely gameplan to do the same. I think the Saints have the better defense of these two teams and in a Dome this could be a track meet. It will likely come down to that particular matchup in which I think the Saints do enough to hold back the Rams. Projected Score: Saints 38 – Rams 31.

Bernard Faller: I like the diversity of the Los Angeles passing attack a little better than the Saints where Michael Thomas dominates targets.  The Rankins loss also hurts the core of this Saints defense which is facing a team that ran for 273 rushing yards last week.  The Rams get revenge in this one after losing the first meeting.  Projected Score: Rams 31 – Saints 27.

#2 New England Patriots (11-5) @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) [Line: KC -3]

Stephen Wendell: I love Patrick Mahomes and will be rooting for him to win the football game but I have learned one thing in all my years of betting on football games, do not bet against Tom Brady. So, Chiefs win but by one point in an exciting finish at Arrowhead. Projected Score: Chiefs 28 – Patriots 27.

Matt Papson: Deep, deep in my heart, I want Andy Reid & the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl. I think he’s not only the second best coach of the modern era, but one of the best coaches of all time. A Super Bowl victory would cement his legacy. Despite that, for a truly unknown reason, I suspect the Patriots to emerge victorious. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Chiefs 27.

Kyle English: No analysis, just predictions. Projected Score: Chiefs 34 – Patriots 28.

Matt Goodwin: I was a week premature to officially bury the Patriots as they breezed past the Chargers and looked amazing on offense in doing so. Which Bill Belichick likes to take the best weapon out of the mix for a team like the Chiefs, they have a few to focus on. I think Pat Mahomes gets his anyways, and it will prove impossible to stop both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in this game. Hill seems to play big vs. the Patriots. In the end, if this game was in Foxboro, I’d like the Patriots who were 9-0 at home this season. However, the Patriots went 3-5 on the road and while that doesn’t mean much for as experienced team as they are and it is hard to pick against the GOAT Tom Brady in a game like this, I think the weather helps the Chiefs and Arrowhead is a huge home-field advantage. Plus, selfishly I want to see a rematch of the epic Monday Night Football game from earlier in the season. If the Patriots end up on the plus side of the scoreboard, I do think this is the first game where they will feel the sting of having Damien Williams and Spencer Ware instead of Kareem Hunt from a skill-set perspective. Projected Score: Chiefs 31 – Patriots 27.

Nick Andrews: Unlike the first game I don’t see this one being a shootout. In fact I see this AFC Championship going similar to last year’s with a Patriots’ opponent getting out to a lead late in the 3rd quarter but coach Reid takes his foot off the gas just enough for the Pats to rally with a couple 4th quarter scores. Projected Score: Patriots 24- Chiefs 21.

Bernard Faller: The Patriots absolutely decimated the Chargers last week seemingly scoring at will by dinking and dunking short passes to James White and running the ball at will with little resistance from the Los Angeles defense.  The Chiefs similarly destroyed the Colts.  A Brady-Brees super bowl matchup certainly has some appeal, and is a good possibility, but two of the NFL’s top young offenses provide a tantalizing storyline also.  New England edged out Kansas City in the first meeting.  The Chiefs take this one at home. Projected Score: Chiefs 39 – Patriots 35.

 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Championship Weekend Projections

Updated: January 20th 2018

It is Championship Sunday! What an amazing slate of games last weekend. The Eagles hung on at home in a thrilling victory that stunned a bunch of critics. New England unsurprisingly throttled Tennessee despite the Titans striking first with a score. And then Sunday, in what many thought would be a defensive battle, the Jaguars and the Steelers combined for 87 points with the Jags edging the Steelers by 3 points, sending the Steelers and their fans depressed into the offseason. And then for the finale, Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs in walk-off fashion at home to beat the Saints on what is being called the Minnesota Miracle. Below is a recap of how we have all performed over the past two weeks:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS

