If Defense Wins Championships, Jaguars and Vikings Should Advance to Super Bowl LII
By Space Coast Daily // January 21, 2018
SPACE COAST DAILY NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW
After a tumultuous year for the National Football League in which politics, protests, and boycotts by players and fans alike stole the headlines, we are down to the the league’s version of the Final 4, as the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles play today to decide who reaches Super Bowl LII in two weeks in Minneapolis.
For better or worse and whatever side you’re on, much has changed in the hearts and minds of many this past season that play and follow the game but what hasn’t changed is what it takes on the field to reach this point of the season.
Having a great defense, being able to the run football and protecting the football is still the formula required to play for a championship in the NFL. Having Tom Brady and Bill Belechick can’t hurt either.
Keep in mind that the while the top scoring offensive team in the NFL this year is still playing in the Patriots, so is the number one, two and fourth-ranked scoring defenses in the Vikings, Jaguars, and Eagles respectively and despite finishing ranked No. 29 on defense in terms of yards allowed, the Patriots were the fifth best scoring defense in the NFL this past season.
If those numbers don’t convince you defense is the reason for the championship season then consider that the No.1 scoring offense has faced the No.1 scoring defense in the Super Bowl on eight occasions, including last years game – the No.1 defense is 7-1 in those contests with the only loss occurring when the defending champion San Francisco 49ers destroyed the Denver Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.
Today’s AFC and NFC Championship games won’t be high flying aerial spectaculars, especially with quarterbacks like Bortles, Keenum and Foles starting but instead trench warfare to decide who gets to play in two weeks in Minneapolis, Minnesota in Super Bowl LII
JAGUARS (12-6) at PATRIOTS (14-3) Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS
SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 10-1; LAST MEETING — Patriots beat Jaguars 51-17, Sept. 27, 2015
LAST WEEK: Jaguars beat Steelers 45-42; Patriots beat Titans 35-14
JAGUARS OFFENSE: OVERALL (6), RUSH (1), PASS (17)
JAGUARS DEFENSE: OVERALL (2), RUSH (21), PASS (1)
PATRIOTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (10), PASS (2)
PATRIOTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (29), RUSH (20), PASS (30)
David vs. Goliath is the only way to describe this matchup. The Patriots are playing their record seventh straight AFC Championship game and with a win will head to their 10th Super Bowl, eighth since 2000 under Brady and Belechick.
Every big game has a big story and this games big story emerged on Wednesday when Patriots QB Tom Brady, who oh, by the way, happens to be No.1 all-time in NFL postseason history in passing touchdowns (66), passing yards (9,431), postseason wins (26) and postseason 300-yard games (13), injured his throwing hand.
According to Mike Garofalo of the NFL Network,Brady was working on some type of handoff drill Wednesday when the clip from running back Rex Burkhead’s helmet somehow gashed Brady’s throwing hand. There was, reportedly, blood everywhere.
Brady received four stitches and missed practice on Thursday.
The Jaguars defense will have to play much better than they did last week in Pittsburgh where the Steelers offense gashed the AFC’s top unit for over 500 yards and QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for 469 yards and five touchdowns.
Jacksonville can do the one thing that it takes to beat the Patriots in New England, rush the passer and create turnovers.
The Jags have playmakers at every level on the defensive side of the football.
DE Calais Campbell led the AFC with a franchise-record and career-high 14.5 sacks while on the other side, DE Yannick Ngakoue was one of two NFL players (Aaron Donald) with 10 or more sacks (12) and five or more forced fumbles (six).
At linebacker Myles Jack had a sack, an INT and three pass defenses in the Jags first two playoff games and Telvin Smith scored another defensive TD. In the secondary Pro-Bowl cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are ball-hawking physical defenders.
The man with the blueprint on how to beat the Patriots is Tom Coughlin, whose New York Giants did it twice in the big game and he happens to be running the Jaguars franchise at the moment.
On offense, the Jags must continue to get run production from rookie Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 109 yards and three TDs in last week’s divisional win. He is the only rookie in NFL history with 100-plus yards rushing and three or more rushing TDs in postseason games.
Obviously, the Jags will have to contend with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski. Jags fans hope that last weeks display by Steelers tight end Vance McDonald, who gashed the middle of the defense for 10 catches and 112 yards was the exception and not a foreshadowing of things to come.
The Jags have plus-7 turnover margin on road this season (including playoffs) and have 22 takeaways in nine road games this season. That is the most in NFL and most in a single season in franchise history. Including the playoffs, Jacksonville’s defense has scored eight touchdowns this season, three more than any other team. Look for more of the same today as Jacksonville will find a way to get pressure on Brady and rattle him and his hand.
Bortles continues to protect the ball and Fournette rushes for another 100 yards.
• Jacksonville 23, New England 19
Zach Clark Managing Editor Prediction: New England 31, Jacksonville 21
MINNESOTA (14-3) vs. PHILADELPHIA (14-3): Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox
SERIES RECORD: Tied 13-13 LAST MEETING — Eagles beat Vikings 21-10, Oct. 23, 2016
LAST WEEK: Vikings beat Saints 29-24; Eagles beat Falcons 15-10
VIKINGS OFFENSE: OVERALL (11), RUSH (7), PASS (11).
VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (1), RUSH (2), PASS (2).
EAGLES OFFENSE: OVERALL (7), RUSH (3), PASS (13).
EAGLES DEFENSE: OVERALL (4), RUSH (1), PASS (17).
ALAN’S QUICK TAKE: The Viking’s obstacle was getting past Drew Brees and we all saw how that was accomplished.
With two stacked defenses and two backup quarterbacks at the helm, the Eagles-Vikings NFC title game will be a contest reminiscent of the 1999-2000 NFC Championship when the St.Louis Rams defeated Tampa Bay 11-6.
The defenses will steal the day and so will the kickers.
The Vikings playoff history is littered with disappointment thanks to Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach hitting WR Drew Pearson on a Hail Mary pass to beat the Vikings in the 1975 Divisional round, kicker Gary Anderson’s 38-yard miss in the 1998 NFC Championship game that would have sealed the deal against the Falcons and don’t forget the Vikings, not the Broncos or Bills, were the first team to lose four Super Bowls.
After the Kenum to Diggs Miracle in Minneapolis pass to beat New Orleans, this year is different. After seeing the first overtime in Super Bowl history last year, the Vikings will become the first team to play in the big game in their own stadium.
Vikings 13. Eagles 9
Zach Clark Managing Editor Prediction: Vikings 27, Eagles 24
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