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A Mahomes Matchup and LSU’s Magnolia Bowl Season Finale

16:00 December 18, 2020
By: Andrew Alexander

All good things must come to an end, and the Saints' winning streak was snapped last Sunday by a rookie quarterback in Philadelphia.

New Orleans strolled into the City of Brotherly Love and looked flat. Were the Saints looking ahead to this week's matchup with defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City? Probably. Was the game plan impacted by a lack of film on Jalen Hurts, since it was his first NFL start at quarterback? Possibly.

The reason is a moot point following a 21-24 loss to the Eagles that broke a nine-game New Orleans winning streak and caused the Saints to lose possession of first place in the NFC.

While the Saints' offense was held scoreless in the first half, Philadelphia's rushing attack accomplished a feat that hadn't been done in over three years. The Eagles had not one, but two players rush for over 100 yards, snapping the Saints defense's 55-game streak of holding opposing rushers in check.

The loss to a previously 3-8-1 Eagles squad hopefully serves as a wakeup call that New Orleans must be in top form every single week, regardless of how inferior the opponent seems.

In Gainesville, the Tigers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the college football season, topping Florida 37-34 in miraculously bizarre fashion.

Lots of LSU freshmen, including quarterback Max Johnson; dense fog; a record-setting field goal; and one thrown shoe contributed to the Tigers' unlikely victory over their bitter rival.

The win over the then-No. 6 Gators helped rewrite the narrative of LSU's season, giving the Tigers a much-needed morale boost after a season fraught with despair and the chance to finish out the year on a higher note than many people expected following the brutal Alabama loss.

Both the Saints and LSU are back at home this weekend, each facing high-powered offenses in what are sure to be a pair of exciting games.

New Orleans (10-3) vs. Kansas City (12-1)

Where/When to Watch: Sunday, December 20, at 3:25 p.m. on CBS

Other than games against the Buccaneers and Packers, this is the matchup that the Saints have had circled since the schedule was released: a chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champion.

New Orleans welcomes Kansas City and its juggernaut offense to the Superdome this week, looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing loss to Philadelphia last Sunday.

This scenario is familiar to New Orleans, having put together lengthy winning streaks in each of the past three seasons, with streaks of eight (2017), 10 (2018) and six (2019) wins in previous years. Each time, the Saints rebounded with a win in the following week.

Unfortunately, in those three prior circumstances, New Orleans wasn't facing an opponent the caliber of Kansas City.

Led by star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs are riding an eight-game winning streak of their own. Kansas City boasts the league's top offense, averaging over 429 yards per game, thanks largely to the playmaking ability of Mahomes and his arsenal of offensive weapons.

Mahomes leads the league in total passing yards (4,208), with 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Kansas City's previous opponent, Miami, is responsible for three of those interceptions. Last year's Super Bowl MVP makes the impossible seem effortless each game, with a rocket arm and impressive escapability that allows him to extend plays.

Though Mahomes is surrounded by several playmakers on offense, the two biggest threats are receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Hill is the most explosive receiver in the NFL, leading the league with 14 receiving touchdowns to go along with his 77 receptions for 1,158 yards. The speedy receiver is so good that he makes incredible catches without even realizing it. The Saints secondary will have its hands full containing Hill.

Kelce is the best tight end in the NFL and a matchup nightmare. His 90 receptions, 1,250 yards, and nine touchdowns are more productive than most receivers, and he consistently makes clutch catches when it matters. The scary part about Kansas City's offense is that even if a defense shuts down those two playmakers, Mahomes, much like Drew Brees, just finds another target to keep the chains moving.

It's nearly impossible to slow down the Chiefs, who are averaging the second most points per game (31) in the NFL. The Saints are going to have to find a way to outscore them.

However, keeping pace with the Chiefs on offense may not be as daunting as it appears. Kansas City's defense ranks 17th, allowing over 358 yards per game. New Orleans averages over 369 yards and 28 points per game. More importantly, the Chiefs haven't exactly been blowing teams off the field the past five games, with an average margin of victory of just four points over that span, including wins over only one playoff team (Tampa Bay) and two fringe contenders (Las Vegas and Miami).

