2018 NFL Conference Championship Games Picks, Preview
NFL Odds Courtesy of Sports Interaction
NFL AFC Championship Picks
Jacksonville Jaguars (+265) at New England Patriots (-335)
3:05 PM EST Kickoff
Straight Up Pick: New England Patriots (-335)
Points Spread Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (+8.0)
Jags Defense Will Harass Hand-Deficient Brady
Defense wins championships – this axiom’s been repeated hundreds of times in all the major sports. Jacksonville doubled-down on this old-school wisdom, fielding the most devastating crew of defenders in the NFL. The Jags feature multiple Pro Bowl players, pressuring opponents into giving up eight defensive TDs this season, including the playoffs.
Brady’s hand injury won’t prevent him from suiting up, but there’s a chance that it might affect his accuracy when he passes into tight windows. Coincidentally, Tom’s hand was mangled during a handoff in practice. Coach Belichick was likely adjusting the offensive game plan for a ground assault prior to Brady’s hand malady, a strategy which will intensify now that Tom’s digits have been sliced.
Patriots Strong Historical Winning Trend Against Jags
New England hasn’t lost to Jacksonville since 1999, boasting a 10-1 mark against the Jags. During the playoffs, the Patriots have been nearly unbeatable at home over the past 18 years. New England have been 18-3 since the millennium turned, a ridiculous 85.7 winning percentage.
Jacksonville has a 4-5 road playoff record, which isn’t bad considering that their last two victories have been against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jags should know that the Patriots have been far from invincible in AFC conference championship matchups. During the Brady era, New England’s 5-11 in AFC Conference championships, including a 2-6 run over their last eight appearances.
New England Will Focus On Fournette
Leonard Fournette’s been an impressive power runner, busting tackles and welcoming contact in the open field, earning respect from the opposition. During the regular season, he rushed for 1,040 yards in 13 games, finishing with 1,342 rushing and receiving yards and ten TDs – including one touchdown reception. Leonard ran all over the Steelers last week, gaining 109 yards and becoming the third rookie to notch three rushing TDs in a playoff game.
After starting the season in shambles, New England’s defense tightened up in week five, finishing the season as one of the top units in the NFL. Ageless Brady gets all the headlines, but his defense gives him a chance to control the football on most evenings. The Patriots will adjust, but it seems unlikely they will completely halt Fournette’s progress.
New England has a 2-4 record when referee Clete Blakeman officiates.
NFL NFC Championship Picks
Minnesota Vikings (-165) at Philadelphia Eagles (+140)
6:40 PM EST Kickoff
Straight Up Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (+140)
Points Spread Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (+3.0)
Eagles Winning Without Wentz
Losing Carson Wentz was a devastating blow which made the Eagles the first number one seed to be underdogs in the divisional round. Philadelphia also became the first number one seed to win a playoff game as an underdog. Earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs proved to be vital in overcoming the Atlanta Falcons.
Philly controlled the pace through slow, punishing football which was close to error-free, with the exception of a Jay Ajayi fumble. The raucous Philly crowd made things tough on last year’s Super Bowl finalists, reducing the effectiveness of the Falcons attack. Clearly, this team is much more than Carson Wentz, and shouldn’t be underestimated during the NFC conference championship.
Another Defensive Battle Awaits
The Minnesota Vikings allowed the least points in the NFL during the regular season, limiting the opposition to stingy 15.8 PPG. Philly’s defense is no slouch, allowing only 18.4 PPG. The Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league, specializing in stopping the run, while the Vikings were elite at preventing gains through any means.
Considering that the Eagles held Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan to ten points, Philadelphia’s defense appears to be peaking at the perfect time. Minnesota had difficulty containing the Saints, nearly dropping their divisional playoff match, requiring a last-second miracle to proceed deeper into the post season.
Vikings Play Poorly On The Road
Minnesota has a 3-13 playoff record on the road since 1982, one of the worst marks over the past few decades. The Vikings have also dropped two games this season on the road when playing on grass surfaces in outdoor stadiums. QB Case Keenum happens to be 1-4 against road situations when the opposition’s winning percentage is above .665.
Much of the game will be determined by which pivot – Keenum or Foles – makes the fewest mistakes, and Foles managed to put up an efficient 100.1 passer rating while throwing 246 yards against the Falcons defense. If anything, the NFC matchup appears to be a pick’em, instead of the Vikings favored by a field goal. Home advantage will prove to be vital for the Eagles outperforming expectations.
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