A look at Sunday's NFC and AFC championship games, featuring Los Angeles at New Orleans and New England at Kansas City. Who has the upper hand in these matchups?

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: RAMS (14-3) AT SAINTS (14-3)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. Eastern

The gumbo the New Orleans Saints are cooking up is flavored with lots of passes from Drew Brees to Michael Thomas, plenty of runs by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and enough dashes of defense to negate the high-powered offense of the Los Angeles Rams. Will that be the proper recipe? Here's how they match up:

WHEN LOS ANGELES HAS THE BALL

Balance is the keyword to the Rams' offense, starting with the NFL's most versatile running back, All-Pro Todd Gurley (30). Gurley not only led the NFL with 21 TDs, he ranked fourth with 1,831 yards from scrimmage despite being slowed in December. He can do the dirty work inside and also break long gainers. And when he's struggled with knee issues recently, late-season pickup C.J. Anderson (35) has been masterful.

To combat the ground game, the Saints could be at a disadvantage after losing DT Sheldon Rankins to a torn Achilles tendon last week. They'll require steady production from their best linebacker, Demario Davis (56) who led the Saints with 110 tackles this season, and strong play from the D-line. But the Rams bring a staunch blocking unit featuring LT Andrew Whitworth (77), LG Rodger Saffold (76) and RT Rob Havenstein (79).

Should LA control the trenches, it will open up what already is a highly creative passing repertoire for Jared Goff (16) and wideouts Robert Woods (17), Brandin Cooks (12) and rapidly developing Josh Reynolds (83). All of them can find the end zone, with Cooks being the main deep threat. A former Saint, he'll likely match up with CB Marshon Lattimore (23), who had two interceptions against Philadelphia.

Teams can throw deep on New Orleans, and the Rams will try. Goff, though, will need protection from pass rushers Cam Jordan (93), Marcus Davenport (91) and the always-present Davis. And Goff must not let the noise factor affect him.

WHEN NEW ORLEANS HAS THE BALL

Just like LA, New Orleans will try nearly anything on offense. Fourth-down plays, a form of the wildcat with backup QB/special teamer Taysom Hill, and old-fashioned grinding will be in play.

Brees (9) has had one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame-caliber career, particularly with his efficiency. Last week, though, it was his leadership that stood out as the Saints fell into a 14-0 hole and looked amateurish before rallying.

Knowing New Orleans will need lots of points in this one, Brees could target All-Pro WR Michael Thomas (13) as often as he did against Philly, which was 16 times. Thomas caught 12 and had a TD. He will be the problem of standout CBs Aqib Talib (21) and Marcus Peters (22), both of them willing to gamble in coverage.

The Saints don't have another outstanding wideout or tight end, but RB Kamara (41) almost equals Gurley for all the things he can do — and he's healthier. Kamara and Ingram (22) will be challenged by a defense that shut down NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys and features the only unanimous All-Pro, DT Aaron Donald (99). Dealing with Donald and the other solid defensive linemen — Ndamukong Suh (93) and Michael Brockers (90) — will be a Saints unit led by LT Terron Armstead (71) and LG Andrus Peat (74), who have been bothered by chest and hand injuries, respectively, and RT Ryan Ramczyk (71). Giving Brees time and Kamara/Ingram holes could be decisive.

SPECIAL TEAMS

An indoor game makes for stronger kicking and, often, less impact by placekickers and punters.

LA PK Greg Zuerlein (4) and P Johnny Hekker (6) might have the most powerful legs in the league, and Zuerlein is a field-goal threat from 60 yards and in. Hekker probably could put a punt off the Superdome roof.

Although Wil Lutz (3) missed a 52-yard FG attempt that kept the Eagles close last week, he's reliable and, for someone in his third season, has hit a bunch of pressure kicks. Thomas Morstead (6) is in his 10th season with New Orleans, longer than anyone except Brees.

The Rams aren't exceptional on returns, but they aren't inept, either. JoJo Natson (19) has handled most of the punt runbacks, while Blake Countess (24) is the kick returner.

New Orleans, like the Rams, has not returned a kick for a score. Tommylee Lewis (11) has become the main guy.

COACHING

Sean vs. Sean. Two entirely different Seans in terms of experience.

New Orleans' Payton is in his 12th season in charge; he missed 2012 while suspended in the Saints' bounties scandal. His offensive schemes fit perfectly with Brees' skillset, and he won't be overwhelmed by the surroundings, having won the 2009 championship. Payton will gamble, including fake punts with his version of a Swiss Army knife, third-string QB Taysom Hill (7).

LA's McVay is the hot commodity on the pro football market. Every team looking for a new head coach has at least investigated people who've worked with McVay, who will be 33 next Thursday. He's innovative, aggressive and, in some ways, one of the guys.

Because both Seans are willing to go for it, this should be a fun battle of wits.

INTANGIBLES

The Rams have never won a Super Bowl while representing Los Angeles; they got one in 2000 as St. Louis' team — that Super Bowl also was in Atlanta. Wade Phillips, while never one of the NFL's great coaches, is one of the best defensive coordinators ever. He's eager to prove so again in facing such a productive attack.

