Two teams remain standing after one of the best Championship Sundays in NFL history. On a neutral field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which team should be the favorite in Super Bowl LIII?
1. New England Patriots | Last week: 3 (+2)
It wasn’t just a self-motivational thing: A bunch of people counted the Patriots out, and they have again proven people wrong and remain standing for the final game of the season. The success of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the franchise for nearly two decades has been simply amazing, and I’d be shocked if another NFL team is ever able to replicate what they’ve been able to do. Belichick’s defense did an outstanding job of shutting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs out in the first half of the AFC title game, and Brady and the offense are still basically a lock to score with the game on the line late in the postseason. With plenty of Super Bowl experience on the roster—including the ninth appearance in the game by Brady and Belichick—the Patriots should be considered the favorites to hoist the Lombardi on February 3, in my opinion.
2. Los Angeles Rams | Last week: 4 (+2)
Obviously, the pass interference non-call at the end of the game helped them ultimately pull off the overtime victory, but there should be more focus on the positives the Rams displayed while fighting back to reach the Super Bowl. That environment in the Superdome was as tough as it gets in the postseason, but Jared Goff and the offense stayed composed, with the young franchise quarterback making some big-time throws to further cement that it was absolutely ridiculous to call him a “bust” after his rookie season, which way too many supposed or self-proclaimed experts did. Goff is the youngest quarterback to win an NFC title game, and he and Sean McVay might be back in this position a lot in the coming years. The trade-deadline acquisition of former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr., who pressured Drew Brees and forced the overtime interception, is one of the most undervalued moves of the year, as he’s made a clear difference as an edge rusher for Los Angeles.
3. Kansas City Chiefs | Last week: 2 (-1)
The Chiefs had the No. 1 seed with an extremely talented team with a quarterback that threw 50 touchdowns during the regular season, and this was undoubtedly a crushing end to the season for Andy Reid and company. However, the future is very, very bright in Kansas City, and this team should remain squarely in the Super Bowl mix for years. Hopefully All-Pro safety Eric Berry is healthier all next season, and the team needs to add more players to the defense—but they do have some star-caliber players to be more consistent as a unit. As is reportedly being discussed, defensive staff changes would not be a surprise, though I’m not sure I’d count on that happening because Coach Reid is such a loyal person that tends to ride with his guys. A dominant defense complimenting this elite offense would make the Chiefs nearly unstoppable.
4. New Orleans Saints | Last week: 1 (-3)
I thought the Saints obviously had a chance to reach the Super Bowl at the start of the postseason because they have Drew Brees at quarterback and they had home-field advantage with one of the best crowds in football; they were justifiable favorites (thus their No. 1 spot in the power rankings), but I liked the Rams better as a team. Of course, New Orleans might be 60 minutes away from winning it all if the flag was thrown at the end of the NFC Championship, but there were chances to win even after that controversy—and it’s not like there weren’t bad calls against the Rams throughout the game. Next season, the Saints could be even better if players like wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith take a step forward with more experience, and Sean Payton’s squad might become a more complete team in 2019 after this loss.