Conference Championship Sunday Preview
What if I told at Preseason that the Minnesota Vikings would be in the NFC Championship? Would you believe me? Probably not. What if I told you at Preseason that the Jaguars would have the biggest turnaround in franchise history? There is no way in hell that would happen. What if I told you that the Eagles would be the top seed in the NFC and the Patriots would just be- well, the Patriots? Yes and probably not.
You see, all four of the remaining teams in the Conference Championship round have gone through some sort of adversity this season. The Eagles in losing Carson Wentz for the season to an ACL tear, the Vikings in losing both Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bardford for the season and having to start the most unlikely of quarterbacks in Case Keenum, the Jaguars in making a total 180 in terms of front office in Tom Coughlin, record from just 3 games last season to 10-6 this season, and a punishing defense in #Sacksonville, and I'm sure Tom Brady and the Patriots have not gone through any adversity this season. They're just perfect! Oh wait, they have... IN THE FORM OF YOUR 40 YEAR OLD QUARTERBACK INJURING HIS BLOODY HAND SO THAT YOUR TEAM CAN GET AN EASY ADVANTAGE IN THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME! But, more on that in a bit.
So with all that has been said throughout the OTA's, Draft, Training Camp, regular season, and Postseason, who is headed to Minneapolis?
AFC Championship: Jaguars @ Patriots:
"I love round 2's... we'll have two round 2's back to back weeks..." said Le'Veon Bell taunting the Jaguars in hopes of meeting the Patriots once again for the AFC Championship Game. Well good luck with that, because you can sit on your comfy couch and watch the non "round 2" in the comfort of your own home. Enough with the trash talk. What can I say. I can say however, that this is the last opponent that New England wanted to face given Jacksonville's elite secondary in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. This will be Tom Brady's 7th straight CC (conference championship) appearance. And given his history against elite defenses and his "hand injury" (which I call B.S. on), he will not have an equivalent performance this time around than in past AFC Title Games.
The key matchup to watch and the matchup that everyone has been talking about leading up to this game is Jalen Ramsey versus Rob Gronkowski. This will be both the Patriots' and Jaguars' biggest test of the year; Tom Brady vs. #Sacksonville and #Sacksonville against the Patriots WR's in Chris Hogan, Brandon Cooks, and Gronk. I've said it before and I will say it again, the key for the Jaguars to win this game is for Blake Bortles to stay calm and for Jacksonville not to play zone coverage on Gronkowski which would open up holes for Brady. And let's not forget about the D-line in Calais Campbell and linebackers in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. The task is simple. Pressure Brady inside the pocket and have him throw it away and sack him. #Sacksonville created two turnovers via pick and fumble recovery touchdown by Telvin Smith. Man coverage will do Jacksonville good in that they will shorten the field and have more time to read routes from Brady.
As for the Jaguars offense, expect Leonard Fournette to have a hat trick of rushing touchdowns as he did in Pittsburgh last week. This will happen if lead blocks from the Jacksonville O-line block the New England D-line in James Harrison. The critics have doubted him, but he does not care. That has been Blake Bortles' mentality and message throughout these NFL Playoffs. What can make him have the edge over Brady is his patience in the pocket and his scrambling abilities to run for first downs and throw to open men for first downs. But he also has a canon of an arm. All of this was evident in Bortles' performance in Pittsburgh as his clutch throws and runs were the difference in getting to New England or going home. Key for Bortles? Just perform like he has been all year and stay patient while not making too many mistakes.
Now for the prediction. (Final Jeopardy Music). I'm going with my gut. DUUUUVVVVAAAALLLL! Sorry Brady, #Sacksonville will be to much for you and Blake Bortles will become only the third quarterback in the Brady-Belichick era to win a playoff game in Foxboro and the second to win the AFC Championship in Foxy-Town, making him the third member of the exclusive "Club Boro" along with Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco. Oh, and don't count on Gronk being there all the time because he'll be covered by Jalen Ramsey. And in his words, "he hasn't played a corner like me before". We know you faked your B.S. hand injury and it's time for you to pay the price. Either have your other hand get cut off by #Sacksonville, or have Brian Hoyer replace ya! Did I also mention that you can hand milk a goat? Well goats themselves can't throw a football and neither will Tommy Terrific.
Jaguars 26 Patriots 16
NFC Championship: Vikings @ Eagles
2017 NFC Divisional. U.S. Bank Stadium. 10 seconds left in the game as the New Orleans Saints are about to pull of the upset. The Vikings however, needed a miracle. "Keenum, pass is caught! DIGGS! SIDELINE! TOUCHDOWN!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!! VIKINGS WIN IT!!!" And the Minneapolis Miracle was born. One of the greatest plays and comebacks that will ever live in NFL history. Now on to the matchup.
The Case Keenum Bowl with Keenum Vs. Foles, how perfect. The Vikings are going into Lincoln Financial Field expecting a sea of dog masks (get it, because the Eagles are underdogs. See what I did there?) Anyways, in this matchup you've got a Nick Foles offense Vs. the Fierce Vikings defense. What Foles must watch out for is every defensive opportunity in sacks and picks from all three levels of the Minnesota defense. Everson Griffen in the D-line, Anthony Barr and Mycal Kendricks in the linebackers, and Xavier Rhodes in the secondary. Make one mistake and it will be a long day for the Eagles and just another day at the office for the Vikings offense to score.
Speaking of, this Eagles defense in the form of Fletcher Cox and nobody else will have to watch out for the Fab Four of the Vikings in Case Keenum, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs (a.k.a. Mr. Miraclewoker), and tight end Kyle Rudolph. However, it won't be easy. I will give the Eagles defense this. They have twice as many turnovers as Minnesota does this season. And Minnesota's records in the Playoffs against the Eagles is 1-7. The other factor that the Vikings must execute is special teams. Why? Well, they gave up bad field position for the Saints last week thanks to a blocked punt. Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer must address the issue in order to prevent those types of mistakes from happening again.
Here's the thing that sucks for Philly's offense though. Last week, they only scored one touchdown and the rest of the points came from 4 field goals by kicker Jake Elliot. If they're going to keep pace with Minnesota, they must get off to an early start and make Keenum and the Vikings offense respond. And with the NFL's best defense looming at Lincoln Financial, the Vikings should be able to win the turnover battle via pressuring Nick Foles with the linebackers and D-line and neutralizing him inside the pocket. This will make the field short and the day long for Foles as the Vikings will have plenty of turnover opportunities.
Prediction time! Philly, you can go eat cheesesteaks and try to scare Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings defense with your creepy dog masks all you want (which are actually really creepy). And even though you guys have home-field-advantage, you are the underdogs for this NFC Title Game. This will be the perfect environment for the Vikings since they're used to having their fans scream. Also, they are facing the #1 rush defense in the Eagles. But, the rushing attack of Jerrick McKinnon and Latavius Murray will burn thriugh the rush defense of Fletcher Cox. This should be a cake walk for the Vikings but just in "Case" (see what I did there,? It's their quarterback), I'll make it a close one for the Philly fans.
Vikings 30 Eagles 27
Well, well, well, what do we have here? For the first time since 2012, a number one seed from any conference won't be in the Super Bowl. You've got a backup quarterback in his home stadium, Vs. an unlikely clutch hero who can make big time plays when it matters most. 6 months ago, every critic, writer, team, coach, and analyst might've laughed at Blake Bortles and his team. But we're not laughing at him now because they're here. And, if it turns out to be this way, get ready for the most unforgettable Super Bowl and one for the ages.
They came, they played, they conquered.
Two teams, two defenses, two improbable forces. The battle for the first Super Bowl in each team's history is on the line.