NFL Shield

The FINAL FOUR – Previews & Predictions for Conference Championship Weekend

Down to four teams.

Let’s do this.


JAGUARS @ PATRIOTS

I’m not even going to mention ‘The Hand’

You don’t outscore Brady and Belichick…you beat them with discipline and defense – obviously, a little gum on the helmet goes a long way too.

The New York Giants exhibited both a stout defense & unwavering discipline when they bested the Pats in two Super Bowls. Their pass rush gave Brady fits in both contests, sacking him seven times over the course of both games. Brady was out of sorts and it was the result of smothering defense.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have one of those.

They also have Blake Bortles.

If the Jags have any hope of pulling this off, their defense needs to rattle Brady early and often. I don’t anticipate Bortles shelling the Patriots defense like he did the Steelers last week. Keep it close, and hope Bortles and the offense are still riding the high of last week’s outburst.

Something is just off in Pittsburgh.

Confidence is a scary thing in sports. It can boost a team to heights previously thought to be unattainable. It can also derail a team if not properly channeled. And that’s where the Jaguars need to be careful. The Pats feast on undisciplined play, specifically penalties.

Expect New England to run the ball more than they typically do – In their last 3 games, opponents have averaged 109 yards rushing against Jacksonville.

Brady won’t be a stranger in the passing game, obviously, but the Jags secondary (and linebacking core) are not be taken lightly. Look for Gronk to get a healthy dose of everybody, with the Jags trying all their options to cover him. The refs will be key in determining how that matchup plays out. Will they let Jags defenders be physical?

For Jacksonville’s offense, it’s a simple formula…run the ball, keep Bortles out of 3rd and long and make sure Brady spends more time wearing a toque rather than his helmet. Time of possession, key in all games, is especially important here.

Bortles is sneakily mobile, having rushed for 123 yards in two games this post-season. Averaging 8.20 yards per attempt, Patriots defenders will need to keep an eye on him and make him beat them with his arm, not his feet. Buckle up Jags fans!

Prediction: Patriots by 13 (ugh)


VIKINGS @ EAGLES

Telling everybody right off the bat…I’m picking the Vikings here.

I’ve been a fan since Moss’ rookie season and still suffer from nightmares of past failures; 1998 Gary Anderson miss, after being perfect all season, Brett Favre’s interception, and more recently, Blair Walsh’s chip shot sailing wide left. All painful playoff memories for SkolNation.

It’s time they have their moment OK!

While there obviously exists, an inherent bias in my analysis, I do objectively believe the Vikings to be the better team in this one. I don’t even have to mention the fact it’s destiny – last week doesn’t happen unless they are meant to host a Super Bowl.

These teams are virtually impossible to run on (#1 and #2 in the league). Both running back groups will have their moments, but conventional wisdom suggests both will be largely ineffective. If either team establishes the run early and are able to sustain it, their chances of winning increase dramatically.

“I think the team that runs the ball better, will probably be the team that ends up winning the football game”

– Mike Zimmer speaking to the media on January 17, 2018.

In calling the running game a wash, it comes down to Case Keenum versus Nick Foles. Somewhere Jeff Fisher is stroking his majestic duster like a proud father. Keenum’s stellar play has been the story of the NFL while Foles has been mediocre ever since Carson Wentz went down late in the year.

Keenum was victimized by some poor throws last week at home and if he’s not careful, the likes of Malcolm Jenkins will make him pay and Eagles fans will feast. Now ready to play his second career post-season game, it will be Keenum’s first on the road.

Foles
Nick Foles efficiency metrics (courtesy NFLplayerprofiler.com)
Keenum
Case Keenum efficiency metrics (courtesy NFLplayerprofiler.com)

Nick Foles has weapons, specifically Zach Ertz who the Vikings will need to contain. Also, it’s worth noting Xavier Rhodes has had issues covering Alshon Jeffery in the past, going back to his time as a Bear. Last week, Rhodes was glued to Michael Thomas and got beat for a touchdown to go along with 85 yards (Thomas’ other touchdown was a goal-line slant route with Terence Newman covering). He needs to be better for the Vikings this week.

If the Vikings defense travels, I think Minnesota scores 20, which should be enough.

Expect a defensive touchdown in this one. Possibly a late one for Minnesota that ices it.

Prediction – Vikings by 10

 

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