NFL Conference Championship Picks

Story posted January 19, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by DJ Bauer

NFL Game Picks: Conference Championships

We’re down to the final four. There are three games left to be played in the 2017 NFL season, and two of them will be played on Sunday. This year’s postseason has had some absolute gems so far, so let’s hope that trend continues going into the Conference Championships.

Let’s look at the two bouts to be held on Sunday:

No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) @ No. 1 New England Patriots (14-3)

What a unique matchup this is. At the start of the season, no one would have been surprised to see the Patriots back in the AFC title game. The same can’t be said for the Jaguars, who have certainly shocked the football world this year. The transition from 3-13 one year to possible AFC champion the next has to be one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history.

So how did we get here? New England’s route was about as “Patriot-esque” as it could get. After a somewhat surprising 2-2 start to the season, the Pats rolled along, winning 11 of their final 12 games to claim the AFC’s top spot. After a dominant victory in the divisional round over Tennessee, New England is back in the Conference Championship for the seventh year in a row: an NFL record. And no one’s surprised. The Bill Belichick-led Patriots have gone an unprecedented 26-9 in the postseason, Tom Brady is still slinging it at 40, Rob Gronkowski requires double coverage every play, etc. The 1970s Steelers and 1980s 49ers are two of the greatest dynasties of all time, but based on sheer longevity, the Patriots of the 21st century may be the greatest ever.

So how can any team stop an NFL powerhouse? The Jaguars might have the answer. Thanks in large part to excellent coaching and one of the most dominant defenses in recent history, Jacksonville has done a total 180. They’ve gone from NFL bottom-feeder to Super Bowl contender. And yet, this team doesn’t seem to earn the respect it deserves. Throughout the season and into the postseason, people have questioned if the Jaguars can keep the “act” up. Even the Steelers, who lost to the Jags at home in Week 5, had their minds on New England instead of Jacksonville, which ended up being a large factor in their downfall. This team is for real. They’ve beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice, and now they have their toughest challenge yet in New England.

The betting line has the Patriots as eight-point favorites, and this isn’t surprising, considering New England has had constant playoff success and the Jaguars are newbies to the big stage. But this game is no done deal. If anyone can stop Tom Brady and the Patriots, it’s the NFL’s top-rated defense. Of course, there are question marks to be addressed for both teams. Jacksonville let the Steelers’ offense put up 42 points. How will they fare against New England? Rumor has it that Tom Brady hurt his hand in practice. Will he be 100% in time for the game? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to watch the AFC Championship on Sunday afternoon. Believe it, folks. You won’t want to miss this one.

The pick: New England 30, Jacksonville 27.

No. 2 Minnesota Vikings (14-3) @ No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

Case Keenum vs. Nick Foles for a trip to the Super Bowl. Obviously, everybody saw this coming at the beginning of the season. This is the kind of matchup that shows just how different this season has been. Sure, the Patriots are the Patriots, but hardly anyone could have seen the Jaguars, Vikings, and Eagles were the other three teams still playing two weeks before the finale.

The result of this game aside, this has been a magical season for Philadelphia. Doug Pederson’s coaching has clicked in the City of Brotherly Love, and there’s no doubt that the players have stepped up too. Before the season-ending injury, Carson Wentz was playing like an MVP. Nelson Agholor’s career was looking like a bust until this season. The defense, particularly the pass rush, has been an absolute terror for opposing offenses. Even as underdogs, the Eagles found a way to win with Nick Foles under center against Atlanta last week. The Eagles are looking like the betting underdogs once again for the Conference Championship game, and with the team encouraging fans to wear dog masks like the one Lane Johnson wore after last week’s win, expect Lincoln Financial Field to be a little weird this Sunday.

Then there’s the Vikings, who refuse to quit. After all, hope seemed lost against New Orleans last Sunday, Minnesota ended the game in dramatic fashion with a 61-yard touchdown, which will likely be replayed over and over and over again. But Minnesota’s success does not boil down to one lucky play. All year long, Mike Zimmer’s squad has been among the NFL’s best. Players who were previously no-names, namely Case Keenum, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, have made this offense roar. The defense has been just as good and maybe even more so. When shut down corner Xavier Rhodes, pass rush extraordinaire Everson Griffen and top 10 defender Harrison Smith are on the team, that doesn’t come as a surprise.

So, who comes out on top? Just like with the earlier game, there are questions for both teams to answer. Nick Foles and the offense only got 15 on the board against Atlanta. Will they be able to do better against the Vikings? Case Keenum had a solid season under pressure but posted a concerning 5.1 passer rating last week when he felt the heat. How will he adapt to the fearsome Philly pass rush? Make a date for your TV this weekend. We’ve got two gems on the schedule to decide who’ll be playing in Super Bowl LII.

The pick: Minnesota 22, Philadelphia 20.

 

DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email metakoopa99@gmail.com.