Jan. 31, 2018
NFL Conference Championship Preview/Prediction
Two teams will pack their bags after a long season and head off into the offseason. The other two can get ready for the biggest game of their career. As the road to the Super Bowl enters its final phases, we will find out who will move on and who will head home. Let’s take a look at it.
AFC Championship Game: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots
This could be a matchup between the AFC’s past and present going up against the AFC’s future. Jacksonville hasn’t been this deep in the playoffs in nearly 20 years. They’re sporting a young team with an elite defense and a lot of confidence. The Patriots are in the AFC Championship game for the seventh consecutive season and are looking for their eighth trip to the Super Bowl in this dynastic era.
Keys For Jacksonville: The Jaguars have the luxury of playing a style of football that has historically given the Patriots trouble. Their defense has the ability to pressure Tom Brady all game long. Go back and look at the last times the Patriots have lost in the postseason. Teams like the Broncos, Giants, and Ravens all had elite defenses that pummeled Brady at every turn. That’s how you beat the Patriots. You keep mistakes to a minimum and put a beating on Brady. Furthermore, the Jags have the ability to cover the Pats skill players. Their linebackers are fast enough to play sideline to sideline. Look for Myles Jack to see a lot of Gronk. Will he shut Gronk down? No. But at least he can keep up with him and make him work. The secondary should be able to cover the New England receivers but watch for some creative designs from the Patriots. A few pick plays and inside routes will be seen and covered. On offense, the Jaguars will rely on their power running game. However, they have to know that the Patriots will key in on that and force Blake Bortles to beat them. So now, the responsibility falls on Bortles to not turn the ball over and make some plays. Finally, the Jaguars have to keep mistakes to a minimum. New England has beaten many teams by simply being smarter and making fewer mistakes.
Keys For New England: The Patriots first page of their game plan will be to stop the Jaguars running game and force Blake Bortles to beat them. While Bortles hasn’t played poorly enough to cost the Jaguars in the playoffs, he still has a lot to prove to earn the respect of the opposition. If Bortles is a ‘garbage’ as other players say he is, the Patriots need to find a way to turn the ball over and capitalize on them. On offense, Tom Brady will have to play like the G.O.A.T against this defense. A tall task to be sure and even tougher with an injured hand. Brady has to control the game and not allow the Jaguars to get too much momentum on defense. Gronk also has to have a big game as he is the only person on the field that cannot be covered. He has to make the Jaguars pay. The last point is a strange one, but field positioning will be the biggest key of all. Pinning the Jaguars offense deep in their own territory and taking the ball in positive positioning could make all of the difference.
Prediction: As one of the few people outside of Duval County to pick the Jaguars last week, I’ll be picking them again this week. They just match up with the Patriots so well and check every box for a team that gives the Patriots trouble. An elite defense complete with a pass rush, a power running game that can keep Brady on the sidelines, and a quarterback that no one really trusts. Look for the Jaguars to win and pack their bags for their first trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history. 24-20 in favor of Jacksonville.
NFC Championship Game: Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Despite being the top-two seeds in the NFC, both teams have experienced their fair share of disrespect. After losing Carson Wentz, the Eagles were supposed to be a one and done team in the postseason. Instead, they adopted the underdog mentality complete with dog masks. The Vikings weren’t supposed to be anywhere near this competent on offense. And no team has ever played a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Both teams also have fanbases starving for their first Super Bowl title. So for one fanbase, misery will continue onward. For the other, another opportunity to bring it all home for the first time.
Keys For Minnesota: Oddly enough, the Vikings could make the argument as the complete team left in the playoffs. Their offense has been balanced all season and will have to continue that trend. However, more emphasis will have to be put onto Case Keenum as running the ball on the Eagles is a tall task. A high completion percentage, no turnovers, and a few big plays will be mandatory for the passing game. On defense, the Vikings are actually the best in the business. They must play like it. While Nick Foles played well last week, the Vikings should be eager to test him again. They must shut down the running game of the Eagles and put the ball in Foles hands. Like the Eagles, running the ball on the Vikings is a tough task for any team. Making the Eagles one dimensional and forcing Foles to get the job done was already likely to happen. Finally, the Vikings must be wary of the big play. I just have a funny feeling that Doug Peterson is ready to let his offense go without limitation. Not really a key, but just a gut feeling I have. Beware just in case.
Keys For Philadelphia: Starting on defense, the Eagles must have a repeat performance from last week. They not only held the vaunted Falcons defense to just 10 points, but they also held them scoreless in the second half. That type of effort will keep them in any game. However, they cannot repeat the turnovers from last week’s game. The Falcons scored all 10 of their points due to Eagles mistakes. Giving Minnesota extra points in what could be a defensive battle is a recipe for failure. Offensively, the Eagles have to find a way to produce more than 15 points. This responsibility will fall mostly on the shoulder pads of Nick Foles. While I expect the Eagles to run the ball a lot, they will be running into a brick wall. Foles will need to play even better than he did a week ago. This also means we’ll need to see sightings from Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
Prediction: The Vikings are going home…to play in the Super Bowl. Corny I know, but the Vikings are the better and more complete team. I trust their offense to produce more effectively while I expect their defense to dominate throughout the game. 27-17 Skol.
So if this actually holds, it will be the Jacksonville Jaguars playing the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. If anyone predicted this from the start of the season, I will be ing you soon for lottery numbers.