Following a very intense Divisional round, in this 2018 NFL Playoffs, upsets and nail biters seemed to be the recurring theme as professional football was at its finest display last weekend. Now, the Conference Championship round is upon us as teams will fight to secure a spot to play in Super Bowl 52, come February 4th. Only four teams remain; three of which have starting quarterbacks that most would have never expected them to reach this far ever in their careers, the other one being perhaps the greatest to have ever graced the game. The nation will be watching as football fans everywhere will be expecting a treat as players will go duke it out in order to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive.
NFC Championship Match @ Lincoln Financial Field
With perhaps the most well rounded unit all season long, the Vikings No. 1 defense will be Nick Foles and the Eagles offense’s greatest match yet. With a total of three Pro Bowl defensive studs of defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a fast tempo style of play that can get the job done on both the air and ground is to be expected. Skol, Vikings will be sung by fans far and wide as they hope their defense can continue to dominate and make it past this final hump; all in hopes of becoming the first team to ever host and play in the same Super Bowl. However, defense alone won’t be enough this late in the playoffs, but that’s definitely not an issue for Case Keenum and company.
X-Factor: Vikings Receivers
Speaking of Pro Bowlers, wide receiver Adam Thielen also made such a coveted list and rightfully so. Running routes flawlessly almost all year and being able to beat man to man coverage against practically any cornerback in the league; this was truly Thielen’s breakout year. At 6’3” and 201 pounds, Case Keenum will look often towards his WR1’s way. And where will he look otherwise? Oh yeah, at his just as elite second option of Stefon Diggs or tight end red-zone target Kyle Rudolph. Buckle up Eagles secondary, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The primary reason the game venue was even listed in this section for the NFC Championship game was for exactly this: Eagles fans; more specifically, the near impossibility of performing well in the hostile environment known as Lincoln Financial Field. With freezing cold temperatures, very powerful wind speeds, and a horde of deafening fans, the Eagles have managed a 9-1 record at home all season long. Arguably, Philadelphia’s defense is perhaps one of the few teams that can even be compared toe to toe with the Vikings. The only difference, however, being that the Eagles boast the best defensive line in the league. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett…this list that spans into a very deep depth chart seems almost endless. This roster truly feels almost larger than life, and Case Keenum will surely be in for a rude awakening if he thinks he’ll get away with half of the stuff he’s been able to do to other opposing defenses. Although this is shaping out to be a defensive battle on both ends of the field, the Eagles will also look to their offense for early on and continued success.
X-Factor: Eagles Running Backs
Planning on stopping a speedy and powerful Jay “Train” Ajayi then attempting to halt a 6’0” 250 lbs. LeGarrette Blount on short yardage/red-zone plays? Good luck with that. Since Ajayi’s trade deadline week addition, this dominant duo has been bruising defenses left and right. Their roles recently picked up substantially, due to an unfortunate halt on Wentz’s MVP-like season, and so far fans have been impressed. In order for the Eagles offense to even succeed against a stout Vikings rush defense, head coach Doug Pederson will have to continue his unpredictable play calling abilities whilst allowing both Ajayi and Blount to move the chains early on.
The Eagles make use of their home-field advantage and upset an elite Vikings side…Eagles win 20-17.
AFC Championship Match @ Gillette Stadium
After losing star wide receiver Allen Robinson early on in the season to injury, many critics and fans alike looked at this Jaguars offensive depth chart and couldn’t find much to be excited about. Then, Blake Bortles happened. Sure he didn’t have much of an extraordinary or standout season, yet, he got the job done week in and week out, and that can’t be said about the majority of starting quarterbacks in the league so props to him. Oh, and don’t forget about Leonard Fournette, because he’s been able to embarrass defenders and leave them in the dust all season long; e.g. the unprepared Steelers defense at home who allowed 45 total points. However, this offense still isn’t the signature piece that symbolizes its underdog mentality in the face of adversity. It’s the defensive secondary in the face of Tom Brady’s receivers.
X-Factor: Jaguars Cornerbacks
Here’s a scenario: who do you throw to when your playmakers are being covered by two Pro Bowl cornerbacks? Even if you’re quarterback’s name is Tom Brady, teams will have to game plan for several years to come if the names A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are lined up on the opposite side. These two have stood face to face with the best of the best, and have still come out on top. Up to now, Ramsey and Bouye have combined for a whopping 11 interceptions this year. Considering they’ve also proven that they’re clutch when it counts the most, kind of like that game ending clutch during the Wild Card matchup versus the Bills, it’s probably best for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to pay extra attention and second guess that deep throw option.
New England Patriots
Many things can be said about the Patriots, you could love them or hate them, but wow; 7 straight AFC Championship game appearances, really? Well when you have the greatest of all time Tom Brady playing for you, success is almost expected at this point. Playing still at age 40, Brady has returned with a star receiving corps and plans on shutting the door on the Jaguars’ playoff hopes. With Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and his favorite target Rob Gronkowski, Brady will have to fling the pigskin fast and true across the field if he wants to get it past Jacksonville without taking a sack. Or maybe he’ll just check it down to his team’s X Factor, the New England backfield.
X-Factor: Patriots Backfield
Normally one would refer to the backfield as just a team’s running backs. However, considering how unorthodox Belichick manages backfield rotations, it just might be enough to catch the Jaguars off guard. With Dion Lewis running downing the middle, Rex Burkhead catching out the backfield, and James White lining up wide, this particular Patriots unit is both surprising and successful. Don’t forget about fullback James Develin either, as he’s been able to block pretty much anyone when it comes to goal line situations. Ultimately, this game will be a fun one to watch as a crafty offense goes up against a convincing defense. One will end up on top, but the real weekend winners here are the lucky NFL fans who get to watch.
Tom Brady throws for 3 touchdowns and the Patriots return to the holy grail of football games…Patriots win 21-10.