Sterling notes: Conference championship Sunday

By Sterling Pingree

Rams at Saints

Heaven help us if Sean McVay goes to the Super Bowl. You thought the last 6 coaching hires were a fad? Wait until McVay actually accomplishes something! This year’s head coach hiring cycle ran the spectrum from people who had at one point worked in the same building as McVay to fired coaches who were rumored to have some sort of internship with the Rams.

On this past week’s edition of the 3 Point Stance podcast NFL veteran Mike DeVito, Aaron Jackson and I discussed the rash of McVay disciples hired and figured out which movie star Kliff Kingsbury looks like. (Listen here:  or subscribe for free on iTunes and Apple Podcasts.)

All week I’ve thought that the Saints will advance to the Super Bowl because they seem like the tougher team but look at last weekend’s games and the team that advanced while looking the worst was New Orleans. In the ‘rest vs rust bye week’ debate, the Saints cast an early vote for rust as Brees threw a first play pick to Cre’Von LeBlanc and the Eagles jumped out to a 14-point lead. The Saints gutted out a 20-14 win, but needed a little luck and a little Crisco on Alshon Jeffrey’s mitts to escape with the victory.

The silver lining, if you could call it that, for the Saints is that in a final four that appears to be functionally devoid of defense, the Saints held the Eagle scoreless for the last 3 quarters plus. Meanwhile, after looking like paper champions since Thanksgiving, pundits seem to be jumping back aboard the Rams train in light of their defeat of the Cowboys. I must say, I just don’t see it with the Rams. I don’t think they’ve been the same since Cooper Kupp went down and I have serious doubts that Todd Gurley is 100%. Gurley hammered the Cowboys last week, but so did the CJ Anderson that ate CJ Anderson. What was that? I thought Matt Tolbert had made a comeback or something. People are already calling Gurley and Anderson a 2-headed monster, but would anybody in their right mind take Gurley and Anderson over Kamara and Ingram?

The Saints are great in that dome and I think Saints receivers will double move Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to death. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in football, but I think New Orleans will be able to swing the ball outside the hashes with Kamara, Ingram and dose of Taysom Hill. The Saints will miss Sheldon Rankins in the middle of their defense, but nothing is getting in the way of Drew Brees’ year.

Saints 37 Rams 27


Patriots at Chiefs

The Patriots are bad on the road. 3-5. I can’t escape this fact no matter how hard I’ve tried. The fact that has continued to elude me though is that this Patriots team, really one of the early season “beta versions” of this team in week 6, beat Kansas City. When I think about the Patriots and the Chiefs what I think of first and second is last year’s opening night thrashing and the Monday Night massacre of 2014. For some reason the most recent game between KC and New England doesn’t jump to mind.

It’s because that game was in Foxborough and the AFC title game isn’t going to be played in Massachusetts, it’s going to be in Arrowhead Stadium. Where Chiefs Kingdom will be red clad, loud and proud at 6:40pm creating one of the toughest road environments that a pro football team can face. Why then, have the Chiefs only won one home playoff game in the last 25 years? On the other hand that playoff win was last week against the Colts. It’s very possible that after the years of playoff futility that this edition of the Chiefs is different from Andy Reid’s previous groups. None of those were ever led by the league’s MVP. Alex Smith was good, solid and dependable. Patrick Mahomes is grease lightning in a bottle rocket, ready to go off at any time for a 75-yard touchdown. So what do the Patriots have to do to beat Kansas City?

They have to pound the ball on the ground, grind the clock down, keep Mahomes on the freezing cold-heated bench and make Kansas City play from behind. The Chiefs were almost too good this year in that they didn’t trail much and it remains to be seen how they will play in a win or go home playoff game when they don’t have the lead. The Patriots need to take the Chiefs out into the deep water and introduce them to some adversity.

The Chiefs had the 31st ranked defense in yards allowed per game, but it’s how the Patriots gain the Patriots gain those yards that will tell the story of this conference championship game. If Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead have some semblance of the game that they had last week against the Chargers then the Patriots can win.

What worries me is that the “road Patriots” are going to show up today. The Patriots are 1-4 this season on grass fields. That statistic scares me and is further exasperated after the KC grounds crew had to lay fresh shod over a good portion of the Arrowhead Stadium field.

Chiefs 37 Patriots 33

Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.