The table is set for an incredible Championship Sunday, and here are our writers’ projections for this weekend:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots (Line NE -7.5): ML – 2 JAX & 4 NE// ATS – 5 JAX & 1 NE
  2. Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (Line MIN -3.5): ML – 4 MIN & 2 PHI // ATS – 3 MIN & 3 PHI

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) @ #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -7.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well I certainly underestimated Jacksonville last week. I have to tip my cap to them as they came into Pittsburgh and played without fear and handed the Steelers a crushing defeat. Even though Tom’s hand may not be 100%, I don’t think the Jag’s miracle run continues, as the Patriots (even if led by Hoyer) find a way to get it done at home where they have won so many games before in January.  Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 13.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Jaguars 21.

Robert Cowper: Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Defense travels. These may be cliches, but cliches become cliche for a reason. I can’t believe I’ve convinced myself of this but I’m taking the Jags and their defense to overcome the Patriots offense. It’s part contrarian pick but it’s also based on stats. The Patriots are the second best offense when it comes to turnovers; just 6.5% of their drives end in a turnover. The Jags on the other hand are prolific at creating turnovers; they rank third, creating turnovers on 15.8% of drives. Something’s gotta give and I think it’ll be New England losing the turnover margin battle. One area where the Patriots offense is not elite is when it comes to protecting Tom Brady – they rank 15th in sacks allowed and 12th in sacks allowed per pass attempt (which helps control for the fact that they pass more frequently than many teams). Not surprisingly, if you’ve watched any of their games, the Jags are second in both categories on defense. Another reason I think the Jags will have the better turnover margin is that Blake Bortles is being utilized differently in the playoffs. Through the regular season he averaged over 32 attempts per game; so far in the playoffs he has attempted 23 and 26 passes. His attempts are down and so are his interceptions (13 on the season but none in the playoffs). One reason his attempts are down is because he’s running more often: 28% of his 2017 rushing yards came in the two playoff games. Throughout all of December (5 games) Bortles had just 67 yards and so far in January (2 games) he has 123. The Jags need to keep the game plan the same and they will win a close one led by their defense and kicker Josh Lambo. Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Patriots 11

Matt Goodwin: I’m sure I’m in the extreme minority here, but there’s something about this Jaguars team that seems 2013 Ravens-like and potentially even like the 2014 Seahawks. Both of those teams had to climb their respective conferences after coming just short in season’s past. This Jaguars team, buoyed by key free agent additions on the defensive side like Calais Campbell and the instant success of #4 overall draft pick Leonard Fournette have turned it around in one season. While nobody seems to ever be able to completely neutralize the Patriots offense, this one feels like the Jags have the talent to do just that and their offense has been efficient and confident enough to win different types of games. If the Jags had a weapon like Allen Robinson in this game, I’d be more confident in the pick, but I’m rolling with them nonetheless as I think Telvin Smith can contain Gronk and Jalen Ramsey will do his thing, while receivers like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook do enough to compliment Fournette’s running and Yeldon catching passes out of the backfield. Give me the Jags in a “shock the world” upset.  Projected Score: Jaguars 23 – Patriots 20.

Nick AndrewsThis is the matchup everyone expected for the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh Steelers Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots. Jokes aside, this actually might be a better game than if Pittsburgh had made the trip to Foxborough. There are only two things that have prevented Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from having another handful of Super Bowl rings: 4-man defensive pressure and Tom Coughlin. The Jaguars have both of these which is why I think they have a better shot to make it to the Super Bowl than the Steelers ever did. Belichick and Josh McDaniels will certainly use a different game plan to try and counter the pressure but it definitely will make things interesting. What will be more interesting is which Blake Bortles shows up to play? The Patriots are unlikely to give up as many opportunities as they Steelers afforded him last week so can Bortles make three or four drives that result in touchdowns over field goals? I think that will be the difference in Sunday’s results. Projected Score: Patriots 23 – Jaguars 16.

