Convention championship week all the time jogs my memory of the nice — and dangerous — private experiences with my groups in essentially the most pressure-filled sport of the NFL season.

Sure, I’ve all the time believed NFL convention title video games rise above the Tremendous Bowl in magnitude from a workforce exec’s perspective. For any workforce apart from New England, for whom it is all the time Tremendous Bowl win or bust, a loss on this spherical is the last word downer with a Tremendous Bowl journey on the road.

My groups performed on this sport six instances, profitable two (1976 Vikings, 1999 Titans) and shedding 4 (Vikings in 1977, ‘87 and ‘98 and Titans in 2002). We misplaced the 2 Tremendous Bowls we performed in, however it was positively extra painful to lose within the convention championships (particularly Minnesota’s 30-27 time beyond regulation loss to Atlanta in ’98, after our 15-1 common season).

MORE: SN’s picks for convention championship video games

As this yr’s closing 4 groups are doing this week, we labored laborious on all the logistics to organize for the Tremendous Bowl. That included assembly with the league workplace and host metropolis; working up ticket distribution plans and fan journey packages; determining workforce lodge allocations, workforce itineraries and household actions; reserving buses; and planning arrival and post-game events.

It is an enormous disappointment to have all this planning in place, after which lose — however what a thrill it was to win that convention title sport and know we had been headed to the Tremendous Bowl.

When a workforce hasn’t been to a Tremendous Bowl in a few years, it creates much more stress and pleasure as soon as it reaches this level. That is the case for 3 of the groups taking part in this Sunday, all besides the Patriots, who’re looking for an incredible fourth Tremendous Bowl look in 5 years.

Kansas Metropolis has the longest drought, going again 49 years. The Rams’ final Tremendous Bowl was in 2001, after they resided in St. Louis, however the L.A. model hasn’t been since 1979. The Saints had their epic 2009 Tremendous Bowl season, however it’s nonetheless been 9 years of ready to get again to the massive sport.

With that stated, listed below are my picks for which of those high-scoring groups (the league’s prime 4 scoring offenses are left) will expertise the excessive of Tremendous Bowl 53 on Feb. 3.

NFC Championship, Rams at Saints

Even with two high-powered passing assaults, I see the bottom sport as a key on this rematch of the Saints’ 45-35 Week 9 win in New Orleans (which ended L.A..’s unbeaten begin). The Rams overpowered the Cowboys final Saturday with a 273-yard speeding efficiency. The Saints held the Eagles to 49 yards speeding final week and had the second-ranked run protection within the common season. However they’ll have to beat the lack of premier run-stopping defensive deal with Sheldon Rankins, who tore his Achilles in opposition to Philly.

I see the Saints retaining Todd Gurley in examine as they did final time (68 yards) and forcing Jared Goff to beat them within the passing sport. Goff threw for 391 yards within the final assembly, however has been much less efficient since glorious huge receiver Cooper Kupp was misplaced for the season with an ACL in Week 10.

The ultra-loud Superdome is an enormous benefit for Cameron Jordan and the Saints’ pass-rushers, who ought to have the ability to stress Goff into a pair interceptions. In the meantime, I see an enormous sport out of Drew Brees and terrific receiver Michael Thomas, who’re each coming off huge performances in opposition to the Eagles.

Brees threw for 346 yard and 4 touchdowns in opposition to the Rams within the November victory whereas Thomas torched the Rams secondary that day (12 catches, 211 yards, one landing). However Rams beginning nook Aqib Talib was on injured reserve for that sport, and his presence ought to assist the L.A. protection on Sunday. Aaron Donald additionally must make a huge impact for the Rams to have an opportunity to win (he had only one deal with however 4 quarterback hits on Brees).

I feel the Saints’ glorious speeding duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will discover openings in opposition to a Rams run protection that gave up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry in common season. Kamara additionally will do injury as a receiver.

I feel the distinction on this one is the homefield and profitable expertise of Brees and gutsiness of coach Sean Payton (who turned the Eagles sport round with the pretend punt name from the Saints’ personal 30). Brees and Payton must be an enormous benefit in opposition to convention title sport newbies in third yr quarterback Goff and 32-year outdated phenom coach Sean McVay.

