Like I do every year a few days before the regular season kicks off, I put together my predictions for all the major NFL awards, picked every single one of the 256 games on the schedule and all the playoff matchups leading up to Super Bowl LIV. There is nothing tougher to predict than NFL games and nothing represents that better than the fact that every year half the teams that made the postseason the prior season will miss out the following year. While there are obvious favorites for the a few of the awards which I could not ignore, I also went off the radar with some names and I have seven new teams making the playoffs compared to last year.
Heading into Championship Sunday I looked at these two matchups and how things might play out. Instead of trying to preview one of them and pointing out schematic advantages and disadvantages like I did a week ago, I decided to present one X-factor for each team on offense and defense respectively. I believe these are truly the four best teams in the league when I combine players and coaching. There might have been more talented teams on paper, but when I look at these four head coaches and their staffs I think we are blessed with some of the very best play-callers and guys who excel at preparing their troops. So which players for each of them, who don’t usually play a primary role, could be key factors on Sunday?
Now in his 15th season in the NFL, Philip Rivers has started 218 straight games, recorded over 55000 passing yards and almost 400 touchdowns. He has made the Pro Bowl eight times, beaten basically every quarterback record in Chargers history and even seen them move cities. However, there is one thing he has never been able to do – beat Tom Brady. In eight total games versus the Patriots, Rivers’ only win against them came in 2008, when Matt Cassel replaced an injured Brady. And I don’t want to make this all about the quarterbacks, but these two guys have been the constants in that matchup for more than a decade now and so I thought the title makes a lot of sense. The Bolts finished the 2018 season tied for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, but with the Chiefs holding tie-breakers over them, they entered the postseason as a Wildcard team and already had to go on the road to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Now they once again travel up to New England, where the Patriots are being questioned once again but still have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time under center. What might be different this time around? Rivers has the best team surrounding him since they went to the conference championship game over ten years ago. Will he finally slay the dragon?
Through ten weeks of the NFL season I feel like we have a pretty good image of all teams, but a lot of them share similar records while not being on the same level as the others and it’s time to differentiate between them. This discussion is not about teams like the Saints, Rams or Chiefs, who have only lost one game and neither are we talking about Giants, Cardinals or 49ers, who have only won twice. This is about separating the middle of the pack, meaning all teams from a .500 record to twice as many wins as losses. With that in mind, all these teams are still in the hunt for a Wildcard Spot or in some cases even a division crown right now, but some of them are tricking us with their record and you see that they are not as good a football team when you look at the numbers and watch the tape. So which of these nine teams are actually ready to make a playoff run and which of them just pretend to be?
The Saints and Vikings faced each other in the season-opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota never really was in trouble that day and won the game 29-19. Both team have evolved throughout the season and they are set for a rematch on Sunday. After losing their first two games of the year, New Orleans went on to win ten of their next twelve and an NFC South title, to set them up as one of the biggest contenders in the conference. The Vikings won the North with a 13-3 record and earned the number two seed, possibly giving them home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl. In week one their starting quarterback still was Sam Bradford and everybody thought this was the same old Saints, who air it out and play no defense. Times have changed and both teams need to be reckoned with. This should be a huge matchup and looking at both squads, I believe the final score could look a lot different this time around. Here’s why: