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Conference Championships Preview

We only have three more tru-football games left this season. Let’s enjoy them. The Conference Championships are on Sunday and should be great matchups. Three of the four teams have never won the Super Bowl and one team (Jacksonville) has never been to a Super Bowl. The Patriots have won 5 Super Bowls and been to 7 AFC Championships in a row. The last 2 Super Bowl Patriot wins (2014 and 2016 seasons) were led by soon to be new Lions head coach Matt Patricia. Let’s take a look who will move on to the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville at New England 3:05 PM CBS

The Jaguars won the AFC South and beat the Bills 10-3 in the Wild Card Round. Jacksonville won a crazy game due to many turnovers forced (hint they are good at that) and beat Pittsburgh in the Steel City 45-42. The Jaguars will have their hands full with the Patriots led by probable Sith Lord Bill Belichick.

Brady has a 102 rating on the year but hurt his throwing hand. He didn’t practice Thursday and may have to wear a glove. I look forward to seeing how Brady deals with it after Stafford had two playoff runs dealing with a similar hand injury. The Patriots crushed the Titans 35-14 and will be tough to beat at home.

Jacksonville has a great defense (2nd allowing 16.8 PPG) to handle the Patriots offense (2nd PPG at 28.6). Jacksonville forced 33 turnovers which was 2nd in the league and big in the win over the Steelers. Sacksonville had 55 sacks for 2nd in the league. This is a menacing defense with a lot of playmakers. Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks), Yannick Nkagoue (12 sacks), Malik Jackson (8 sacks), Donte Fowler (8 sacks) provide a fearsome rush. Marcel Dareus and Arby Jones are solid DTs as well.

Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Barry Church, Taj Gibson and Aaron Colvin make a very good secondary. Gibson is dealing with an injury but otherwise the Jaguars are healthy on defense. Miles Jack and Telvin Smith are playmaking linebackers and Paul Posluzney is a solid Mike. Jacksonville’s defense is very stacked and ready to shock the world.

The Patriots offense flat out knows how to beat people with short smart passes. However, if Brady is banged up, it makes life a little easier for a menacing defense. The Patriots run at 4.2 YPC led by Dion Lewis at 5.0 YPC on 180 carries. Lewis and James White are both receiving threats as well. OC Josh McDaniels and Brady know how to break down good defenses.

The key will be protection from the Patriots offensive line. If they can limit the Jaguars front 4 rush, the Patriots can pick apart Jacksonville with short passes and finding Gronkowski. Gronkowksi and Brandin Cooks both had over 1,000 yards on the season with 8 and 7 TDs respectively. Amendola added 659 yards filling in for the injured Edelman all year and Chris Hogan was a playoff hero last year.

Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Cameron Fleming (for the injured Marcus Cannon) will need a great game to stop the Jaguars rush. If they can do that, the Patriots will score plenty of points as usual.

The Jaguars offense is their downfield despite scoring plenty last week in Pittsburgh. They were limited to 10 by Buffalo and Bortles only has an 81 QB rating with 21 TDs and 13 interceptions. The Patriots defense started very slow and has some injuries (Donta’ Hightower, Shea McClellin, nickel back Cyrus Jones, rookie Derek Rivers) but has gotten much better as the year went on. The DVOA is poor but the Patriots are 5th best allowing only 18.5 PPG with solid defense and a ball control offense. New England has a lot more experience and should be able to easily break down the Jaguars offense and force Bortles into turnovers.

Rookie Leonard Fournette is a beast with 1,040 yards and 9 TDS but only had 3.9 YPC. Chris Ivory struggled at 3.4 YPC but Bortles has some wheels for scrambles if needed. Jacksonville is low on weapons after the early injury to Allen Robinson (IR). Allen Hurns, Marquise Lee, Dede Westbrook, TE Mercedes Lewis and deep threat Keelan Cole must step up for Borltes and make plays with separation.

Malcom Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon is a good secondary that can blanket the Jaguars mediocre weapons. Malcom Brown (DT), Trey Flowers (6.5 sacks), Lawrence Guy, rookie Deatrich Wise (5 sacks), Marquise Flowers, and Eric Lee have somehow generated enough pass rush. David Harris, Elandon Roberts (ILB) and Kyle Van Noy (5.5 sacks) must step up their game at LB to avoid short completions from Jacksonville.

