The Final Four. The last teams standing after a grueling 2017-18 season. Jaguars. Patriots. Vikings. Eagles. A murderer’s row of historically successful NFL teams. There’s a little bit of everything this weekend: a fast, fun, trash talking and playmaking defense in Jacksonville, a potential team of destiny in Minnesota, a “nobody believes in us” one seed in Philly, and the Pats. Two juicy, intriguing matchups that theoretically go either way. Well, they could go either way if you don’t already know what’s going to happen. Luckily, I do, so you can rest easy placing bets on Sunday if you simply follow my sage advice. This is the last day with more than one football game until September, so savor it. Maybe order an extra pizza or a dozen more wings than you usually get. It has to last two weeks, after all. There’s a lot to talk about with each of these games, so might as well dive right in.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots (-8)
Until Wednesday, this was looking like just another AFC Championship Game for the Pats. Seven in a row, ho-hum. The only possible talking point was some manufactured drama about whether or not the Pats’ typical “our opponent is the greatest team of all time” speech was genuine or not. But then disaster struck and Tom Brady picked up a mysterious hand injury that is either brilliant gamesmanship or a serious injury that may have a dramatic impact on the game. I’m inclined to go with the latter. Belichick never gives anything away, so his dismissive press conference was no cause for alarm, but Brady’s?
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 19, 2018
Yikes. That doesn’t sound like someone who definitely doesn’t have a hand injury. I’m hoping him wearing those gloves all day are just a way to boost the Under Armour #brand, but my brain is telling me otherwise. It sounds pretty obvious and reductive to say, but I think this game will be pretty obvious after the first Patriots drive. Quarterbacks can’t exactly hide a throwing hand injury. If he’s feeling good and can make all the throws he usually does, I don’t think the Jags will stand a chance. The Jags’ D is excellent, yes, but it’s far from invincible. They’ve given up 40+ points twice in the last four games. They have absolutely nothing for Gronk that doesn’t involve repeated hits to his head and knees. And all this talk about the Jags’ d, but guess who allowed the fifth fewest points per game in the NFL? Did you guess the Pats? I hope so because that’s the answer. The lowly Patriots who can’t stop a nosebleed don’t allow points. Who’d a thunk it? Don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but Belichick takes away what you do best. You think he’s gonna let Bortles start scrambling around, moving the chains, and chucking deep? Something tells me no. A healthy Brady means another Super Bowl appearance that will probably take another five years off my life. But that’s the other side of the coin. If the hand isn’t right, if he can’t grip the ball or the throws are all over the place or if the keep cutting to him and the trainer working on the hand on the sideline things might get a little hairy. Jags get an early stop or early pick, get out to a lead, then the feeding frenzy is on. Or if, god forbid, Brian Hoyer has to come in you know the Jags D will have stars in their eyes. Brady is an irreplaceable superstar, so if he’s not 100% the Pats are going to struggle. That’s really the only chance the Jags have, to be honest. So, if possible, wait until after the first Pats drive to put in your bet. It should be clear right away. Healthy= Pats cover, hurt= Jags cover. But, since I need to make a pick and I’m a homer, I’m going to pray he’s healthy.
Pick: Pats -8
Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
If you were paying attention last week or on Tuesday, you know I teased this game as the ultimate matchup of Loser DNA. Once again, no Wentz means you can kind of throw out the numbers. These are the two best defenses in the NFC by almost any measure, anyway. It’s going to be ugly and low scoring. One play will decide it. Which is where the Loser DNA comes in. It won’t be who makes the play. It’ll be who gives it up. And one team is working with a much, much worse case of LDNA than the other. Philly fans are, by nature, pessimistic and quick to predict doom. But they don’t really have all that many terrible losses. Matter of fact, most memorable Eagles moments I can think of wind up with the Birds on top. They don’t really have the crushing losses, they’re just always kind of bad. Sure, McNabb and Reid should have won a Super Bowl, but that’s it. That’s not a cosmically bad case of LDNA. That’s the kind of LDNA that can be overcome. The Eagles are the exact kind of team that can still win a championship and escape decades of losing because it doesn’t seem like the universe is against them. They just haven’t won yet. The Vikings, on the other hand. Last week I said they would beat the Saints and be heavily favored in the NFC Championship and blow it because that’s the the Vikings do. Then they blew the lead on the Saints and I thought, well, this is what the Vikings do, too, so I guess I can live with being wrong. But then they pull off one of the luckiest, most stunning game winning plays in NFL history. It might have been the loudest stadium of all time. Reaction videos came pouring in. Tortured Vikings fans saying all those years of heartbreak were worth it. That surely they were going to the Super Bowl now. A Super Bowl in their home stadium, if you hadn’t heard. Vikings fans’ hope has never been higher. Last week I said the Vikings would beat the Saints then lose to an inferior opponent because that’s what the Vikings do. This week I’m saying losing a very winnable NFC Championship Game against Nick Foles with the first ever home team Super Bowl berth on the line after pulling of a miraculous victory that got every Vikings fan to buy in is such a certainty that I might take out ten different loans so I can bet every possible penny on the Eagles. It’s just what the Vikings do.
Pick: Eagles +3.5