The final games before the Superbowl in a fortnight, the pinnacle, the climax, the endpoint, the CRUCIBLE of the season. *nod to Mr. Hanzus*
The divisional games didn’t disappoint, in the NFC it took the first ever playoff walk off 61 yard TD for the Vikings to get past the Saints after the lead had changed 3 times in the last 3 mins of the game. And the game we’ve all forgotten about by now, the Eagles determined defence got them past the Falcons to set up the 1 vs 2 seed in the championship game.
In the AFC the Jaguars were involved in a shootout against the Steelers (we all knew that’d happen right?) eventually winning 45-42, the Patriots walked past the Titans as expected.
The first thing I notice about these games? One of these names doesn’t really fit. Foles, Keenum, Bortles, Brady… 2 of them of them were backups in LA with the Rams, Bortles is constantly derided and mocked for being a bad player and one is the Greatest NFL player of all time… It’s a funny old game sometimes.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+9) @ New England Patriots – o/u – 46
I am pretty sure the Patriots would have preferred to be playing the Steelers, they have their number and know they’ll beat them every time. The Jaguars ruined their plans and now bring the most maligned QB in the league into Foxborough. Bortles is constantly derided on social media and the press by fans, analysts, other players, pretty much anyone, and he is by no means a game winning QB, but he generally does what he needs to so, this week 214 yards and 1 TD pass was enough to get past the Steelers. When they’ve got a good rookie QB and one of the top 2 defences in the league not turning the ball over is generally enough for this team. A lot rides on the legs of Leonard Fournette who blew the Steelers away before injuring his ankle midway through the 2nd quarter. He did come back into the game but looked a little off the pace so they’ll be hoping he heals up during the week, despite hating the cold he does seem to like the Steelers putting up 290 yards and scoring 5 TDs on them this season. The Patriots will likely do all they can to shut down the running game as they did with Derrick Henry this week, so it may rely on Bortles and his pass catchers. They are all adequate, Marqise Lee is his favourite target but he’ll have to get his hands sorted, Keelan Cole had a few deep targets, hauling in one, but Dede Westbrook was barely seen, the thing they do well is mix it up, they threw to 10 players with 9 recording receptions. TJ Yeldon actually had the most receiving yards from the backfield. It’s tough to pick an anytime scorer for the Jags because they do mix it up so much.
The Patriots stroll through the AFC South continues this week having easily dispatched of the over-matched Tennessee Titans last week in a predictably easy match. They went down early but never really looked in danger and Brady had one of his best games in the last month throwing away any thoughts that the supposed off-field turmoil was going to cause issues. It was another cracking game for Dion Lewis and the teams record when he plays is ridiculous losing just 3 of 30 games. Those 3 games, all this season, he had a total of 17 combined touches, so not exactly his fault, this week just gone he didn’t get into the end zone (annoyingly for me they gave those to James White) but he did rack up 141 total yards in taking the game away from the Titans. As mentioned James White improved his post-season record with another 2 TD game, 1 on the ground and 1 through the air. Despite him not having a stellar game number wise it is just another guy who knows the system and needs attention paying to him when he’s out there. When you can ease Chris Hogan back into the playing game and have players like Danny Amendola step up with over 100 yards it just goes to show how far good coaching can take you. Oh and then there’s Gronk. The Jags will have to figure a way to stop him, I have heard the suggestion of putting Jalen Ramsey on him but I’m not sure the Jags will move him out of position. As with the Jags it’s very tough to pick who will get the work on a weekly basis but It seems pretty certain that Lewis will be the main guy on the ground and I would expect probably Gronk and Amendola in the middle of the field to get a decent amount of play as well to keep the ball away from Ramsey/Bouye.
The key questions in this game? Can they Jags have success with Fournette? Better than anyone in the league Belichick takes away the oppositions best thing, i’m pretty sure they’ll do a good job of slowing Fournette and if he’s carrying a knock anyway it will be tough for them. Can the Patriots protect Brady well enough? They face one of the best pass rushes in the league with a beaten up O-Line, they may well be onto their 3rd string right guard and will have to be at their best to stop Campbell and Ngakoue. They could well try and take them out of the game with quick passes and have the players to do that.
