Knotted up with three games to go, the PFT Postseason Picks challenge will definitely have a leader come Sunday night. We disagree on one of the two games to be played on Sunday.
For the picks in both of the Conference Championship games, keep reading. And then keep counting the hours and minutes until a pair of excellent games get started on Sunday afternoon.
Last week, MDS was 3-1, and I went 2-2. The difference? He believed in the Eagles. Even if he no longer does.
Jaguars at Patriots
MDS’s take: Last week everyone dismissed the Jaguars’ chances of winning in Pittsburgh, and this week everyone is dismissing the Jaguars’ chances of winning in New England. I think Jacksonville is a better team than people give it credit for, but the difference this week is that Bill Belichick and his staff will have a better game plan than Mike Tomlin and his staff had last week. The way to beat the Jaguars is to run the ball and stop the run, and I think the Patriots’ game plan will be heavily focused on that. Tom Brady had 53 passes last week. He won’t have anything close to that this week, as the Patriots will win the game on the ground and head to yet another Super Bowl.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 30, Jaguars 20.
Florio’s take: The Jaguars have the defense to slow down the Patriots, with a strong rush coming up the middle and man-to-man coverage behind it. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the X-factor, but the Broncos beat the Patriots two years ago in this round, and Gronk had eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, however, the Jaguars may not be able to match the Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick will implement a game plan aimed at taking away running back Leonard Fournette, which will require quarterback Blake Bortles to make a big throw in a big spot, eventually. If he can’t, the Jaguars won’t win. (Of course, this analysis is premised on Tom Brady playing quarterback for the Patriots. If he can’t play due to that hand injury, or if he’s clearly impaired, the Jaguars could end up with the ticket to Minnesota.)
Florio’s pick: Patriots 24, Jaguars 16.
Vikings at Eagles
MDS’s take: The Vikings’ defense had a late-game letdown that nearly cost them the game against the Saints, and it all happened after safety Andrew Sendejo suffered a concussion. Sendejo appears ready to go for Sunday, which should boost a good Minnesota defense. On the other side of the ball, I think Case Keenum will keep playing good football as he has all year, and he’ll lead Minnesota to a Super Bowl on its home field.
MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 20.
Florio’s take: Flip a coin, throw a dart, light a match. I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week. At the end of Friday’s PFT Live, I had to finally pick a winner. I blurted out the Eagles. It could be a mistake (hardly my first), but home-field advantage is the difference in this one. If the game were being played in Minnesota, the Vikings would win easily; in Philly, it’s going to be a close, grind-it-out game that eventually wears down Minnesota’s defense and offensive line, allowing the Eagles to make that one key play needed to win the game. The best hope for the Vikings? Come out of the gates hot, pressuring (and demoralizing) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and establishing a double-digit lead, which the Vikings have down many times this year (10 games saw the Vikings build leads of 16 points or more). Quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees were able to carve into those margins. Nick Foles wouldn’t be, if it comes to that. Based on 45 years of following the NFL closely (old), and witnessing the Vikings coming up short in a big spot again and again and again, the home team gets the edge — and the Eagles secure the right to lose in the Super Bowl. Unless they can get the Super Bowl moved to Philadelphia.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 16, Vikings 13.