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NFL Conference Championship weekend preview and picks

NFL Conference Championship preview

We can only hope the NFL’s Conference Championship weekend is half as competitive as last weekend was. Three of the four games were nail biters, which made for some strange results in terms of predictions.

As has been the case throughout the postseason, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. You can see last week’s picks here.

Last week: 1-3, 3-1 against the spread.

Postseason totals: 4-4, 5-3 against the spread.

Jaguars at Patriots

Three teams have gone into New England and won a playoff game in the Brady-Belichick era, two Ravens teams led by John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco and one of Rex Ryan’s Jets teams. All these teams had one thing in common: They ran the ball and were very good on defense.

With the top ranked rushing offense and a sack happy defense that has dominated all year long, Jacksonville certainly fits that bill. This will not be a simple coronation for the Patriots. Just because the Jaguars approach to winning games is fairly bland does not mean they do not deserve to be here.

That defense will keep this interesting for four quarters. However, there are three pieces of insurmountable bad news for the underdogs. First, Blake Bortles is still their quarterback. Second, Tom Brady is the opposing quarterback. Finally, Bill Belichick is not going to run 15-yard pass plays on 4th and 1 or run an onside kick with two timeouts and more than two minutes left like Pittsburgh did last week.

One of the biggest yet simplest reasons New England has been so good for so long is they never make in game strategy calls that leave even casual fans scratching their heads in the moment. As good as they are, the Jaguars needed a lot of help to outscore the Steelers last week. New England will not be so generous this week.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-9) NE 31 Jac 20

Vikings at Eagles

Something has to give here. These two teams have mastered the art of the playoff choke job over the years. Now one of them is going to the Super Bowl.

At this point in this season, these teams are going about winning games the same way. They both rely on their great defenses to make up for limitations at quarterback. Make no mistake, Case Keenum and Nick Foles have limitations.

Foles only threw for 246 yards last week against Atlanta. However, he did not make a big mistake that crippled the team. When you have a defense that is capable of holding what was a hot Falcons offense to just 10 points, that formula is good enough.

NFL Conference Championship preview
Photo from espn.com

Keenum tried to make that crippling mistake with his late third quarter interception that sparked the Saints comeback last week. However, he and the Vikings were bailed out by a miracle finish that was more blind luck than anything else. There is no shame in that. Every Super Bowl champion there has ever been has required some degree of luck.

What this game comes down to is both teams will try to run the ball. It is hard to imagine either having much success against two of the best front sevens in football. So which average quarterback will do a better job of getting the ball to their playmaking pass catchers?

Well, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each caught over 60 balls in the regular season and accounted for several of Minnesota’s 10 third down conversions last week. Meanwhile, the Eagles pass catchers have virtually disappeared since Carson Wentz went out. Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery had seven catches combined last week. They need to have somewhere around seven catches each should Philadelphia struggle on the ground in this one.

Moreover, if there is a weak spot on either defense, it is the Philadelphia secondary. They got torched by the lowly Giants twice this year.  There is no reason Diggs and Thielen should not carry their team to a home Super Bowl.

Winner: Minnesota

Good bet: Vikings (-3) Min 23 Phi 17

 

Featured image from chatsports.com

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