Road To The Super Bowl: NFL Conference Championship Preview6 min read
Before I get into the Conference Championship games, I need to briefly reflect on what went down last weekend. The divisional playoffs kicked off in Philly with the Eagles playing their physical brand of defense which was enough to stifle the Falcons high-powered offense to pull out a victory. The most amazing part of the win was during the very last drive, the Eagles managed to make some deal with the devil and keep Julio Jones out of the end zone when he was targeted three times in a row. At night, Tom Brady picked apart the Titans and everyone was already flipping to another channel by halftime like the entire world predicted. The fact that the Patriots only had to beat the Titans in their first playoff game is an absolute joke, but that’s for another day (Ravens!).
After one good game and a snoozer, Sunday delivered perhaps the best back-to-back games of playoff football of all time. I may be biased, but starting off the afternoon watching the Steelers get their teeth kicked in by the Jags at home in the first half was incredible. To their credit, the Steelers have serious offensive weapons and they stepped up when they needed it most to keep the game close in the second half. The biggest takeaway from that game has to be the dominance of the Jags D who is absolutely LOADED from front to back.
Sunday night was special. There really is no other way to describe it, unless you are one of the poor Saints fans out there. The Vikings and Saints delivered blow after blow, and I feel horrible for Brees and the Saints that it had to end the way that it did. They played so well, but that’s football. Hats off to the Vikings and all of their fans for the most electric celebration which will be played until the end of time. If you don’t believe me, check out the reaction videos.
Jaguars (+9) at Patriots, Sun., Jan. 21, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Everyone has to be completely sick of the Patriots by now right? Even Patriots fans? I can’t imagine that they even get any enjoyment out of the AFC Championship game anymore because their season starts in February. Last week, I picked the Patriots to throttle the Titans, which they did, because the Patriots never overlook an opponent. The same can’t be said for the Steelers who underachieve year after year under Tomlin and were quoted as looking forward to getting revenge in Foxborough. Welp, the Jags used that as ammo, curb stomped in a back alley and stole their wallets with their tickets to Foxborough (boom roasted). The final may have indicated a one-score game, but make no mistake that game would have been a blowout if they don’t catch a few bombs on 4th down with a scoreless TD at the end.
Sacksonville’s performance in Pittsburgh showed the world that they are ready for primetime and will not be intimidated by the Patriots. They have an elite defense which I think will give the Pats problems the entire game because they have the ideal personnel to be able to pressure Brady without blitzing. Much like the Jets and the Ravens (twice, giggity) have done, they will be able to get pressure with just their 4-man front and drop 7 into coverage to clog up the throwing lanes for Brady. If you blitz Brady, he will pick you apart. If you don’t blitz Brady and your 4-man rush can’t get any pressure, he will pick you apart. There is really only one way to beat Brady, the Broncos did it too just a couple of years ago, is to let him know he has 3 seconds or less to get it out with 7 people waiting to jump routes. He will start to hold the ball, think people are around him at all times and make mistakes.
With all that said, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia are the best in the business at creating defensive schemes to stifle opposing offenses even with average talent. The Patriots front 7 stinks, but somehow they have become one of the best defenses in football over the second half of the season which is all due to outcoaching everyone. They know that the Jags are going to pound the rock with Fournette over and over again, which they did effectively against the Steelers. Fournette seemed to be getting 4-5 yards every single carry, which is a nightmare for any defense. Once you start committing too many people to stop the run, then there goes Blake Bortles hitting you with the play action. The Pats will figure out a way to effectively stop the run and make Bortles have to throw it 25+ times with backup receivers. What I can say about Bortles though is that he is trending the way Flacco was during the Ravens playoff run. Everyone doubted him saying he wasn’t elite, bet on himself, went on a tear to the Super Bowl and cashed a fat check. Can Bortles do the same? God, I hope so. While I think this game will be much closer than the nine points the Jags are getting from Vegas (take the Jags +9), the Patriots beat the Jaguars 24-20.
Eagles (+3) vs. Vikings, Sun., Jan. 21, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
I’ll be honest, I was wrong….both times last week. If Marcus Williams doesn’t try to tackle Diggs while doing the stanky leg, which would have been impressive, then I would’ve only been wrong about the Eagles. Nevertheless, both the Eagles and Vikings played really well last week and this should be an exciting matchup. At first glance, can the Eagles get a little respect around here? Vegas is making the #1 overall seed in the NFC the underdog two weeks in a row at home?! Now, this is without checking because who has time to do that, but this has to be the first time in history that the #1 overall seed has been the dog twice in the playoffs. Maybe they set the line of the game before they heard that 70,000 people with have dog masks on in the stands during the game. Think about being Case Keenum and breaking the huddle for the first play all amped up and then you see a sea of scooby-doos all around you.
Talk about some terrifying, need new pants type stuff. That picture is already creeping me out as I type this so I couldn’t imagine a sea of those while I am trying to diagnose a blitz. Despite the rabid dogs in the stands, the Vikings are the better football team on paper heading into the game with the Eagles sans Wentz. The Eagles offense just isn’t the same without him and unfortunately, the Vikings defense is much better than the Falcons. Foles will have a really tough time moving the ball against them, as will their run game. On the other side of the coin, the Vikings have enough weapons to move the ball, at least just enough, against the Eagles with Murray/Diggs/Thielen. Case Keenum is also getting himself paid next year by the way he has led their offense this year, so don’t sleep on him. In the end, the Vikings will have put up too many points for the Eagles to be able to counter. The Vikings beat the Eagles 17-13.