NFL Conference Championships: “Defense Wins Championships.”

We may not have liked the final outcome, but the results were undeniably entertaining with wire to wire finishes….save for that one team from Boston…

So many incredible, mind boggling endings with ramifications across the board and reverberations throughout the NFL. For those that have chosen to “tune out” of the NFL this year, you missed some once in a lifetime type plays capped with one of the greatest finishes to a playoff game in the history of the NFL.

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This is the catch, missed tackle, and “Minneapolis Miracle” that ended the game and the Saints season! Image Credit: SI.com

Marcus Williams…make the tackle! Good grief Charlie Brown! How in the world do you not at the very least, WRAP UP?!

Look. Great for Minnesota! You guys have been through almost as much heartbreak in recent years than my beloved Falcons, but good lord did you catch a break. It is unbelievable that Williams didn’t at least bring Diggs down and force a long field goal for a potential Vikings win. Not only did Williams’s missed tackle completely whiff Diggs, it also caused him to crash into his teammate, Crawley, erasing any hope of Diggs being brought down from behind before reaching the end zone. Simply incredible.

We predicted the Vikings win, but they weren’t the deserving team. Brees played his rear end off against one of the NFL’s best defenses and could’ve set up a finale with Tom Brady. But fate, destiny, luck, or the football gods had other ideas. Just imagine for a moment though, Brady v. Brees… Brees, potentially the only QB in the history of the NFL to defeat both Manning and Brady in a Super Bowl!?! That was our secret hope here at TSO.

But alas, defense, and apparently an improbable last second catch and run wins championships. Outside of Tom Brady and the Patriots returning to their seventh straight AFC Championship, the other familiar stat is the level of defensive play returning for a chance to win it all. Three of the last four Super Bowl winning teams have had either the number one scoring or total defense. Why is that significant? *This year, all remaining teams rank inside the top five in scoring defense. 

Again we say…

Defense Wins Championships.

But don’t take it from us, just ask Peyton Manning. Arguably one of, if not the greatest offensive and scoring quarterback of all time, Manning was able to win only one Super Bowl using his arm. Manning’s last Super Bowl (50) was captured thanks to a historically impressive performance by Von Miller and the Denver Broncos defense. Manning played for years, lighting up the scoreboard with incredible offensive displays, yet falling more often than not at the hands of the Patriots’s Bill Belichick led defenses in the AFC playoffs. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Blake Bortles finds himself on the brink of repeating a Trent Dilfer-like performance from his days with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That’s right, a QB who merely stays out of the way, makes one or two plays, and lets his defense swarm the opponent for an imposing and dominant win. You know, what Dilfer and Manning did.

This isn’t unprecedented, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our crop of QBs is down to the likes of Foles, Keenum, and Bortles to go along with the most prolific playoff QB in the history of the NFL. Granted Nick Foles is merely in place due to an unfortunate and untimely injury to Carson Wentz, both Keenum and Bortles are in position for a Super Bowl trip thanks in no small part to their historically dominant defenses. If you believe Keenum was doing anything other than throwing up prayers before his “Minneapolis Miracle” landed in the hands of Stefon Diggs, you are lying to yourself. Keenum was outplayed and outgunned by Drew Brees and the Saints, yet Keenum found what everybody who plays backyard football finds every now and again, an answer to a hail mary.

We went 2 for 2 in the divisional round, but you don’t need a graph for that. The dichotomy between the Patriots and Tom Brady’s experience versus the field has created some astonishing numbers however…

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Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Never mind those pesky seven Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl rings for Brady, the fact remains…

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Just the facts. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

So without further adieu, let’s get into these conference championship previews!

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

AFC Championship – CBS

Belichick and Brady against Tom Coughlin yet again, only this time Coughlin is in the front office. Coughlin, the only coach to defeat the Patriots’ dynasty…twice. Now Coughlin has assembled yet another old school, smash mouth group that is built specifically to topple exactly what New England does best. Coughlin’s game is simple. Swarm Brady with shut down corners and a ferocious pass rush that don’t let Brady’s crossing and deep routes develop, frustrating him and forcing him into throws and down and long situations he does not want. Then, pound the rock. Remember earlier in the season when Jaguars head coach Dough Marrone said he wanted to run Leonard Fournette essentially into the ground? Who do you think is going to be toting the rock possibly over thirty times on Sunday? Bring a second pair of cleats #27.

Now, much is being made of TB12’s hand. “How bad is the injury? Will Brady play? What happens if Hoyer has to start or come in?!” Ahhhh?! Phewy. It’s all media fodder meant to distract. Our thinking here…the Pats are hoping this sort of distracting tactic will subvert the Jags defensive attention. Not gonna work, but a nice try by the Evil Genius and Pats dynasty. It signals to us that they are actually scared for the first time in a long time. The Pats know this is the most difficult matchup Brady has played in years, and their offense could look the opposite of prolific on Sunday. They could look like the Jaguars offense! Oops!