This defense keeps the points low with the help from the offense. They might not get the ball control offensive help in this game. Jacksonville’s offense actually has a chance for success.

This feels like Davis versus Goliath but Jacksonville has the defense to win this game. They shock the world and go to their first Super Bowl by generating turnovers on Brady’s injured hand. Jacksonville wins 27-21.

Vikings at Eagles 6:40 PM ET FOX

The Eagles and Vikings fight to get back to the Super Bowl. Both teams have very good defenses and backups playing at QB. The Vikings somehow beat the Saints with a miracle play to Stefon Diggs and the Eagles had a goal line stand (Jones drop) that helped them beat the Falcons in the divisional round. This should be a great defensive game.

Philadelphia is 3rd scoring 28.6 PPG but a lot of that had to do with Carson Wentz. Nick Foles had only a 79 rating on the year once Carson Wentz (101.9) went down with injury against the Rams. Foles up his game with a 100 rating against the Falcons last week. Foles faces a huge test against a very good Vikings defense. Minnesota is 1st in the league allowing only 15.8 PPG and are very healthy on defense.

Everson Griffen (13 sacks) sets the tone but Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson, Linval Joseph and Brian Robison can provide some consistent pass rush. Anthony Barr and Erik Kendricks are dangerous blitzers in Mike Zimmer’s defense too. The Eagles are strong on the offensive line with Jason Kelce at center, Brandon Brooks at right guard and Lane Johnson at right tackle. The left side is a little more vulnerable with Stephen Wisniewski at left guard and backup left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai filling in for the injured Jason Peters. Griffen could feast on Vaitai in this game.

Alshon Jeffrey (789 yards and 9 TDs) is a Vikings killer at WR and Zach Ertz is a dangerous tight end (824 yards and 8 TDs). Nelson Algolhor blossomed into a deep threat this season with 768 yards and 8 TDs as well. Torrey Smith is another deep threat but the Eagles receiving RBs are hurt in Darren Sproles and rookie Donnel Pumphrey. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terrence Newman, Mackensie Alexander, Harrison Smith and Andrew Senedjo will have their hands full with the Eagles weapons. Kendricks and Barr must limit Ertz as a key to the game.

Eagles are 4th in Defensive PPG allowing 18.4 on the year but the Vikings are 10th in PPG led by Case Keenum (98 QB rating). Keenum somehow played really well in Pat Shurmur’s offense and the Vikings got better run game and protection than many years past.

Riley Reiff, Jeremiah Sirles (for injured Nick Easton), rookie Pat Efflein, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers has been a solid offensive line this year. They will have their hands very full with the Eagles pass rush. Brandon Graham (9.5 sacks), Fletcher Cox, (5.5 sacks) Chris Long (5 sacks), Vinny Curry and rookie Derek Barnett (5.0 sacks) bring a consistent pass rush. If they rattle Keenum, expect some turnovers which will aid the Eagles and Foles.

Jalen Mills, Ron Darby, rookie Rasul Douglas and Patrick Robinson have played really well for DC Jim Schwartz this season. Mills is battling an injury that should be monitored. Malcom Jenkins and Rodney McLeod is a great safety tandem and Corey Graham has filled in well in big nickel moving to safety. The Eagles secondary has the talent to cover Thielen (1,276 yards and 4 TDs), Diggs (849 yards and 8 TDs), Rudolph (523 yards and 8 TDs) and Treadwell (200 yards). Jerrick McKinnon is a receiving threat at RB as well. Michal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham have cover skills with Jordan Hicks on IR.

The Vikings run the ball at 3.9 YPC but the Eagles only 3.8 YPC. Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon are solid but the Eagles are stout. Rookie Dalvin Cook missing has hurt the Vikings run game. The Vikings are very stout as well allowing 3.7 YPC but LeGarrett Blount has had success this year at 4.4 YPC. Jay Ajayi came over in a mid-season trade but has 5.8 YPC on 70 carries for the Eagles. The Eagles have a dangerous rushing combination to test the stout Vikings rush defenses led by Linval Joseph.

This is a very even matchup but the Vikings offense is better with Keenum over the Eagles with Foles and the Vikings defense is a little better as well. The Eagles are at home though which could give them momentum. It should be a great game. Vikings win 23-20. *Vikings horn sounds or was that Shooter?