Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Tom Brady. Those are the last quarterbacks left standing. It’s actually quite unbelievable. Many of these quarterbacks, I still don’t trust. I still do not trust Blake Bortles or Nick Foles. Case Keenum is slowly earning my respect. He played fearlessly on last week and I can respect that effort. And Tom Brady is a Hall of Fame quarterback who continues to exude excellence and championship caliber ball. The only thing that can stop Tom Brady from securing an AFC championship is well an injury. Plot twist.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots
If this was a normal New England game, with everyone including Tom Brady healthy, then I wouldn’t even write an analysis of this game. Literally, I would simply say Patriots win by a lot and move on. But this isn’t a normal game. Tom Brady injured his hand. Or more specifically, his running back, Rex Burkhead, who is eager and doesn’t have the good sense God gave a squirrel, injured his hand. So, now that puts the entire football world on pause. Tom Brady, who is a legendary champion and competitor, playing possibly with gloves against a team that has a good defense and a less than average quarterback. Look, don’t tell me that Blake Bortles is better than average or even average. Don’t. Simply because he won against the Buffalo Bills and was gifted a game by the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t mean that he is special.
I won’t pretend to know all the mechanics that come into play with being a quarterback. But I know that an injured thumb is simply not something that you want just days before a championship game. I also know that Tom likes to practice. He is a technician and if he sits out practices then that is indicative of a serious injury. But this is what I know about Tom Brady. He is a champion. He has fought back from serious adversity and relishes the opportunity to add plot lines to his football immortality. Brady will play through the injury and he will be brilliant but I am not convinced that his receivers will all be on the same page. There will be some errant passes and this will not be a clean game. Instead, there will be moments when Brady will look his age and his receivers will disappoint him.
But even will all that, I am picking the New England Patriots to win. I simply don’t believe that Bortles can go into Gillette Stadium and embarrass them. I don’t. I think every Patriot will be on high alert. The Patriots’ defense is a better defense with James Harrison and Blake will finally get the stout defensive effort that he has not seen the entire post season.
Here’s my disclaimer. The Jacksonville defense can put Brady on his back multiple times till they disrupt him into having absolutely no rhythm. Also, they could re-aggravate the injury and the Patriots lose. But, I have to go with the championship team with this game. A 60% Tom Brady with the Patriots is better than a 100% Blake Bortles with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I have the New England Patriots winning this game 28-17.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
I’m looking forward to the Vikings and Eagles game. Both of these teams are pretty evenly matched. Philadelphia Eagles played a decent game against a team that did everything they could to ensure a loss. Atlanta played like they could have been beat by any little league team in America. It was abysmal. Meanwhile, Minnesota played a historic game. They never gave up, even when their defense faltered in the fourth quarter. They did just enough to win the game.
There are two components about this game that will override everything else. The defense and quarterback play. The Vikings have better defensive players on their team and I fully expect Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith to take away what little success Foles tries to accomplish with his passing game. Also, this game is going to turn on quarterback play. Who can make the touchdown when the game is on the line? Case Keenum has proven that he can make a critical throw but was it a fluke or is he that guy? Nick Foles is by no means a quarterback that I want to have with the game on the line but he did show that he can do just enough within the Eagles’ system to not lose. But this is Nick Foles. He will still throw an interception in a nanosecond and he almost lost a game that Matt Ryan had literally gift wrapped and handed to him.
So, what about home field advantage? Shouldn’t that count for something, you ask? Sure, the Vikings have the better numbers on defense but they will be on the road and the home field advantage will even out some of those numbers.
But you listen to me, the Eagles crowd will both help and hurt the Philadelphia Eagles. This is a crowd that understands what’s at stake and I could see them drawing up and getting nervous and silent as the game stretches on in the fourth quarter. Minnesota has been playing well all season and they want the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and play in their own stadium. This game is a literal toss up but I give the edge to Vikings because their quarterback has been consistent in tight games and because their defense will give them just enough to hold the Eagles to a tough loss.
I’m not comfortable with this pick but I have the Minnesota Vikings winning this game 24 -17.
This is where the champions rise and the pretenders go home. Can Case Keenum become a champion? Will Nick Foles or Blake Bortles add championship to their resumes? Just how bad is Tom Brady’s injury?
To summarize, I’ve picked a proven champion who could be seriously injured and an unproven quarterback in an away game.
It’s a good thing I don’t bet on my own picks.
Playoff record 5-3
(Source for this story was ESPN.com, Associated Press)
Alexis Sara Cobb may be reached at: email@example.com or (724) 561-8082 Follow her on Twitter: @alexissara