The “if” must be acknowledged first, because it’s a big one.
But if the Chiefs beat the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years awaits.
As does one of the league’s best teams.
Minutes before the Chiefs and Patriots kick off at 5:40 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday evening, the NFC representative will emerge. The Saints and the Rams kick off at 2:05 p.m. Sunday in New Orleans. They’ve been the best two teams in the NFC for the majority of the season.
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If the Chiefs indeed advance — and there’s that hypothetical again — the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have labeled them an underdog against either of the potential opponents. The Saints would be favored by 2 points against the Chiefs in Atlanta; the Rams would be favored by 1 1/2 points, according to BetOnline.
Let’s take a deeper look at the two possibilities — if they advance Sunday.
New Orleans Saints (14-3, No. 1 seed)
Throughout the week, the Chiefs have dissected the difficulty in pressuring Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “He gets rid of it very fast,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said.
Well, at least maybe the Chiefs wouldn’t be surprised by what they see from Drew Brees then. If Patrick Mahomes doesn’t win the league’s most valuable player award this season, it will go to Brees, who set an NFL record with a 74.4 percent completion percentage. Brees turned 40 this week. His top wideout, Michael Thomas, led the league with 125 catches. The Chiefs secondary has certainly approved since inserting Charvarius Ward into the lineup, even shutting down Andrew Luck in the AFC Divisional Round, but Thomas is a handful. And by the way, the Saints don’t solely rely on the pass. Running back Alvin Kamara scored 18 total touchdowns in the regular season, second in the NFL.
Among the four teams left standing, the Saints have the most reliable defense, which explains their status as the odds-on Super Bowl favorites. If the Chiefs do meet the Saints for the Lombardi Trophy, expect a heavy dose of passes. The Saints stifled opposing running attacks, allowing only 80.2 rushing yards per game, the second fewest in the league. But they were considerably less effective against the pass, giving up 268.9 yards through the air per game. That’s fourth-worst in football. The ball would certainly be placed in Mahomes’ hands often. That’s usually a pretty sound strategy.
Los Angeles Rams (14-3, No. 2 seed)
If it’s the Chiefs and Rams on Super Bowl Sunday, would anyone really complain? The two played arguably the most entertaining football game of the season and the highest-scoring game in Monday Night Football history. The Rams won 54-51 in Los Angeles. Patrick Mahomes threw six touchdowns, and yet he took the blame for the loss because of three interceptions. There were four lead changes .... in the fourth quarter.
Part 2, anyone?
The Rams are still stout offensively, leading in the NFC in yards and points, but their identity has absorbed a bit of a transformation over the past few weeks. They suddenly have a two-horse rushing attack with Todd Gurley and the recently-added C.J. Anderson. (He had a tryout with the Chiefs earlier this season.) They’ve altered the play-calling to fit their newfound strength. Both players topped 100 yards in the Rams’ win against Dallas last week. It’s made quarterback Jared Goff more effective with the play-action pass. The Chiefs allowed 132.1 yards per game on the ground this season, which ranked 27th in football.
Defensively, the Rams have some holes, but defensive tackle Aaron Donald can often mask them. He tore up the interior of the Chiefs’ offensive line in the first meeting, but then again, he was a problem for virtually everyone. The unanimous All-Pro had 12 1/2 sacks and 22 hurries.
This matchup would offer a most intriguing story line with cornerback Marcus Peters against the team that traded him in the offseason.