I have this strange feeling that we are going to see something else really weird on the NFL’s hampionship Sunday.
Not as singularly weird as the Minnesota Miracle. Stefon Diggs scoring on a walk-off touchdown on the final play of a playoff game was one of the best sports moments any of us have ever seen and is unlikely to be duplicated in the next decade.
But what if I told you I’m picking the Jacksonville Jaguars to upset New England in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday?
OK, I have a good idea what you would say, and some of it might be profane. Blake Bortles over Tom Brady? Doug Marrone over Bill Belichick? The laughingstock Jaguars over the legendary Patriots? A team that has never even played in a Super Bowl against a team that has already appeared in nine and won five, including the most recent?
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Just hear me out. The only way you can beat Brady in the postseason is to get a constant pass rush on him using only your front four. That’s how the New York Giants did it in two Super Bowls, and that’s how the Denver Broncos did it in the AFC title game two years ago (sacking Brady four times but hitting him a remarkable 23 times).
Jacksonville has a chance because the Jaguars can get this sort of pressure. Their “Sacksonville” nickname comes from the fact they finished No. 2 in the NFL in sacks this season despite rarely blitzing. They have really good cornerbacks. They’ve got a shot if they can hold Brady to 21 points or fewer, and I don’t think that’s out of the question.
The wild card is Bortles, obviously. He’s been good in the postseason so far, but he also has a questionable reputation under pressure and for awhile seemed to throw a pick six in about every other game. At one point in his career, he had more pick sixes (11) than career wins (10).
So now that I’ve gotten this far in this column, I am thinking harder about Bortles and wondering about how I managed to paint myself in this corner. But c’mon, Jacksonville – give the ball to Leonard Fournette 30 times! You can’t go wrong there.
I am going to gulp and go ahead and do this. My pick: Jacksonville 24, New England 21.
In the NFC Championship, I am going to go with the road team again. That’s generally a losing proposition in the NFL.
This time, though, that road team is favored, as Minnesota comes to Philadelphia riding the “team of destiny” wave after Case Keenum’s last-second heave to Diggs. The Vikings are pretty good everywhere, and ultimately I have a little more faith in Keenum than in Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles.
This will be another close one, to be decided by a late field goal.
My pick: Minnesota 23, Philadelphia 20.