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NFL Conference Finals Preview

Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The NFL Divisional Round was nothing less than amazing. With the last second thrillers in Minnesota and Philadelphia, the offensive shootout in Pittsburgh, and the beat down in New England, this was the absolute best week of football this year. Still, this weekend’s matchups will have their own air of excitement for the four winners (Jaguars, Patriots, Eagles, and Vikings) as three quarterbacks face the biggest game in their careers: Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum.

Jaguars vs. Patriots
Blake Bortles, despite having a good game against the Steelers, is still not a Super Bowl quarterback, but that’s okay given the type of offense his team plays. The Jags have the number one rushing offense in the league with 141.1 rushing yards per game, and they will go against a New England defense which gave up 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season and only 3.7 yards per carry last week. (That one-yard improvement is still impressive against the good run game that the Titans have.) This is really all that the Jaguars have going their way on the offensive end. I expect them to possess the ball for most of the game and keep the best quarterback playing right now, Tom Brady, off the field.

The real matchup will come on the other side of the ball with the “Sacksonville” Jaguars facing the New England Patriots’ offense, which is loaded with weapons.  The Patriots obviously have one of the best offenses in the NFL, yet the Jags have one of the best defenses. It will be a great matchup seeing Tom Brady move the ball down field and I expect the Patriots to do so by taking it slow. Here’s what I mean: they will probably look to throw more passes underneath the amazing Cover 3 defense that the Jags are so comfortable in. Another fun thing to see will be the Jags trying to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is averaging a first down on 84 percent of his receptions (study by Pro Football Focus) – which is crazy good! The Jags’ Myles Jack is not a good coverage linebacker against tight ends, so they will likely have corner back Jalen Ramsey cover Gronk in third down situations. With Ramsey being one of the most physical corners in the league, having to guard Gronk will not be easy, but he is going to have to have his best game of the season to help stop the Patriots and Tom Brady, even with his injured  hand.

 The Patriots definitely have the upper hand and will probably come out on top, but do not count the Jaguars out, as this defense has the potential to stop anyone in the league.

 

Vikings vs. Eagles
The Vikings are coming off of one of the best plays in playoffs history and easily the best play this year, “The Miracle in Minneapolis,” and the Eagles are coming off of a down-to-the-wire win against the Falcons. Frankly, I don’t think the Eagles should have won this game, and lay the blame mostly on Flacons’ OC Steve Sarkisian and his game plan. The Eagles’ defense was exposed in previous weeks and Sark didn’t copy the game plan that previous teams showed, even though he has one of the most skilled offenses in the NFL … but that’s a story for another day. Bottom line:  The Eagles offense is not one to freak out over. Nick Foles was 23-30 for 246 yards which is all they needed him to do against the Falcons. I don’t believe he can have that same performance against this Vikings’ defense for many reasons, but especially considering his quarterback rating (QBR), which shows how efficient a quarterback is during his time played (perfect QBR is 158.3). On passes 10-19 yards, Foles is 102.0, which is crazy good, but on passes 20 yards down field, he has a terrible 10.4 QBR. When Nick is kept clean in the pocket, he has an insane 106.3; however, when he is under pressure, he has an awful 23.8 (stats from Pro Football Focus). This is the main reason why I believe the Vikings will win; it’s all in the play of the quarterbacks.

Even though the Eagles led the NFL in QB pressures this regular season (271), Case Keenum is amazing when he has pressure in his face. Case’s best attribute, in my opinion, is his ability not to get sacked and avoid pressure. Case is sacked only 10.7% of the time that he is under pressure, and while under pressure, he has a 78.5 QBR. Case Keenum is obviously the better quarterback, and the Vikings have a better defense. The Vikes have only given up more than 19 points in a game just three times this year. Meanwhile, the Eagles have given up over 19 points in eight games, and three of those games were in Philadelphia. In a lot of these games, the offenses that the Eagles faced did one main thing and that is “rub” concepts where a wide receiver out-runs a route, not to get open, but to rub/pick a defensive back to free open another receiver, much like in basketball with off-ball screens or picks. Now, the Eagles are tied for fourth in the NFL in interceptions with 19. However that does show their defense is talented; they just happen bite on every single double move. This might be an exaggeration, but the truth is, they bite a lot. This is great for the Vikings who love to throw the ball underneath and rely on RAC yards (run after catch), yet they will likely pull a double move and burn some of the corners one or two times in this conference title game.

 The Vikes have the upper hand in all of these categories, and I believe they have the better coach and roster to beat the Eagles.

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