2018 NFL Conference Championships Preview

 

Only the New England Patriots is one of the NFL Preseason Super Bowl betting favorites to make it to the NFL Conference Championships. At one point before the season started, the Patriots had gone all the way down to 3 to 1 favoritism to win Super Bowl 52.

New England’s the only team that the odds makers got right. The Patriots dominated the Tennessee Titans 35 to 14 in the Divisional Round. New England beat Tennessee by stopping the Titans rushing attack while pressuring Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota on passing downs. Now, the Pats battle the Jacksonville Jaguars, 45 to 42 upset winners over the Pittsburgh Steelers, in this Sunday’s AFC Championship.

In the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings used a last play mistake by Saints free safety Marcus Williams to stamp their ticket to the NFC Championship. The Vikings travel to Philadelphia to battle the Eagles. The Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 15 to 10 as +3 home dogs in the Divisional Round.

Check out my previews of both 2018 NFL Conference Championship games.

2018 NFL Conference Championships Preview

Sunday, Jan. 21

Jacksonville Jaguars +9.5 at New England Patriots -9.5

When:  3:05 pm ET

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots’ defense was so bad during the first half of the regular season that stats imply the Patriots absolutely fumble it on D in this Sunday’s AFC Championship. New England allows a ridiculous 366 total yards per game. That ranks 29th in the NFL. The Patriots rank 30th in the NFL in total passing yards allowed per game. New England allows a scary bad 251.2 passing yards per. Opponents rush for 114.8 yards per versus the New England Patriots.

But, the Patriots’ defense steps it up when it comes to the only defensive stat that truly matters. New England’s D allows 18.5 points per game. That ranks 5th in the NFL. So, on one hand, the Patriots give up a lot of yards. On the other hand, the Patriots’ D doesn’t give up a lot of points.

When it comes to the New England Patriots’ offense, forget it. It’s one of the best units in the NFL. The Pats average 394.2 total yards per game. That actually ranks first in the NFL. The Pats pass for 276.1 yards. the Patriots rush for 118.1 yards per. That ranks 10th in the NFL. New England ranks 2nd in the league in points per game. The Pats average 28.6 points per.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense doesn’t come close to being as frightening to NFL defenses as the New England Patriots’ offense. The Jags’ do go for 365.9 total yards per. That ranks 6th in the NFL. Of the 365.9 total yards, the Jaguars pass for 224.6 yards. They rush for 141.4 yards. Jacksonville averages a fantastic 26.1 points per. That ranks 5th in the league.

Jacksonville’s defense is where the magic often happens. Based on total average yards allowed per game, Jacksonville has the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL. The Jags allow 286.1 total yards per game. Opponents rush for an average of 116.2 yards per game versus the Jaguars. That ranks 21st. Opponents only throw for 169.9 passing yards per game versus the Jags’ secondary. That ranks 1st in the NFL. When it comes to points allowed per game, no team is better than Jacksonville. The Jags allow an average of 15.8 points per game.

Key Match ups – QB Blake Bortles versus New England’s Pass Defense

Analysis: New England’s pass defense gives up a lot of yards. But, it rarely gives up TD passes. Not only that, it managed to pressure QB Marcus Mariota all day in New England’s 35 to 14 Divisional Round win over the Tennessee Titans.

New England sacked Mariota 8 times for 52 yards lost. Granted, Mariota got hurt in the game before many of those sacks occurred. After watching the game, it’s apparent that Tennessee allowed the Patriots to collapse the pocket on Marcus. Mariota had switch things up once the pocket started to collapse.

Mariota’s biggest issue in the game was not throwing to his hot read. Sure, the Patriots dominated the Tennessee Titans’ rushing attack, but Mariota’s hot read was more open than not. Once the Titans lost tackle Jake Conklin to an injury, Tennessee’s coaches should have had Mariota look more to his hot read, usually RB Derrick Henry, sooner than he did.

