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Biggest keys to victory for conference championship games

Sportsnaut logo Sportsnaut 1/19/2019 Jesse Reed, Sportsnaut
a person wearing a helmet © David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In roughly two weeks, two teams will meet in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII. Before that takes place, the conference championship games are going down this weekend with the four best teams during the regular season are all still in the mix.

The New England Patriots will visit the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Los Angeles Rams will travel to the Bayou for a clash with the New Orleans Saints.

As we eagerly await those huge games, let’s take a look at the biggest keys to victory.

Rams’ keys to victory over Saints

Defense: Marcus Peters must shut down Michael Thomas

a baseball player wearing a helmet © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these teams met up, Thomas roasted Marcus Peters like he was a delicious, over-sized marshmallow. He went off to the tune of 12 catches, 211 yards and a touchdown. If Thomas has another monster game, the Rams probably won’t be able to keep up.

Offense: Jared Goff has to come alive

a man wearing a helmet © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since mid-November, the Rams haven’t gotten much franchise quarterback-level play out of Goff. Taking away the team’s blowout win over the hapless San Francisco 49ers, he threw two touchdowns and six interceptions in five games, including the Rams’ playoff win over Dallas last weekend. That’s not going to cut it against Drew Brees and Co.

Saints’ keys to victory over Rams

Defense: Shut down the run

As we mentioned, Goff hasn’t been playing at a high level in roughly two months. Los Angeles has been dominating, mainly because C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley have been rolling on the ground. If the Saints are going to move on to the Super Bowl, their front seven will have to win at the line of scrimmage against the extremely talented and healthy Rams offensive line, and guys will have to wrap up those ball carriers on first contact.

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Offense: Work the mismatches 

Tight end Ben Watson, one of the key players New Orleans relies on offensively, isn’t playing as he recovers from appendicitis. With him out, Sean Payton and Drew Brees will have to rely more than ever on mismatches. Thankfully, Alvin Kamara is a nightmare for opposing defenses and should have a field day against Los Angeles’ linebackers. Additionally, look for rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith to show up big on the perimeter — and, of course, don’t forget about Taysom Hill.

Patriots’ keys to victory over Chiefs

Defense: Negate Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce et al. wearing costumes © Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots always do a great job of identifying an opposing offense’s main weapon and then eliminating him. For the Chiefs, as dangerous as Tyreek Hill is, that weapon is Kelce. 

Kelce is Patrick Mahomes’ security blanket and one of the most talented big receivers in the league. If New England can keep him under wraps — in other words, under 50 yards on the day — the Pats will have a great shot at frustrating Mahomes into some key mistakes.

Offense: Protect Tom Brady 

When Brady has time to throw, he’s surgical. When he’s got pressure in his face, however, Brady is surprisingly vulnerable. He completed just 45.3 percent of his passes when pressured in 2018. Kansas City is really good about bringing the heat, too. So if the New England offensive line struggles up front, it’s gonna be a long day for the GOAT.

Chiefs’ keys to victory over Patriots

Defense: Win the early downs on defense

Shutting down Sony Michel and the Patriots’ run game is going to be absolutely critical to Kansas City’s defense. If the Chiefs are letting the New England offense dink-and-dunk on third downs, this game is going to be very frustrating. So, the biggest key for the Chiefs on the defensive side is to win the early downs and force the Pats into third-and-long situations as much as possible.

Offense: Get Damien Williams going

We know the Chiefs are going to get their big chunks in the passing game. There is just too much talent on this offense with Mahomes slinging the ball around to not land some haymakers. But beating the Patriots is all about winning the long game and not just showing off. Offensively, this means the Chiefs need to see another big game from Williams on the ground. Balance is key. If he’s gashing the front seven, it’ll open up lanes through the air and give the Chiefs the space they need to have even more fun.

Related slideshow: The NFL playoffs (Provided by USA TODAY Sports)

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