NFL PLAYOFFS / CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
GREG COTE’S NFL PICKS OF THE WEEK
JAGUARS (12-6, No. 3 seed) at PATRIOTS (14-3, No. 1)
LINE: NE by 8 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: NE 27-17.
TV: 3:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
I wanted to be the one, I really did. The one NFL prognosticator other than the obligatory Homer From The 904 who predicted the mighty Patriots would fall at home to Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game.
And it could happen. Right?
The Jaguars’ defense is that good (although last week’s 45-42 blitzkrieg over Pittsburgh did not feather the opinion), and Tom Coughlin back with Jax in a front office role gives them a wise old head who knows a little bit about beating Bill Belichick.
The thing is, you can’t talk yourself into a gut feeling that isn’t there. The gut instead tells me it isn’t time yet for the New England epoch to unravel, and it isn’t time yet for Jacksonville to be king.
The Pats are 10-1 all-time vs. this opponent, and are 6-1 in conference title games in Foxborough, a tough place to play even when it isn’t January and 35 degrees.
Tom Brady’s right hand got banged in practice this week but this pick assumes he’ll be good to go, which is to say, great to go. You see what Big Ben did to the Jags’ pass defense last week?
Jax cornerback Jalen Ramsey has gumption the size of grapefruits to all but guarantee a win at New England after his unit gave up five TD passes and almost 500 yards to Roethlisberger.
The Patriots’ own defense is unheralded-good, and the gulf between Brady and Blake Bortles is Grand Canyon-esque. Also, give me Belichick over Doug Marrone, please.
Watch Belichick erase Leonard Fournette and force deep balls by Bortles, and watch Brady say nope-sorry to Ramsey’s boast.
Jacksonville is only the second team since the 1970 merger (joining the ’06 Saints) to reach a conference champ-game after having three or fewer wins the year before. That’s a remarkable story, but, alas, one that ends here.
VIKINGS (14-3, No. 2 seed) at EAGLES (14-3, No. 1)
LINE: MIN by 3.
COTE’S PICK: PHI 23-20.
TV: 6:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
And yet again the top-seeded Eagles are home underdogs, which explains all of those fans who’ll be wearing dog masks in Philadelphia on Sunday.
And which also explains the kind of disrespect-fueled motivation that is money in the bank to an athlete.
(Note to self: Time for a Rodney Dangerfield reference? Nah. Move on).
The funny thing is, this could so easily be Saints-Falcons for the NFC crown. Vikings needed that Minnesota Miracle last week to beat New Orleans — the first final-play, walkoff TD in NFL postseason history. And the Eagles needed a goal-line stand including a 4th-down stop from the 2 in the final seconds to survive Atlanta.
And so we have Vikes in their first conference title game since 2009, trying to become the first team ever to play at home in a Super Bowl.
And Philly this close to a SB for the first time since ’08. Case Keenum vs. Nick Foles might not scream epic duel, but this matchup could be one of those thanks mostly to two terrific defenses that should make points cherished things. But there also is an underdog quality to this game that is uncommon in a 1 vs. 2 matchup.
Minnesota is 0-4 in Super Bowls and has lost five consecutive NFC Championship Games since its last SB appearance in ’76. Philly, its last NFL title in 1960, is 0-2 in Super Bowls. Vikings going for their first-ever franchise crown in their own stadium would be a sweet story, but Birds are about to deny that ending. Writing off Philly once Carson Wentz went down has proved a large mistake.
Foles is capable, I think the Eagles’ defense is as good as Minnesota’s, and I also think the home-field advantage here will be just that. A palpable edge. And all of those dog masks representing disrespect? Vikes will have a ton to overcome. So: Upset!
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We were a lousy 1-3 straight-up in the Divisional Round last week, as I joined the millions of victims of the Minnesota Miracle — or should I say the game-ending play not made by the Saints’ Marcus Williams.
(Welcome to eternal infamy, kid. Your greeters are Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood. You have earned your place).
I fared much better against the spread, at least, going 2-1-1. Had Patriots covering and had Jaguars with points at Pittsburgh, while the Vikes’ win ended up pushing at five points for the tie.
Now on to the Final Four — King Sport-style – as the AFC and NFC Championship Games serve as play-ins for the Super Bowl.
The AFC offers up reigning dynasty vs. classic underdog.
The NFC gives us the rarity of a No. 1 seed at home but not favored. Intriguing stuff. Let’s run the Sunday table, shall we?
Overall: Pct. Vs. Spread Pct.
Last week: 1-3 (.250); 2-1-1 (.625).
Playoffs: 4-4 (.500); 4-3-1 (.563).
Final 2017: 156-100 (.609); 102-137-17 (.432).
Final 2016: 159-95-2 (.626); 139-109-8 (.560).