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If it’s Week 15 in the NFL and the matchup pits two legitimate Super Bowl contenders from each conference, then it’s a no-brainer as The Post’s Big Game.
The showdown between the Chiefs (12-1) and the Saints (10-3) on Sunday in New Orleans got an early Christmas present when it was revealed late in the week that Saints quarterback Drew Brees will return after missing four games with injuries to his ribs and lung.
That means this game will mark the first meeting between Mahomes and Brees, which is a bonus that goes along with both teams vying for the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences.
Brees, 41, returned to practice during the week after missing time because of 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung. The Saints won three of the past four games they played with Taysom Hill starting in place of Brees.
The Chiefs are currently the top seed in the AFC, with a one-game lead over the Steelers. The Saints are tied for the best record in the NFC, but they’re currently the No. 2 seed based on an early-season loss to the Packers.
The Chiefs just clinched their fifth consecutive AFC West title. The Saints, with a win over Kansas City, would clinch their fourth consecutive NFC South title.
If this isn’t a potential Super Bowl preview, then there is no such thing.
Saints coach Sean Payton is on record saying he considered drafting Mahomes in 2017, but the Saints had the 11th-overall pick and the Chiefs traded up to No. 10 to pick Mahomes. So, with that 11th pick, the Saints took cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who became NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and remains the team’s top cornerback. Sunday will be the first time Lattimore will play against Mahomes.
“Everything worked out for the best,” Lattimore told reporters this week. “He’s over there doing his thing. I’m over here doing my thing. So, everybody won. And yeah, I’m excited to play him because he’s one of the great up-and-coming quarterbacks. So you know our game is going to be way up, and you know we’re going to be ready for him.
“It’s going to be a great battle. I feel like we’re stacked, just like they’re stacked. So, we’re going to go out there and play, and the best man wins.”
The Saints are coming off a 24-21 upset loss to the struggling Eagles. That loss ended New Orleans’ nine-game winning streak, leaving the Chiefs’ eight-game winning streak as the longest in the NFL.
Mahomes, who’s coming off an uncharacteristicly uneven game (for him) with a season-high three interceptions against the Dolphins last Sunday, is the NFL’s leading passer. He has six consecutive 300-yard passing games and nine overall this season.
His tight end, Travis Kelce, is 127 receiving yards short of the NFL single-season record for a his position. Kelce leads the league with 1,250 yards and could become the first tight end to ever lead the league in receiving yards.
Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill leads the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions and, as a complement to the most prolific passing game in the league, Kansas City has running backs LeVeon Bell and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
The Saints’ defense is ranked No. 2 in the league and has produced 36 sacks. But the unit is coming off a poor performance against the Eagles.
The Saints had not allowed any player to rush for 100 yards in an NFL-record 55 consecutive games until two Eagles players accomplished that in the same game — running back Miles Sanders (115) and quarterback Jalen Hurts (106).
“Obviously, when you give up 240 yards rushing, there aren’t a lot of things you did well,” Payton said.
With Brees back in the starting lineup, Jameis Winston will continue to be the Saints’ No. 2 quarterback, with Hill going back to his hybrid role, which includes some plays at quarterback.
One significant thing to watch in this game is the Chiefs’ offensive line issues. Three of their tackles — right tackle Mike Remmers, left tackle Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz — have been unable to practice because of back ailments.
That would leave Yasir Durant, an undrafted rookie, playing at right tackle and lining up against Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan, who has 6.5 sacks. New Orleans defensive end Trey Hendrickson has 10.5 sacks.
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