We all saw how crazy these playoffs can be. If you didn’t, look no further than the end of the Vikings/Saints game last Sunday. Vikings fans everywhere are dubbing it the #MinneapolisMiracle, and for good reason.
If last week was any indication, Championship Sunday could prove to be the best weekend this NFL season. At least, we hope
With just two match ups left, and the winner of each earning a spot in Super Bowl LII in Minnesota, these games have major implications for all four remaining teams.
The 14-3 New England Patriots will host the 12-6 Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The game will begin at 2:05 pm (central time) on Sunday, Jan. 21 and will air on CBS.
In the AFC Championship, the #1 ranked New England Patriots will take on the #3 ranked Jacksonville Jaguars at home in Gillette Stadium. With a strong advantage in the playoffs, Tom Brady hopes to claim a spot in the Super Bowl for the second straight season. In their first playoff appearance in 10 years, Blake Bortles and the Jaguars will rely on their strong defense and rookie running back Leonard Fournette to beat the top team of the AFC.
Case for the Patriots:
The Pats have been one of the most consistently good NFL teams throughout my life. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a connection unlike any other duo in the league, and have uncanny ability to finish out games.
Just last season, the Patriots were down 28-3 to the Falcons in the biggest game of the season, Super Bowl LI. In one of the biggest comebacks in NFL Playoff history, they battled back and won 34-28 in the first ever Super Bowl to go to overtime.
Although it’s not the same exact team, this years Patriots still have Brady and Belichick. That might be enough to beat the Jaguars and move on. With a regular season record of 13-3, the Patriots will have to beat the stingy Jaguars defense if they hope to advance.
Brady comes into the weekend with a 32-8 TD-INT rate, but will have to make smart throws all game to keep the four pro-bowl bound Jaguars defenders on their toes. In addition to Brady, the Patriots have two 1,000 yard receivers this season, Gronkowski and Cooks, as well as a running back core that has rushed nearly 1,800 yards. They rank first in total yards per game and second in the NFL in points scored (28.6/game).
Making their seventh straight AFC Championship appearance, the Pats know how to win big games, and know what it takes to make their opponents beat them.
It won’t be easy. The Jaguars finished the regular season 10-6 and are the only team left in the playoffs that didn’t finish 13-3. It took a shootout, but the Jags came away with a win in Pittsburgh against Big Ben and one of the best offenses in the league. With the second best defense in the league, behind the Vikings, the Jaguars also have the best rush offense.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette, one of two rookies with 1,000+ rushing yards this season, will need a big game against the 12th worst rush defense in the league. Averaging 140 yards per game, the Jaguars will need to exceed that number against a defense that allows an average of just 114 yards on the ground per game.
Another major factor to consider is the quarterback match up. Granted, both QB’s won’t be on the field at the same time, but each playcaller will have to shine while they have possession.. Tom Brady has proven himself with 35 career playoff starts, including last week against the Titans, while Bortles has only two, both this season.
The best chance for the Jaguars to escape Foxborough with a win is to challenge Tom Brady and the Patriots receivers on every play. Sure, the defensive line is great, too. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are monsters for the team, as are linebackers Telvin Smith and Miles Jack. What really sets the Jaguars defense apart is the cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A. J. Bouye that 10 of the teams 21 INTS this season, good for second best in the league.
Smith will prove to be a tough match up for Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. Ramsey will cover the best receiver on the field, which will either be Gronkowski or Cooks, depending on the situation. The Jaguars will have to flex their stars in the biggest game of the season to beat Brady and prove to the world how good they are.
Tom Brady will throw for less 300 yards, 2 TD 2 INT against Ramsey and the star studded defense of the Jaguars. The Jaguars will hold a lead at halftime, led by Fournette. In an exciting finish, the Blake Bortles will have the ball for one last drive to prove himself. Either he will, or he won’t. I expect 100+ rushing yards and a TD from Fournette, 100+ receiving yards from Gronkowski and big defensive plays on both sides.