John Halpin's Conference Championship NFL Picks
18 Jan, 2018 by John Halpin
While many bettors were complaining about the Vikings not kicking the extra point on Sunday, I had them at minus-4. Thanks, Stefon Diggs! Or should I thank Marcus Williams instead? Geez, that was a terrible play.
On to the Championship Round picks. If you have any questions, catch me on Twitter (@jhalpin37).
(Home team in CAPS.)
Week 19 records: 3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS
Playoffs: 5-3 SU, 4-4 ATS
Overall: 167-97 SU, 134-118 ATS
Jaguars at PATRIOTS (-9)
“We goin’ to the Super Bowl and we gonna win that bitch!” – Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey.
I guess that’s settled. Shall we move on to the next game? Nah, not just yet.
The difference between the defenses in this game isn’t as big as you’d think. The Jags certainly have an elite unit, with a dominant pass-rushing line, speedy linebackers and two of the league’s best cornerbacks. They ranked second in points allowed, and first in yards per play. If any defense can give Tom Brady trouble, it’s this one.
But the Pats are better than the season-long stats suggest – from Week 6 onward, they allowed fewer points than anyone. They faced a lot of bad AFC East opponents, but did a fine job against teams like the Falcons and Chargers as well. They’re obviously not as good as the Jags’ D, but they’re pretty good.
Then there are the offenses, where the difference also isn’t as big as you’d think. The Pats led the NFL in yards and finished second in points. During their current six-game home winning streak, they’ve averaged 29.5 points per game. Rob Gronkowski is as dominant at his position as anyone, and Dion Lewis has been terrific lately. Oh, and their quarterback is Tom Freaking Brady. The Pats can score on anyone.
The Jags’ offense, like the Pats defense, is kinda sorta good (really!). Sure, they try to hide Blake Bortles as much as possible, but a league-leading rushing attack powered by Leonard Fournette had them among the top six in points and yards (they ranked 12th in yards per play). Are they the team that scored 10 points against the Bills or the one that lit up the Steelers for 45? Probably somewhere in the middle, and that’s not bad.
Look for the Pats to attempt a tried-and-true Belichick cliché – shutting down one player, and that’s obviously Fournette. They’re going to make Bortles beat them. His running ability makes him a wildcard, but his receivers aren’t very good. Still, 20 points sounds about right.
Can the Jags’ front four get to Brady enough – hit him enough – to keep the Pats in check? Maybe. The Jags could pull off this upset, but a more likely scenario is them losing a well-played game. Something like 24-20.
The pick: Pats win, Jags cover
Vikings at EAGLES (+3.5)
Stat of the week (per JJ Zachariason at NumberFire): With Carson Wentz, the Eagles scored touchdowns on 28.3 percent of their drives this season. Without Wentz, the number drops to 13.2. Over the last three games, it’s 7.1 percent. That’s a bad trend.
Nick Foles isn’t terrible. He’s a competent backup capable of having solid games (like last week’s). But he hasn’t faced any nasty defenses yet this season, and he’s about to face a unit that is arguably the NFL’s best. The Vikes ranked second against the run, second against the pass, and first overall. They’re very, very good, and their likelihood of making Foles miserable is pretty high.
The Vikings’ offense is just about the equal of the Falcons’, averaging eight fewer yards per game on the season, but scoring 29 more points. We shouldn’t expect them to have a huge game at Philly, but they’re competent enough to score a couple of TDs.
I’m not a complete skeptic on the Eagles – I picked them last week against the Falcons, reasoning that their defense could keep them in the game (check) and their offensive line would help them run the ball well enough (eh, maybe). They’re absolutely capable of winning another low-scoring battle (O/U 38.5) in front of a boisterous home crowd that will tailgate for approximately eight hours before kickoff.
Not gonna happen, though. The Vikings’ defense should dominate, and a defensive TD seems more likely than usual. They might shut out the Eagles, and they’re going to host Super Bowl LII. SKOL, baby!
The pick: Vikings win and cover