The chase for Super Bowl LII is down to just four teams, as the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, and New England Patriots will fight it out in the AFC and NFC conference championship games for the right to play in the biggest game of the year in Minneapolis. With so many storylines impacting the teams on the field and the betting lines for the next games on the NFL schedule, the conference championship games will have no shortage of excitement.
Perhaps the biggest story heading into the conference championship round of the NFL Playoffs is the health of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Considered the greatest player in NFL history by many, Brady’s ability to perform at a high level in this game is in doubt after he injured his hand during a practice session, cutting his hand on a teammate’s helmet while making a throw.
Brady was already slated to have a difficult day in the AFC Championship Game, as he is scheduled to face off with a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has been able to get pressure on the quarterback and intercept passes all season long. Add to that difficulty the concerns that have stemmed from an injury on Brady’s throwing hand, and the coronation of the Patriots as AFC champions may be on hold.
Historically, teams that have been able to get pressure on Brady with just four pass rushers have had success against the Patriots in the playoffs, with the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets all coming to mind for their past performances against the Patriots in the playoffs. Jacksonville is capable of generating that kind of pressure with just four pass rushers, and may be able to make it a long day for Brady en route to an upset win.
On the NFC side, it is a battle between two backup quarterbacks, when Case Keenum leads the Minnesota Vikings into Philadelphia to take on Nick Foles and the Eagles. Many anticipated that these teams could make deep runs in the playoffs, but few would have thought that such success would be possible with both teams losing their starting quarterbacks at different points in the season.
Philadelphia suffered a catastrophic injury when starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with an injury during a win against the Los Angeles Rams in the regular season, forcing Foles into action. While Foles has been less than impressive, the Eagles defense has stepped up to pick up the slack, especially in their win in the Divisional Playoffs against the Falcons.
For Minnesota, the stakes are high, as they look to become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl that is taking place on their home field. The Vikings lost two quarterbacks before resorting to Case Keenum, with Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford both going down for the season. Keenum has been excellent in their place, with the Vikings defense being the best in the league this season, putting them one win away from a historic Super Bowl appearance.