In all seriousness though, much is being made about Jalen Ramsey covering Rob Gronkowski, and that may happen, but not as much as fans and viewers are hoping. Even a physical corner like Ramsey is outmatched against a beast the size of Gronkowski. The best way to cover a guy like Gronk is have a linebacker or corner like Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, or Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye cover with help over the top from a safety. Look for the Jags to employ a similar principle and allow their other players to man up across the board. Jacksonville is and should be confident in Calias Campbell and their front four to get to Brady with only a four man rush, and the rest of the defense is talented enough to cover the likes of Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. Assuming the Jags slow Gronk down, the matchup doesn’t look great Pats fans.

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The 8th player in NFL History with 10 post season touchdowns (#87) could find himself matched up against the Jags most boisterous corner on Sunday (#20) in a matchup some former players and fans would “pay to see”.  Image Credit: NFL Network IG

The Patriots corners, Gillmore and Butler, are impressive in their own right, and should be able to contain Keelan Cole and Allen Hurns. The only problem is that’s not how the Jags even move the ball. Jacksonville will rely on Fournette and Yeldon out of the backfield, Marcedes Lewis over the middle, and rookie Dede Westbrook. Westbrook could end up being an X-factor as the rookie out of Oklahoma is supremely talented and shifty with incredible speed. He’s a matchup nightmare for the Patriots. Assuming Jacksonville keeps it simple for Bortles, they could utilize Westbrook a ton this week, and don’t be surprised if the Pats dedicate someone like Butler to him in the second half if he goes off in the first half.

We’ve rarely been so high on the Jaguars this year, but the numbers don’t lie.

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The Jags D ladies and gentlemen. Image Credit: NFL IG

I mean damn. Those are championship, but the team on your back type of numbers from the Jaguars defense. And did we mention that Jacksonville’s head coach, Doug Marrone, is a damn good dawg?!?!

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Marrone pictured here in 2000 as UGA’s Offensive Line (OL) coach after a 3 year stint with GA-Tech. Image Credit: WeRunThisState IG

You see where this is going. Go Dawgs! Uhhh…we mean Jags! Jacksonville wins in a huge upset and heads to Minnesota with a defense looking to make history. 

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Championship – FOX

Once upon a time, way back in 2015, Jeff Fisher coached the St. Louis Rams led by two young QBs trying to make in the league. Those two gunslingers? Arizona State product Nick Foles and Houston alum Case Keenum. Yep, these guys…

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This happened. Image Credit: ESPN IG

As crazy as this is, their path to this moment and their respective roles on these conference championship teams is even more whack-a-doodle!

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You can’t make this stuff up. Image Credit: CBS Sports IG

Now before we get any deeper into the details of this matchup, we have to discuss the Jeff Fisher effect. Fisher, now known as “Mr. 8-8” for his mediocrity and barely break-even records, isn’t having his case helped with numbers like these:

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Quite the discrepancy. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Yowzer. There’s no easy way around this. Jeff Fisher is the Cleveland Browns for quarterbacks. With that settled, there’s still a lot to get to, even if both teams arrived at this point by hook (Miracle TDs with no time remaining) and by crook (nice no PI call refs in Philly! Apparently you can shove a guy back down to the ground in the end zone before the ball gets there?! We’re looking at you Jalen Mills!). Not that we’re still bothered by the outcomes from last week or anything, but come on we had to build the intrigue here, whereas a Brees v. Ryan matchup in the Superdome writes itself! Just sayin’…help a sports writer out NFL!

There’s also another interesting story underlying the game Sunday, and that is that Eric Kendricks and Mychal Kendricks will be playing against one another. Eric and Mychal, brothers, play for the Vikings and Eagles respectively, and have stated that they will not be talking this week and depending on the outcome of the game may not be talking for quite some time after if things get too heated. An understandable cease fire for two competitors.

Both Kendricks’s lead great defenses that will make life difficult for Keenum and Foles. Get ready for another barn burning 17-10 type of barn burner! Jay Ajayi was fortunate to find ground a beautifully drawn up screen play, but this week he’ll have to deal with not just one elite linebacker but two. Kendricks and Anthony Barr won’t let Ajayi or any Eagles running back get away or loose for too much yardage. Xavier Rhodes will shut down Alshon Jeffrey, and Everson Griffin’s pass rush won’t let Nelson Agholor get deep.

The Eagles front seven will befuddle and make Case Keenum play conservative and throw the ball away more than he’d like. However, Minnesota’s speed to the edge eliminates the gimmicky end arounds and double reverse plays that Philly used against Atlanta with some effectiveness. Vikes go on the road and take down the Eagles “SKOL”-clapping their way back home for the first ever team to play for a Super Bowl on their home turf. 

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Keenum leading the SKOL clap after the “Minneapolis Miracle!” Image Credit: Reddit (gfycat.com)

That’s a wrap for your conference championship preview! We hope you’ve enjoyed our playoff breakdowns and look forward to wrapping up this season in a couple of weeks with our Super Bowl preview. It’s been a great season and we’ll continue to make improvements as we go along. Please continue to like, love, share, and send any feedback our way. Spreadoffensive@gmail.com. We love hearing from you and appreciate all of the love and support!

 

 

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