Wow, what a weekend of playoff football we witnessed this last weekend. The Patriots sound thumping of Tennessee was the only anticlimactic outcome of the bunch, and that was pretty well expected. Minnesota and Philadelphia competed in a nail-biter. Jacksonville and Pittsburgh had a shoot-out. Minnesota/New Orleans saw a fantastic finish not soon duplicated. While we appreciate the elation felt in Minneapolis, we feel bad for the Saints’ fans who had it ripped away from them. Now, it is on to the games that decide the combatants in Super Bowl LII. Can the Vikings be the first team to ever host its own Super Bowl game? Will New England roll through the AFC playoffs as the biggest favorites in conference playoff history? Or will Philadelphia and Jacksonville pull the upsets? Here’s our Gildshire guide to the weekend ahead.
Jacksonville at New England, Sunday, Jan. 21. Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts. Game Time: 3:05 pm/Eastern/12:05 pm, Pacific. How did they get here? New England took the path they always take to arrive in the conference championship game. They play in a historically weak division, so there is a half dozen wins there, and a clear path to home playoff games. The Pats have the best coach since Vince Lombardi. Tom Brady keeps himself in marvelous condition for an athlete in his 40s. Lather, rinse, repeat and this will go down as the Patriots’ Era.
Jacksonville arrives here from a most unlikely place. When Calais Campbell left Arizona for Jacksonville, it looked to be a salary grab from which he would forever lack on-field relevance. Who knew? Apparently, the folks in charge of the Jaguars knew a little something, since this is their Cinderella moment.
How does our playoff guide see this game playing out? The Jaguars may be in a difficult spot, and not just because it is the big, bad Pats on the other side of the ball. The win over the Steelers was the biggest moment in franchise history. Can the young Jags put another big and emotional win on the board just one week later? Right now, the weather forecast for Sunday looks benign (the mid-40s, no rain or snow.) Will that forecast hold? The oddsmakers set the point spread at eight points, but it has been bet up to nine. We think New England is too much on this big stage, so call it Patriots 35, Jaguars 14. The game can be seen on your local CBS affiliate.
Minnesota at Philadelphia, Sunday, Jan. 21, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Game Time: 6:40 pm Eastern/3:40 pm Pacific. How did they get here? For most of the season, Philadelphia was the talk of the NFC. They rolled into a position of dominance on the arm of talented second-year pro, Carson Wentz, only to have Wentz go down. His season-ending knee injury could have been the end of the line, leaving Eagles’ fans to sing “Why, Eagles, Why?” Instead, here comes Nick Foles. He was shaky to close the regular season but was more than adequate against the defending NFC champ Falcons. The Eagles’ strong defense wore down Atlanta, leaving the Falcons to wonder for one more year if the sting from their Super Bowl LI collapse will ever subside.
Minnesota has more lives than a cat. With a dozen seconds to go in their game against New Orleans, they were dead meat. One long pass, followed by one inexplicable missed tackle, and the Vikings are in the NFC Championship Game. Career journeyman quarterback Case Keenum’s unlikely run in the spotlight will last for at least one more week. Credit the Vikings’ suffocating defense, though. That unit, top-notch all season long, is the real reason Minnesota’s dreams of a home Super Bowl game are still alive.
How does our playoff guide see this game playing out? The Eagles were mad as hornets to be listed as an underdog against the sixth-seed Falcons. Guess what, as of Monday morning they’re 3.5 point dogs. Oooh, mad birds! We see this one as a tight, defensive slugfest. Both teams will try and run the ball, but neither will be consistently successful. In the end, we think Philadelphia will be victorious. Let’s call it 17-14. Eagles and Pats in the Super Bowl. Minnesota (barely) covers the spread. The game can be seen on your local Fox affiliate.
Enjoy the games!