This is the way it should be — the two best teams squaring off for the NFC Championship on Sunday (2:05 p.m., Fox) in front of what promises to be an extremely loud, proud and rowdy sellout crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Since early September the New Orleans Saints (13-3) and Los Angeles Rams (13-3) have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that are worthy of playing for a berth in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 3 at the home stadium of the Atlanta Falcons.
Not Dallas, not Philadelphia, nor Chicago, Minnesota, Seattle or Carolina. And, certainly not the Falcons, much to the dismay of their city’s loose-lipped mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“Just anybody other than the Saints,’‘ Madam Mayor told reporters when asked her preference for the Super Bowl participants. “I know there’s going to be a bounty on my head for saying that. But if it can’t be the Falcons, then hey, as long as it’s not the Saints then I’m happy.’‘
Mayor Bottoms also pulled up the welcome mat on the New England Patriots who rallied from a 25-point deficit to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI and will play the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship on Sunday (5:40 p.m., CBS) at sub-freezing Arrowhead Stadium.
Mayor Bottoms walked back her botched attempt at humor a day later, saying “it was a joke’‘ and both teams and their fan bases would be welcome, not to mention their millions of disposable income. As if she had any say in the matter.
Who marches to Atlanta will be decided Sunday in New Orleans where the Saints are favored by 3 1/2 points and in Kansas City where the Patriots are 3-point road ‘dogs.
Both tilts are rematches of regular season games. The Saints outlasted the Rams 45-35 in Week 9 at the Superdome and the Patriots won a shootout 43-40 in Week 6 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Playing for a Super Bowl berth is old hat for the Patriots, who are making their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC championship game. Not the case for the Saints, who are 1-1 in NFC championship games and last played in one nine years ago en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV.
Kansas City last played for the AFC championship in January 1994. The Rams last played for the NFC championship in January 2002 while still based in St. Louis.
Enough history. It’s time for predictions.
I have a dual purpose for wanting the Chiefs to prevail: one, to get grizzled Andy Reid one step closer to winning his first Super Bowl in his 20th NFL season as head coach, and two, to keep Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady from going. I want new representation from the AFC, plus Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is a thrill a minute.
That said, it’s hard to pick against the Pats, so I won’t.
In the NFC, it’s a different vibe. The Saints have reached the penultimate game of their “Prove Them Right’‘ season. They are the most complete team of the Final Four and have a distinct homefield advantage when their fans pump up the volume. Their home crowd may not have the reputation of Seattle’s “12th Man’‘ but it can wreak havoc when in the proper mood.
Here’s my “Bottoms Line:’‘ I suspect by Sunday night, the mayor of Atlanta will be opening her arms — and her mouth — to the very teams she dissed.
In jest, of course.
New Orleans vs. New England in Super Bowl LIII!