NFL playoffs: Picks, predictions for AFC & NFC Championship Games
Championship Sunday has some new blood.
While the New England Patriots are in their NFL-record seventh straight conference championship, not since 2009 have one of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings reached this stage.
The Jaguars have made only two previous AFC Championship appearances — in 1996 and 1999. They lost both, but this year's group are confident they can pull off another upset following last weekend's surprise 45-42 Divisional win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Eagles and Vikings have a combined six Super Bowl appearances between them but no championships in the Super Bowl era. The winner of Sunday's NFC championship will hope to rectify that.
Philadelphia last appeared in the conference title game following the 2008 season, when they lost to Kurt Warner's Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings are in the playoffs for just the third time since Brett Favre led them to a title game defeat to the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 campaign.
Here Omnisport's Ron Clements makes his predictions for who will contest Super Bowl LII.
NFL conference championship picks, predictions
Jaguars (12-6) at Patriots (14-3)
If there's one thing Bill Belichick and his Patriots coaching staff do better than any other team, it is putting together a solid game plan. Jacksonville's victory in Pittsburgh was certainly an eye opener.
"Very impressive," Belichick said of the Jaguars win. "They did a great job. They do a lot of things well, play good defense, can rush the passer, can stop the run, turn the ball over, can run the ball, have a lot of explosive players in the passing game, they're good in the kicking game, they're very aggressive in the kicking game. They're well coached. I know that, for sure. They've handled the situations that have come up in those games very well — fourth-and-one in the first quarter, things like that. They've really done a good job, so yeah, it's impressive."
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has made plays with his legs the last two weeks, something that Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said makes the Jaguars a "very dangerous group."
While the Jaguars have been impressive in beating the Bills and Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots present a substantially more fearsome challenge.
Bortles has been far too inconsistent throwing the ball to trust the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium against a seasoned team like the Patriots, even with Tom Brady nursing an injured throwing hand.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Jaguars 9
Vikings (14-3) at Eagles (14-3)
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum and Eagles QB Nick Foles started the 2017 season as valued backups but hardly players expected to be in the position they'll be in Sunday: each having a shot to lead his team to a Super Bowl.
Both will face dominant defensive lines able to force pressure without help from linebackers or defensive backs, meaning they will likely be presented with seven or eight-man coverages. Foles has been inconsistent since taking over for Carson Wentz, but Keenum has shown an uncanny knack for buying time in the pocket, having been sacked only 22 times. He could pick on the Eagles' occasionally spotty pass defense.
That said, the Eagles overall have a good defense. The Vikings have a great defense. And against Philadelphia's struggling offense, Minnesota's defense has what it takes to lead the Vikings to a first Super Bowl since 1976 — to be played in their own stadium, no less, a first in the Super Bowl era.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Eagles 17
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