Conference championship week all the time jogs my memory of the great — and dangerous — private experiences with my groups in the most pressure-filled game of the NFL season.
Yes, I’ve all the time believed NFL convention title video games rise above the Super Bowl in magnitude from a workforce exec’s perspective. For any workforce aside from New England, for whom it is all the time Super Bowl win or bust, a loss in this spherical is the last word downer with a Super Bowl journey on the road.
My groups performed in this game six instances, successful two (1976 Vikings, 1999 Titans) and dropping 4 (Vikings in 1977, ‘87 and ‘98 and Titans in 2002). We lost the two Super Bowls we played in, but it was definitely more painful to lose in the conference championships (especially Minnesota’s 30-27 extra time loss to Atlanta in ’98, after our 15-1 common season).
MORE: SN’s picks for convention championship video games
As this 12 months’s remaining 4 groups are doing this week, we labored laborious on all the logistics to arrange for the Super Bowl. That included assembly with the league workplace and host metropolis; working up ticket distribution plans and fan journey packages; determining workforce resort allocations, workforce itineraries and household actions; reserving buses; and planning arrival and post-game events.
It’s an enormous disappointment to have all this planning in place, after which lose — however what a thrill it was to win that convention title game and know we had been headed to the Super Bowl.
When a workforce hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in a few years, it creates much more stress and pleasure as soon as it reaches this level. That’s the case for 3 of the groups taking part in this Sunday, all besides the Patriots, who’re looking for a tremendous fourth Super Bowl look in 5 years.
Kansas City has the longest drought, going again 49 years. The Rams’ final Super Bowl was in 2001, once they resided in St. Louis, however the L.A. model hasn’t been since 1979. The Saints had their epic 2009 Super Bowl season, but it surely’s nonetheless been 9 years of ready to get again to the large game.
With that stated, listed here are my picks for which of those high-scoring groups (the league’s high 4 scoring offenses are left) will expertise the excessive of Super Bowl 53 on Feb. 3.
NFC Championship, Rams at Saints
Even with two high-powered passing assaults, I see the bottom game as a key in this rematch of the Saints’ 45-35 Week 9 win in New Orleans (which ended L.A..’s unbeaten begin). The Rams overpowered the Cowboys final Saturday with a 273-yard speeding efficiency. The Saints held the Eagles to 49 yards speeding final week and had the second-ranked run protection in the common season. But they’ll have to beat the lack of premier run-stopping defensive sort out Sheldon Rankins, who tore his Achilles towards Philly.
I see the Saints maintaining Todd Gurley in examine as they did final time (68 yards) and forcing Jared Goff to beat them in the passing game. Goff threw for 391 yards in the final assembly, however has been much less efficient since glorious huge receiver Cooper Kupp was misplaced for the season with an ACL in Week 10.
The ultra-loud Superdome is an enormous advantage for Cameron Jordan and the Saints’ pass-rushers, who ought to be capable of stress Goff into a pair interceptions. Meanwhile, I see an enormous game out of Drew Brees and terrific receiver Michael Thomas, who’re each coming off massive performances towards the Eagles.
Brees threw for 346 yard and 4 touchdowns towards the Rams in the November victory whereas Thomas torched the Rams secondary that day (12 catches, 211 yards, one landing). But Rams beginning nook Aqib Talib was on injured reserve for that game, and his presence ought to assist the L.A. protection on Sunday. Aaron Donald additionally must make a big effect for the Rams to have an opportunity to win (he had only one sort out however 4 quarterback hits on Brees).
I believe the Saints’ glorious speeding duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will discover openings towards a Rams run protection that gave up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry in common season. Kamara additionally will do harm as a receiver.
I believe the distinction in this one is the homefield and successful expertise of Brees and gutsiness of coach Sean Payton (who turned the Eagles game round with the pretend punt name from the Saints’ personal 30). Brees and Payton must be an enormous advantage towards convention title game newbies in third 12 months quarterback Goff and 32-year outdated phenom coach Sean McVay.
I see the Saints marching on to the Super Bowl with a 38-24 win.
MORE: Rams can’t beat Saints if they do not cover Marcus Peters from Michael Thomas
AFC Championship: Patriots at Chiefs
What a quarterback matchup: the best of all time, Tom Brady, along with his 5 Super Bowl rings, vs. second-year Patrick Mahomes, the possible MVP whose playmaking skill makes him the most thrilling participant in the NFL. This is also a rematch of an exciting Week 6 43-40 victory for the Pats at New England. Brady (340 passing yards, two touchdowns plus a speeding rating), Sony Michel (106 speeding yards, two touchdowns), Mahomes (352 passing yards, 4 touchdowns) and Tyreek Hill (seven catches for 142 yards, three touchdowns) had been stars in that game. But Mahomes additionally threw two expensive interceptions to assist New England in its win.
The Chiefs are 8-1 at dwelling this season, whereas the Patriots are 3-5 on the highway. So Ok.C. ought to win, proper? Not so quick.
The Patriots — a real dynasty — are in the AFC championship game for an unbelievable eighth straight 12 months (4-3 throughout this run). Just as in the NFC title game, Brady’s historical past of clutch performances in massive video games will likely be matched towards the younger upstart in Mahomes, who’s actually able to main Ok.C. to the promised land. But I do not see it taking place this week.
The climate forecast is projected round 30 levels — slightly below freezing. The later begin will make it even harder to throw the chilly soccer, particularly if the winds decide up (Mahomes did beat the Colts on a snowy day final week, but it surely wasn’t as chilly as this weekend, and Mahomes had a number of downfield misfires towards Indianapolis).
Arrowhead Stadium is an intimidating place to play, however I believe the chilly climate performs proper into the fingers of Brady and teammates, who will really feel like they’re again in Foxboro. I noticed this first-hand with the Titans in the 2004 AFC divisional playoff, once we misplaced at New England on a sub-zero night time in which Brady threw nicely.
Brady will deal with the weather higher than the less-experienced Mahomes, who additionally will discover it harder this time round towards an improved Pats protection and a Bill Belichick scheme that can double workforce Hill and tight finish Travis Kelce. The Chiefs might want to discover success in the working game as they did towards the Colts (180 yards speeding) to permit their passing game to seek out success. New England, which held the Chargers to 19 yards speeding final week, ought to play them harder than the Colts did.
The Patriots are coming off an enormous game towards the Chargers, in which they scored touchdowns on their first 5 drives. They’ll unfold the sphere with receivers, go up-tempo to tire Chiefs defenders and run it successfully towards the Kansas City’s No. 27 run protection.
MORE: Pats want retirement-minded Gronk to beat Chiefs
Of notice: Brady is making an attempt to additional inspire himself and his workforce by taking part in no-respect card, saying, “Everyone thinks we suck and we can’t win any games so we’ll see.” (I’ve by no means heard anybody say the Patriots suck, have you?).
Andy Reid has accomplished an amazing job teaching up Mahomes as a first-year starter, encouraging his scrambling and playmaking skill. But the elephant in the room is Reid’s big-game report: He’s 1-4 in convention title video games going again to his Philly days, and 0-2 in playoff video games vs. Belichick (together with a divisional spherical loss for the Chiefs at Foxboro in 2015). Belichick’s AFC title game report is 9-4, together with 2-2 on the highway.
The Chiefs protection surprisingly throttled Andrew Luck and the Colts final week. I do not assume that occurs towards Brady along with his fast launch. New England wins 31-27.
Then, will probably be 41-year-old Brady vs. 40-year-old Brees in a really tremendous matchup.
Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings’ 15-1 season. He is also former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports activities/enterprise consulting, media and talking work together with company and faculty talking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business–contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.