Alright, only three more games of football remaining in this NFL season, and two of them come on Sunday. Let’s break into the Conference Championship matchups.
Jacksonville Jaguars (#3) @ New England Patriots (#1)
Sunday, January 21 – CBS
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Back around week 5 I said there was only one team in the NFL that I thought could stop the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl: the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here we are at the AFC championship and it feels like that declaration may be all too real. Here are the key things to look for in this game:
Brady’s goddamned thumb
We made a joke that got a lot of groans on Social Media, but I meant the question: has this gotten out of hand? Two weeks ago we were talking about the demise of the Patriots due to infighting. Now we’re wondering if the greatest quarterback to play the game is going to take the field because of an injury sustained in practice. An injury that has caused wild speculation due to an entirely tight-lipped organization. I have heard (from sources within the organization, mind you) everything from “he dislocated his thumb and can’t even close his hand,” to, “he’s fine and the Pats are just spreading misinformation.”
The true answer seems to be that Tom Brady caught his hand on an unnamed player’s helmet (HOW?! Tom has the ultimate “hands off” policy in practice. Did an RB trip and fall into him?) and it caused a cut deep enough to require four stitches. Not a bad injury, annoying I’m sure, but playable. However the worse the Pats make it seem, the more the Jaguars have to gameplan accordingly. It’s a smart, if smug and obnoxious, move by the Patriots. Tom Brady plays this game, I have no doubt.
Can the Jags Defense shut down Tom Brady?
People have been making excuses for the Jags all year. They bring up that their strength of schedule was ranked 31st this year. They lost to the Titans. TWICE. They got carved up by Jimmy G and the 49ers. Sure, those are all fair points. They also walked into Heinz twice and punched the Steelers in the mouth. They eradicated opponents all year, and are not a team to be trifled with. They have their issues, as does every time, the biggest one seeming to be inexperience. Well they are playing like they don’t care about your thoughts on their age. If the Jags can do to the Patriots what they did to the Steelers last week, I think the Pats coaching can still pull it out, but damn if it doesn’t make me nervous.
Bortles is the X factor for the game. We already know about the Jags D and the running attack of Fournette, but which Blake Bortles will show up. It has been the tale of two Bortles this postseason. He looked terrible against the Bills, throwing under 100 yards and and missing almost half of his throws and looked just average against the Steelers, enough to lead his team to 38 offensive points.
The Patriots are most likely to stuff the box with 8+ players, and have a spy on Bortles, to stop the run. They are going to force Bortles to beat them with his arm. If Bortles proves to be a threat in this game, it’ll ease some of the traffic for the running game. With the talent on the offensive side of the ball, a balanced attack against the Patriots could be enough to send them to the Super Bowl. But, you’re asking for Bortles, who’s never played in this kind of atmosphere, to almost move mountains against a coaching staff that will be much more prepared than the Steelers were last week.
Minnesota Vikings (#2) @ Philadelphia Eagles (#1)
Sunday, January 21 – FOX
Who thought, in 2015, that two of Jeff Fishers back up quarterbacks would be playing in this year’s NFC Championship teams? Probably neither of these of their coaches, as both Case Keenum for the Vikings and Nick Foles for the Eagles both started out as back ups this season.
Inexperience will be a huge factor for both quarterbacks as they go up against two of the top 5 Defenses in the league. The Eagles pretty much such down last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan, and held the highly talented Falcon offense to just 10 points. Drew Brees was picked off twice by the Vikings and made him look pretty obsolete in the first half of that game. It may come down to which quarterback can hold onto the ball and make the least mistakes.
Keenum’s supporting cast, with the likes of Justin McKinnon, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Theilen, gives him the edge over Foles. He has looked consistent since taking over for the Vikings toward the beginning of the season. Foles is late to the party, with Carson Wentz doing most of the heavy lifting for this Eagles team. Both quarterbacks will have a huge influence on this game.
Is It Destiny?
No team who’s city is hosting the Super Bowl has ever made it to the NFC Championship , let alone the Super Bowl. With just a handful of seconds left, it looked like Minnesota was going to continue that trend….
…until a miracle happened.
It took the first ever walk off touchdown in regulation in a playoff game for the Vikings to advance to the NFC Championship game. Even Diggs, the hero at hand, couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Are the Vikings the chosen team this year? Fortune has appeared to be on their side for a majority of the season, from Case Keenum playing lights out to last week’s big play. What does Lady Luck have in store for Miennsota this week?
Both teams have performed elaborate celebrations throughout the season. The Eagles Defense boogied down to a flawless rendition of the Electric Slide and the Vikings offense introduced the world to the “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck.” This also had one of my personal favorites, where they reenacted a Thanksgiving dinner during their Thanksgiving game against the Lions.
With the magnitude of the game, the celebrations are bound to be epic. The team that ends up celebrating the most will be punching their ticket to the Super Bowl.