Black Quarterback: 2018 Conference Championship Picks
By Brandon Simmons
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots
Three out o these four teams in the Conference Championship round probably were not expected to be here at all; but none more so than the Jacksonville Jaguars. But after a strong performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, they are primed to upset the New England Patriots this Sunday. The Patriots started their playoff run with an easy win over the Tennessee Titans, despite all the controversy surrounding the team regarding an apparent riff between quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Bob Kraft. But that obviously failed in time for the Patriots to impose their Patriot way…which is essentially the Patriot way. This Sunday, the Jaguars will and Patriots will meet for the AFC championship, in a game that some will assure turn into a blowout; but when studying the Jaguars, that might not be the entire case.
Jacksonville will be the best defense that New England has faced all season. The Jaguars finished the season number 2 in yards allowed and number one against the pass. On each level of the defense, there are guys who can wreak havoc on a lot of offenses. The defensive line is led by defensive end Calais Campbell, who finished at the top of the league in sacks; linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith do a great job on the edge at their outside linebacker positions, as Smith leads the tema in tackles; cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are two corners who exhibit shutdown tendencies. You saw this last week against the Steelers, particularly in the first half when they jumped to a 28-7 lead.
The New England Patriots have all they need on offense: quarterback Tom Brady. You would think that losing wide receiver Julian Edelman at the beginning of the year would be cause for concern, but it does not seem to have phased them at all. Patriots have returned back to the conference championship and possibly, another trip to the Super Bowl with Brady’s expertise and the usual weapons around him. Yes, there is tight end Rob Gronkowski but he has wide receiver Brandin Cooks to throw to this year down the field, as well as Chris Hogan. This season, he has been relying a little more on his running backs for some receptions out of the backfield as well.
The main matchup here will be the Jaguars defense vs. Tom Brady. Brady has seen just about every coverage he possibly can and might actually run his offense better than the coaches themselves. But it does not take away from the talent that is on the Jaguars’ defense. They pretty much have an answer for each of the offensive weapons that Brady relies upon. Within this matchup, will be the cat-and-mouse game of the Jacksonville linebackers chasing after those New England running backs in the flats. Smith and Jack will have their work cut out for them going after White and Lewis. But can thse linebackers also get after the New England wide receivers on their crossing routes?
But really the advantage will lie upon how well the other team’s counterparts fare. The Patriots defense has not really been anything to write home about for most of this season but they might hold the advantage over quarterback Blake Bortles. True, the Jaguars do have the number one rushing offense, but Belichick will find a way to take that from them and leave them with just Bortles to be their savior. If Bortles can duplicate his performance from last week, coupled with the strong will of the Jaguars defense, then they could get the win but it seems like asking a little too much to happen from a quarterback who has faced a points-deficient team in the Wild Card and an unprepared team in the division round. None of that describes the Patriots, who also have the experience on the coaching staff and in the players; they will take this hard-fought win.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Last week, veteran quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Drew Brees went on the road into their playoff games and took L’s. Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons traveled to Philadelphia and got dealt with by the Eagles defense while Brees and the New Orleans Saints struggled to get crucial points against the Minnesota Vikings, which cost his team the game. But the one thing that both the Eagles and Vikings share, is the fact they are led by backup quarterbacks.
Both teams lost their original starters to injury during the season and it has not seemed to affect them at all. The Vikings lost quarterback Sam Bradford in Week 2 to a knee injury, and it gave way to backup Case Keenum to get his career revived. This season has been the most games he’s played and started in, so it has afforded him the opportunity to get better numbers put up. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has been relishing in this moment as well, but only for a few weeks. Philadelphia lost QB Carson Wentz to injury in Week 14 and Foles was able to maintain the ship for the past month, with a 3-1 record, including the playoff win last week against the Falcons.
So how can two career backup quarterbacks get to the point where they are on the verge of making a Super Bowl run: their defenses. The Eagles and Vikings both have top 5 defenses and showed those strengths last week against their opponents, with each demonstrating their defensive specialty. The Vikings were able to shut out the Saints in the first and get a couple of sacks off Brees; the Eagles stuck to their calling card stopping the run by holding the Falcons to 80 yards rushing total. For the latter,
However, as strong as both defenses are, it will boil down to whose quarterback can make less mistakes. Right now, Minnesota has the hot hand coming off their walk off victory against the Saints, with an impressive throw by Keenum, who has been on the field since the beginning of the year. That is a stark contrast from Foles who has only seen real action for only this past month. Neither quarterback was putting up spectacular numbers, but it does make a difference about who has more playing time rom this season in terms of familiarity with the first group personnel. Also, the Vikings defense will go from Drew Brees to Nick Foles within a week, so the level of difficulty is lowered. Minnesota really didn’t shut down Brees, but they were able to hold him scoreless in the first half and hold that offense to field goals in the last 2 minutes of the game, which gave them leverage to kick a game winning field goal if they got a first down at the right stop before the game ended. Look for the Vikings build off this emotional momentum and grab a win.
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