It is difficult to bet against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick in the postseason.
The final four teams in the conference championship games are pretty even, but the Tom and Bill Show will take the Patriots to a second straight Super Bowl title. Hopefully, this prediction is wrong and the entire country, except for those fans in or from Boston, can celebrate a Patriots loss.
But it’s hard to see that happening. Both Belichick and Brady have five Super Bowl rings and Belichick is the best of the remaining coaches. And, of course, Brady is two, maybe three levels above the field of remaining quarterbacks that includes the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles, Minnesota Vikings’ Case Keenum and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles.
Just who are those three other masked men in the group with Brady?
Well, that’s the problem. Conventional wisdom would make Minnesota or Jacksonville favorites to play in the Super Bowl because both have outstanding defenses and can run the ball well. It’s an old-school formula that still works.
But Brady is just so special.
A lot of fans in Baltimore don’t want to say it, but even at age 40 he is fun to watch because of the way he way he orchestrates an offense, dominates the tempo of the game and wills his team to victory.
There are only a few NFL players worth the price of admission to watch every week and Brady is one of them. And with the game on the line, most of us would like to have an Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisbeger running the offense.
Would you prefer Brady or Bortles? Would you’d like to have Brady running the offense in crunch time or Keenum or Foles?
Then there is the Belichick factor. It’s a given that he is one of the best to ever coach. It’s not just his X’s and O’s, but his presence affects a game.
With the exception of the inexperienced Bortles, the Jaguars are the perfect opponent for beating New England. The Jaguars can slow the Patriots down offensively because they have a big, physical running back in Leonard Fournette and the NFL’s top rushing offense averaging 141.4 yards.
The Jaguars also have the league’s best pass defense allowing 169.9 yards per game while making 55 sacks. They certainly are the fastest group in the NFL and have linebackers in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith; they can’t stop tight end Rob Gronkowski but can at least run with him. Jacksonville cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are tough, are nasty and specialize in press coverage.
Last week, they mugged Pittsburgh Steelers receivers all over the field and they should be able to do the same thing against New England receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks.
But Belichick will probably attempt to nullify Jacksonville’s pass rush and keep the hits down on Brady with a strong running game. It will be interesting to see how he attempts to shut down Jacksonville’s short passing game. And then he will intimidate the officials and pressure them into not allowing the cornerbacks to push around his receivers.
That’s what he does. The intimidation works throughout the league and especially in Foxborough, Mass. Opposing fans might not like it, but it’s not Belichick’s fault. He plays the head game and usually wins at that, too.
Over in the NFC, it should be one of those 24-17 games with the Vikings winning. Both Philadelphia and Minnesota are similar as far as strong defenses, but the Eagles lost their edge when starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 14.
The Eagles can win with Foles, but the offense has become so limited. Give Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson some credit. He squeezed enough juice out of Foles and his offense to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10, last week as Foles completed 12 of 15 passes in the final 30 minutes.
Both teams have solid running games and both teams will get pressure with their defensive lines. Philadelphia has tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan while Minnesota has ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
The problem is that Foles can’t move. He has little pocket awareness and has been programmed not to lose games with high-risk passing attempts.
Keenum can make plays with his legs. He can move around and step up in the pocket. He’ll have his share of boneheaded moments, but has delivered almost as much as any other quarterback in crunch time this season.
In the postseason, it usually comes down to the play of the quarterback. Three of the four remaining teams are on the same level as far as defense and that’s where the Patriots suffer a drop-off.
But they make up for it with Belichick and Brady, the game’s great equalizer. The feeling here is they’re going to win again.
The combination has been nearly unbeatable.