Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots; 3:05pm
1. Tom Brady (and his hand) Vs Sacksonville
Perhaps the biggest news headline this week was Tom Brady’s injury, which he suffered on Wednesday after hitting his hand against a teammate’s helmet and required stitches. This is news that Pats fans don’t want to see and could end up hurting them on Sunday. Brady played lights out against the Titans last week as he threw for 337 yards and 3 TDs. He will be facing a Jaguars defense that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 469 passing yards and 5 TDs, but also scored a TD off a strip sack and picked him off as well. The Jags defense will need to play like they did during the regular season as they ranked 1st in passing yards per game allowed (169.9), 2nd in sacks (55.0) and 2nd in points per game (16.8). The Jags will need to apply pressure on Brady early and often and will also need to play a lot of man coverage to force Brady into throwing into tight windows and perhaps a few interceptions. If the Jags can do this, they’ll be able to keep Brady and the offense in check on Sunday.
2. Blake Bortles Vs Patriots Pass Defense
Blake Bortles played well enough in the game last week against the Steelers as he threw for 214 passing yards and a TD in the process. He made the right decisions in throwing the balk and knowing when to scramble from the pocket. He’ll be facing a Pats defense that allowed less than 325 yards of offense and allowed Mariota to throw for 254 and 2 TDs. The Pats will almost certainly have a spy on Bortles as he is a threat when he scrambles, so they will try to keep him in the pocket at all times. If Bortles does his part in not turning the ball over, the Jags could squeeze out an upset win just like they did against the Steelers in the Divisional Round.
3. Patriots Running Backs Vs Jaguars Run Defense
The Patriots running backs will be asked to do a lot on Sunday against a very aggressive Jaguars defense. Backs like Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead will have to run effectively and catch passes out of the backfield to give Brady more outlets and to spread out the defense. Last week, these backs combined for 101 rushing yards last week against the Titans and are going against a Jags defense that only 83 rushing yards last week against the Steelers, so they will look to do the same on Sunday. The Jags will really be looking to shut down the run game to pressure Brady all game long and make his life miserable especially since he suffered a hand injury this last week in practice.
4. Leonard Fournette Vs Patriots Run Defense
Leonard Fournette is coming off a monster performance as he ran for 109 yards on 25 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and scored 3 TDs as well. He’ll be facing a disciplined defense in the Pats as they only allowed 65 rushing yards and completely shut down Derrick Henry by stacking 8 men in the box. The Pats will most likely do the same against the Jags to ensure that Fournette doesn’t get the best of them and so that they can force Blake Bortles into a few mistakes as he is prone to doing that. The Pats also have to keep in mind that Blake Bortles can also run so they must have a spy/contain on him to prevent him from scrambling for first downs. This is going to be a huge matchup to watch for on Sunday and if the Jags can manage to run through the 8-man boxes, they’ll have a very good chance of advancing to the Super Bowl.
5. Rob Gronkowski Vs Jaguars Linebackers/Safeties/Jalen Ramsey
Gronk had a monster game last week against the Titans and was a matchup nightmare against the linebackers and safeties that were on him. Also, even though the Titans bracketed Gronk, he still caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a TD. Now he will match up against Myles Jack, Tevin Smith, Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson, and even Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey believes that he will match up well against Gronk since he has not matched up with a corner like him. The Jags will need to be especially careful with him because they allowed tight end Vance McDonald to catch 10 passes for 112 yards and a TD, so clearly defending tight ends has been a weakness all season.
6. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue Vs Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming
This is going to be a big matchup to watch as the 6’ 8” Calais Campbell will be attacking both the left and right side of the defensive line while Yannick Ngakoue will be going against Cam Fleming on the right left side of the line. Both players combined for 26.5 sacks during the regular season. These two tackles will need to hold their ground but according to the PFF grading system, Solder earned a grade of 73.7 which is 31st among active tackles and ranks as average. Fleming earned a grade of 77.0 and ranks 30th among active tackles and is also in the average category. If these two struggle to block the defensive ends, Brady will have very little time to throw the ball away and will get very frustrated.
