The Super Bowl is annually the most important television event of the year, but at the end of the day it is almost always much more about hype than the game.
Football purists will agree either divisional playoff weekend or the Sunday conference title games comprise the best football weekend of the year — and this Sunday’s AFC and NFC title games have a chance to be special.
The early game Sunday will feature the Jacksonville Jaguars playing David to the New England Patriots Goliath, and much like the original matchup, many assume the Jaguars have no chance.
That is a mistake. Remember, David did end up vanquishing Goliath.
I don’t believe the Jaguars will reprise David’s epic win because Blake Bortles doesn’t have the sling shot arm he did, but I do believe the Jaguars defense can play with anybody in the league — including Tom Brady — and I expect the Jags to hang with the Pats for 2 ½-to-3 quarters.
If Jacksonville is going to have a chance, here are the key matchups.
I don’t know how sound the ankle Leonard Fournette sprained last Sunday in Pittsburgh is, but when he rushes for 100 yards the Jaguars are 5-1 this season, including last Sunday’s 109 yard-effort vs. the Steelers.
New England is just 20th in the NFL stopping the run and 31st (4.7) in average yards allowed per carry.
Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is certain to show Bortles some things he’s never seen before, and even though Bortles has yet to turn the ball over in the playoffs he cannot give the ball to the Patriots.
That ground game allowed the Jaguars to be 5th in the league this year in time of possession – the Patriots were 11th – and the only certain way to slow Brady and Co. is to keep them on the sideline.
The Jaguars, or “Sacksonville,” were second in the league this year rushing the passer, behind the Steelers, and Brady was sacked 35 times this season.
Jacksonville allowed 646 yards receiving to tight ends this year — the 6th fewest in the NFL – on 64 receptions, and at least part of the Patriots' plan is certainly to have Rob Gronkowski take over this game.
How the Jaguars cover Gronk and with whom will dictate their ability to slow down Brady.
For all the focus on Brady, the Patriots were 10th in the league running the football, and Jacksonville’s ‘D’ was just 21st against the run and 26th in average gain allowed.
This will be a one-score game late in the third quarter before the Patriots win it, 27-16.
The NFC matchup between the Vikings and Eagles will be a 12-round heavyweight bout that will be won by either the Vikings' top-ranked defense (total yards and points allowed) or the Eagles' fourth ranked ‘D.’
It’s time to stop all the focus on Case Keenum and Nick Foles. Short of one or both committing multiple turnovers, the backup QBs will not be the story of this game.
The Eagles have the best run defense in the NFL, while Minnesota is second.
The Vikings are the best defense in the history of the NFL at getting off the field on third down, and the Eagles were third in the league this year.
Much like I don’t expect Keenum or Foles to be the difference, it’s hard to envision Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon or Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount taking over this football game, but if one of these clubs can put together a handful of five-to-eight minute drives they will gain a huge advantage.
The Vikings and Eagles have arguably the two best front fours in the NFL — with the slightest of edges to the Vikes. Both teams are good but not great in the middle, and the Vikings rate a clear edge in the secondary.
This game should come down to getting two or three plays out of either Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen or Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor, and the matchups offer the narrowest of margins to Minnesota.
I’m calling this one 20-16, Vikings.