By Cam Giangrande
New Orleans rookie safety Marcus Williams handed Super Bowl LII to the New England Patriots when he allowed Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs to blow by him on the final play of last Sunday’s divisional game, giving Minnesota the most improbable of victories.
With the possibility of a championship week featuring Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees gone, we are stuck with Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Blake Bortles; along with Brady. Did you ever play the game, “one of these things is not like the other”? The NFL can’t be happy.
Here's Sunday @NYDNSports back page with #ConferenceChampionship Sunday on the brain. #TomBrady #TomBradysHand #NEvsJAX #MINvsPHI https://t.co/6U07tiaOHq @BackPageGuyNYDN @garymyersNYDN @evan9rossman @PLeonardNYDN @APSE_sportmedia pic.twitter.com/v4pXoMBc9E
— Ian Powers (@IanPowers) January 21, 2018
For months I predicted the big game would pit the Patriots against the Saints in a Brady-Brees duel. With 10 seconds left in the Saints/Vikings game, I was feeling good about my pick. The Jaguars dispatched the Steelers as I thought they would, giving the Pats an easier path to the Super Bowl. And, it seemed certain the Saints would be playing in the NFC championship game against a Carson Wentz-less Eagles team. All that changed when Diggs crossed the goal line with zero time left on the clock.
The fact is, there is one team left who can beat the Patriots; and that’s the Patriots themselves. They are nine-point favorites against the Jaguars, and if we’re being objective, the Jags have no legitimate path to victory. Having scored over 40 points against the Steelers actually works against them this week, because they can’t sneak up on the Pats. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has to take notice that they can score, and he will be prepared for whatever Bortles has in store for them. The Jaguars defense is terrific, yet they gave up over 40 points to the Steelers, and over 400 yards to Roethlisberger. They are incapable of getting ahead 21-0 against the Pats; and they are incapable of catching up if they get down by over one score. Add to that, last week’s game was the Super Bowl for the Jaguars. They will no doubt have a huge letdown this week at Gillette Stadium. Punch the Patriots ticket to Minnesota.
Vikings Will be Vanquished
Similar to the Jaguars, I believe the Vikings will have a letdown this week against the Eagles: how could they not? A Vikings victory would create a bit of Super Bowl history since Minnesota would be the first host town to have the home team playing in the game. It’s never happened. Maybe it’s merely a weird little vagary that’s destined to never happen. In some strange way, maybe those teams feel an extra level of pressure, pressing to play in front of the hometown fans. Whatever the reason, the fact is it hasn’t happened. I believe that trend will continue.
Vegas has made the Vikings three-point favorites against the Eagles. Not many people are picking the Eagles to win this game, but I will. In their history, as home underdogs in the playoffs, the Eagles are 4-0. After Sunday, they will be 5-0. I believe Minnesota will come out flat, and Philadelphia will take an early lead. Once they get the lead, they won’t relinquish it. Minnesota will falter and be unable to come back.
Historically, the home team wins this game. There have been 94 total AFC and NFC championship games. The home team is 64-30 straight up, winning 68% of the games. I’ll play the odds and go with the two top seeds, who are both playing at home. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again”; with the Patriots winning their third Super Bowl in four years; for the second time. The only question for the Patriots and their fans will be, is this run one long dynasty going back to 2001, or are they two separate dynasties? There is one other question: will the Patriots be the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a row? At this point, how could anyone bet against them?