Now that we’re about to hit the conference championship games, let’s skip the formalities and go right into the analysis that will lead you to riches and (hopefully) not the poor house. This weekend features four of the most exciting teams in the NFL playing each other, so it should be a fantastic Sunday spent in front of the TV. I went 3-1 straight up last week but only 1-3 against the spread, moving my record during the playoffs to a subpar 3-5. Don’t worry, though. We’re getting back .500 this week.
Rams at Saints
We’ve already seen this game in 2018. It was in Week 9 when an undefeated L.A. squad traveled to New Orleans and took a 45-35 loss. The Rams passing game was strong in that game, as Jared Goff threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns while receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods combined for 11 catches, 203 yards and a couple of scores. But the Saints in that game were more balanced on offense, and they jumped out to a 21-point lead at the end of the second quarter. Though the Rams eventually caught up, they let the Saints score the final 10 points of the game. On that day, New Orleans was the better team. Will anything be different in Sunday’s game, then? Rams cornerback Marcus Peters might think so. After that game in Week 9, he said Saints coach Sean Payton was trash-talking to him. Said Peters, “We're going to see him soon … and then we going to have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
We know the Saints have plenty of firepower with Brees and Michael Thomas in the passing game and the combination of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the offensive backfield. The Rams can counter that with a suddenly stellar running back duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson along with Cooks and Woods in the passing game. The difference might be the defense. Though the Rams were stingy last week vs. the Cowboys, they’ve been mediocre all season, allowing opponents to score at least 30 points seven times. The Saints defense, though, has improved throughout the season. As *[USA Today](https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/playoffs/2019/01/13/los-angeles-rams-new-orleans-saints-nfc-cha mpionship-game-preview/2567388002/)* points out, the Saints, since Week 7, have allowed opponents only 16.9 points per game. And that will be the difference on Sunday. Both teams have explosive offenses, but the Saints defense will do just enough to allow them a win, a cover, and a spot in the Super Bowl.
Straight up: Saints
Against the spread: Saints -3.5
Patriots at Chiefs
It seems like last week’s Patriots win vs. the Chargers have made all of New England’s problems go away. The talk that 41-year-old Tom Brady is too old? Gone. The talk that Bill Belichick’s two-decade long run of dominance is nearing its end? Gone. The talk that this is one of the weaker Patriots squads in recent memory? Pretty much gone. Sure, the Patriots are an underdog for the first time in 67 games under the leadership of Tom Brady, but to me, it feels like they should be something like a five-point underdog, especially since they’re playing the Chiefs in Kansas City. Not three measly points that basically makes this a pick ‘em.
While the Patriots were upending the Chargers last week, Kansas City was dominating the Colts. Not with offense, but with defense. It’s especially strange since the Chiefs defense was one of the worst units in the league this year. But in the divisional playoff round, Kansas City shut down Andrew Luck and Indianapolis. That makes the Chiefs even scarier than normal. Yes, opponents knew they’d have to find a way to slow down quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. But at least they could take solace in the idea that it was possible to keep up with the Kansas City offense thanks to the porous Kansas City defense. Now, that algorithm is up in arms, and the Patriots—who, remember, beat the Chiefs at home in Week 6—will be the ones to pay the consequences. New England hasn’t won a road playoff game since 2007. That streak will continue on Sunday. Go with Kansas City to win and to cover.
Straight up: Chiefs
Against the spread: Chiefs -3.5
2018 record for every game picked in this column: 38-21 S/U and 32-25-2 ATS
2017-2018 record for every game picked in this column: 75-41 S/U and 61-51-4 ATS
2018 overall record on Pickwatch: 161-98 S/U and 125-130 ATS
S/U ATS NO over LAR NO -3.5 KC over NE KC -3