I may have gone 2-2 picking winners last week but I just wanna say for the record I was 2-0 picking AFC playoff games and 0-2 picking NFC playoff games. In a way it makes perfect sense, I'm an AFC guy through and through. That's MY conference, I know it well. I've watched the Patriots dominate the AFC since I was in 4th grade as come Sunday they'll be playing in their 7th straight AFC Championship Game and 12th since 2001. IMO without bias it is the most impressive run by any team in the history of pro sports. Nearly two full decades of domination where most teams' windows are 5 years max the Patriots have stretched that like silly putty.
Hand up I was actually more confident in the Jaguars beating Pittsburgh than I was in the Pats beating Tennessee. Granted I should've believed in my guys more, but I've already discussed my coping mechanisms.
I don't get why everybody was so shocked the Jags won, they blew out the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in week 5. Plus the Steelers are run by an idiot, and they've lost a bunch of playoff games they were favored in during the Tomlin era. They're the anti-Patriots, instead of going one week at a time like winners do they found a way to have a trap game in the playoffs by discounting Jacksonville. I knew they'd overlook the Jaguars because it's easy to do since they're the Jaguars, and they're obsessed with the Patriots.
Case and point:
Now they're at home.
Not to make excuses but both of my NFC picks were right on the doorstep and should've won. But it's okay, they didn't, I didn't have money on the games so I really am okay with that. Plus it plays in the Pats favor (Should they beat Jacksonville because unlike Mike Tomlin I respect how good they are) as Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are out and Nick Foles and Case Keenum are still alive.
If the Falcons had any structure, or competent coaching they would've beaten the Eagles, but it's my own fault for believing in the Falcons, a team that was winning the Super Bowl by a whopping 25 points and ended up losing. They're a loser franchise, with a losing culture that will never win a Super Bowl! Their play calling inside the ten yard line on that final series was poor at best!
"Hey it's only 4th and season. Let's run a slow developing roll-out that eliminates half the field and only has one receiving option"
As horrible as that play call was, Julio did have a chance to make a play but given the circumstances when you need one play to stay alive that's what you come up with? SHEEEEEEEEEEEEESHHH!
Then of course we had the Minneapolis Miracle where much like a broken levee, Marcus Williams failed at the worst possible time for New Orleans whiffing on Stefon Diggs allowing him to run free all the way to Philadelphia for a berth in the NFC title game. Had Sean Payton spent a little less time trolling and little bit more coaching in the final moments
Then maybe this doesn't happen.
So now we're here. Jacksonville at New England and Minnesota at Philadelphia with the right to represent their conference at the Super Bowl February 4th. Let's dive in.
AFC Championship Game:
(3) 12-6 Jacksonville Jaguars @ (1) 14-3 New England Patriots
Sunday January 21st Gillette Stadium 3:05 PM CBS
This match up is so intriguing to me the league's best defense against the probable league MVP in Tom Brady. Jacksonville finished the season 2nd in total defense. The Pats were 1st in total offense. Everybody who tries to talk like they know football will say basically something like this:
"The Jags have the perfect formula to beat New England, great defense and dominate running game."
"They can control time of possession. Keep Brady off the field."
"The way to beat Brady is to hit him"
Well color me shocked!
You're telling me you should try to hit the other team's QB? No way?! Should you try to outscore the opponent too?
Anybody who knows anything about football can say that, you're not exactly Vince Lombardi coming up with that game plan.
However........ that's exactly what'll need to happen for Jacksonville to beat New England!!! I personally think this game will be all about the start. I wouldn't be shocked if the Patriots won the toss and chose to take the ball to start the game unlike there usual deferment til the second half. Try to score early and force Jacksonville to keep up. I think we'll know after a quarter or so if this game will be bloodbath or not.
While I do think the Jags have a decent chance to pull off the upset, it'll have to be done by keeping the game close early. Follow a similar formula to how they beat Pittsburgh. Start hot, and be able to dictate the tempo of the game. The Jags are not built to come from behind, if it's 17-0 Patriots after the 1st quarter I don't see a way Jacksonville can win this game. They're built on running the ball with Fournette and if it's 24-6 in the 3rd quarter idk how much you can be relying on the run game.
We all know the same old cliches about the Patriots taking away your best asset, they try to make you play left handed (which for 11% of the population is preferred). Last week they didn't allow a run longer than 4 yards but Derrick Henry. Expect the Pats to try to neutralize Leonard Fournette and make Bortles beat them. That is much easier said than done. Fournette is a beast, rushed for over 1000 yards in only 13 games this season. So far in the playoffs he's had 166 yards and 3 touchdowns. Luckily for New England he got a little banged up against Pittsburgh. However Tom Brady is also battling a hand injury sustained in practice this week.
If the Patriots can get off to a hot start early and force Jacksonville to rely on Blake Bortles it's going to be a long day for Jacksonville. I love the guy, but historically he's a turnover machine.
