Predicting studs and duds for conference championship games

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Super Bowl LIII contenders decided Sunday

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

This is it. The NFL’s conference championship games will take place this Sunday when the two best teams left standing will prepare to play in Super Bowl LIII.

The first matchup will take place in New Orleans when the Saints welcome the Los Angeles Rams. This looks to be another barn burner just as it was when both teams combined for 80 points back in Week 9.

Next, it will come down to Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes at a frozen Arrowhead Stadium. Will the GOAT prevail? Or might the Chiefs right their wrong from earlier in the season when they lost to the Patriots 40-43?

With plenty of yards and points to be had in both matchups, here are our stud and dud predictions for the NFC and AFC Championship Games.


Stud: Julian Edelman, wide receiver, New England Patriots

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman suffered a devastating knee injury.

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There was no slowing down Tom Brady’s favorite go-to guy when he last caught 9-of-13 targets for 151 yards in a victory against the Los Angeles Chargers. A hyped Edelman absolutely owned that defense. And, he could easily cause repeat havoc against the Chiefs. It is worth noting the Chiefs gave up the most receiving yards along with 30 passing touchdowns in 2018. This came along with Kansas City allowing 25 receptions on average per game. Edelman is primed to cash in big.


Dud: C.J. Anderson, running back, Los Angeles Rams

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The Rams seem to really enjoy utilizing their robust late-season running back addition. Anderson has looked like the modern day version of Mike Tolbert and last bulldozed over the Dallas Cowboys to the tune of 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Though, Anderson’s numbers might not be so inflated in his next performance. The Saints ranked second-best against the run in 2018 and only allowed 49 total rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles in last Sunday’s divisional win. Plus, Todd Gurley is still very much in the picture.


Stud: Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City Chiefs

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Kelce has a sweet matchup on tap at home when New England comes to town. The Patriots gave up two tight end touchdowns and 42 yards to the Los Angeles Chargers this past weekend. Therefore, a guy of Kelce’s stature who scored 10 times in 2018 should be no match for New England to contain. Look for a strong aerial attack in which Kelce stays plenty involved in the Chiefs moving the ball down the field.


Dud: Marshon Lattimore, cornerback, New Orleans Saints

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Lattimore just had a shining and game-changing performance against Philadelphia when he iced the Eagles for the win. That interception made for his second of the game. But, things might not be so easy at the Big Easy next against the Rams. The last time these two teams faced off, Lattimore had no defended passes while he and the Saints secondary got thrashed. In all, the Saints gave up 391 passing yards and three touchdowns. Expect Lattimore to have his hands full trying to squash the Rams.


Stud: Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots

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We pegged Gronk for a dud performance ahead of him playing against the Chargers in the divisional playoff round. And, he lived up to this perfectly after receiving only one target which he turned into a 25-yard catch (though he was amazing in the run game). This looks to possibly change facing a generous Chiefs defense on Sunday. During the regular season, the Chiefs permitted a league-high 10 tight end touchdowns and 67 yards on average per game. Gronkowski and Brady should create fireworks.


Dud: Justin Houston, linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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Houston and the Chiefs did not give up a lot on the ground when they last played the Colts at Arrowhead Stadium. But, do not look for the Patriots running backs to take it easy on Houston and Co. Rookie running back Sony Michel just blazed for 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns against a reputable Chargers defense. The Chiefs, on the other hand, allowed 5.0 yards per carry in 2018 and the sixth-most rushing yards in the league. Houston could easily get burned as a result.


Stud: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams

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Cooks can be a force in any given matchup. And, he should see a huge uptick in production at the SuperDome. He was relentless the last time he played his former team in the Dome when the speedster receiver turned six catches into 114 yards and one touchdown in Week 9. Look for more damage from Cooks playing against a defense that yielded 289 receiving yards on average per clash in 2018. This marked the second-most in the league.


Dud: Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, New England Patriots

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Simply stated, Gilmore is going to be very challenged covering the Chiefs wideouts. Specifically, that could be Tyreek Hill, aka “Cheetah.” The last time Gilmore faced the Chiefs, Hill turned seven catches into a whopping 142 yards and three touchdowns. Part of this came on Gilmore’s watch — he managed just two tackles and one defended pass in that game. Needless to say, even Gilmore’s head coach, Bill Belichick, is not sure how to handle Hill’s speed.


Stud: Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

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This might be stating the obvious, but Brees is slated to have a monster performance as the Saints attempt to advance to the Super Bowl. Brees will face a defense that gave up 31 passing touchdowns in 2018. Four of which were scored by Brees when the Saints hosted the Rams in Week 9. That game also saw this future Hall of Fame quarterback complete nearly 70 percent of his passes while he racked up 346 yards. Brees could certainly put on a repeat performance.


Dud: Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

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Speaking of Brees, this leads us to discuss what Peters is going to do to stop the Saints. More specifically the All-Pro corner will have a nightmare matchup against the likes of Michael Thomas. Thomas is coming off a 171-yard, one-touchdown performance and he is scorching hot. Plus, we must remind everyone that Peters completely got torched by Thomas the last time the two met. Thomas shoved Peters away like a stuffed animal en-route to performing his rendition of the famous Joe Horn touchdown cellphone celebration. If Peters does not gain the upper hand, this could spell doom.


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