I guess the most important question now should be WILL BRADY ACTUALLY PLAY?!?! I wasn’t buying the hand injury news at all this week so didn’t even mention it until now, but Friday night the twitter-sphere is alight with rumours about his throwing hand. Either a dislocation, or stitches, between 4 and 12 apparently from a botched handoff to Rex Burkhead in training… It’s worried enough people that the money has been flying in on the Jags and the Unders, the line is now -7 and 45 on the totals. Apparently is Brian Hoyer is starting for the Pats they’ll still be a short favourite (1 pt) but that would be a huge difference to this entire game.
The Jaguars scored first in their 12 wins this seasons and conceded first in the 6 losses they have had. I can’t see them getting the first score this weekend against this team. I do like them to cover the spread, but wouldn’t be shocked to see the Patriots run out a big winner. The total? God knows! I thought last week would be 24-14 or something to the Steelers, turns out it beat the line in the first half!
Winner – Patriots, Totals – Under, Spread – Jacksonville +9.
Minnesota Vikings (-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles – o/u – 38.5
What a finish in the divisional game – The Minneapolis Miracle! 4 lead changes in the final 3:01 of the game and the first every walk off TD in playoff history to bring them to this game with the chance of becoming the first team of playing in a home Superbowl! They are (in my eyes) rightfully favourites in this game, they are officially the top defence in the league on yards given up, and aren’t exactly awful on offense either.
Case Keenum has been a backup for most of his career, but this season has shown that he is more than capable of being a decent starter in this league, especially in a dome. Looking at his indoor/outdoor splits this year, unsurprisingly his accuracy takes a hit playing outside, but at 63% it’s still pretty high. His one game playing under 40oF, still over 56% completion, again, not awful in all fairness. He’s a game manager in general but is capable of the odd big throw as well, the way his pass catchers have performed this year definitely helps him.
Adam Thielen is fully deserving of his pro-bowl call up, the undrafted free agent has had a brilliant season, 1,300+ yards. 4 or more receptions in all but 2 of their games this season, and averaging 14 yards per game, the only down-tick on him is that he’s only scored 4 times. He and Stefon Diggs are a very good 1-2 receiver group, Diggs has double the TDs, having scored in 4 consecutive games now and has been similarly reliable in terms of receptions. The way to attack the Eagles will be through the air as they are #1 in the league against the run. It could mean a little action for Jarius Wright who caught 3 of his 6 targets last week for 56 yards, he seems to have been getting more involved towards the end of the season and the divisional game last week. I don’t remember their tight end Kyle Rudolph doing a huge amount this season, but he’s apparently scored 8 times so there’s always a chance the redzone reindeer will get into the paint although I find him very tough to judge.
The run game, while not the most explosive in the league has been very good this season, Latavius Murray has been a good free agent acquisition for the early down and most of the goal line work scoring 8 times, and Jerrick McKinnon has done well as the 3rd down, pass catching back although he has still done most of his work on the ground and only had 3 receptions last week.
As mentioned above is one of the best in the league, #1 in terms of yards allowed and point, #2 against the run and the pass. Xavier Rhodes is the key in the passing game, he will likely shadow the oppositions main guy, probably Alshon Jeffery. They have quick linebackers to help stop the run and some experienced safeties as well.
The Eagles haven’t lost a post-season game as home underdogs, being involved in 4 and winning them all obviously including the game last week where they shut out the Falcons for the second half.
Nick Foles will be under centre for them again this week, he has looked distinctly average barring his first start, he’s not mobile and doesn’t have the strongest arm, he made a few really horrible looking throws last week and got lucky with them, the “nearly interception” that bounced off Keanu Neals’ knee summed up most of that game although his stats for that game make it seem like he was great! 23/30 completions!
As I hinted above, I think that Xavier Rhodes will be covering Jeffery for a lot of the game and Foles doesn’t exactly have the strongest arm to use him down the field anyway although he did have a couple of vital receptions last week in a big spot. I will probably be looking towards Nelson Agholar yards instead, he will be in the slot and they even tried to get him going in the run game last week with a couple of end arounds. If you don’t fancy either of the main 2 guys then it could be worth looking for a price on Mack Hollins, he had a goal line carry that they messed up last week and they were aiming for him on the first play of the game as well. He’s quick! Torrey Smith is the other option in the passing game but I’m not too fussed about anything he does.
