For the four teams that have made it this far, there is one ultimate goal remaining: get to the Super Bowl. While franchises such as Minnesota and Philadelphia have to be ecstatic that they have made it to the Conference Championship Round with two quarterbacks that have been backups throughout the majority of their careers, there is still the looming pressure of both teams reaching and finally winning their first Super Bowl. In fact, the only team remaining that has both been and won several Super Bowl Championships are the impressively consistent and dominant New England Patriots. Despite being 40 years of age, quarterback Tom Brady has been the consummate playmaker for a franchise that is devoid of an elite receiving talent to make acrobatic catches in clutch situations. With that being said, the defensive-minded Jacksonville Jaguars will look to rattle Brady relentlessly with a physically imposing pass rush and a shutdown secondary that will do everything in their power to blanket all of the Patriots prominent receivers. Which teams have what it takes to make it the Big Dance? Let’s find out.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots
Time: Sunday, 3:05 PM E.T.
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts
TV Channel: CBS
Despite relinquishing 42 points on the road to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round, the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to string together one big play after another en route to a shootout victory. Obviously, running back Leonard Fournette will be instrumental to the Jaguars success going forward as the physical rusher gashed the Steelers defensive front seven for three touchdowns and 109 rushing yards. Considering the Patriots allow 114.8 rushing yards per game (20th in the NFL), Jacksonville should be expected to relentlessly pound the football to wear down a Patriots defensive front that has been inconsistent this season. While the Jaguars are clearly hitting their stride offensively and have an elite defense to suppress most opposing offenses, they have not faced arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round, Brady looked every bit like the perennial MVP candidate that can make even the most pedestrian receivers look like All-Stars. On top of that, the Patriots have a plethora of versatile running backs in Dion Lewis (six rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns), James White (three receiving touchdowns) and Rex Burkhead (five rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns) that can be utilized in conjunction or separately from each other to confuse opposing defenses. Although it may seem like a fool’s errand to bet against Brady and the Patriots, the Jaguars actually have the defensive makeup and the methodical offense needed to limit Brady in the passing game while keeping him off the field. While playing and winning in Foxboro is never an easy task, the Jaguars have what it takes to pull off another tremendous upset to get to their first-ever Super Bowl.
Final Score: Jaguars 27 Patriots 26 Spread: New England -9.0
Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Time: Sunday, 6:40 PM E.T.
Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
TV Channel: FOX
Although many fans and pundits (including myself) expected Matt Ryan and Drew Brees to meet up in a showdown of veteran and accomplished passers, the exact opposite occurred as two quarterbacks that were backups at the start of the season have led their respective franchises to the Conference Championship Round of the NFL Playoffs. In the Minnesota Vikings last-second miracle victory over the New Orleans Saints, quarterback Case Keenum made some impressive albeit ill-advised throws at times to lead his team to victory over a Saints secondary that had been exceptional throughout most of the season. Of course, the Vikings pride themselves on being an elite defensive team across the board as they lead the league in points allowed per game (15.8) and are dominant at stopping both the passing (192.4 passing yards allowed per game, 2nd in the NFL) and rushing (83.6 rushing yards allowed per game, 2nd in the NFL) attacks of opposing offenses. For the resilient and gritty Philadelphia Eagles, it has been all about what they have done in the trenches on defense as they have stifled almost all of the overzealous rushers that they have faced this season (79.2 rushing yards per game, 1st in the NFL). However, quarterback Nick Foles has performed well enough in his limited starts this season to keep the Eagles competitive (completed 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards in the win over Atlanta), which will be of paramount importance when he has to contend with one of most opportunistic defenses in the NFL on Sunday. Although the Eagles old-school, grind out style of football has been refreshing to watch this season, the Vikings simply have a much more productive offense that will give them a slight edge on the road over a fearless Eagles defense.
Final Score: Vikings 20 Eagles 16 Spread: Minnesota -3.0