One Thing We’ve Learned for Every Surviving NFL Playoff Team
Super Bowl odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Friday, Jan. 19. Like usual, make sure you’re always double-checking these numbers. A lot of people are investing in NFL futures right now, so these lines tend to ebb and flow depending on the day and betting volume.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+700): Offense Can Come Up With Big Plays Through The Air
Indeed, he went on a miniature tear to close out the regular season. But the week before, when the Jaguars narrowly escaped the jaws of defeat, he rushed (88) for more yards than he threw (87). That was a problem—an ostensibly insurmountable one.
Jacksonville’s outlook was even worse knowing how he fared in high-pressure situations. The team’s offense was so often carried by its ground game during the regular season, and when Bortles was called upon to come up with clutch completions on third down, he didn’t deliver in the slightest. In fact, he ranked as the worst third-down quarterback on the road for the entire year before squaring off against Pittsburgh.
So much for that.
Though he threw for just 214 yards on 26 attempts, he came up with a bunch of big completions on third down while leading a very pivotal fourth-quarter scoring drive. That matters. If he can make similar plays against the New England Patriots, the Jaguars—having proven they can get out to big leads, withstand comebacks and keep pace in shootouts all at the same time—might have a puncher’s chance at making life hell on Tom Brady and friends.
Minnesota Vikings (+220): Quarterback Case Keenum Is The Real Deal
Do you really need us to tell you this after the game-winning drive Case Keenum led against the New Orleans Saints last week? Of course you don’t.
You need to know, however, that Case Keenum is so much more than that.
This didn’t show up on the surface. He threw just one touchdown while racking up a mediocre 85.2 quarterback rating. But the Minnesota Vikings also trusted him to finish 41 possessions, including his lone rushing attempt, and he only turned the ball over once against a feisty Saints defense.
Plus, let’s not forget, he essentially led two game-winning drives. The Saints took back the lead twice in the fourth quarter. Each time, Keenum took the Vikings down the field for a score. On the first occasion, he helped get them in to field goal range. On the second, he threw a well-placed pass to Stefon Diggs as time expired for one of the most miraculous plays in NFL history
Emphasis on miraculous.
We must remember Keenum and crew received helped from Saints rookie Marcus Williams, who went for an inexplicable chop tackle that not only missed completely but took out his own teammate, who was then left unable to chase Diggs down before he reached the end zone.
Still, this is but a footnote. Keenum is technically the Vikings’ backup. Hell, when you factor in that the quarterback he replaced, Sam Bradford, was replacing the Vikings’ original starter, Teddy Bridgewater, he’s actually the third-stringer.
Make no mistake, though, he’s a starter in this league—at the bare minimum a prime Alex Smith-type who prides himself on high IQ and tiny amounts of turnovers.
New England Patriots (-115): We Still Don’t Know Enough About Their Defense
The Patriots have an elite defense at first glance. They’re fifth in points allowed per game and, as they showed in their win over the Tennessee Titans, particularly adept at wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
At the same time, including the playoffs, they’ve also worked through one of the league’s easiest schedule. The last time they even squared off against a top-10 offense was against the Saints…in Week 2.
And on that note, consider this: They only faced two top-10 offenses all season, the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, and both matchups came before Week 3. Since then, they’ve faced off with just three top-15 attacks, not one of which placed higher than 12th in points scored per game.
The Jaguars should serve as a fairly good litmus test New England’s stopping power. They’re fifth in points scored per game, which makes them the second-best machine the Patriots have faced all season.
Then again, the Jaguars offense excels where the Patriots defense also thrives: on the ground. Thus, unless Bortles turns in a spectacular performance through the air, this New England defense may not get a real test in the Super Bowl—and that’s if you consider Case Keenum or Nick Foles a “true test.”
Philadelphia Eagles (+650): The Defense Is Better Than Expected
Yours truly, like so many others, didn’t give the Philadelphia Eagles a chance in heck last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, is done for the year, which leaves them with his backup, Mr. Nick Foles.
While Foles was good in his prime, that heyday has long since passed. He had a very short window, and he played through it. If the Eagles are going to win games, they’ll have to do so on the back of their defense.
Which, apparently, is no problem.
Philly held Atlanta to just 10 points last week. And though the Falcons’ offense isn’t what it was in 2016, it had picked up steam in recent weeks. That the Eagles flashed an ability to hold them on third down and give their anemic offense enough cracks at the other end to hang a meager, albeit good-enough, 15 points on the opposing defense is encouraging.
Will that approach fly against the Vikings. We’ll have to wait and see. Like we pointed out earlier, Minnesota’s quarterback, Keenum, isn’t elite, yet he’s pretty damn.
But so is the Eagles’ defense. They rank third in rushing touchdowns allowed and third in yards per carrying attempt. And what they lack in sturdiness against the pass, they make up for with a capacity to force turnovers in volume. They’re fourth in total interceptions on the year, which means Keenum will have to be on his toes all game.
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