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Defenses should rule in NFL playoffs this weekend

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OKLAHOMA CITY – This Sunday’s AFC and NFC Championship Games include one of the best dynasties in the NFL, two teams that have yet to win a Super Bowl, and one team that is looking for its first appearance in the big game.

The final turn on the road to the Super Bowl opens with the New England (14-3) hosting Jacksonville (12-6) at 2:05 p.m. (CBS). The Patriots are making their seventh straight AFC Championship and seeking their 10th Super Bowl appearance. The Jaguars are back in the AFC title game for the third time and first since 1999. The Pats are 9-4 in the AFC Championship, and the Jags are 0-2.

New England won the only AFC Championship matchup (20-6 in 1996) between these two teams. The Patriots are 10-1 overall in the series and Jacksonville’s only win the series was 25-10 decision in the 1998 Wild Card Playoff Round. That year also the last time the Jags have been to the AFC title game. Just as lopsided as the series has been, the Pats are overwhelming favorites (8.5 points) to reach their second straight Super Bowl.

New England easily dispatched Tennessee, 35-14, in last week’s Divisional Round. The Jags edged Buffalo, in the Wild Card Round two weeks ago and a 45-42 decision over Pittsburgh in last weekend’s Divisional Round.

Pats’ quarterback Tom Brady, who has engineered five Super Bowl championships, injured his throwing hand on Wednesday and missed two days of practice. X-rays proved negative though, and the four-time Super MVP is expected to play Sunday.

“I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well,” Jacksonville coach Marrone told the Florida Times-Union.

Brady is a veteran of 35 playoff games (26-9) and has a career QB rating of 96.5. He completed 66.3 percent during the 2017 regular season for 4,577 yards with a 32/8 TD/INT ratio. Brady completed 66.3 percent against Tennessee last week for 337 yards and 3 TDs.

The Jags counter with Blake Bortles, a veteran of two playoff games (both this year). He has a career QB rating of 80.9. Bortles completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards with a touchdown/interception ratio of 21/13 during the regular season. He completed 53 percent for 301 yards and 2 TDs during the two playoff victories.

A team doesn’t need an outstanding quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Baltimore QB Trent Dilfer had a QB rating of 83.7 during four playoff appearances in 2000, but it the Ravens won the Lombardi Trophy with a stingy defense. Baltimore’s D held opponents to a total of 23 points in those four playoff games, including just 7 by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

The Pats offense against Jacksonville’s defense will be the highlight of this matchup. The Jags, No.2 overall in the NFL defensively, have allowed an average of 17.4 points and 299.2 yards per game through during the regular season and the playoffs. New England has put up an average of 29 points and 396.8 yards per outing.

The Jags must put pressure on Brady. Jacksonville logged 55 sacks this year, and Brady was dumped 35 times during the season.

The Patriots defense has allowed 18.2 points and 344.5 yards per game, while Jaguars’ offense averages 26.2 points and 358.8 yards per game.

Call me nuts for going with the upset (and it’s not the first time I’ve been called crazy). Jaguars 23, Patriots 17.

Two more stout defenses will be featured in the NFC Championship, which kicks off at 5:40 p.m. on FOX. Minnesota and Philadelphia both sports identical 14-3 records. The Eagles got the home field advantage because of one common opponent—the Carolina Panthers. The Eagles beat the Panthers, while the Vikes lost to them.

The Eagles haven’t been to the Super Bowl since losing to New England 13 years ago.

Philadelphia also lost its other Super Bowl appearance (to Oakland in SB XV). The Vikings have suffered even longer. They haven’t been to the big game in 41 years. They went to four Super Bowls in eight years during the 1970s and came away with zero wins.

Philadelphia and Minnesota have met three times during the NFC playoffs, with the Eagles getting the “W” each time. The overall series is tied at 13 games apiece. But, the Vikes are favored by 3 points on Sunday.

Both teams have arrived at this NFC title tilt without their high-dollar quarterbacks. Minnesota’s Sam Bradford injured a knee in the first week of the season, and although he played a few weeks later, he hasn’t hit the comeback trail. He has improved and is working out with the Vikings, but Case Keenum has guided the Vikes this far. Keenum has completed 67.2 percent for 3,865 yards with a TD/INT ratio of 23/8 through the playoffs.

Nick Foles took over for Carson Wentz (who tore his knee) in Week 14 at Philadelphia. Foles has completed 61 percent of his passes for 883 yards in five games. He also has thrown 5 TDs passes and 2 INTs.

Ironically, Keenum and Foles were teammates for the St. Louis Rams in 2015. Now, they face each other in the biggest game of their careers.

Minnesota (No.1) and Philadelphia (No. 4) had two of the best defenses in the NFL in 2017. The\ Vikes held opponents to 16.3 points and 280.8 yards per outing. The Eagles gave up an average of 17.9 ppg and 304.9 ypg.

Philadelphia’s offense put up better numbers. The Eagles scored an average of 27.8 ppg and rolled up 363.9 ypg, whereas Minnesota finished with 24.1 ppg and 360 ypg.

The Vikes are looking to become the first team in Super Bowl history to play the game in their backyard. Mission accomplished. Vikings 17, Eagles 12.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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