We have finally gotten to the nitty gritty in both the AFC and NFC. With so much of this final four that we have before us the storylines are many, whether it be the quarterback lineup we’ll see, the quality defense we should expect or the threesome of teams who have had long absences from the championship round while the other has now been at least to the Conference Championship for seven consecutive seasons.
The average time away from this round for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles is a whopping 11.7 years with the most recent being the Vikings being there 8 years ago in 2009. Naturally, the Jaguars 18-year hiatus – if you want to be kind – is the longest by far as the Eagles were able to battle to make the Super Bowl in 2008.
While the lack of top-5 quarterbacks playing this weekend is simultaneously interesting and concerning, the defenses we’ll see will hopefully add a combination of keeping the games tight, while also sprinkling in some excitement. If we see a 13-10 game in either conference championship the chances are that the game was great to watch.
With Tom Brady still in the run towards the Super Bowl, the hope is exactly that, that the Jacksonville Jaguars defense will be able to negate what the Patriots can do to put points up with Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack along with their front-4 pushing the pocket. The Jaguars were second in the league allowing only 16.8 points per game and they’ll be facing the team who ranked second in the league in points scored at 28.6 per game.
This is very much a strength-on-strength matchup on one side and could very well be what decides the game. Conversely, the Jaguars’ offense will have to move the ball and put some points up against New England’s defense which was fifth, allowing only 18.5 points per game. If Blake Bortles can’t execute for 4 quarters in Foxboro it may very well get ugly in a hurry.
There’s little doubt that the Jaguars will be heavily dependent upon Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and their offensive line to eat the 30th ranked (yards per rush) Patriots run defense. Should be interesting.
As we look at the NFC Championship it will certainly be a very different matchup, and actually runs that risk of giving us a very low-scoring matchup and rocking us to sleep.
Which defense will make the biggest play, and when? That is almost certainly what decides this one. Both teams will have to make great use of their running game due to having Nick Foles and Case Keenum to challenge those opposing defenses, yet the Vikings and Eagles come in at 5th and 6th respectively in allowing rush yards per carry.
The Vikings have only given up six, 20-yard rushes (T-2nd) all season, so it appears the Eagles will need a big play out of their running game with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount.
With Foles coming in at a clip of 56.4%, the Eagles will absolutely will need to put some points up with their defense or will need to hand their offense some great field position to have a shot. Conversely with Keenum at 67.6%, a plus-3.1% touchdown-to-interception percentage differential and a sack percentage of 4.4%, I think he has the room to take some chances and possibly survive a mistake. He’s also getting 10.9 yards per catch from his receivers and has a nice little running game of his own to help him out.
Enjoy the Conference Championships, here are our Stampede Blue staff picks!
This week the following contributors voted on each game: Brett Mock, Matt Danely, Josh Hudgens, Stephen Reed, Faraz Majid, Chris Shepherd, Chris Blystone, Andrew Aziz, Jared Malott and Jake Arthur. Again, our group voted ‘winners’ which have been bolded, with the vote counts in parenthesis and unanimous predictions were noted by an asterisk (*).
Thus far the staff’s numbers are: Faraz Majid – 68/105 (64.8%) | Brett Mock – 162/251 (64.5%) | Chris Blystone – 136/219 (62.1%) | Matt Danely – 153/251 (61%) | Andrew Aziz – 150/236 (63.6%) | Jake Arthur – 146/223 (65.5%) | Jared Malott – 147/238 (61.1%) | Stephen Reed – 146/239 (61.1%) | Chris Shepherd – 142/238 (60%) | Josh Hudgens – 102/159 (64.2%)
Sunday @ 3:05 ET
Jaguars (6) @ Patriots | Contrarians: Matt Danely, Brett Mock, Stephen Reed & Josh Hudgens
Sunday @ 6:40 ET
Vikings (8) @ Eagles | Contrarians: Danely, Reed