Bold Prediction: Blake Bortles outplays Tom Brady by throwing 3 TDs and 300 yards.
Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles; 6:40pm
1. Case Keenum Vs Eagles Pass Defense
Case Keenum is coming off a phenomenal performance especially after he heaved a 61 yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs for the game winning TD in the last 10 seconds. He finished the day with 318 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception for the win. Now he’ll be facing an Eagles defense that allowed only 210 passing yards and a TD against the reigning MVP in Matt Ryan. Keenum may be without Adam Thielen this game after he suffered a back injury in practice and was limited all week, which could be a huge blow for him and the offense. If the Eagles shut down the run game, Keenum will have to carry the team to a victory to advance to the Super Bowl.
2. Nick Foles Vs Vikings Pass Defense
Nick Foles is coming off a solid performance last week against the Falcons as he threw for 246 passing yards with no TDs or interceptions. He will have to play just as well as he did last week to take down the Vikings and the key for him will be limiting the turnovers. The Vikings pass defense allowed Drew Brees to throw for 294 passing yards and 3 TDs that nearly cost them the game, but Nick Foles is no Drew Brees. Foles will have a tough time throwing against a Vikings defense that ranked 2nd in passing yards per game allowed (192.4) and 1st in points per game (15.8). This is a bend-don’t break defense and will put Foles to the test on Sunday.
3. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon Vs Eagles Run Defense
Latavius Murray ran for only 50 yards on 19 carries (2.6 yards per carry) last week against the Saints while McKinnon ran for 34 yards on 8 carries (4.3 yards per carry). Expect to see similar numbers against Philly on Sunday as they only allowed the Falcons to run for 86 yards and ranked 1st in rushing yards per game allowed this season (79.2). The Eagles defense knows that they must shut the run game down to force Keenum into third and long situations and to force him into making mistakes to give Nick Foles a better chance of scoring points. Also, stopping the run game would eliminate the play-action game for Keenum which would be huge for this defense.
4. Eagles Running Backs Vs Vikings Run Defense
The Eagles will have to run the bun effectively so that Nick Foles doesn’t have to throw the ball a lot against a very talented Vikings defense. Last week, they ran the ball for 96 yards and was just enough to neutralize the Falcons pass rush. They must do the same against the Vikes to control the clock and keep the Vikes offense off the field. However, it will not be easy as the Vikings only allowed 80 yards against the Saints and ranked 2nd (behind the Eagles) in rushing yards per game allowed this past season (83.6). If the Vikings can shut down the run, Nick Foles will struggle mightily and the offense will struggle to stay on the field.
5. Everson Griffen Vs Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Everson Griffen is coming off a game in which he sacked Drew Brees once and was once considered a defensive player of the year candidate for getting at least one sack for seven consecutive games. He also managed to rack up 13.0 sacks on the season and he will give Big V a very tough time on Sunday, which could mean that the tight ends will have to chip him to give Big V some leverage. Vaitai was given a 40.0 grade which ranked 77th among active tackles and was in the “poor” category. Vaitai will need to play his best game or else Nick Foles will be in big trouble.
6. Eagles Secondary Vs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs
The Eagles secondary will have their hands full with Thielen and Diggs as they are one of the best WR tandems in the league, but Thielen may not play after sustaining a back injury in practice this week, limiting his participation all week. Diggs of course, is coming off a performance to remember mainly because of a 61-yard walkoff TD to win the game for the Vikings. The Eagles secondary will be determined to prevent that from happening and will look to shut down the star receivers to force Keenum into throwing to other players. If the Eagles can keep Keenum in check and create a few turnovers, the Eagles could see themselves in this year’s Super Bowl.
Bold Prediction: Eagles defense forces 3 turnovers and limits Vikings offense to under 300 yards.