The run game was mainly Jay Ajayi last week although frustratingly short of the carries bet on, he had the majority of the backfield but was rested for more series than I was expecting with Legarette Blount getting most of the goal line work and Corey Clement actually leading the team in receptions last week and getting the game ending carry as well. As a result it’s another crap-shoot trying to figure out who will get the scores. It looks like it will take a 10+ yard carry for Ajayi to get into the endzone which he is perfectly capable of, but isn’t really any good for your money.
The Eagles have the best run defence in the league and so they’ll obviously make it tough on the Vikings duo, they also have one of the best front 7s, Fletcher Cox is the main man there causing carnage on almost every play.
So tough to call this game, the Eagles have a good homefield advantage, the Vikings have the better team.
Winner – Vikings, Totals – Under, Spread – Vikings -3.
The following information was done before further news came of Tom Brady’s injury which could mess everything up! I will probably still go on the Cooks bet as I was looking at the unders anyway, and the Keelan Cole one as he can make those yards in one catch. But the others I’m a little less confident on now, IF Brady is out, it will be a lot more on the RBs and probably less on the likes of Hogan and Cooks.
There seems to be a lot of variance in the lines so far this week. So a lot of opportunity to guarantee yourself some profit if you play them right! – They’re generally 10/11 on Skybet, 5/6 on PP, and the one 365 selection is 5/6 as well. I’ll BOLD the selection on each that I think the higher stake should go on… In case you didn’t realise with hedging you want to go under the high number and over the low, 2pt stake on the one you’re most confident in and 1 pt on the other one. If the confident pick wins you make profit, if the other one wins you don’t lose much, if it middles you’re sat pretty.
- Chris Hogan – 46.5 on Skybet, 32.5 on Paddypower
- Allen Hurns – 34.5 on 365, 25.5 on PP
- Keelan Cole – 42.5 on Skybet, 23.5 on PP
- Brandin Cooks – 64.5 on Skybet, 50.5 on PP
- Marcedes Lewis – 21.5 on Skybet, 15.5 on PP
So for me, I would be going under on Hurns, Cooks and Lewis, and over on Hogan and Cole.
As for TD scorers? A very tough one this week. Gronk has scored in 6 consecutive playoff games, he’s a best price 3/4 on Unibet to make that 7, James White seems to score in the big games, he got 2 last week and is best priced at 3/1 at 365, TJ Yeldon at 6/1 (WillHill) doesn’t seem too terrible, he gets a lot of the 3rd down plays and with Fournette having a slightly dodgy ankle/foot he may get even more action, or if you fancy my boy Tommy Bohanon to score again? He’s 20/1 on 365.
In the second game? That’s a little tougher, a low line on the total points, 2 of the best defences in the league, makes it hard to pick TD scorers in that game. Corey Clement got a lot of the passing and running game last week, he’s 6/1 to score anytime. If you want someone to double with Gronk then I think one of the Vikings is probably most likely to score… Kyle Rudolph for a Tight end double may be where I go to. That’s best priced at 5.19 on Betfred according to oddschecker.
Summary, I’ve mentioned a few things in the previews, i’ll post below what I’m actually backing –
- Rob Gronkowski anytime TD – 5/6 (Betfair) – 3pts
- Gronk and Rudolph double – 5.67/1 (Betfair) – 2pts
- Brandin Cooks under 64.5 – 10/11 (Skybet) and o50.5 (PP) – 5/6 2 and 1 pts
- Keelan Cole under 42.5 – 10/11 (Skybet) and o23.5 (PP) – 5/6 – 1 and 2 pts
- James White anytime TD – 3/1 (365) – 2pts
- James White 2 or more – 33/1 (365) – 1pt
- Dion Lewis o14.5 rush attempts – 8/11 (Skybet) – 3pts
- Tommy Bohanon anytime TD – 20/1 (365) – 1pts
- Nelson Agholar o3.5 receptions – 5/6 (PP/365/Skybet) – 2pts
- Corey Clement o28.5 combined yards – 10/11 (365) – 3pts
23 points for me.
Good luck with whatever you’re on this weekend, should be a couple of great games!