Will Blake Bortles find the hot read in Sunday’s AFC Championship? I think he will, but I also believe it might not matter. Bortles is plenty good enough to throw the football to Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, and Kenan Cole.

Not only that, but new England must play man-to-man defense because they’ll have to stack the box to prevent the Jaguars from rushing all over their defense. I feel that this is a horrible match up for the New England Patriots as it is. The Patriots are a pass first team that goes up against the best pass defense in the NFL. The Pats allow way too many passing yards while they must account for the best rushing offense in the NFL.

When it comes to the key match up, Bortles should have no problem taking apart New England’s secondary. Yes, I just wrote that. I think the Jaguars beat the Patriots straight up in the 2018 AFC Championship.

Final Score:  Jacksonville Jaguars 31, New England Patriots 27 

Minnesota Vikings -3.5 at Philadelphia Eagles +3.5

When:  6:40 pm ET

Minnesota Vikings

If you put aside the fact that the Vikings got lucky to beat the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round, there are still reasons to jump on Minnesota at -3.5 over the Philadelphia Eagles in this Sunday’s NFC Championship.

Simply put, the Vikings might be the most consistent team on both offense and defense that’s left in the NFL Final Four. the Vikings average 356.9 total yards per game. That ranks 11th in the league. Minnesota passes for 234.6 yards per. That also ranks 11th in the league. Minnesota rushes for 122.3 yards per game. That ranks 7th in the NFL. The Vikings score 23.9 points per. The Vikings rank 10th in the NFL in points scored per game.

Defensively, there doesn’t appear to be a better unit in the NFL. Minnesota ranks 1st in the league in total yards allowed per. Opponents average 275.9 yards per game versus the Vikings’ D. The Vikings rank 2nd both against the pass and against the rush. Minnesota allows 192.4 passing yards per. They allow 83.6 rushing yards per. Opponents average 15.8 points per against the Vikings’ defense. That ties Minnesota for 1st in the league in points allowed per game.

Philadelphia Eagles

Based on overall stats, Philadelphia’s defense doesn’t compare to Minnesota’s. Minnesota’s appears better. A closer look reveals that the Eagles can play some defense, though. The Eagles allow a total of 306.5 yards per game. That ranks 4th in the NFL. Philly’s D only gives up 79.2 rushing yards per game. The Eagles give up 227.3 passing yards per. When it comes to points allowed, Philly gives up an average of 18.4 per. That ranks 4th in the league.

Philadelphia’s offense is somewhat comparable to Minnesota’s. The Eagles average 28.6 points per game. Granted, the points per game average was built off the arm of starting QB Carson Wentz. Still, Foles has done a good job running the Eagles now vanilla offense. The Eagles rush for 132.2 yards per game on average behind both LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.

Key Match up:  QB Nick Foles versus Minnesota’s Defense

A big match up is in regards to Minnesota’s defense versus the Eagles rushing attack. I have no doubt that the Vikings will find a way to stop both Blount and Ajayi from rushing for too many yards. Once the Eagles’ rushing attack becomes close to a non-factor the big match up is going to be how Nick Foles performs versus Minnesota’s D.

First, let me write that the Vikings are going to play it cool on offense. It’s doubtful they try to do too much. Expect Minnesota to lean on it’s rushing attack and short passing game. Both teams want to control the clock. But, Case Keenum has started all season for Minnesota. Nick Foles hasn’t.

Foles’ performance versus the Vikings’ D is more important than Keenum’s performance versus the Eagles’ D. Will Foles come up big against, arguably, the best defense in the NFL?

I believe he will. If Foles didn’t fold his hand against the Atlanta Falcons’ defense, I don’t believe he suddenly folds his hand versus the Minnesota Vikings’ defense. Foles’ wide receivers are excellent. He made the right choices versus the Falcons in the Divisional Round win.

I believe he makes the right choices versus Minnesota in the NFC Championship. I think Nick Foles and the rest of the Eagles play huge against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 21.

Final Score: Philadelphia Eagles 23, Minnesota Vikings 18