We're down to the National Football League's version of the Final Four, and while the New England Patriots are a mainstay at the top in recent years, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles represent new faces vying for the Super Bowl. In fact, if the Jaguars are able to pull off the road upset in Foxboro against the Patriots, it would be a guarantee that someone will be winning their first Super Bowl. The Patriots have appeared in the big game nine times, winning five titles. However, the Jaguars have never been to a Super Bowl in their history, while the Eagles are 0-2 all-time and the Vikings are 0-4 all-time. The fresh faces in the postseason chase make it refreshing to watch. Let's get started!
The Minnesota Vikings are sorta playing with house money after their miraculous and stunning last-second victory against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. With a victory in the City of Brotherly Love, the Purple People Eaters can become the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Keenum completed 25-of-40 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown last weekend, with that scoring toss coming on the 61-yard miracle to Stefon Diggs on the final play. People keep waiting for the bottom to drop out on Keenum, but he's like DJ Khaled. Yep. All he does is win.
Keenum will be facing a Philly pass defense which ranked 17th in the NFL during the regular season, giving up 227.3 yards per game with 24 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The Eagles were also dinged for 40 pass plays of 20 or more yards, and 10 pass plays of 40 or more yards. So Keenum, Diggs and company could potentially find some room for more heroics. The Vikings will likely have to pass, as the Eagles were No. 1 in the NFL against the rush during the regular season, giving up only 79.2 yards per game with seven scores. That's bad news for the fantasy prospects of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon in postseason pools and DFS play.
In the other game, the biggest news story of the AFC Championship Game was that Leonard Fournette was involved in a minor car accident in the Jacksonville area on Tuesday. While it's certainly newsworthy since he is a top rookie on a team heading to the AFC Championship Game, it's really much ado about nothing. He was able to drive home from the scene, and he is expected to be fine to practice. The Jags need him to be at 100 percent, as the Patriots ranked 20th in the NFL by allowing 114.8 yards per game with 11 running plays of 20 or more yards. The run game will be a big part of the game plan, and it's not like Blake Bortles has exactly been lighting it up in the pass game.
The Jags will be staring across at a future Hall of Famer, trying to face down Tom Brady. Jacksonville's pass defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the regular season with just 169.9 yards per game, 17 touchdowns and 21 interceptions while yielding just 16.8 points per game. However, all of that was out the window last week in Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger, another future Hall of Famer, dropped five touchdowns on them while the Steelers were able to rack up 42 points. The good news is that the Pats do not have a wide receiver in the pass game like Antonio Brown, or even JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Rob Gronkowski is obviously a game-changer who could give them major trouble.
Seattle Switch Up
The coaching carousel continued to spin on Tuesday, with the Seattle Seahawks dismissing defensive coordinator Kris Richard, as well as linebackers coach Michael Barrow. The Seahawks will go with Ken Norton Jr. as their new DC, as he tries to mold an aging, but still effective Legion of Boom back into shape. The Seahawks were ravaged by injuries on the defensive side of the ball, so it's a tough way to go for Richard.
The Seahawks weren't exactly healthy on the offensive side of the ball, either. Remember rookie Chris Carson? He looked great until a leg injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Thomas Rawls also struggled mightily, while Eddie Lacy was a non-factor and J.D. McKissic stepped in and did a decent job at times, as did Mike Davis. However, it was a turnstile in the backfield, and C.J. Prosise also was unable to stay healthy and help out. As such, a ton of pressure was heaped upon Russell Wilson, and while he had the team still contending for a playoff spot, they'll need vast improvement to get back to the top of the heap.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is being tasked with the turnaround, but he doesn't exactly have the best track record in previous stops. Of course, he has never had a quarterback with the skills of Wilson to build an offense around. It will be interesting to see if Jimmy Graham is back, or if the team goes a completely different way. Doug Baldwin is about the best of the lot, but Wilson could really use another wide receiver to step up, or the team to draft or pick up a free agent stud in the offseason.
Quick Hits: New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees is expected to be back in the Crescent City next season, as he stated that he does not plan to test the free agent waters. He is hopeful of returning to the Saints, and he will be hungry after a disappointing end to this season. And what's not to like with Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas, among others, at his disposal. He has plenty of weapons. … If Brees is back in NOLA, he might not have Star Lotulelei chasing him down in Carolina. After giving Kawann Short big dollars last season, the team might not have the bread in the coffers to secure Star. Plus, it's uncertain what the expected ownership change will mean for offseason deals. Andrew Norwell might also be on his way out of town, and a potential reunion in New York with David Gettleman, the new Giants general manager, could be in the offing. … Speaking of the G-Men, former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo is headed to Cleveland to interview for the vacant OC job. Former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan have also been mentioned as candidates. It's hard to believe anyone couldn't do a better job than last season, when the Brownies were winless. … The Steelers re-signed CB Mike Hilton to a one-year deal worth $550,000. The slot corner was an exclusive rights free agent.