Bernard Faller: Rookie Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars run game pounded Pittsburg last week. The formula remains the same this week relying on a stout defense and limiting the Patriots offensive touches with the run game. The challenge will be scoring against a New England defense which closed the year strong giving up only 14 points per game in the last 13 contests after a brutal first four weeks of the season. This could be closer than some think but I will bet against New England when Tom Brady retires. Maybe. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 16

#2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [Line: PHI -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: I was more optimistic than most last week, picking the Eagles to win outright, and I feel the same way this week. Foles showed he can play under immense pressure, and ultimately, I think the home crowd and playing outdoors proves to be the difference this week. The Eagles win on a late 4th quarter touchdown and head to Super 52 for a rematch against their last Super Bowl foe, the Patriots. Projected Score: Eagles 21 – Vikings 17.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Vikings 17. 

Robert Cowper: Meh. That’s how I’m feeling about the Vikings and Eagles matchup. There are some interesting storylines, my favorite being “how did Jeff Fisher manage to be 4-12 with three playoff QBs on the Rams’ roster last year,” but I’m just not into it. We all agree that losing Carson Wentz takes some of the sizzle out of this game. Nick Foles is steady and reliable enough to not be a liability but I don’t see him winning this game for the Eagles because the Vikings defense is first in so many categories that I lost count. I think the game will come down to Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon. He only got 8 carries to Latavius Murray’s 19 last week but with Murray running headlong into Fletcher Cox I think it’s inevitable that they’ll change strategy. I think we’ll see a game similar to the one McKinnon had against the Bengals when he caught 7 balls for 114 yards. Let’s not forget that Minnesota has the added incentive of playing a Super Bowl at home. (did I mention that I’m a Cowboys fan?) Projected Score: Vikings 23 – Eagles 16

Matt Goodwin: I’m really excited about this game and how could anyone not be after Stefon Diggs’ walk-off touchdown last week? One game away from hosting the Super Bowl, the Vikings take on the underdog Eagles in a likely grind-it-out matchup. Since teams can’t really run on the Vikings, it will be imperative that Nick Foles and the Eagles get creative on offense and try to attack the Vikings secondary. Good luck with that as I don’t think Alshon Jeffery gets separation on average DBs, let alone Xavier Rhodes. Beyond Zach Ertz, I think guys like Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement and Trey Burton will have to get going in the passing game for the Eagles to be able to do much on offense. In order to win this game, the Eagles defense will have to make life terrible for Case Keenum with constant pressure. In the end, causing turnovers is the Eagles best shot at getting back to the Super Bowl without Carson Wentz. I think the Eagles’ time will come sooner than later and I’m not just saying this for Matt and Stephen’s benefit (maybe even next season), but I’m taking the Vikings this weekend as they just seem to be a “team of destiny”. Projected Score: Vikings 19 – Eagles 16

Nick AndrewsWow. Wow. Wow! No offense to the Eagles but I think that Saints vs. Vikings might have been the real NFC Championship game. Drew Brees did everything he could to vanquish the best defense in the NFL and the Saints still fell just short. The Eagles also boast a strong defense which should make this a low(er) scoring game. However, I don’t think Nick Foles can rise up to the level that Drew Brees needed to take down this Vikings squad. The Eagles best shot is for their defense to create short fields with turnovers and 3-play drives increasing their scoring opportunities. I don’t see them sustaining many 60+ yard drives. If the Vikings gain a two score lead at any point, this one is over. Projected Score: Vikings 24 – Eagles 10.

Bernard Faller: The Jeff Fisher nightmare continues as two quarterbacks who struggled under Fisher for the Rams over the previous two seasons are playing for the chance to go to the Super Bowl. I can not wait to see two of the best defenses in the league face off. Minnesota gets the slight nod with a slightly more reliable offense in a low scoring contest on the way to a home Super Bowl. Projected Score:  Vikings 17 – Eagles 13.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell