Conference Championship Recaps
IT'S PATRIOTS VS. RAMS - OUR FIRST UP-CLOSE LOOK AT SUPER BOWL LIII AND THE "FALLOUT" FROM SUNDAY'S NFC & AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME OVERTIME GAMES
So much for that good, old-fashioned "home-field advantage"! Okay, so it was well documented that home teams had won each of the last 10 NFL Championship Games - the last five in the NFC, the last five in the AFC - while going into this past Sunday's action from New Orleans and Kansas City; plus, we had informed y'all that six of the last eight NFL Conference Championship Game betting favorites had cashed too.
Sure, all that changed with Sunday's wild/wacky overtime affairs - see Los Angeles Rams (+ 3) 26, New Orleans Saints 23 followed by New England Patriots (+ 3.5) 37, Kansas City Chiefs 31 - but it's how we all arrived at a Patriots vs. Rams showdown in Super Bowl LIII that really has folks talking up a blue streak today.
Plenty to say when we break down those doozies shortly but let's do some numbers house-keeping, if you will: The Rams' OT win inside the sweaty Louisiana Superdome pushed LA's streak to four consecutive pointspread covers since just prior to Week 16 while the Patriots will enter SB 53 riding a three-game ATS (against the spread) winning streak. In case you're wondering, this year's Rams are a modest 5-4 ATS away while the Pats are 4-5 versus the vig away.
As you've seen, the Rams opened as the 1.5-point betting favorites here for Super Bowl 53 but that quickly changed to Patriots - 1.5 or 2 points, depending on your locale. So, note that New England is 10-7 ATS as chalk sides this year (and 35-17-1 ATS as favorites these past three years) while the Rams are 1-and-oh as underdogs … yes, the lone pup appearance was in N'Orleans on Sunday afternoon though it's worth noting LA's a rotten 6-10-2 spreadwise as point-grabbers these past three seasons.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Nope, we're not gonna sit here and rant/rave all day long about the obvious blown call late in the Rams' 26-23 overtime win:
Heck, for the league to admit afterwards that LA cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed two penalties on the same play against Saints' pass-catcher Tommylee Lewis (pass interference and a helmet-to-helmet violation) is all anyone needs to know but we're not letting teary-eyed Saints' head coach Sean Payton off the hook that easily. Truth is Payton's team once owned a 13-0 lead into the second quarter - it should have been much larger - and some reckless offensive play-calling in overtime, the inability to sniff out an earlier-game Rams' fake punt and some sluggish tackling to go along with a going-nowhere ground game all conspired to beat the Saints … not just one blown call by the zebras.
On the flip side, the Rams showed a mental toughness not needed to be seen much this entire 2018 season: QB Jared Goff (297 yards passing) shook off tacklers at key moments to extend drives with quick-flip pass completions and somehow the NFC West champs won a road playoff game in which megastar RB Todd Gurley was MIA big-time with only 10 rushing yards and a batch of dropped passes. Veteran PK Greg Zuerlein boomed a 57-yard FG to win it after drilling an uber-clutch 48-yard FG with 15 seconds left in regulation to knot it. Guts! The Rams - eventually - shook off all that bothersome noise inside the dome and got down to the business of coming back from 13 points down once, 10 points down another time much later and that LA defense finally took away RB Alvin Kamara (11 catches) as a threat after his gigantic first half. Cry all you want Saints, there's plenty of blame to be dished out here.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The flip of a coin, eh? C'mon, we couldn't have been the only ones out there that believed once New England called "heads" - and got it right - at the start of overtime that Kansas City would never again see the football. The Pats won that coin toss and then QB Tom Brady (348 yards passing with 1 TD and 2 INT) shredded a tired/ineffective Chiefs' defense with an astounding 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by RB Rex Burkhead's 2-yard slam into the end zone for the 37-31 win.
Sorry for the old headlines, folks, but the Pats are going back to the Super Bowl for a third straight season and even the Brady-led / Bill Belichick-coached Pats have never gone to three consecutive Super Bowls although this is #9 overall since 2001 when the then-St. Louis Rams formed the opponent.
The Patriots didn't exactly put the brakes on Kansas City's high-octane offense while allowing 24 fourth-quarter points to QB Patrick Mahomes (295 yards passing with 3 TDs and 0 INTs) but gotta say New England played to its many strengths: The born-again ground game thrived behind rookie RB Sony Michel (29 carries for 113 yards and 2 TDs) and a patently underrated offensive line (maybe the Pats' best top-to-bottom O-line since the early 2000s) plus WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski - who combined for 13 receptions worth 175 yards including a gazillion clutch plays - were brilliant even if Edelman somehow found himself in the middle of some tense replays.
Folks, the Chiefs barely had the ball in the first half and were rather fortunate to be down just 14-0 at the halftime break - remember that end zone INT by Kansas City that stunted one Patriots' scoring opportunity - and so rallying back and taking a couple of fourth-quarter leads was rather stunning but nobody was surprised the defense was leaky late or that Chiefs' head coach Andy Reid didn't at least call a time out or two to slow the Pats' OT momentum. Give KC an "A" for effort but otherwise it was same old, same old in the AFC. The Chiefs gonzo with a playoff home loss; the Pats going forward for another Super Bowl shot.