2018 NFL Playoff Picks, Odds: Here's how Jaguars will beat Pats, why Eagles will win
Super Bowl LII will feature a pair of underdogs that everyone counted out
A quick glance at the playoff bracket and it's easy to say "what a wild postseason" -- reality is the top two teams from the NFC are remaining and two of the top three teams from the AFC are left standing. It has been a wild postseason, thanks to the frisky underdogs of Wild Card Weekend and the insane action of the divisional round, but maybe it's time to stop being surprised when the Jaguars and Eagles keep winning.
Jacksonville is not the same Jaguars team we've seen in the past decade or so. It is a worst-to-first story, but it has been a slow build through the draft coupled with an infusion of talent on the defensive line in free agency (Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson) that finally paid off.
The Eagles are not dissimilar, with Howie Roseman having done an excellent job of moving and shaking to put a stout defensive front in place and to build a team capable of running the ball in a physical manner.
Your boy is on a bit of a roll with his picks on the site, having gone 5-3 straight up. Against the spread, not so great, but I've been eying too many favorites. This was the season of the fave and postseason of the dog.
Check out all of our NFL expert picks here and listen to our Pick Six Podcast as we preview all of the games this weekend.
Jaguars (+9) at Patriots, Sun., Jan. 21, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Here's the deal: Strip away the Jaguars uniforms (metaphorically) and pretend they're the Broncos. Or the Vikings. Whoever you want. Are the Jags nine-point dogs to the Patriots if they're the Broncos? Maybe so: In the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Broncos hosted New England and they were three-point underdogs. That game, , provide the blueprint for beating Tom Brady and the Patriots. He has to be pressured (sacked four times against the Broncos) and you have to slow down the Patriots rushing attack, forcing Brady to throw a bunch.
That's the interesting chess match here, with the Patriots more than willing to run the ball as necessary, and, as NFL on CBS analyst Tony Romo said this week, "30 times" if they need to.
"I think New England understands, the one Achilles heel, the only way you feel comfortable going against this Jacksonville defense, is running the ball in between the tackles," Romo said. "They're not very big. New England's been known to come out throwing 50 times in one game and then come out the next game and throw 30 times. I wouldn't put it past them to do that."
In case you didn't know, you can catch Romo and Jim Nantz on the call for this battle (and tune in before for "The NFL Today"). If you're away from the television, can also stream the AFC Championship Game on CBSSports.com.
If New England can establish the run, this game could get ugly. But it's not as simple as "just running" -- New England didn't need to do that against the Titans, because they could stretch Tennessee horizontally and win that way. Against Jacksonville, the dink-and-dunk approach won't work quite as well and, as NFL on CBS analyst Bill Cowher pointed out, the Pats might not have the personnel to go full vertical on the Jags.
"The success that Pittsburgh had last week, they are more of a vertical passing game, New England is more of a horizontal passing game. They'll do some seams, but I think [their passing offense] matches up very well for Jacksonville," Cowher said. "They've got speed at linebacker, they can rush, the only question is does the no-huddle affect that rush? They can come out in three tight ends and two backs and run the ball. I guarantee at some point, Tom Brady will break into the no-huddle because he's going to want to wing it."
On the offensive side of things, the Jaguars need to get Blake Bortles comfortable early and to establish Leonard Fournette in the rushing attack. Do that and convert key third downs and the upset is there for the Jaguars to take. I think it's going to happen, which is why I'm picking the Jaguars against the spread AND straight up.
So what side do you need to be all over in the AFC Championship Game? Visit SportsLine now to get a strong pick for Patriots vs. Jaguars from stats guru Galin Dragiev, who's on a red-hot 16-4 run in against the spread picks.
Eagles (+3) vs. Vikings, Sun., Jan. 21, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
There's another upset brewing here. The Eagles do not have a significant advantage in terms of their offensive approach against the best defense in the NFC.
The idea of backing Nick Foles against Minny's dangerous group is petrifying, especially after seeing the Vikings shut down the Saints for an entire half. The run-pass options the Eagles unleashed against Atlanta probably aren't going to fool Minnesota quite the way they did the Falcons (Mike Zimmer is a better coach than Dan Quinn at this stage). And running the ball is going to be more difficult as well, with Minnesota ranking as a top-five team against the run, while Atlanta was just 20th in DVOA.
But everyone is severely overlooking the defensive advantage the Eagles have when going up against the Vikings offensive line. It's an improved unit for Minnesota, but the Eagles have crazy depth both on the interior and on the edge and have been healthy all season.
Matt Ryan was under pressure on 41 percent of his snaps last week against the Eagles. On the season, Case Keenum was pressured just over 38.5 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. When he was pressured, Keenum delivered just five touchdowns and three interceptions to go along with the 12th-ranked passer rating in those situations. The Eagles can bottle up the Vikings offense just as well as the Vikings can bottle up the Eagles, which explains why this over-under opened up below 40 (it's at 38.5).
I have serious questions about whether Foles and the Eagles offense can produce a ton of points here, but they won't need to. They just need to have a similar formula -- play great defense and lock up in the red zone -- to what they had against Atlanta. The Vikings are very good overall, but the Falcons are clearly a superior team on offense from a talent perspective.
Plus, are you really going to pick against the Eagles when everyone that beats the Falcons ends up in the Super Bowl?
Give me the dog to win outright in this game as well, with the Eagles covering and heading to the Super Bowl.
So what side do you need to be all over in the NFC Championship Game? Visit SportsLine now to get a strong pick for Vikings vs. Eagles from Vegas legend Micah Roberts, who's on a red-hot 8-3 run in against the spread picks on Eagles' games.
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