Conference Championship Game Picks: Will the favorites win again?? + Grading the new coaching hires

I’m not going to lie…it’s sad that there are only two NFL games this weekend. While most people get excited for the Super Bowl, I get sad for the end of the season. Hell, I’m more sad at the end of the college football season than anything…but that’s besides the point.

I was wrong when I said around midseason that the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, and Rams would not all end up among the final four. These teams have been consistent all year and I’m confident that both matchups this weekend as well as the Super Bowl will be exciting!

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Before I make my picks below, here are my grades plus a quick thought or two on each of the new coaching hires around the league:

Arizona: Kliff Kingsbury – C+
I just can’t fathom how a coach fired from his collegiate alma mater can end up with an NFC HC job in less than two months. Good for Kliff. Going to be hard to find a quick turnaround with this thin roster but at least the offense will be a heck of a lot more exciting in 2019. I’d also be confident in saying that Kingsbury won’t be the next Sean McVay but this is an interesting out-of-the-box hire.

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Cincinnati: Zac Taylor (rumored) – B+
The Rams QBs Coach is a McVay protégé and finally should bring some creativity to a Bengals offense that has been stale for the last several years under Marvin Lewis. It’s also time for Cinci to move on from Andy Dalton at QB.

Cleveland: Freddie Kitchens: C+
He got the job based on the way Baker Mayfield excelled with Kitchens calling the plays the last 8 weeks or so of the regular season. Not sure this is a guarantee that Kitchens is the guy who will take Cleveland to the promised land though. I’m skeptical though I do like the Todd Monken (OC) and (former Cards’ HC) Steve Wilks (DC) hires.

Denver: Vic Fangio – C
The Broncos won a Super Bowl the other year with an offensive-minded coach (Gary Kubiak)…so why does John Elway keep hiring defensive-minded guys? It’s time for Elway to draft and develop a legitimate QB of the future. Fangio did a nice job in Chicago as DC but I was hoping for a Zac Taylor-esque hire here.

Green Bay: Matt LaFleur – B
A McVay and Kyle Shanahan protégé who I would’ve given an A had I seen more creativity from the Titans offense (where he coached) this past season. A fine long term hire though for a team that has a 3-4 year window to win with Aaron Rodgers. The roster needs a lot of helo though.

Miami: Brian Flores (rumored) – F
When is the last time a New England assistant coach under Bill Belichick truly succeeded for the long run as an HC? Flores will be unemployed in three years or so unless he bucks the strong trend. Hate this move!

New York Jets: Adam Gase – D+
I didn’t mind Gase (and his crazy eyes) as a choice in Miami several years ago…but now the Dolphins’ division rivals want him? This feels like a desperation move after being turned down by several others.

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Tampa Bay: Bruce Arians – A
There’s one way to find out whether Jameis Winston can be a successful NFL QB…put him with ‘The QB Whisperer” (Arians). In a division that’s very winnable going forward, this move will pay dividends in the next two seasons.

The six coaches I predict will be fired / resign from their current jobs by the end of the 2019 season are:
-Bill O’Brien (Houston)
-Doug Marrone (Jacksonville)
-Jay Gruden (Washington)
-Mike Zimmer (Minnesota)
-Dan Quinn (Atlanta)
-Ron Rivera (Carolina)

I’m also tempted to throw Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin in the mix but the Steelers haven’t fired a coach in 50 years so it’s hard to predict that this time around. If the team misses the playoffs again though, I’d be surprised if he’s coaching them in 2020.

On to the playoff picks:

Last Week: 3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS
Playoffs: 3-5 SU, 3-4-1 ATS

NEW ORLEANS 28, Los Angeles Rams 23 (ATS: Saints -3.5)
I know the old adage that it’s hard to beat an elite team in both the regular season and the postseason. Heck these two teams played at the end of the preseason (the Saints won 28-0)…with all three games in New Orleans! I expect this to be Drew Brees’ last hurrah…and I predict that if he wins the Super Bowl, he’ll call it a career. If so, this very well could be his last game in the Superdome…and there’s no way he’s going out a loser. The Rams will make the big game within three years but right now I don’t trust Jared Goff to win on the road in a hostile environment. Also, he simply hasn’t been nearly as effective since midseason. In what should be a much lower-scoring contest than the 45-35 thriller from early-November, New Orleans defense makes a late stop to secure the Saints’ second Super Bowl appearance.

KANSAS CITY 31, New England 24 (ATS: Chiefs -3)
To think that this is the Patriots’ EIGHTH straight AFC Championship Game appearance is mind-boggling! Even crazier, this is their 13TH with the Brady-Belichick combo! Trust me here – those records WILL NOT be broken in our lifetimes. It’s really hard to trust Andy Reid in this spot considering his Eagles teams went 1-4 in NFC Championship Games and his Chiefs teams haven’t even made it this far in four previous postseason appearances. But after watching last week’s convincing home win over the Colts, I’ve changed my opinion on this KC team. I trust Patrick Mahomes to make plays against Bill Belichick’s defense. I trust KC to run the ball well with journeyman Damien Williams. And I trust the Chiefs to get pressure on Tom Brady. If those three things happen, the Chiefs will be in their first Super Bowl in nearly 50 years. As you can see above, that’s my prediction. I have major Patriots fatigue so hope this pick comes true.

I’m playing both favorites and both under 57s this weekend. Fade as you will!

For more NFL analysis and thoughts, listen to The Daily Blender, weekdays from 3-6pm on 1580TheFanatic.  You can tune in here.

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