I see the Saints marching on to the Tremendous Bowl with a 38-24 win.

MORE: Rams cannot beat Saints if they do not cover Marcus Peters from Michael Thomas

AFC Championship: Patriots at Chiefs

What a quarterback matchup: the best of all time, Tom Brady, along with his 5 Tremendous Bowl rings, vs. second-year Patrick Mahomes, the possible MVP whose playmaking capacity makes him essentially the most thrilling participant within the NFL. This is also a rematch of an exciting Week 6 43-40 victory for the Pats at New England. Brady (340 passing yards, two touchdowns plus a speeding rating), Sony Michel (106 speeding yards, two touchdowns), Mahomes (352 passing yards, 4 touchdowns) and Tyreek Hill (seven catches for 142 yards, three touchdowns) had been stars in that sport. However Mahomes additionally threw two expensive interceptions to assist New England in its win.

The Chiefs are 8-1 at residence this season, whereas the Patriots are 3-5 on the street. So Ok.C. ought to win, proper? Not so quick.

The Patriots — a real dynasty — are within the AFC championship sport for an unimaginable eighth straight yr (4-Three throughout this run). Simply as within the NFC title sport, Brady’s historical past of clutch performances in huge video games shall be matched in opposition to the younger upstart in Mahomes, who’s definitely able to main Ok.C. to the promised land. However I do not see it taking place this week.

The climate forecast is projected round 30 levels — just under freezing. The later begin will make it even harder to throw the chilly soccer, particularly if the winds choose up (Mahomes did beat the Colts on a snowy day final week, however it wasn’t as chilly as this weekend, and Mahomes had a number of downfield misfires in opposition to Indianapolis).

Arrowhead Stadium is an intimidating place to play, however I feel the chilly climate performs proper into the arms of Brady and teammates, who will really feel like they’re again in Foxboro. I noticed this first-hand with the Titans within the 2004 AFC divisional playoff, after we misplaced at New England on a sub-zero night time wherein Brady threw nicely.

Brady will deal with the weather higher than the less-experienced Mahomes, who additionally will discover it harder this time round in opposition to an improved Pats protection and a Invoice Belichick scheme that may double workforce Hill and tight finish Travis Kelce. The Chiefs might want to discover success within the operating sport as they did in opposition to the Colts (180 yards speeding) to permit their passing sport to search out success. New England, which held the Chargers to 19 yards speeding final week, ought to play them harder than the Colts did.

The Patriots are coming off an enormous sport in opposition to the Chargers, wherein they scored touchdowns on their first 5 drives. They will unfold the sphere with receivers, go up-tempo to tire Chiefs defenders and run it successfully in opposition to the Kansas Metropolis’s No. 27 run protection.

MORE: Pats want retirement-minded Gronk to beat Chiefs

Of notice: Brady is making an attempt to additional encourage himself and his workforce by taking part in no-respect card, saying, “Everybody thinks we suck and we will not win any video games so we’ll see.” (I’ve by no means heard anybody say the Patriots suck, have you ever?).

Andy Reid has executed an amazing job teaching up Mahomes as a first-year starter, encouraging his scrambling and playmaking capacity. However the elephant within the room is Reid’s big-game report: He’s 1-Four in convention title video games going again to his Philly days, and 0-2 in playoff video games vs. Belichick (together with a divisional spherical loss for the Chiefs at Foxboro in 2015). Belichick’s AFC title sport report is 9-4, together with 2-2 on the street.

The Chiefs protection surprisingly throttled Andrew Luck and the Colts final week. I do not assume that occurs in opposition to Brady along with his fast launch. New England wins 31-27.

Then, it will likely be 41-year-old Brady vs. 40-year-old Brees in a really tremendous matchup.

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Government of the 12 months in 1998 after the Vikings’ 15-1 season. He is also former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports activities/enterprise consulting, media and talking work together with company and faculty talking on Negotiation, Administration, Management and Sports activities Enterprise–contact him at [email protected]

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