After a wild Divisional Weekend we have now whittled the field down to the final four: Patriots, Jaguars, Vikings, Eagles. It’ll be tough to top the drama we were treated to last weekend, but I’m sure the four best teams in football will find a way. Unless Tom Brady routs the Jags and Nick Foles crumbles under the pressure, which is also very possible. Let’s get to the spreads, shall we.
Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) @ New England Patriots (14-3) (-8.5) @ 3pm on Sunday on CBS — After the performance the Jags put up against the Steelers, I really don’t know what to expect from this game anymore. I always thought if it was Jags-Pats there’s no way Blakey B can keep up with Tom Brady, but after putting up 45 points against the no. 5 defence in the league, it seems as though the Jags can stay with any offence. It’s true, the Patriots don’t have as many weapons as the Steelers, but Brady also isn’t prone to the same mistakes that plagued Big Ben and which gave the Jags an early lead they would never relinquish on Divisional Weekend. People have been trying to make a big deal about a possible finger injury to Tom Brady, but I don’t lend much credence to these reports, and expect Tommy Gun to be firing full clips at the Jaguars mouthy defence on Championship Sunday. The hand injury rumours have contributed to lowering the spread from -9 to -8.5 for the Patriots, but I don’t really think it matters in the end because the Patriots won’t have the same mental block the Steelers did.
It was plain to see that Big Ben was antsy at the start of the Steelers game against the Jags, which led to two silly turnovers that the Jags easily converted into touchdowns. Without Shazier that Steelers defence is like swiss cheese, and I think the Patriots’ unit, led by head coaching carousel darling Matt Patricia will cause tons of problems for Blakey B and that ailing offence. I think the jig is up for Blake, he had a few big days with a toddler-simple offence, but Patricia will be bringing the pressure on Sunday. There is just no way I can fathom Blake Bortles going three straight playoff games without a turnover. It would be mind-boggling to me. That being said, I don’t think Brady will come out of this sparkling either. The Jags will get to and rattle him, he will throw one pick maybe two, but he will more than make up for it with big plays to Brandin Cooks deep, chunk plays to the Gronk Smash over the middle and underneath routes to Danny Amendola.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 31, 2017
The Steelers have a lot of great weapons, but they don’t have a Rob Gronkowski (who had 69 catches on the season and seemed pretty darn satisfied with that). Telvin Smith is fast enough to stay with him but Gronk’s still got a huge size advantage. Expect that matchup to be very much in the spotlight during this game. As Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in his postgame address to the media last weekend: “[The Jaguars] won the moments. They made the significant plays in the moments and that’s what you have to do in order to advance.” While the Jags made those plays against Pittsburgh, I don’t see them replicating their 8/14 third-down conversion rate or going the whole game without a turnover against the Patriots. Bill Belichick will make Blake Bortles win this game for the Jags, and if he can, all the power to him. But I doubt it. The Jags will make it somewhat interesting, but Tommy’s healthy trigger fingers will be firing too many bullets for the Jags to stop them all. New England Patriots 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 23
Minnesota Vikings (14-3) (-3.0) @ Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) @ 630pm on Sunday on NBC — The NFC Championship features two starting quarterbacks that were able to escape the shackles of the Jeff Fisher regime to come and find greener pastures in Philly and Minne. Case Keenum of the Vikings and Nick Foles of the Eagles are a far cry from what they were back in St. Louis, and they’re both coming of the first playoff wins of their careers. Keenum and the Vikings will be travelling to Philly for the game but with the emotional high of their legendary Divisional Weekend win and the first home-field advantage in Super Bowl history on the horizon, they might not even notice they’re not at home, no matter how hard the notoriously rowdy Philly fans get. The Vikings defence is firing on all cylinders and the Vikings offence has proven capable of the big play when needed. The Eagles defence has also hit their stride just at the right moment, while Foles and all his weaponry have been able to patch together enough to win on offence. This is definitely gonna be a dog fight and hopefully we see a lot more blitzes and pressures from Mike Zimmer’s unit than we did last week against the Saints.
It’s rare to see a visiting team favoured in an NFC Championship, but it’s also pretty rare to see the fucking Vikings score a 61-yard buzzer-beating, game-winning touchdown in the playoffs. As Kevin Garnett told us, anything is possible. That’s why this game could go either way, neither offence is very dominant and both defences have been playing superb lately. What will likely decide this game is the turnover battle and special teams. Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels sits at 14th all-time with five punt return touchdowns in his career, and he’s averaged one per season for the past five seasons—except for 2017. He ripped off a 46-yarder earlier this season but hasn’t found pay-dirt yet this season, which means he’s due for a big one especially in a game that will feature more than it’s fair share of punting. The Eagles for their part have the highest blocked field goal percentage over the past two seasons and the second-highest blocked punt percentage over that same span. As I said earlier this game will have a lot of kicking (yawn) thanks to the defensive matchup. Like Sherels will to return them to the house, the Eagles will have lots of chances to block punts as well.
In the end though, close defensive matchups in the playoffs still come down to the offence. Which team can put together the last scoring drive to put their team on top? With all due respect to Foles and his legendary accuracy (don’t expect him to go 23/30 again like he did last week either), Case Keenum is the guy who’s got the magic and the SKOL (whatever the fuck that actually means) right now. He’s got the juice. Stefon Diggs has got the juice. The Eagles are coming off a strange kind of ‘upset’ victory at home, but they can’t be nearly on the same cloud as the Vikings. If the Eagles are on cloud 9 right now, the Vikings are on cloud 649 and they just won the fucking jackpot. These purple dudes are going to be jacked. The fuck. Up. On Sunday. It’ll be close, but I don’t think it’ll ever truly be in doubt. This is destiny, this is Minnesota, This Is Us, Sundays at 6/7c on Fox. Just kidding haha, that shit’s corny as fuck. I don’t usually buy into bullshit like momentum and destiny, but I truly think this is the year the Vikings make it back to the Super Bowl on home soil. I mean, they’ll probably lose to the Patriots but it’s just nice to be there isn’t it? Minnesota Vikings 24 Philadelphia Eagles 19