Aaron Donald, Alvin Kamara, Andrus Peat, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, CJ Anderson, Dallas Cowboys, Drew Brees, Eric Berry, Indianapolis Colts, James Develin, James White, Josh Reynolds, Julian Edelman, Kansas City Chiefs, LA Rams, Mark Ingram, Max Unger, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, NFL, NFL Trivia, Patrick Mahomes, Rob Gronkowski, Sean McVay, Sheldon Rankins, Sony Michel, Ted Ginn, Todd Gurley, Tom Brady
Tonight we get the top two teams from both conferences competing to see who goes to the Super Bowl, which is much more important than our trivia competition but we’re doing it anyway!
‘For this week I’ll keep it simple and its ONE point for each of the 3 questions.
In the 2018 Regular season who had the most sacks?
We have already asked which team has made the most Championship appearances (The Steelers with 16) but who has made the second most?
Finally, which team has won the most Championship games?
Dan still has a 1 point advantage – will that be the case come Sunday?’
Okay, so this is a varied set of questions, but let’s see how we go. I’m pretty certain that the answer to the first question is Aaron Donald, which just goes to show how impressive he is as he got them playing defensive tackle.
I’m slightly worried that there is a trick to the other questions because this brings back to my mind the overall record post I did in the summer before this season and so I am sure that the team with the most championship wins is the Green Bay Packers, but were they super-efficient and got it on fewer tries or are they second to the Steelers in terms of appearances? The Packers got thirteen championships (I have the spreadsheet to prove it) and if the Steelers were first with sixteen then the Packers were in at least thirteen championship games so I’m sticking with them for both questions. I look forward to being proved wrong…
‘I’m really feeling the pressure here – after a terrible pick-em season, I’m desperate to win the trivia competition, and with 3 weeks left (I think) I’m getting nervous!
LA Rams @ New Orleans Saints
The first game on Sunday sees the LA Rams take their second ranked offence and nineteenth ranked defence by DVOA to play the slightly more evenly spread New Orleans Saints. The Saints actually rank fourth in offence and eleventh in defence but fourth in overall DVOA.
What does this all mean given that all four teams playing this weekend are ranked in the top seven by DVOA?
At this stage of the season I’m not entirely sure. Neither team’s offence has been at the peak of their form in recent weeks, but the Rams performance on the ground against the Dallas Cowboys’ run defence was particularly impressive so you have to think that running the ball will feature heavily in Sean McVay’s game plan. The combination of CJ Anderson, picked up as a free agent late in the season, and a now healthy Todd Gurley created a fearsome tandem that the Rams used to amass two hundred and thirty-eight yards between them with both rushing for one hundred yard. I have again run out of time to finish the coaching tape I was watching this week, but I did see how the Rams managed to run the ball so effectively with 11 personnel. The mix of repeated jet motion, moving the tight end, and even end around runs by Josh Reynolds and fakes of the same created consistent motion going both ways that served to make a good run defence a step slow. The Saints rushing defence actually ranked two places higher by DVOA at the end of the season that the Cowboys, but a big question in this game is how will the injury to defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins last week affect the Saints ability to pressure and hold up in the middle of their defensive line.
The Saints might not be too dissimilar in the way they attack the LA Rams defence given that the Rams finished the season ranked twenty-eighth in rush defence by DVOA and the Saints have both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram able to run and catch passes out of the backfield. Kamara is devastating in space, whereas Ingram is a more powerful runner and the Rams will have their hands full dealing with this duo. Getting Ted Ginn back from injury has allowed the Saints to stretch the field more, but the awkward truth is that these days Drew Brees struggles a little to get the ball deep as the opening play interception in the game last week demonstrates because Brees underthrew Ginn. The worry for the Saints is that whilst the Rams rush defence is not great, they do have Aaron Donald who is probably the most disruptive defensive player in the league and left guard Andrus Peat is playing with a broken hand. I know offensive linemen are a different breed when it comes to injury, but this is not a great time to be nursing an injury and the Saints also had centre Max Unger dealing with a knee injury during the week.
In recent years it has been the home teams who have been getting through to the Super Bowl, but this game feels really tight. The Saints have a great home advantage, and the experience at head coach and quarterback, but there are some injury concerns and the Rams have several players who can take over a game as well as a really well schemed offence. I would lean to the Saints still, mainly because of Drew Brees’ experience as compared to Jared Goff and Sean Payton’s knack of being aggressive at the right time but it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise if the Rams won.
New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs
I have been one of many who have wondered about the form of the Patriots this year, but that does not mean that I think they suck as Tom Brady claimed after their win over the Chargers this week. We are all pretty familiar with the legend of the sixth round quarterback and how he is still using that slight and others to motivate himself. Given the success that him and Bill Belichick have had over the years I was definitely not overlooking them last week, and lo and behold, they demonstrated what they are truly capable of. We had Julian Edleman throw back the clock and catch nine balls for one hundred and fifty-one yards whilst James White caught fifteen balls out of the backfield on screen plays and gained ninety-seven yards. Meanwhile Sony Michel ran for one hundred and twenty-nine yards, helped by the blocking of fullback James Develin and in particular Rob Gronkowski. Gronk may have had only one reception in this game, but he blocked effectively and looked good doing it as the Patriots put up forty-one points to give themselves control for the entire game. Now they take this offence to Arrowhead stadium and have to try to keep up with a great Chiefs’ offence. This the Patriots can definitely do, but it is frequently foolish to try to predict how the Patriots will approach the game. I suspect they will try to use their multiple running backs and short passing game to slow the Chiefs’ pass rush and given that their defence ranked twenty-sixth by DVOA at the end of the regular season they may stand a chance, but I’ll come back to that after we’ve talked the Chiefs properly.
The Chiefs have been one of the dominant teams of this season as well as one of the defining narratives thanks to the performance of Patrick Mahomes in his first full season of starting. The young quarterback has continually wowed with his ability to throw the ball as he racked up fifty touchdowns and over five thousand yards during the regular season. He showed few signs of nerves last week as the Chiefs made short work of a Colts team who had been as good as anyone in recent weeks. The defence has been the weakness of this team through the season, but they looked really good against the Colts even if Eric Berry continues to sit out. The Chiefs lost 40-43 in New England earlier this season and this was one of the few games where Mahomes showed some nerves and he threw two of his twelve interceptions that week. However, this week they welcome the Patriots to their own turf in what should be a second great game this.
This game is really hard to call, there is always an unpredictability to the approach that Bill Bilichick will take, whilst Andy Reid’s team has looked great all season. If anybody can silence the raucous Arrowhead crowd it is Tom Brady, but with a defence that is mid-table by DVOA the Patriots will need to keep up with the Chiefs offence. Given the time of year and the weather we may not get the explosion of points there were in their previous meeting, but Patriots have not been good on the road this season and so despite never wanting to bet against the Patriots I am leaning towards the Chiefs in this one.
We should be in for two great games today and then all of a sudden we’ll have two weeks full of news and no football (no, the Pro Bowl doesn’t count) and then it will be the big day. I’m looking forward to all three games as there are simply no bad matchup in any combination of the four teams left, let’s hope the games live up to expectations.