Okay....like most of you, I'm totally sick of New England in "Big Game" after "Big Game", so if they fall to the Jags, I will actually be celebrating. I just doubt that it will happen. I could (and WILL) cheer for either team that wins in the NFC Championship game on February 4th.
Vegas odds right now: Vikings by 3 points, Patriots by 7.5 points.
The other experts we're citing here are from ESPN.
Have fun on Sunday. We'll be chowing down on Buffalo Wings at my house....
The Jaguars are 1-10 all-time against New England, including an 0-7 mark at Gillette Stadium. They're also 0-7 (including playoffs) against Tom Brady. However, the Jaguars have the kind of defense that has given Brady problems. They finished second in the NFL in sacks (55) and are able to get good pressure up the middle. DTMalik Jackson had a career-high 8.0 sacks this season and DECalais Campbell, who finished tied for second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks, moves inside to rush on third down and obvious passing situations. Getting pressure in Brady's face is important because, while he moves well in the pocket, he's not really going to escape pressure by scrambling outside. The Jaguars don't blitz much, either (their blitz rate of 18 percent was the lowest in the league). Being able to get pressure without blitzing Brady is important because Brady absolutely kills the blitz (109.1 passer rating, 160 TDs, 22 INTs since 2001 against the blitz in regular and postseason games). The Jaguars also have speed at linebacker in Telvin Smithand Myles Jackas well as two lockdown corners in Jalen Ramseyand A.J. Bouye, and that combination will make it tough for the Patriots' offense to go up and down the field. The Jaguars have to get another solid game out of QBBlake Bortles. He needs to do what he did against Buffalo and Pittsburgh: No turnovers, make some plays with his legs and complete some throws in critical moments. If the Jaguars get Leonard Fournetteand the run game going, this game will be closer than most expect.
The Patriots have a 159-15 record in the Bill Belichick era (2000-present) when they have a positive turnover differential, including a 16-0 mark in the playoffs. So if you're looking for one statistic that will determine the winner, that's a good place to start. The Patriots committed only 12 turnovers in the regular season (second fewest in the NFL) and didn't have any against the Titans in the divisional round, while the Jaguars' 33 takeaways ranked second in the NFL. So it's strength against strength, and now Tom Brady is managing an injury on his right throwing hand. The key for the Patriots will be protecting Brady on the interior, so left guardJoe Thuney, center David Andrewsand right guard Shaq Masonmust hold up against the Jaguars' impressive defensive front. If the Jaguars can get their running game going (the Patriots have been improved of late against the run after allowing an average of 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season), this game could be closer than advertised.
It took the Vikings longer this season than the Eagles to prove they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Now, here they are, one game away from the Super Bowl after surviving a near-death playoff experience against the Saints. Minnesota was built to overcome the loss of Sam Bradfordand Dalvin Cook, as well as countless injuries along the offensive line, and the acquisition ofCase Keenum in the offseason has played out as the most beneficial free-agency move across the league. Without Keenum, the Vikings don’t win eight consecutive games, notch six road victories or put themselves in a position to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. We knew Minnesota had a championship-caliber defense going into the year, and what it did as the season wore on was nothing shy of elite by closing out games when called upon and finishing No. 1 in yards and scoring for the first time since 1970. The Vikings have some conference title game woes they need to overcome this Sunday, having lost their past five appearances, three of which came by seven points or less. Pitting strength against strength, we get to see the best defenses in the league wreak havoc on the opposing offenses. Given how much the Vikings' offense has been able to endure and outlast the past five months, they’ll be the ones standing at the end.
The Eagles and Vikings were the best two teams in the NFC for the bulk of the season and mirror each other in multiple ways, from their crushing defenses, to their quality of coaching, to the fact that they're now being led by a pair of former Jeff Fisher castoffs at quarterback. The major difference is Minnesota enters the NFC title game with its identity intact -- Case Keenum first stepped in as its starter in Week 2 -- while the Eagles continue to adjust to life without budding star and MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Coach Doug Pederson deserves immense credit for getting his team to push through the adversity of losing Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14. The Eagles have won every meaningful game they've played since, including a 15-10 victory over theAtlanta Falcons in the divisional round to set up this matchup. Jim Schwartz's defense has made up for the slide in offensive production by tightening the screws, yielding 26 points total over the past three games. That defense -- backed by a frenzied, dog mask-wearing Philly crowd -- will give the Vikings all they can handle Sunday night. The concern lies on offense. The Vikings have the No. 1 overall defense in the league, and have a major advantage (on paper) in the matchup of Eagles left tackleHalapoulivaati Vaitai vs. edge rusherEverson Griffen (14 sacks). That's Foles' blind side. The veteran QB did enough in the second half against Atlanta to push the Eagles over the top, but has also had his share of shaky moments since he took over. He'll have to elevate his game in order to push the Eagles into the Super Bowl -- a tough ask against this caliber of defense.
Vikings 20, Eagles 16 --Tim McManus
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