By Cam Giangrande
Jacksonville in the AFC Title Game?
With only one week left in the NFL regular season, there are still a few questions which need to be answered. A few pivotal games this week will determine the playoff fate for some teams. In the AFC, both the Chargers and the Bills sit at 8-7 and are the two teams on the outside looking in. In the NFC, there is only the Seattle Seahawks, who sit at 9-6. The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens are currently in, in the AFC; while the Falcons are clinging to a playoff spot in the NFC. For these teams, week 17 is actually week one of the playoffs.
The Titans have a tough path, having to play Jacksonville this week. Coming off an awful loss in San Fransisco, the Jaguars don’t want to go into the playoffs losing their final two games of the season. Even though the game is Tennessee, I can’t see the Jags defense putting up two stinkers in a row.
A Jacksonville victory would eliminate Tennessee and open the door for either the Buffalo Bills or LA Chargers to push through. Realistically, only one of them will emerge because it is unlikely that the Baltimore Ravens will lose in Cincinnati. A win for the Ravens will put them at 10-6 and safely in the fifth seed.
The Chargers are at home against the Raiders and the Bills go on the road against the Miami Dolphins. Obviously if either team wins but the other loses, the winning team will move on. But if both win, the Chargers move on because they destroyed Buffalo 54-24 in Week 11.
This is all somewhat academic because the New England Patriots are sitting with the top seed in the AFC yet again! The only upset I can envision in the AFC will be Jacksonville heading into Pittsburgh in the divisional round, and defeating the Steelers. In this scenario, the Jags would play in New England in the AFC Championship game.
January 1997: The Jags return home at 1:30am after beating Denver 30-27 to advance to the AFC Championship game. pic.twitter.com/SE84B5qgx0
— Alyssa Lang (@AlyssaLang) December 14, 2017
Although the Patriots are the odds–on favorite to play in the Super Bowl again, it wouldn’t shock me if either Baltimore or Kansas City knocked them off in the divisional game. The standards are so high in New England that even a 13-3 season can sometimes seem inadequate. Kansas City already beat the Pats this season in New England; on opening night, and the Ravens have never been intimidated about the Patriots mystique. Ultimately I do think the Patriots will emerge again, to be the AFC representative in Minnesota.
The Rams will play in the NFC Championship Game
For me, the NFC picture is far more interesting. The Philadelphia Eagles sit atop the NFC, but they lost their MVP contending quarterback, Carson Wentz, two weeks ago. And although the Minnesota Vikings are right behind them at 12-3, there are three teams on their heels, sitting at 11-4 (Rams, Saints and Panthers). The Defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons are resiliently clinging to the final playoff spot. They have a tough matchup in Week 17, at home against the Panthers. They could lose that game which would open the door for the always dangerous Seattle Seahawks team led by Russell Wilson. As much as I’d love to see what Wilson can do in the playoffs, I think playoff toughness will get Atlanta over the hump against Carolina to ultimately prevail.
In that scenario, a Carolina loss would give New Orleans the division title and fourth seed…and the two would face off during Wild Card weekend, in New Orleans. The Falcons would go to Los Angeles to play the Rams. I think the home teams will prevail with the Saints traveling to Philadephia, while the Rams go to Minnesota. I think the loss of Wentz will be too much for the Eagles to overcome and I see New Orleans winning in a blowout. While in Minnesota, I see the Vikings putting up a valiant effort, but between the air attack of Jared Goff and the pounding running of Todd Gurley, the Rams will prove to be too much for Minnesota.
This will lead to a fantastic NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, in Los Angeles. A little over a month ago, I predicted the Super Bowl would be between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, which would show off the league’s two oldest quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees. To not change my hot take of a few weeks ago, I guess I have to stick with it. That means that New Orleans will prevail in the NFC championship game and go on to play the Pats.
I said that the Saints would beat the Patriots, with Brees winning his second Super Bowl and second Super Bowl MVP award. I definitely see a high–scoring affair, with Brees taking advantage of a weak Patriots secondary, to put up a ton of points. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 38-36 final.
All the nonsense of the regular season seems to be behind us, and we can look forward to the playoffs. By this time next week, we’ll be in a new year, and the playoff matchups will be in place. We should be in for an exciting few weeks. Will we begin to see a changing of the guard, or will the old lions continue to roar? My bet is on the lions. Not the Detroit ones, of course.
Featured Image: (AP Photo/Steven Senne)