Brees returned to practice this week, which opens the door for a possible comeback this Sunday, but the Saints aren't about to take any unnecessary risks with the playoffs looming. Taysom Hill will probably start his fifth straight game under center, but don't be surprised if Brees, or even Jameis Winston, takes the first snap versus the Chiefs.

Where the Saints will likely try to take advantage is the running game. Kansas City ranks near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense, allowing over 128 yards per game. If New Orleans employs a heavy dose of its three-headed rushing attack, comprised of Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, and Hill, it will allow the Saints to control the clock and keep Mahomes off the field, the ultimate defensive tactic.

This game could be a wildly entertaining shootout as two of the NFL's best teams face off in a potential Super Bowl preview. Unlike last weekend, the Saints won't be starting off flat, especially now that they're once again chasing Green Bay for the NFC's No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

Regardless of who's playing quarterback, New Orleans will be locked in and ready to deliver Kansas City its second loss of the season.

Prediction: Saints 33, Chiefs 31

LSU (4-5) vs. Ole Miss (4-4)

Where/When to Watch: Saturday, December 19, at 2:30 p.m. on SEC Network

After their crazy win over Florida last weekend, the Tigers have a chance to finish at .500 and avoid their first losing season since 1999, with this weekend's Magnolia Bowl matchup.

Standing in LSU's path is Ed Orgeron's former team, the Ole Miss Rebels, led by first-year coach Lane Kiffin.

Orgeron is 4-0 against the Rebels, and it's long been predicted that the one team he'd never lose to as the head coach of LSU was Ole Miss, but Kiffin's inaugural squad will be the toughest he's faced yet.

Ole Miss is the ultimate boom-or-bust team this year. Thanks to Kiffin's brilliant offensive mind, the Rebels lead the SEC in total offense, averaging 563 yards per game and nearly 40 points per game. The Ole Miss defense, however, is ranked last in the SEC (yes, worse than LSU), giving up over 528 yards and 38 points per game.

Matt Corral is third-best quarterback in the SEC this season, ranking third in passing yards (2,744), touchdowns (24), and second in completion percentage (72.94 percent). The Rebels haven't played since November 28 but are riding a three-game winning streak. In those three games, Corral has thrown 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions and is averaging over 436 yards.

Those three wins, however, were over the three worst teams in the conference. The prior two games, when Ole Miss faced competent teams with decent defenses, Corral threw three touchdowns and eight interceptions and averaged only 177 yards.

Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore (yes, that Elijah Moore), has emerged as one of the conference's best receivers this season. The junior receiver leads the SEC in receptions (86), is second in yards (1,193), and ranks fifth in touchdown catches (8). If the LSU secondary gives up a big play—who are we kidding? Of course they will—expect Moore to be the culprit, streaking into the end zone.

Against overwhelming odds last week, LSU showed the kind of heart and resiliency we're used to seeing in previous Tiger teams. In his first collegiate start, quarterback Max Johnson guided the offense to 418 yards and didn't turn the ball over. LSU's defense allowed over 600 yards of offense but forced three turnovers and made crucial plays when it mattered.

LSU's pass defense is the worst in the SEC, allowing over 331 yards per game, and that doesn't bode well for this Saturday. The Tigers, however, rank second in the conference in opponent third-down conversion percentage, allowing conversions only 36.8 percent of time, and that might be the difference-maker when it comes to slowing down Kiffin's potent offense.

Who knows which players we'll see suit up for LSU this weekend? The Tigers barely had enough players to field a roster against Florida and were forced to play a ton of freshmen. Nothing would shock us at this point, after a crazy 2020 season, but hopefully, whoever takes the field for LSU plays with the same pride they exhibited last week in Gainesville.

There's no bowl game for LSU, so thankfully, this is the end of a truly disappointing season. The Tigers can gain a lot of offseason momentum with a win over Ole Miss and end the season on a high note.

But the Rebels are fighting to finish with a winning record, and Kiffin would love nothing more than to deliver a knockout punch to the reigning national champion.

Prediction: LSU 31, Ole Miss 30

Andrew Alexander is a contributing writer, football fan, and unofficial president of the Arch Manning Fan Club. Follow him on Twitter at @TheOtherAA and listen to the Krewe du Drew podcast.

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