He hasn't turned the ball over yet in the postseason, which could mean he's due. It's been a long time since Bortles coughed it up, I'm sure he's feeling very weird and uneasy about it, as most people tend to do in new situations. If the Pats can force Bortles to be pre-2017 Bortles they're in great shape. They've done pretty well historically under Belichick when winning the turnover battle in the playoffs.
While everybody is talking about how great Jacksonville's defense is, they did give up 42 points to the Steelers last week. We can even call it 35 if you since the last TD was scored in garbage time, but on two 4th downs they allowed the Steelers to score basically miracle touchdowns to stay in the game. Against old friend Jimmy G in week 16 they gave up 44 points. They've had their share of stinkers this year. They're a good defense but they're not the 85 Bears or 2000 Ravens.
There are just so many things that need to break the Jags way for them to win this game. Now if Brady is seriously hurt, or gets banged up in this game obviously everything changes but as long as he's even like 50% I love the Pats chances. I do think the Jaguars have a decent chance to pull off the upset, because of their potential to control the pace of the game but between the game being in Foxboro and the ration one-dimensional offense the Jags have I do expect the Patriots to win. We'll know rather early whether or not this game will be competitive for the full 60 minutes. If the Pats get the chance, they're going to run up the score after what Jalen Ramsey said after the Jags beat Pittsburgh.
Jaguars had a great year, and have been an awesome story this season going from a 3 win team to the AFC Championship Game, but it ends this week.
NFC Championship Game:
(2) 14-3 Minnesota Vikings vs. (1) 14-3 Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday January 21st Lincoln Financial Field 6:40 FOX
In the most surprising 1 vs. 2 seed conference title game in recent memory and possibly ever we have the miracle Minnesota Vikings heading to the city of brotherly love to take on the Eagles. Both teams went 13-3 with Philly holding the tie breaker over record vs. common opponents so they get to play at home. My rooting interest in this game heavily lies with what the Patriots do against the Jaguars. I'd rather play the Eagles cause I think it's a better match up, but if somehow they lose to Jacksonville I'll be rooting for Minnesota hard.
Both teams proved the critics (and me) wrong by winning home playoff games last week in rather dramatic fashion. While the Minneapolis Miracle which will live forever in NFL lore has taken center stage, the Eagles did have a goal line stand to beat the defending NFC Champs. After the Falcons converted on a 4th down conversion earlier in that drive I thought it was game over but Philly held on.
The Eagles open up as home dogs but seem to be taking quite the liking to that.
This game to me is a total crap shoot as it's still two back up QBs facing two of the league's best defenses. In a battle of just doing enough to let your defense win the game for you I honestly don't know what to expect. It's kind of a cop out but honestly, I could very easily see either team winning. I expect an ugly grind it out defensive struggle where the QBs aren't asked to do too much. I just hope for entertainment purposes it's a close game.
Again, obviously I'm rooting for the Patriots to win it is all, but as a football fan either of these teams winning would be an incredible story. You have the potential of the Vikings lead by journeyman Case Keenum being the first ever team to play in a home Super Bowl trying to win their first Super Bowl. Then there's the Eagles who for the first 10 or so weeks of the season looked like clear cut Super Bowl favorites with a quarterback in Carson Wentz who seemed like he was in line for league MVP. Then Wentz goes down against the Rams with a torn ACL and immediately everybody (including me) writes them off. Seriously I gave them no chance going into the playoffs
Yet much like the 2016 Green Day song "Still Breathing" the Eagles are still alive aka still breathing, and just like the Vikings they too are trying to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
As a fan of narratives it does seem like it's the Vikings year, but tbh that just makes me think they're gonna find a way to lose even more. I'm going with the trend until it proves me wrong, and the trend from 50 years has been that the Vikings lose in the playoffs in the most heartbreaking ways. They went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs last week and now are one win away from being the first ever true home Super Bowl team. It would be sooooo fitting for them to lose this game. It just makes all the sense in the world that they'll somehow lose this game. Just knowing they're just a win over Nick Foles away from hosting the Super Bowl. It would be all-time Vikings to lose this game.
The Eagles are playing at home and are as of now 3 point underdogs. This historically plays to Philly's favor as they're undefeated at home as an underdog in the playoffs. The Eagles are also quite accustom to playoff misery. You'll notice no Super Bowl banners waving at the Linc on Sunday. In a way it's like an the old immovable object vs unstoppable force theory of historically snake-bitten franchises. One of these teams has to win and make it to the Super Bowl. Crazy I know. My heart says Vikings but my head says Eagles. I think the X factor in this game is old friend LeGarrette Blount who has lost carries to Jay Ajayi but has a knack for big playoff performances. I think the Eagles will need to rely on the run because I just don't see Nick Foles having a ton of success vs. that Minnesota secondary. As I type I still haven't come to a clear cut decision, but fuck it I am picking the Vikings. If they're ever going to do it, this is the year. No road team has won a conference championship game since the 2012 season and I think that changes here. I'm totally getting sucked into the trap picking but that's okay I'm basically just saying this to myself since nobody reads DOL anymore (prove me wrong!)