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Saturday, 20 January 2018

NFL Play Off Picks 2018- Championship Games (January 21st)

There are now only three games left in the 2017 NFL season and this weekend we will get to see both AFC and NFC Champions crowned and the Super Bowl set up in two weeks time.

The Divisional Round was better than I thought it was going to be with a fantastic Sunday as the two games played went down to the wire.

It will take a long time to see a better finish than the one in the Minnesota Vikings game against the New Orleans Saints, even if I was a little disappointed to see the Saints going down the way they did.

Now it feels like the New England Patriots are clear favourites to win the Super Bowl and defend the Championship they won last season. However the Minnesota Vikings will feel confident with the Super Bowl being played in their home Stadium, while both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles have shown they can upset the odds by simply making it to the Championship Game.

Hopefully we will see a couple of games that come close to the quality games we saw last Sunday.

Onto the NFL Championship Game picks.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots Pick: I only had myself to blame for believing in the Pittsburgh Steelers to want to bounce back from the regular season loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and finding their way into the Championship Game. It became very clear in their loss to the Jaguars that the Pittsburgh Defensive unit was not going to be good enough to get off the field and the Steelers did all they could Offensively before coming up short.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will head to the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship Game after the Patriots recovered from a slow start to crush the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. The Titans finished behind the Jaguars in the AFC South in the regular season, but it was the Titans who won both gams and that should underline the size of the task in front of the Jaguars.

That is perhaps not represented by the spread which sees the New England Patriots come in as the same size favourite to beat the Jaguars as the Pittsburgh Steelers were.

Much of that may be down to the fact that Tom Brady suffered a hand injury during the week which had the Patriots scrambling for a MRI to determine how bad things were for their Quarter Back. Losing Brady would be a huge blow for the Patriots, but it sounds like it was a big scare and one where Brady has avoided a serious injury.

The doubt around his status has perhaps contributed to the number in this Championship Game, but it does feel weird that the Patriots are only considered a point better than the Jaguars. Last week the New England Patriots were asked to cover almost two Touchdown worth of points against the Tennessee Titans and this number looks out of sync.

Of course Brady and the Patriots have to respect the Defensive unit they are playing against, but the Jaguars did give up some big plays against the Steelers last week. While the Patriots don't have the same level of talent as Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and the Running Back committee have played well enough to keep the chains moving for New England in this one.

Some will look at the pass rush that the Jaguars have as a strong means of slowing down New England and I do think they will have success rattling Tom Brady. However this is a player with so much experience to find the holes that Pittsburgh exploited last week and I do think the Patriots can have a big day Offensively.

Jacksonville will need the Defensive unit to bounce back from what was a rougher than expected outing in the Divisional Round. It is hard to think Blake Bortles and the Jaguars are going to have as much success as they did against the Pittsburgh Steelers in this game against a Bill Belichick Defensive unit.

There is little doubt that New England have given up some big yards at times, but they are a bend, don't break, Defensive unit and there are reasons to believe they can force Bortles into a couple of key mistakes. Overall this season the Patriots have struggled against the run, but that has been an area of improvement and right now they are playing so well on the Defensive Line that the Patriots will believe they can win up front.

With Leonard Fournette banged up and being limited in practice, the Running Back may struggle to move the chains as well as he did last week in Pittsburgh. That is only going to increase the pressure on Bortles who can't expect to have the clear gaps in the New England Defensive unit that he saw at Heinz Field.

For starters the Patriots have a very strong Secondary who have found a way to be very effective against the pass, and this Jacksonville Receiving corps will have a tough time beating them out. Add in a strong pass rush that demolished the Tennessee Titans last week and I think the Jaguars could have difficulties moving the chains with any consistency in this one.

Bortles has yet to make a really bad mistake in the Play Offs, but I can see Belichick setting up for a couple in this game and I am going to assume Tom Brady is good to go for the New England Patriots.

It is a big number when you think of how well Jacksonville have played Defensively and there has been some big talk coming from a young unit. However I don't think they played well enough in the Divisional Round to think that would be good enough again and I think Tom Brady will find the holes to exploit them.

