And then there were four. As the NFL Championship Round approaches you have one of the most compelling weekends I can remember. Three quarterbacks with a combined five playoff starts, two of whom were backups at the start of the year, and the greatest of all time. One team that’s never been to a Super Bowl, two that have never won one, and the defending champs. I went 2-2 last week (thanks to a miraculous finish in Minnesota), but I got a great feeling about these two games.
2018 AFC Championship Round Game (Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots)
How to Watch: 4:05pm EST kickoff on 1/21/17 on CBS
Preview: Remember all the way back after Week 1 when I told Jags fans to calm down after they walloped the Houston Texans? Welp, I was wrong. This team is legit and earned their spot in the Championship Round game. The number two defense in the league & sixth best offense has been the darling of the NFL. I absolutely love Leonard Fournette, Jalen Ramsey, & Calais Campbell. Plus, what Blake Bortles is doing is impressive. The dude has been ripped to shreds his whole career & has turned in a commendable season. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but a quarterback can either be a stat filler, or a cerebral player who makes the right decisions. Bortles is the latter. Just ask the guys in New England.
Speaking of the Pats, I know they are “the Patriots” but they’re not what we thought they were (cue Dennis Green). They have the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. (Sidenote: if you think Tom Brady isn’t going to play cause he bumped his hand, I’ve got Ocean Front Property in Arizona). But, they also have weaknesses. The best offense in the NFL ranks 10th in rushing and bails out the third worst defense. And it’s the secondary that has really struggled. When you look at the numbers, New England’s actually outmatched at almost every spot. Except for quarterback, coach, and experience, that is.
Prediction: At some point, the eye test ignores all the numbers. This Championship Round game is in New England against Brady/Belichick. Jacksonville is a tremendous story & I firmly believe Bortles has a coach/system that will help him continue to succeed. The Jags cover the 8.5-point spread but ultimately lose. Don’t be surprised if they have a chance to win it, or at least tie, late in the game.
NFC Championship Round Game (Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles)
How to Watch: 7:40pm EST kickoff on 1/21/18 on FOX
Preview: Much like the Jags, I did my best to ignore Minnesota. Until Week 12, that is, when they were winning seven straight. Much like Blake Bortles, Case Keenum has been overlooked this year and that is wrong. His 98.3 quarterback rating is 7th in the league while the offense ranks 11th in total yards and 7th in rushing. Give a ton of credit to offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, and head coach, Mike Zimmer. They have found a way to steer this thing around every roadblock and injury to be one win away from the Super Bowl (having the best defense in the league might help).
Philadelphia is a very interesting team. With Carson Wentz out, they’ve found a way to keep everything intact. The front seven is incredibly fast and exciting to watch. Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Fletcher Cox, and Derek Barnett can all get after the quarterback. Not to mention the secondary recorded 19 picks this year, fourth-most in the league. The combination of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the backfield certainly helps keep Nick Foles upright. What has been most exciting about the Eagles this year is how much they are winning games by. Nine of their 13 wins have been by at least a touchdown, six of those were at home.
Prediction: Two teams with talented defenses and offenses that aren’t what anyone expected them to be. They each are coming off of emotional home wins. Minnesota may struggle a bit on the road (and it is a tiny bit), but the Eagles are struggling more without Wentz. Philadelphia is yet again a home underdog (3 points) and I expect the Vikings to cover.