The NFL is down to its final four teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy. Things have played out true to form on each side of the bracket, with the top two seeds meeting in each conference championship game. In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs host the New England Patriots, while in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints host the Los Angeles Rams. In addition to being a battle of the top two teams, each game is a rematch of a regular-season contest.
During the regular season, the veteran quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees earned their respective teams victories over their younger counterparts Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff. For some insight into both games, we checked in with NFL on CBS analyst and former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green.
CBS Local Sports: Kansas City’s defense was dominant against the Colts last weekend. What was the biggest difference you saw in their play when compared to the regular season?
Trent Green: They made some personnel changes, especially in the secondary, during the course of the season. Charvarius Ward is playing really well right now since getting the opportunity to play. He is a bigger, more physical corner. They still like to pressure, that is how defensive coordinator Bob Sutton likes to play.
Sutton has always been an aggressive, press-man-coverage guy. But I have seen them playing a little bit more off coverage and trying not to give up the big play. They have also been a much better defense at home this year. I believe they are giving up about 18 points per game at home compared to [more] on the road this season. Some of that is due to crowd noise. Some of that is the field. Some of it is the outdoor temperature and everything else.
And, with Dee Ford and Justin Houston having the game they did last week, if you can get that kind of pressure, that makes things more convenient for you from a defensive standpoint.
CBS Local Sports: Can they sustain that same level of performance this week against the Patriots? Particularly since we know Belichick’s history of being able to change his gameplan based on opponent’s weakness?
Trent Green: I was really surprised by how well the Patriots were able to run the ball last week. The offensive line dominated that game, which was surprising because I had seen that Chargers team quite a few times this year and had a great deal of respect for that defensive unit.
I would anticipate that is what they also are going to try to do this week too. That is what the Colts ultimately wanted to do but couldn’t get it done. That has been the approach many teams have taken this season. Run the football and control the clock to keep the ball away from Mahomes. That is what the Colts tried to do last week, but they started out their first four series with three-and-outs, and by the end of the game, they were 0-for-9 on third down. You’re not running the ball and possessing it and keeping the ball away if that is what is going on. Next thing you know, it’s 17-0.
I would think that is what they (the Patriots) try to do this week in running the ball, since the Chiefs have had problems stopping the run in the past. But, for whatever reason, the Chiefs are better at stopping the run at home. Last time they played, it was a shootout, 43-40, and both teams were putting the ball all over the place. I don’t think that will be the case especially, since they are saying it is going to be around zero degrees at kickoff. I also don’t know how much wind there will be, which is always a factor. However, if anyone is used to playing in those conditions, it’s the Patriots.
CBS Local Sports: In the NFC, we have another rematch, with the Rams meeting the Saints in New Orleans for the second time this year. The Saints lost defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to an injury this past weekend. How big of a loss do you think that will be as they go up against a Rams team that had two 100-plus-yard rushers last week?
Trent Green: The thing to remember is, the Saints only allowed and average of 80 yards rushing as a team this year. They were second in the NFL in that category, and they have a really good run defense. So I think they will zero in on that Rams running game. They are going to try and do what a lot of defensive players and coordinators say, make the Rams one-dimensional. Even though the Rams have a ton of weapons, you always want to dictate to a team what you want them to do.
If you look at what (Jared) Goff did in the first 11 games of the season, he had 21 touchdowns and six interceptions and, in the last six, he has six touchdowns and six interceptions, along with seven fumbles. He has hit some struggles here in the last six weeks.
With that being said, they were still 4-2 in those six games. They are still winning football games. But if I’m the Saints, I’m focusing on shutting down the run and making Jared Goff beat me.
CBS Local Sports: Finally, after all is said and done this weekend, who do you think will be packing their bags for Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII?
Trent Green: I’m leaning towards both home teams. The Chiefs are 8-1 at home this season, with their lone loss coming in the final four minutes, when they were up two touchdowns on the Chargers before L.A. came back. The Patriots, on the other hand, are 3-5 on the road this season. That is why I have to go with the Chiefs. You never want to count out Belichick and Brady, just because they have proven people wrong for 17 years, but I am just feeling Kansas City this weekend.
As far as the NFC, I’m going with the Saints. I think they are going to dial in, and Dennis Allen will have a good gameplan for that running attack of the Rams. Don’t doubt Sean McVay, because of all of the things he comes up with offensively. But, in a Drew Brees vs Jared Goff shootout, I’m going to stick with the veteran in Brees.