The stage has been set for some of the most talented teams in football to compete in the Conference Championship. They devoted over 1,500 hours, or six days a week from August to January, to train for a shot at an appearance in Super Bowl LII. The postseason isn’t just an extension of the regular season, it’s what teams grind for all season. In the playoffs fans and players are shrouded by the fear that there might not be another week to play. One mistake could end a season. It’s go big or go home. Fans and their teams mesh together to create an electric atmosphere, all equally knowing what is at stake. Regular season stats are thrown out of the window. When faced with a win or go home situation adrenaline takes over, causing players to dig deeper than ever.
We have seen a multitude of spectacular moments already in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Patriots will appear in their seventh consecutive AFC Championship game and are searching for their sixth Super Bowl ring. Their opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have shocked the league by steamrolling their way deep into the playoffs after several failed seasons. In the NFC the Vikings and Eagles will square off after both securing late fourth quarter wins last weekend. Unfortunately, two teams must go home after this Sunday. This guide includes tips for betting on this weekend’s NFL championship games. These are the match-ups that we will be talking about all week:
AFC Championship: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
For the past five seasons the Jaguars were a laughing stock in the NFL. From 2012 to 2016 they failed to eclipse five wins on the season. However this year the Jaguars were on a mission. They finished with a winning record for the first time since 2007; coincidentally the last time the team appeared in the playoffs. In a low-scoring affair the Jags were able to survive the Bills, winning 10-3 in the Wild Card round. Critics scoffed at the idea that they would surpass the Divisional game in Pittsburgh. Their low offensive output in the first round of the playoffs was deemed futile against one of the AFC’s premier squads.
Everyone doubted the Jaguars except for themselves. The Steelers spent the week preparing for the Patriots rather than their current opponent. They seemed to forget that the Jaguars’ defense had a field day on Ben Roethlisberger back in Week Five, where he was picked five times. Last weekend “Sacksonville” was able to secure a 45-42 upset victory over the Steelers behind their running back corps’ four scores. The Jags’ defensive nightmare that they create for offenses is always something to worry about.
The Patriots played exemplary football so far in the postseason. They are held to high expectations because they are always able to ascertain them. It’s always hard to figure out what the Patriots are planning going into each match-up. They have the offensive weapons to pick apart any defense. Interestingly enough Tom Brady is the only quarterback left in the playoffs who has won a Super Bowl ring. The Patriots have the poise and experience to make another deep playoff run.
What is the most admirable about them is that Bill Belichick can remove a vital player on the opposing team from the game. Consequently this always makes the opponent squirm and eventually sputter out as the Pats skirt on by for a win. That was the case for their Divisional game last weekend against the Titans. Running the football is the basis of the Titans’ offense, and without Demarco Murray the running back corps was slim. Play after play Derrick Henry slammed into a wall of defenders and was only able to pick up twenty-eight yards against the Patriots. On the other side of the field Tom Brady outplayed Titans defenders through the air. The Patriots sailed to an easy 35-14 victory.
The Patriots will have their work cut out for them against Jacksonville’s stingy defense. The key to keep them afloat is for their offensive line to have a repeat of last weekend. Against the Titans the o-line didn’t allow Brady to be sacked once. On the other side Blake Bortles is always unpredictable and Leornard Fournette has been a huge cog for the Jags’ offense. They must strike early and keep Brady off the field as often as possible to pull out a win. The first defense to break down will dictate who will win the AFC Championship.
Prediction: 27-17 Patriots
NFC Championship: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
The Vikings quietly had one of the best seasons in the league this year. Their defense was phenomenal behind Pro Bowlers Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, and Anthony Barr. Also, despite all odds and injuries suffered on offense the Vikes were able to get to where they are today. The loss of rookie Dalvin Cook caused the run game to take a hit, but since then balanced out. Teddy Bridgewater, the team’s original starter, sat out with a brutal knee injury for one and a half seasons. His place was taken over by the man with the hot hand: Case Keenum. Keenum went from the bench in Los Angeles at the end of last season to a strong MVP candidate in Minnesota. Teams wrote him off but his leadership brought the Vikings to the conference championship for the first time since 2009.
In an insane chain of events the Vikings came out on top over the Saints 29-24 on the final play of the Divisional game. A last play touchdown by Stefon Diggs is now regarded as the Minneapolis Miracle.
The Eagles were the team to beat for the majority of the regular season. Their year was going perfectly up until when the injury bug took away their star quarterback (and probable MVP) Carson Wentz. Since then there has been a little turbulence for the Eagles since Nick Foles took the helm. The Eagles locked up the number one seed in the NFC despite losing Wentz, yet things felt different. The once dangerous offense the Eagles possessed became mundane. Those strikes down the middle of the field for huge gains became less common. Nick Foles has done what’s in his power to lead the Eagles through the playoffs, but their offense is not as dangerous as they once were weeks ago. Home field advantage has been a saving grace for the team.
The Eagles’ Divisional match up against the Falcons was a physical defensive bout. Though the Eagles failed to score a touchdown against the Falcons they snuck by with a 15-10 win. All credit for the victory goes to the defense, who shut down Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones.
The Eagles’ defense will be a huge test for Case Keenum and the Vikings. On the flip-side, the Eagles will have to put their running game into high gear to jump-start the offense. The key for this match-up will lie in the trenches. Foles will need a scapegoat to open up his passing game. Jay Ajayi also has to be a prime performer to make a dent in the Vikings’ defense. However Minnesota is one win away from being the first team to play in a Super Bowl that they are hosting, and they are going to fire on all cylinders.
Prediction: 20-14 Vikings
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Cover photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg/NFL.