NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
By Leo Haggerty
OK, I was three out of four last weekend with my National Football League Divisional Playoff prognostications. I was right on with Philadelphia over Atlanta, even the part about Mother Nature worth points as you saw, and New England over Tennessee as well as spot on with Minnesota over New Orleans. Even called that the Purple People Eaters would win with a late Case Keenum TD pass. SKOL!
I did miss the boat, along with almost everyone else in the country, with Jacksonville beating Pittsburgh. Thought that the Steelers defense wouldn’t give up 30 points again to the Jags and, on that point, I was right. The Steel Curtain D cracked and let in 38 of the 45 points that the Jaguars posted on the scoreboard.
So, let’s move to this weekend. Winners go to Minneapolis and the losers go home. Here’s my choice for the two participants in Super Bowl LII.
JACKSONVILLE AT NEW ENGLAND
Almost everyone was expecting a Steelers-Pats rematch for the American Football Conference title. One problem there, boys and girls. Someone forgot to tell the Jaguars it was a closed party.
All the Jags did was go out and beat the Black & Gold at Heinz Field for the second time in the same season. No flukes or trick plays. A good old fashioned beat down that just doesn’t happen real often to the The “Burgh these days.
Two things to look for on Sunday against New England. The first is what Jacksonville is wearing and I don’t mean jersey color.
I want to see if the Jags come out in shirt sleeves like almost all of them did last week in Pittsburgh where the temperatures were below freezing for all of the game. They sent a message to the Steelers that the cold won’t be a factor and, if I’m a betting man, I would say that idea stemmed from the Executive Vice President of Football Operation Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin, if you remember, was the first head coach of the Jags and a two-time Super Bowl champion coaching the Giants. No one who saw the game where the G-Men beat the Packers in the National Football Conference title game will ever forget the shot from the sideline TV camera of Coach C’s frozen nose. It looked like it was going to fall off in the Arctic conditions on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field that day but he didn’t cover it up. That sent as huge message to his players that I’m in this with you.
Second, and I not suggesting or condoning any illegal hits, I would not be surprised if the Jaguars DC Todd Wash just made one simple statement to his charges at the beginning of the week. That short one-sentence message to his guys on the defensive side of the football would be, “Ya know, guys, if #12 is still playing in the fourth quarter we’re probably going to get beat.”
Is he saying take a cheap shot at Brady? No. Is he implying that his charges need to beat Tom Terrific up until he can’t answer the bell? Absolutely. Hey, that’s what I would do.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve drank the northeast Florida Kool-Aid. The Patriots reign will come to a screeching half in Foxboro Sunday afternoon.
Look for RB Leonard Fournette to drop at least 110 rushing yards on a very porous NE rush defense. Look for a very stingy Jaguars defense to harass Brady constantly. I believe DL Calais Campbell will have a huge game with at least a couple of sacks along with a bunch of knockdowns.
JAC, 24-20, with a late interception by LB Miles Jack off back up QB Brian Hoyer that seals the deal. J-ville is heading to the Big Dance.
MINNESOTA AT PHILADELPHIA
If you perused my PLAYOFF PREDICTION column last weekend, you are going to hear a very similar MO when it comes to who will emerge as the NFC champions. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it especially when it’s applicable.
This game is easy to predict and here’s why. Both teams bring to The Linc Sunday night extremely good defenses. Don’t expect to see a lot of points go up on the scoreboard for that reason.
Another reason I feel this will be a low scoring affair will be the ever-present environmental factors. Expect the weather to be exactly the same as last week. Bitter cold and unpredictable wind as well as a threat of precipitation in the form of snow at any time during the tilt.
The real unknown here is the play of both quarterbacks. That’s because, when the regular season began, both were after thoughts when it came to the signal calling position.
The defense of the Purple People Eaters will be a formative opponent for the Carson Wentz-less Birds who are now led by QB Nick Foles. #9 did just enough to secure a 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons last weekend in Philly but the bottom line was it was a win.
The Eagles will be a handful for the Vikings QB Case Keenum who started the season as Sam Bradford’s caddie. All #7 did was make a last second TD toss that will go down as, arguably, the greatest game-ending play in NFL history.
With all that being said, this game will be decided by two things. Turnovers and the weather.
The offenses for both teams will have the mantra of protect the pigskin at all costs. For that reason, look for both teams to be conservative especially in the early going. In my opinion, turnovers will be few and far between.
The elements are a different story. Minnesota is a dome team and having to deal with inclement weather is not in their DNA. Definitely advantage Eagles.
So here’s my call. Minny 17. Philly 14. Mother Nature in for a TD and she’s wearing Eagle green again.
PHI, 21-17, and its Fly Eagles Fly to the Twin Cities.
All that’s left is to watch and see. Catch you at the TV around 3.