NFL Conference Championship Game Picks
3:05pm EST on CBS – Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots; Line: Pats by 8.5
How they got here: The American Football Conference Championship game features the top seeded Patriots who won the AFC East and enter the game 14-3 hosting the 3rd seeded Jaguars who won the AFC South and are 12-6 on the year.
QB facts: Tom Brady has never lost to the Jaguars franchise in 7 starts (5 regular season, 2 playoffs). Bortles is 0-1 against New England as a starter taking the L in his second NFL season back in September of 2015.
Chris’s pick: This is easily the best game of the weekend, and I believe that’s because this reminds me of Tom Brady versus the Ravens. We’ve seen that match-up before, and I think this Jacksonville team has “it.” That elusive “thing” that just causes problems for opposing teams no matter who is running the show. I do think Joe Flacco is a better quarterback than Blake Bortles, but I heard an interesting interview with Bortles the other day on the radio and his candid responses as to what’s going to happen this off-season were refreshing from a guy who’s faced such disparaging scrutiny. His calm this season and in that interview reveals something special about the guy’s character, and I think he’s going to be looking to either win this game or go out with a bang. Brady has played exceptionally this year, especially at 40 years-young, but he’s been more than human against tough defense like the Ravens of yesteryear and the Denver Broncos not too long ago. Patriots 21, Jaguars 24.
Brad’s pick: I’ve thought a lot this week about reasons to select the Jags to continue their improbable run because finding reasons to pick the Pats is simple: Belichick over Marrone, Brady over Bortles, experience over youth, home over road, etc. Besides the unseasonably warm weather expected in Boston on Sunday, I came across one thing this week that gave me hope for a Jacksonville upset: Colin Cowherd talking about how Tom Coughlin is the most underrated person in NFL history. Coughlin did some impressive things the first time around with Jacksonville, even more during a lengthy tenure as the head coach of the Giants, and then here again in his current Jacksonville incarnation. As much as I would love to side with the man who has twice been standing on the opposing sideline as the Super Bowl clock ran out on Belichick and Brady, I just don’t see this one playing out that way. Unless by some miracle Tom Brady’s hand keeps him on the bench Sunday, I think New England will show up prepared, execute well, and advance to its second straight Super Bowl. Patriots 31, Jaguars 21
6:40pm EST on Fox – Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles; Line: Vikes by 3
How they got here: The National Football Conference Championship game features the top seeded Eagles who won the NFC East and enter the game 14-3 hosting the 2nd seeded Vikings who won the NFC North and are also 14-3 on the year.
QB facts: The starting quarterbacks, Case Keenum and Nick Foles, were both backups when the season began and were teammates on the St. Louis Rams in 2015.
Chris’s pick: I absolutely hate this. I will start this off by saying as a Packers fan I want the Vikings to lose. It would be great if they lost in spectacular fashion with a massive mistake, similar to how the Saints lost last week. I’d feed off that anguish for at least a month! With that said, I don’t see it. It’s one thing for Nick Foles to survive against an up and down Falcons offense that just hasn’t been reliable all year, but I don’t see him coming alive against a defense this tough. About the only thing I like about the Vikings is Case Keenum and I hope after he wipes the floor with the Eagles he gets an opportunity to play for a contending team next year. If the Vikings are smart, they’ll choose Keenum to be their future QB, but no one’s ever accused them of getting it right at that position. Vikings 28, Eagles 17.
Brad’s pick: In the run up to this game, highlighting the similarities is a natural analytical approach. Each squad boast a stout defense, likes to run the ball, and has been rolling with its QB2 for awhile now. Speaking of the two former teammates who entered the league a year apart, a peek at their career numbers shows some surprising similarities as well. Keenum is a career 61.9% passer with a QB rating of 86.0 while Foles goes 60.1% and 87.4 by those same metrics. The major difference I see is that while Foles’ had his best season back in 2013 with the Chip Kelly version of the Eagles, Keenum is IN his best season as a pro. Keenum will make his 17th straight start on Sunday as Foles will be making his 5th straight and I expect the difference in comfort level to be on display. There are bright days ahead for Philadelphia under Doug Pederson, but Mike Zimmer is an NFL lifer who is making good on a long-awaited head coaching gig. I think Minnesota wins this road game in order to get a Super Bowl home game. Vikings 24, Eagles 17