PHOENIX, January 20, 2017 — In “Empire Strikes Back,” Darth Vader took Luke Skywalker and hacked his hand off. In New England, the Evil Empire of Football saw quarterback Tom Brady get his thumb gashed in practice. A Jedi can wield a lightsaber in either hand. A Conference Title quarterback has only one throwing hand.
Brady is listed as questionable, but the entire football world knows he will play this Sunday. There are three other teams who have never won a Super Bowl, but the Patriots will get all of the attention unless they are knocked off.
Minnesota Vikings Minneapolis Miracle sets the pace
The Minnesota Vikings have lost four Super Bowls and suffered agonizing defeats in 1975 and 1998 that prevented them from getting another shot. Last week they won thanks to the Minneapolis Miracle.
The Philadelphia Eagles won a slugfest last week that would have made Buddy Ryan, Reggie White and Jerome Brown proud. This season is the 25th anniversary of the promise to “Bring it home for Jerome.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars are built Tom Coughlin tough. In 1996 he led the Jaguars to within one game of the Super Bowl, but they lost at New England. 21 years later, it is the same teams in the same stadium. The Jaguars have never been to the Super Bowl, but they beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh twice this season.
As for the New England Patriots, all they have done over the last 17 years is get to seven Super Bowls and win five of them. They are one game away from the Super Bowl for the seventh straight season, extending their own record. Outside of New England, the entire football world wants to see them defeated. This will be far easier said than done.
With that, the Conference Title Games are set. Both games are played on Sunday, January 21, 2018. Point spreads are provided by FootballLocks.com and all times are Eastern.
AFC Conference Title Game:
(3) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) at (1) New England Patriots (13-3)(-9.5) at 3pm on CBS.
Jacksonville has a great defense, but New England has chess master Bill Belichick and the great Tom Brady. Jacksonville is widely dismissing reports of Brady’s injured hand as nonsense. They know he will play. Tom Coughlin did lead the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins over Belichick’s Patriots, but that was on a neutral field.
This game is in New England.
The Patriots were beaten at home in the AFC Title Game, but that was back in 2012. Blake Bortles played well last week, but expecting him to out-duel Brady is wishful thinking. Bortles must have a healthy Leonard Fournette, and right now Fournette is banged up.
The inevitable is called that for a reason. These teams are not as mismatched as the Super Bowl III yardstick that measures all upsets. They are also not competitive equals by any stretch. The Lamar Hunt Trophy will stay in New England for the second straight year. Patriots cover.
NFC Conference Title Game:
(2) Minnesota Vikings (13-3)(-3.5) at (1) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) at 6:30pm on FOX.
These teams are near mirror images of each other. They both have solid defenses, with the edge going to the suffocating Minnesota unit built in Mike Zimmer’s image. On offense, Minnesota prefers smash mouth football while Doug Pederson loves his West Coast Offense.
Both teams have backup quarterbacks as Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Carson Wentz all faced injuries at some point. The difference is that Case Keenum has proven himself. Nick Foles has not.
The Philadelphia defense bailed out Foles last week. Keenum saved the day in Minnesota. The Eagles have the home field, but the Vikings are better on both sides of the ball. These defenses are too tough to expect a blowout in either direction. The George Halas Trophy will go to the Purple People Eaters in the NFC North Black and Blue Division.
Vikings win but fail to cover.