Super Bowl berths on the line in conference title games
The Los Angeles Rams are back inside the stadium where they lost for the first time this season, looking for retribution and a Super Bowl berth as they face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game.
The Superdome is coming alive for the last time this football season as predominantly Saints fans arrive for just the second NFC title game to be held at the site of seven Super Bowls.
The previous time the Saints hosted a game this late in a season, they pulled out a hair-raising overtime triumph over Minnesota en route to their first Super Bowl appearance — and championship.
That was the 2009 season. Some nine seasons later, coach Sean Payton and 40-year-old, record-setting quarterback Drew Brees are back with a largely different cast, one victory away from the team’s second trip to the NFL’s biggest event.
When these teams met in Week 9, running back C.J. Anderson had not yet joined Todd Gurley in the Rams’ backfield and Los Angeles cornerback Aqib Talib was not healthy enough to play. Their availability puts the Rams in a stronger position than they were in back on Nov. 4, when they fell to New Orleans 45-35.
This is the first NFC title game for Rams 32-year-old, second-year coach Sean McVay and his 24-year-old quarterback, Jared Goff.
On the AFC side, the New England Patriots are in their eighth consecutive conference championship game and trying to reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five seasons and the ninth time overall in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
The Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are hosting the AFC title game for the first time at Arrowhead Stadium, and are trying to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season.
One thing that is unusual is that the Patriots are a slight underdog against the top-seeded Chiefs.
“We’re going against a team that’s the No. 1 seed in the league,” Brady said after the team’s final practice on Friday. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are thinking they’re going to win. Everyone can have their own opinion. We certainly have an opinion, and we’ve got to go out there and execute our best in order to accomplish that.”
The winners that emerge from the conference championship games will meet in Atlanta on Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl.