The Road to Super Bowl LII, Championship Round

After 17 grueling weeks of the ‘17-‘18 NFL season, we are officially down to 12 teams, each fighting for a chance to play in Minnesota on Sunday, February 4th: the 52nd Super Bowl.  This season has been saturated with stories of surprising contenders, disappointing pretenders, season-ending injuries, scandalous narratives, and fantasy frustration.  As we try to distance ourselves from that, we look forward to 3 more weeks (4 including the Pro Bowl, *rolls eyes*) of playoff football; arguably the greatest time of the year.  For those of you whose favorite team is no longer in the running, I urge you to pick another team to root for during this time, but more importantly: RELAX.  Enjoy not having to stress out over fantasy or your favorite team.  Good football is ahead.  There will be headlines this entire post-season regarding rematches, first-time playoff QBs, and teams looking to continue their existing post-season dominance.  Get caught up in all of it.  We stress ourselves out over 4 long months with setting our lineups, scouring the waiver wire, and reading injury reports, that we owe it to ourselves to sit down and actually ENJOY football for once.  So sit back, relax, crack open a beer (if you are of age of course), and watch the game that we all love with people we love.

As I did last year, I have each playoff matchup below, including who plays, when, what station will air that game, and most importantly, my prediction for each game.  I have my predictions all the way through the Super Bowl.  Each week I will post an update with how the games went in the previous round, and adjust my predictions for the next round, if necessary.

*All times are U.S. Central Standard Time, home teams are listed first, predicted winners for each round are in BOLD, projected opponents are in (parentheses), previous losers have been struck through, and each round will be updated after each week, .*

 

Wildcard Weekend

Saturday, January 6th:

Kansas City Chiefs (4) vs. Tennessee Titans (5), 3:35 pm on ESPN/ABC

Los Angeles Rams (3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (6), 7:15 pm on NBC

 

Sunday, January 7th:

Jacksonville Jaguars (3) vs. Buffalo Bills (6), 12:05 pm on CBS

New Orleans Saints (4) vs. Carolina Panthers (5), 3:40 pm on FOX

 

Starting off 2-2 with my predications is not great, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible either.  I am sure that everyone reading this was equally as surprised as I had been to see Tennessee come back and win when they were down 21-3 at half; the 1st half went more-or-less as I had anticipated.  As I mentioned for the Falcons game, the only way I saw them winning was to keep Gurley contained.  Even though a 14/101/0 stat line is indicative of a good day, he was limited to only 14 carries; curious play calling, especially when you consider the success he was having.  Because of this, Goff was relied upon to win the game but the Falcons’ defense was simply too good; they definitely seem to be peaking at the right time.  The Jaguars and Bills game was utterly boring, especially when you consider that 13 whole points were scored in the entire game, between both teams.  Lastly, the Saints and Panthers game was everything I had hoped for; it was a close game between two bitter rivals and came down to the wire, ultimately being won by the Saints.

 

Divisional Weekend

Saturday, January 13th:

Philadelphia Eagles (1) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 3:35 pm on NBC

New England Patriots (1) vs. Tennessee Titans, 7:15 pm on CBS

 

Sunday January 14th:

Pittsburgh Steelers (2) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 12:05 pm on CBS

Minnesota Vikings (2) vs. New Orleans Saints, 3:40 pm on FOX

 

Well, this weekend did not go as I had expected, nor as I had hoped.  The Falcons and Eagles game was pretty close, and came down to the wire, but it wasn’t a great show if you ask me.  The Falcons looked pretty gassed and didn’t really have an answer for the Eagle’s defense.  The Eagles were unable to run the ball with any authority but the passing game was able to pick up the slack a bit; the Eagles won this game because of their magnificent defense.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t even watch/listen to the Patriots/Titans game but the box score shows me all I needed to know from that game.  The Titans had the first and final scores of the game, it just so happened that the Patriots outscored them 35-0 between their 2 scores.  The Steelers were snubbed by Jacksonville in what may have been an entertaining game for many of you; as a Steelers fan, I was not entertained.  Jacksonville’s defense got picked apart by Roethlisberger who threw for almost 500 yards and 6 TDs (one was a lateral which counted as a run for Le’Veon Bell).  Blake Bortles on the other hand did not have a great day, but he was capable enough not to let the Steelers back into the game.  The final game of the divisional weekend ended with one of the best halves of playoff football I have ever seen.  Many analysts I have listed to, or read, about the game have talked about how great of a job it was for Case Keenum to bring the Vikings back to win this game.  If I am remembering correctly, the Vikings were up 17-0 at half and were only able to score 6 more points until the final play of the game.  Kudos to the Vikings for pulling it together to win the game, but I remain unconvinced that the Vikings are indeed the better team.  For all you youngsters out there, this is why you tackle with your head UP!

 

Championship Sunday

Sunday, January 21nd:

New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2:05 pm on CBS

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings, 5:40 pm on FOX

 

So with last week’s madcap divisional round, there are a lot of new teams here for me.  To start, we will have the Patriots hosting the Jags.  The narrative going around is that the Steelers didn’t give enough respect to the Jags and that they were looking past them, towards the Patriots.  Regardless of whether or not that is true, the Patriots are NOT looking past this game.  Bortles has done nothing to change my mind in thinking that he is a bad quarterback.  The Jags defense and run game are the two things that they rely on and Belichick knows this.  In case you weren’t aware, Belichick takes pride in taking away the opposing team’s #1 threat, and forcing them to win in other ways.  The Jags will not win on the arm of Blake Bortles, mark my words.  On top of that, Big Ben absolutely torched the Jags this weekend and you know Brady saw how he did it.  For the 2nd game of the weekend we have the #1 seeded Eagles hosting the #2 seeded Vikings.  As I said above, the Eagles snubbed out the Falcons in a rather boring game while the Vikings won a thriller against the Saints.  The Vikings and Eagles were very closely ranked in total offensive passing yards (V-11/E-13), rushing yards (V-7/E-3), and rushing yards allowed (V-2/E-1) during the season.  The biggest difference between the two was passing yards allowed, with Minnesota ranked 2nd and Philadelphia ranked 17th.  Knowing that the weakness between the two is Philly’s pass defense, and having seen Case Keenum have success throwing the ball with authority throughout the year, I give the Vikings the best chance to walk away from this game.

 

Super Bowl Sunday

Sunday, February 4th:

AFC Champion (New England Patriots) vs. NFC Champion (Minnesota Vikings), 5:30 pm on NBC

 

If the Minnesota Vikings are able to make it to the Super Bowl, they would be the 1st team in NFL history to host the big game in their own stadium.  You would think that this would be the ultimate home-field advantage, but I am not quite so sure.  From what I have heard, the Super Bowl is not nearly as rowdy as any of the other playoff games tend to be.  Fans don’t pack the stands as much when ticket prices are as much as a new car.  Your usual face-painted, foam-finger wearing, alcohol-intoxicated fans are replaced with people of money and stature.  With that being said, anyone who talks about home field advantage making a difference in this game may be sorely mistaken.  As much as I would hate seeing the Patriots win another Super Bowl, we all know they have the most experience between these 2 teams.  New England started the season pretty slow but have obviously taken care of business since.  The Vikings have held strong throughout the season, but that win over the Saints surely will have taken a lot out of them.  As good as Minnesota’s defense is, Tom Brady is better.  The Patriots will try to establish the run, and when all else fails, Tom will get it done.

 

Image Credit: CBSSports.com