So, the NFL’s four starting quarterbacks still standing entering conference championship Sunday are Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles. Which name doesn’t belong there? Of course, Brady might go down as the greatest QB in NFL history and is likely to win a third MVP Award early next month as well as possibly a sixth Super Bowl ring.
Keenum and Foles are both journeyman backups as they square off in the NFC Championship Game in the late game Sunday. The Jaguars’ Bortles has largely been a bust as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft and leads the league in turnovers since then, but he can perhaps change the direction of his career with an upset of Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon. New England, the Super Bowl favorite, is -9 at home.
Most everyone around the NFL expected a Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC title game, but the Jaguars were the only road team to win in the Divisional Round as they took a shocking shootout in Pittsburgh, 45-42. Those 45 points were the most ever scored in any playoff game in Pittsburgh, including by the home team. Bortles is mocked openly around the league even by fellow players, but he had a solid game in completing 14 of 26 passes for 214 yards, a touchdown, 35 yards rushing and, most important, no turnovers. Counting the playoffs, the Jaguars are 10-0 this season when Bortles doesn’t throw a pick. This could be Bortles’ final game with the team as it could opt to let him hit free agency.
The real offensive star in Pittsburgh was rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who had a historic afternoon with 109 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He also caught two passes. Fournette had to leave briefly with an ankle injury but didn’t show any ill effects. He will be the focal point of the Patriots defense.
Jacksonville is in the third AFC Championship Game in franchise history. It lost following the 1996 season at New England and following the 1999 season at home against the Titans. The Jaguars are 1-10 all-time against the Patriots, with that victory coming in Florida on January 3, 1999. The teams last played Week 3 of the 2015 season and the Patriots rolled at home 51-17 behind 358 yards and two scores from Brady.
The only Divisional Round game that wasn’t close was New England’s 35-14 win over Tennessee last Saturday night. Well, it was close after one quarter with the Titans leading 7-0, but the Patriots scored 35 consecutive points. Brady threw for 337 yards and three scores. He’ll go up against a Jaguars defense ranked No. 1 against the pass, but which also allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 469 yards and five touchdowns last week.
New England is in a record seventh straight conference championship game. It is 3-3 in the previous six, with one loss at home (following 2012 season to Baltimore). The Pats are just 2-6 ATS in their past eight conference title games overall. They’ll win, but not by more than a touchdown. Take the points.
January 18, 2018