PFW staff picks for conference championship weekend:
Bob LeGere: Rams 31, Saints 27
Both teams have spectacular, explosive, well-balanced offenses and can play excellent defense. But, while the Saints rely heavily on WR Michael Thomas, the Rams have more offensive diversity. The Rams also have more individual talent on defense, but the Saints do a better job of getting the whole of the defense to exceed the sum of its parts. The Saints were able to overcome a horrible start last week against a flawed Eagles team, but they won’t have that luxury this week. In a toss-up game, take the points.
Eric Edholm: Saints 28, Rams 24
How the Saints handle injuries in the trenches could determine whether they can get back to their first Super Bowl in nine years. DT Sheldon Rankins is a big loss, and OG Andrus Peat's hand injury comes at the worst time, with Rams DLs Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh coming to town. The Rams' defensive hopes are pinned on those two wreaking havoc up front, assuming CBs Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters have their hands full with WR Michael Thomas. I was a little surprised Alvin Kamara didn't have a bigger role last week, but this could be the spot.
Arthur Arkush: Saints 33, Rams 28
Mahomes might take the MVP award, but Drew Brees' Saints have been the NFC's best team for over two months. Forgetting for a moment its home-field edge — which is significant — New Orleans matches up really well vs. the Rams: physical corners to re-route receivers, an active and stout front to counter the Todd Gurley-C.J. Anderson duo and the quarterback-receiver connection in whom we trust the most here. It says here the Rams can't do to Alvin Kamara what they did to Ezekiel Elliott a week ago and the Saints' most explosive playmaker is poised for a huge game.
Hub Arkush: Rams 30, Saints 27
The Saints and Rams, for the most part, are a coin toss for me. Drew Brees rates a huge edge over Jared Goff, but I think the Sean Payton-Sean McVay matchup is pretty even, and I have to take Wade Phillips over Dennis Allen. Alvin Kamara's great, but I'm not taking anyone over Todd Gurley, and the way C.J. Anderson is playing, how do you give Mark Ingram an edge? Michael Thomas will be the best wideout on the field, but the Rams actually have a few more playmakers spread over the rest of the depth charts than the Saints. Sheldon Rankins and Andrus Peat injuries really hurt the Saints. If the Rams play the same game they did last Saturday night, they pull the upset.
Bob LeGere: Patriots 27, Chiefs 23
The Pats won 43-30 seven weeks ago in Foxborough, but this one’s at Arrowhead. I still don’t trust the Chiefs’ defense, even though it played well vs. the Colts last week. The Patriots have more weapons than the Colts, and the New England defense is good enough to keep the NFL’s best offense from making it a track meet, which the Patriots cannot win. As spectacular as Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has been all season, I’ll still take Tom Brady when all the chips are in the middle.
Eric Edholm: Chiefs 33, Patriots 27
The Chiefs are coming off their best defensive performance in months, and perhaps all season, yet the Patriots should provide a stiffer test. Can Kansas City's front have more success pressuring Tom Brady than in the last meeting? That could be the key on that side. On the other side, the Chiefs' offense must be prepared for better red-zone execution and finding ways to cut Tyreek Hill loose all over the field. He's really the X-factor, assuming Patrick Mahomes is his typically great self in the game. This is a tough challenge but one the Chiefs appear prepared for. This would be their first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years.
Arthur Arkush: Patriots 30, Chiefs 27
Tyreek Hill might have been the best skill player on the field in the first meeting, but not far behind was Sony Michel. And it feels like the Patriots' rolling rookie back, not whoever wins the much-ballyhooed individual clash between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, could be the biggest X-factor at what's expected to be a historically cold Arrowhead. Mahomes has been nothing short of brilliant, but Brady showed last week that he's not quite ready for any baton passings. Bill Belichick won't let Hill beat him again, but I'm not sure the Chiefs can prevent Michel and Julian Edelman from ending Kansas City's season.
Hub Arkush: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31
I picked against the Pats last week, and I won't make that mistake again. Sure this one's at Arrowhead, but prior to an impressive win over the surprising Colts last week, the Chiefs were 0-7 there in playoff games since 1994. Indy was not close to the test the Patriots are. I know common opponents are always iffy, but the Pats just trashed a Chargers team that beat K.C. in Arrowhead a few weeks ago, and it's late January now, which means it's Belichick and Brady time.
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS (Overall / ATS)
BL: 4-0 / 3-1
EE: 3-1 / 3-1
AA: 3-1 / 3-1
HA: 3-1 / 1-3