The Sunday GPS: Can Tom Terrific, Rams overcome the road and the odds?
GOLD JACKET DOUBLEHEADER
L.A. RAMS @ NEW ORLEANS, 3:05 p.m (EST)
The line: Saints by 3
The weather: Dome
The story: The Rams can run the ball. In fact, they produced a franchise playoff-record 273 yards last week vs. Dallas. But the Saints can defend the run, ranking second against it this season and allowing 3.6 yards per carry. Of course, that was with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, and he's out with a torn Achilles. So how does his loss affect them? The answer may determine the outcome here. Because if the Saints do what Dallas could not – bottle up Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson – they force Jared Goff to beat them and advantage New Orleans. Reason: Goff’s not the same on the road that he is at home, and the envelope, please. In L.A., Goff threw 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. But on the road, it was 10 TDs and nine picks. Now, contrast that with opposing quarterback Drew Brees. He hasn’t lost a playoff game … ever … at the Superdome (he’s 6-0 there) and threw 21 TDs, with one interception this season. This game won’t be determined by Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters or the Saints’ defense tipping its hand by … well, tipping its hands like Dallas. But it could come down to Goff-Brees mano-a-mano, and I know whom I trust.
Something to consider: With 300 passing yards, Brees joins Peyton Manning for the second-most 300-yard passing games in playoff history (9). Tom Brady is the leader with 15.
NEW ENGLAND @ KANSAS CITY, 6:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 3
The weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 23
The story: So it won’t be an Arctic Vortex. Where once temperatures weren’t expected to be above the mid-teens, they’re now projected in the low-20s. And that’s good news for the Chiefs. But this isn’t: Tom Brady is coming to town, and he's 24-4 in games where the temperature is below freezing at kickoff and 5-1 when it's under 20. However, conventional wisdom says his Victory Tour ends here because A) The Chiefs have better personnel than New England; B) they can pressure the pocket; C) they have the presumptive MVP in Patrick Mahomes and, most importantly, D) the Patriots stink on the road. They’re 3-5 and lost three of their last four away from home. Moreover, they haven’t won a road championship game since 2004. But as long as Brady is standing, the Patriots are a threat to go the distance. No, he doesn’t have his best deep threat (Josh Gordon), and, granted, his favorite Red Zone target (Rob Gronkowski) can’t separate anymore. But the Patriots have learned to re-adjust, slicing, splicing and dicing opponents with running backs – be it running or receiving. And that’s perfect here, mostly because while the Chiefs can rush the quarterback (they tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52) they can’t stop the run, allowing 5.0 yards per carry this season. For me, the game comes down to which offensive line holds up better. If Brady has the time he did a week ago, he won’t fail to shred a porous secondary.
Something to consider: In three career games at Arrowhead, Brady is 1-2 with three TDs and six interceptions.
BEATING THE ODDS
(All picks are made vs. the odds)
RON BORGES – Chiefs (--3). Simple: The Patriots have a losing record on the road**.**
CLARK JUDGE – Saints (--3). I trust Brees more than I trust Goff.
RICK GOSSELIN – Saints (--3). Brees is home. Goff is not.
THE SUNDAY OMG
Visiting teams are 0-10 over the last five years in conference championship games and 4-16 the past 10. The last road teams to win were the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
THE SUNDAY OMG II
The age gap between quarterbacks in each of today's games is the largest in championship-game history. Tom Brady is 18 years older than Patrick Mahomes, and Drew Brees 15 years older than Jared Goff. In the five previous games involving the largest gaps, the older quarterbacks were 5-0.
THE SUNDAY PLAY LIST
NEW ORLEANS WR MICHAEL THOMAS. In three career playoff games he has 27 catches for 387 yards and three TDs.
L.A. RAMS RB TODD GURLEY. He seeks to become the second rookie in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games. Arian Foster (2012-13) is the only other.
L.A. RAMS DT AARON DONALD. He led the league with 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for losses.
KANSAS CITY WR TYREEK HILL. He had a career-best three touchdown catches vs. the Patriots this season.
KANSAS CITY RB DAMIEN WILLIAMS. He aims for his fifth straight home game with a rushing touchdown.
NEW ENGLAND DL TREY FLOWERS. He has 4.5 sacks and six tackles for losses in his last five playoff games.
NEW ENGLAND TE ROB GRONKOWSKI. His 12 career TD catches in the playoffs are tied with Hall-of-Famer John Stallworth for second in NFL history. Only Jerry Rice (22) has more.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
- The Rams are 11-0 when rushing for 135 or more yards. They’re 3-3 when they don’t.
- If the Rams and Chiefs meet in Super Bowl LIII it will mark the fifth time in the Super Bowl er and the first since 1997 that the league’s highest-scoring teams met for the championship.
- If the Patriots are in Super Bowl LIII they join the Buffalo Bills (1990-93) and Miami Dolphins (1971-73) as the only teams to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls.
- The Chiefs are 5-1 vs. New England at Arrowhead Stadium.
- The Saints (14) and Rams (19) are the two highest-rated defenses in Sunday’s games. However, New England is the only one ranked in the Top Ten in points allowed (20.3 per game).
- The Chiefs have intercepted Brady seven times and sacked him 18 times in nine career games.
- During the regular season the average starting position for Kansas City’s opponents was the 25.7-yard line, the second best in the NFL. Only Houston (25.5) was better.
- The Rams had no one on Friday’s injury report. The Saints had five players, including Keith Kirkwood (out) and Ben Watson (questionable).
- The Saints are 73-8 under Sean Payton when allowing 20 or fewer points.
- The Chiefs allowed 34.6 points per game on the road this season but only 17.4 at home.