I like the Patriots here and I think they can win this one by double digits with a late Bortles Interception sealing yet another trip to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: They have already upset one team as a home underdog in the Play Offs and the Philadelphia Eagles will be trying to use the motivation of 'no one believing in us' to help them make the Super Bowl at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings.

The win over the Atlanta Falcons was a huge one for the Eagles, but they needed a goal line stand at the end of the game to secure the victory. Much of that was down to the Defensive unit holding the Falcons to just 10 points and the Eagles will be looking for that unit to lead the way to any success they have in the NFC Championship Game.

While the Eagles won a tight game on Saturday with a huge stand, the Minnesota Vikings were almost certainly out of the Play Offs with time ticking down and one play to go. Somehow the 'Miracle of Minneapolis' took place as Case Keenum found a pass to Stefon Diggs who was completely missed by Safety Marcus Williams on the tackle and ran the ball into the End Zone for the game winning Touchdown.

It has to be the most remarkable finish to any NFL game in a long time, perhaps since the New England Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks. Picking yourself emotionally from such a performance can be difficult, but I imagine the Minnesota Vikings will be keen to become the first team to play a Super Bowl at home and snap a 0-5 record in the Championship Game since 1977.

Like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings will believe their Defensive unit is strong enough to lay the foundations for success in this Championship Game. The difference will come through the successes of the two Offenses that will take to the field.

There is little doubt that Philadelphia have not looked the same with Nick Foles at Quarter Back instead of Carson Wentz and they were limited to 15 points in the win over the Falcons a week ago. Scoring points against this Vikings Defense will be an even tougher test and I am not going to worry about the way Drew Brees moved the chains as he is vastly superior at Quarter Back than Foles.

The Vikings begin on the Defensive Line and making sure they are not allowing teams to establish the run against them. Last week it was the Brees success throwing the ball in the second half which got the run game back on track. but the Eagles first thought will be to run the ball and that is not going to be easy.

This time there is no Brees to worry about in the passing game and the Vikings will feel they can get pressure on Foles and force some errant throws. Maybe the short passes to the Running Backs coming out of the backfield can have some success, but ultimately there won't be a lot of consistency from the Eagles Offensively and so the pressure will be on the Defensive unit to make the big plays.

Case Keenum didn't have a huge game last week against New Orleans, but he made some top throws during the Divisional Round Game and the winning one to Stefon Diggs will always be remembered, especially if the Vikings can go all the way and win the Super Bowl. Not much was expected from Keenum this season, but he has come in and taken over the starting Quarter Back job and this feels like a game that will come down on his shoulders.

Like the Minnesota Vikings, the Philadelphia Defensive Line have been strong against the run and they will believe they can force the Quarter Back to try and beat them through the air. The Eagles have a tough Secondary too so it will up to Diggs and Adam Thielen to make the big catches and create the separation from the Defensive Backs to aid Keenum in this one.

It really feels like a close game and last season the Vikings did come to the Philadelphia Eagles as a 3 point favourite only to lose the game. The Eagles Defensive Line created havoc that day, but I think Keenum is able to escape some of the pressure with his scrambles better than Foles will be able to do for the Eagles.

That slight difference may change the entire complexion of the Championship Game and I do think the Vikings will be able to beat the Eagles. The Minnesota Defensive unit can make some big plays to help win the field battle and I think Case Keenum and the team will play with a confidence that comes from the big play that ended the Divisional Round Game.

Maybe the Vikings feel it is their destiny to play in the home Super Bowl after the crazy finish to the win over New Orleans and I think they have the better Offensive unit on the field in this one. It'll be close and nip and tuck for a while, but I like the Vikings to just have the bigger plays in a win and a cover on the road.

Philadelphia used the motivation of being the home underdog to a success last week and they remain dangerous with that mind set going into the weekend. However I can't see the Offense having a lot of success and the Vikings can make their way into the Super Bowl for the first time in a generation.

MY PICKS: New England Patriots - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 3 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)

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