AFC Championship Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots -- Line: Patriots -7.5
First, let's start with the obvious question about the status of quarterback Tom Brady. I'm fairly certain that barring Brady's hand needing to be surgically removed from his body, Brady's going to start and he'll be throwing. We'll know early on if the injury to his right hand is affecting his ability to throw the ball. And it likely won't show up on deep passes downfield, but it will be more evident on the touch passes, the short routes and the slant passes he'll need to make in order to expose holes in the middle of the field.
What I keep coming back to -- over and over again -- is the performance from the stubborn Jaguars defense that had played so well throughout much of the regular season and in the first round of the AFC Playoffs in a snooze-fest over the Bills.
That same defense, playing with what seemed like an insurmountable lead (21-0 and 28-7), crawled out of Heinz Field after being outscored 35-17 in the final 30:25 of last weekend's Divisional Round victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The key to this game will be Jacksonville's ability to turn quick change of possessions into scores. Get the Patriots off the field and convert by scoring touchdowns, much like they did last weekend.
If the Jaguars can force a turnover, get a sharp change in field position, maintain the game and keep Brady rattled and out of his comfort zone.... if they do all of those things, I think they keep the game close.
But even with all of these things, unless the TB12 method needs to take a buzzsaw to Brady's right hand, I imagine he'll be fine and I see nothing keeping the Patriots from going back to another Super Bowl.
My prediction: NEW ENGLAND 35-Jacksonville 20
Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles -- Line: Vikings -3
Much has been made about the two quarterbacks and their similarities.
While the number 1 man on the totem pole for much of the season in Philadelphia was Carson Wentz, his backup Nick Foles has been more than serviceable. Foles is not a dynamic playmaker, he's not overwhelming with the football, but he has shown in his limited time on the field toward the end of the season to be quite adept at leading this offense.
The midseason addition of Jay Ajayi cannot be overlooked this weekend. His contribution to the Eagles offense will be more important than ever this weekend in poking holes in the Vikings front seven.
The homefield advantage owned by the Eagles this weekend also cannot be understated. The Eagles are 8-1 at home this season, with the lone loss coming in a meaningless regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
And for all the brouhaha and the hype and splendor of the Vikings dramatic win last weekend at home against the New Orleans Saints, it also cannot be ignored that the Vikings coughed up a 17-0 halftime advantage on their home field and were one missed tackle away from watching their dreams of a homefield Super Bowl come crashing through the roof of U.S. Bank Stadium.
No one is asking Foles, or Keenum for that matter, to go above and beyond themselves, but the more balanced offensive attack, to go along with the comforts of home, which cannot be ignored considering the team with the homefield advantage has won the last eight conference championship games dating back to 2013, gives the advantage to the Eagles.
My prediction: PHILADELPHIA 22- Minnesota 16