Brees is closer to the end of his career than perhaps anyone in this game, though he's given no indication he is about to retire. Winning a second Super Bowl would cement his place among the sport's top quarterbacks.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: PATRIOTS (12-5) AT CHIEFS (13-4)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. Eastern

It will be dark and cold, perhaps absurdly cold, Sunday night in Kansas City. Arrowhead Stadium will be lit up, though, and the winner of the Patriots-Chiefs game will head to Atlanta for the Super Bowl. Here's how they match up:

WHEN NEW ENGLAND HAS THE BALL

As they have much of the season, the Patriots will attempt to strike a balance of run and pass. In rookie Sony Michel (26), they have a ground force, and in fellow RB James White (28), they have perhaps the best receiver out of the backfield in the league.

Don't think Tom Brady (12) won't make use of them often — and more often. Against the Chargers, White tied an NFL postseason mark with 15 catches, totaling 97 yards. The one thing Kansas City can do exceptionally well on defense is rush the passer with DT Chris Jones (95), LBs Justin Houston (50) and Dee Ford (55), so Brady will throw those quick shots to his backs and WR Julian Edelman (11) and TE Rob Gronkowski (87). Should the offensive line led by LT Trent Brown (77), C David Andrews (60) and RG Shaq Mason (69) provide ample time, Brady can then look deep, where he could have significant matchup edges with Edelman, Chris Hogan (15), Phillip Dorsett (13) and even Cordarrelle Patterson (84).

Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will need to be aggressive all game; we saw what happens when an opponent isn't when Brady and Michel ripped up the Chargers last week. Sutton's secondary has no dynamic players — S Eric Berry (29) is the best but has not been healthy this season — and using six DBs could be a necessity Sunday. The Chiefs (52 sacks) must get a strong pass rush on Brady, making him throw off-balance or before he wants to.

One thing in Kansas City's favor is a plus-9 turnover margin.

WHEN KANSAS CITY HAS THE BALL

Don't change what you have been doing.

All-Pro Patrick Mahomes (15) is only the third quarterback to throw for at least 50 touchdowns in a season; Brady also did it in 2007. Mahomes never gives up on plays, and he has an uncanny skill at prolonging them until WRs Tyreek Hill (10), Sammy Watkins (14) or Chris Conley (17) and All-Pro TE Travis Kelce (87) get open. Hill was the AP's All-Pro flex player, showing his versatility.

Considering his mobility, strong arm and resourcefulness, it is surprising Mahomes was sacked 26 times. New England, which had 30 sacks this season, wants to keep him bottled up, so key confrontations could be All-Pro RT Mitchell Schwartz (71) vs. DE Trey Flowers (98), and LT Eric Fisher (72) against an assortment of pass rushers. The Patriots also will get their linebackers into the mix, particularly Dont'a Hightower (54) and Kyle Van Noy (53).

Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore (24) is an All-Pro and will see plenty of Hill. How the other DBs handle Kelce and Mahomes' other targets could be a deciding factor; the New England secondary has been victimized often in road games.

Given the potential for cold weather, the Chiefs could work hard to run the ball with Damien Williams (26), who has stepped up nicely since Kareem Hunt was released, and Spencer Ware (32), who has battled a hamstring injury. Mahomes doesn't use his backs often in the passing game but they are solid.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both sides are reliable and have some dangerous elements in the return game. Kansas City has Hill for punts and rookie Tremon Smith (39) for kickoffs, while New England features Patterson on kickoffs and the always-reliable Edelman on punts. The cold weather could make the football feel like a lead weight for punters Ryan Allen (6) of the Patriots and Dustin Colquitt (2) of the Chiefs, though wind shouldn't bother either of them; they're used to it.

Field goals could be another matter. Although New England's Stephen Gostkowski (3) and Kansas City's Harrison Butker (7) have strong and accurate legs, don't be stunned to see both teams go for some fourth downs. Gostkowski is far more seasoned in pressure spots.

COACHING

Andy Reid is 2-6 against New England. He's had one of his best coaching years, though, and his handling of Mahomes has been remarkable. As long as he pushes the envelope, and avoids playing not to lose, he will give Kansas City every chance to reach its first Super Bowl since the 1969 season.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels recognizes his team will need to score aplenty, and he never backs off. The Patriots might be losing defensive coordinator Brian Flores to Miami as Dolphins head coach, and he could show why he deserves that spot by finding a way to slow down a Chiefs team that scored 565 points this season.

INTANGIBLES

The Patriots, in their record eighth straight conference title game, are so experienced in this environment. Yet they claim to feel slighted because of the doubts raised about their level of competence after going 3-5 on the road. A ticked-off Brady is never a good thing for the opposition, and the Patriots could become only the third franchise to reach three straight Super Bowls.

Still, Kansas City is so parched for a trip to the big game — the Chiefs went to two of the first four Super Bowls and won in 1970, but none since. And this team has a freshness about it largely thanks to Mahomes, who shattered nearly every franchise passing record this season.

Their meeting in October could have gone either way, with New England getting the ball last and making the final, winning drive. And that was in Foxborough.