There is plenty to be surprised about going into championship weekend. We witnessed the Jaguars defense dominate the Steelers and the Vikings pull off a miracle in Minnesota. I am sad to say that I had a horrible weekend picking games last week but that is the beauty and excitement of the NFL. Most of the world (except Massachusetts) will be rooting for the underdog, Jacksonville Jaguars to knockout the kings of the AFC and advance to their first Super Bowl. While in the NFC we look forward to the slugfest of two defensive juggernauts, who each is seeking their first Super Bowl Championship.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs New England Patriots
Sunday’s AFC championship game figures to be the game we are all curious about. The Jaguars have been led to the AFC championship by the tenacity of their defense. Their defense is the key factor in beating the mighty Patriots this Sunday. If the Jags defense is able to shut down Gronk and consistently pressure Brady then it is likely they will make the Super Bowl. The Patriots on the other hand, have made their 7th consecutive AFC title game. This type of success speaks volumes of Bill Bilichick and all of his previous Patriots teams. The one common denominator in all of those teams is Tom Brady. Brady is considered by many to be the best QB in NFL history. He knows how to win the big games and this year’s title game is no different. Of course there has to be some type of drama going into this type of game. There has been recent speculation regarding Tom Brady’s hand. Brady participated in his weekly media session when it was noticed that he was wearing a glove covering whatever injury he might have to his hand. Not to mention he was added to the injury report as questionable to play. At this point it is hard to determine whether this is a real injury or a strategic ploy to keep the Jags on their toes. Soon we will find out.
Players to Watch
Tom Brady vs Jags defense
Tom Brady will have a difficult matchup this weekend facing the 2nd ranked defense. This is an interesting matchup because the success for either team comes down to this player. If Brady gets on rhythm with his receivers, especially Gronk, then it will be tough for any defense to stop him. As usual, Patriots chances on advancing all depend on Tom Brady. What’s new right?
Gronk vs Jags Defense
Gronk will be going up against one of the fastest linebacker groups in the NFL. He will be facing off against the likes of Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and Paul Posluszny, meaning his yards won’t come easy. Gronk will have to remain patient for his opportunities and capitalize when they arrive.
Leonard Fournette vs Patriots defense
The Jags rookie running back has been a huge contributor for this team. Last week, he put his team up comfortably, scoring 2 touchdowns in the first quarter. If Fournette can replicate this success, it would make a winning recipe. The way to beat the Patriots this Sunday will come from playing great defense and running the ball effectively. Time of possession has to be dominated by the Jags, keeping Brady on the sidelines.
My heart tells me the Jacksonville Jaguars, but my mind tells me the New England Patriots. I think this game will be very close but Brady finds a way to win. Brady will be flustered in this game but a late game winning kick will advance them to Super Bowl 52. Patriots 27-24
Minnesota Vikings vs Philadelphia Eagles
This is an exciting and much anticipated game involving the top 2 seeds in the NFC. There are a lot of similarities between the Eagles and Vikings. Both have experienced much adversity on their journey to the NFC Championship game, starting with their Quarterbacks. The Eagles started the year with their star Quarterback, Carson Wentz but after a late season ending injury, the team is currently going through an adjustment period with the insertion of Nick Foles. In contrary, the Vikings have also dealt with Quarterback woes. The Vikings initial plan was to start QB, Sam Bradford until QB,Teddy Bridgewater was cleared to play, but their plan had to be adjusted when Sam Bradford got injured after one week. Case Keenum became the starting QB in week 2 and quickly gained the confidence of his peers. Throughout the whole year, Keenum has shown he has what it takes to be the team’s starting QB. Not many would have predicted Keenum to be the guy but he is a making a case (pun intended) for being the franchise quarterback.
Another similarity is defense. Both teams have a great defense that led to their success. Each team has a great defensive line that generates consistent pressure, great linebacker corps, and a ball-hawking secondary. Sunday’s game will be determined by the defense that forces more turnovers and gives their offense a short field.
Lastly, both teams have played in several Super Bowls (Eagles 2, Vikings 4) and haven’t managed to achieve a Super Bowl victory. The winner of Sunday’s NFC championship game will give one of these two teams a chance to finally win a Lombardi trophy.
Players to Watch
Nick Foles vs Vikings defense
Philadelphia’s success mainly comes down to the production of Nick Foles. Last week, Foles struggled with his accuracy, making me wonder if the playoffs jitters got to him or if he still hasn’t gained the necessary chemistry with his receivers. The Eagles have a good wide receiver group and the big plays will present themselves, they just need to be executed. If Foles can make those accurate throws, then the offense has a chance to go toe to toe with the Vikings.
Case Keenum vs Eagles defense
Case Keenum has surprised the hell out of me this year. I have been waiting for him to struggle and it seems like that day will never come. He has figured out the offense and has played well enough to win games for his team. If Keenum shows great poise in the pocket and forces the D-line to chase, he will make big plays.
Vikings defense vs Eagles defense
I am the most excited for this matchup. I am a huge fan of great defensive play and it will be on full display Sunday. Both defenses are great at pass rushing and both play extremely fast. Throughout history, defenses have been responsible for winning the Super Bowl. Here are the most memorable Super Bowl defensive performances of the last 17 years.
2001 Baltimore Ravens: beat the New York Giants 34-7
2003 Tampa Bay Buccanneers: beat the Oakland Raiders 48-21
2016: Denver Broncos: beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10
These 3 Super Bowl winning teams were led by their defense and subpar offense. All three were able to control the game by forcing turnovers, creating short fields and playing tough defense for 60 minutes. The point I am trying to make, is regardless of offensive success a team can still win by the strength of their defense.
This is the most difficult game to predict. I trust Minnesota’s offense way more than the Eagles at this point, but I think Foles will surprise us all and play better. The home crowd will greatly benefit the Eagles Defense and I believe they will have the most success. With that being said, Eagles win by great defensive play and just enough offense. Eagles 23-16
No matter the outcomes of Sunday’s championship games, we will be in for a great Super Bowl. We could have a new team representing the AFC, as well as a city hosting their home team in the Super Bowl. What makes the NFL must watch football is the unpredictability of its games.