The NFL conference championships are set following victories by the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. The Pats will be making their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC title game when they visit the Chiefs in Kansas City next Sunday. The Saints are back in the NFC title game following a 10-year absence and will host the next Sunday.
The Patriots shredded the Chargers’ defense while building a 35-7 lead by halftime of a 41-28 win at Foxborough. Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns for the Pats, who are in the AFC Championship Game for the 13th time during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. Brady finished 34 of 44 for 343 yards and a TD while improving to 8-0 as a starter against Philip Rivers.
James White tied Darren Sproles’ NFL postseason record with 15 catches, totaling 97 yards. Julian Edelman contributed nine receptions for 151 yards as the Pats prevented the Chargers from reaching the AFC title game for the first time since the 2007 season.
Rivers finished 25 of 51 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He is 0-5 in games played in Foxborough, including 0-3 in the postseason.
In New Orleans, the Saints spotted the Eagles a 14-0 lead before defeating the defending Super Bowl champions, 20-14. Drew Brees took the Saints on scoring drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards after falling behind by two touchdowns.
Brees was 28 of 38 for 301 yards, two TDs and one interception. His two-yard scoring strike to Michael Thomas put New Orleans ahead, 17-14 with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Thomas had 12 receptions for 171 yards in helping the Saints reach the conference title game.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the first quarter, but his first interception sparked the Saints’ comeback. Foles had 201 yards passing and two picks for Philadelphia, which controlled the ball for just over 22 minutes.