January 18, 2018

Conference championship round NFL playoff picks

Eagles NFL
011818FletcherCox Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles' defensive line must dominate the Vikings' offensive line on Sunday.

For the gambling degenerates, here are my NFL conference championship round playoffs picks. To note, the helmets indicate who I think will win the game, not cover the spread. At the end of the picks, I'll note a few teams that I like based on the spread.

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Jaguars at Patriots (-9): If I were the Patriots, I would have preferred to face the Steelers, crazy as that may sound. Tom Brady is 8-2 against Pittsburgh over his career, with 25 TD passes and 4 INTs. In fact, over his career, Brady's passer rating against the Steelers is 111.8. Only the Falcons have allowed a higher passer rating (116.7) when facing Brady. The Pats just seem to own them. Even when the Steelers had them dead to rights Week 15, the Pats just found way to win, or maybe more accurately, the Steelers found a new and creative way to lose.

Instead, the Pats got the Jags, who are a very dangerous opponent. If there's a defense in the AFC playoffs with a legitimate shot at slowing down the Pats' offense, it's the Jags, which has a suffocating pass rush, and two excellent corners behind it. Offensively, the Jags have a rushing attack that can move the chains and eat clock. This will not be a walk in the park for New England.

Ultimately, however, it's pretty hard to get past the fact that this will be Tom Brady vs. Blake Bortles.

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Vikings (-3) at Eagles: A week ago against the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles won the way they often did during the middle of the season, when they rattled off nine straight wins – in the trenches. During that long winning streak, the Eagles were able to blow out a bunch of their opponents, such as the Cardinals, Redskins, 49ers, Broncos, Cowboys, and Bears, by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

I'm convinced the Eagles would have won easily last Saturday if they had Carson Wentz. Without him, and against a better team than the ones we noted above, the Eagles still narrowly got the job done, even if it was ugly to watch at times.

I believe that the Eagles' matchup with the Vikings will be won or lost in the trenches, and I see a significant advantage for the Eagles there.

When the Eagles have the ball, it will be strength on strength, as the Vikings have an outstanding defensive line, headlined by DE Everson Griffen and DT Linval Joseph. The Eagles will try to keep them in check with a highly decorated offensive line that includes two first team All Pros in RT Lane Johnson and C Jason Kelce, a Pro Bowl selection in RG Brandon Brooks, and a LG in Stefen Wisniewski who is playing at the top of his game. The only real question mark is LT Halapoulivaati Vaiatai, who is sure to get a lot of help on Sunday.

The Vikings should have significantly more trouble blocking a very deep and very talented Eagles defensive line. I would go as far as to say that the Eagles' biggest strength, their defensive line, lines up perfectly with the Vikings' biggest weakness, their offensive line.

Recognizing their their offensive line let them down in a big way a year ago, the Vikings went out and signed a pair of offensive tackles in Riley Reiff (5 years, $58.75 million) and Mike Remmers (5 years, $30 million) this past offseason. They also drafted center Pat Elflein, who became a Day 1 starter. Those moves added stability to a Vikings OL that was arguably the worst in the NFL last season.

The Vikings once again have themselves some OL issues. By my count, the Vikings have had eight different OL combinations this season.

Week LT LG C RG RT
1 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
2 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
3 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
4 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
5 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
6 Riley Reiff Jeremiah Sirles Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
7 Riley Reiff Jeremiah Sirles Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
8 Riley Reiff Danny Isadora Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
10 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Rashod Hill
11 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Rashod Hill
12 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Rashod Hill
13 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Rashod Hill
14 Riley Reiff Jeremiah Sirles Nick Easton Joe Berger Rashod Hill
15 Rashod Hill Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
16 Riley Reiff Nick Easton Pat Elflein Joe Berger Mike Remmers
17 Riley Reiff Jeremiah Sirles Joe Berger Mike Remmers Rashod Hill
Div Riley Reiff Mike Remmers Pat Elflein Joe Berger Rashod Hill

The guess here is that the Vikings will roll out the same lineup they did during the divisional round of the playoffs (in green above). If so, they'll have virtually no OL continuity whatsoever.

• Number of career games Riley Reiff has played next to Mike Remmers: 1

• Number of career games Mike Remmers has played next to Pat Elflein: 1

• Number of career games Pat Elflein has played next to Joe Berger: 15

• Number of career games Joe Berger has played next to Rashod Hill: 6

That is less than ideal against a team that is in the conversation for the best defensive line, top to bottom, in the NFL. I think the Eagles' defensive line dominates both in the run game and passing game, and the Eagles do just enough on offense to pull out another ugly win.


• Picks against the spread: Eagles (+3).

• Eagles picks: 13-4
• 2017 season, straight up: 178-86 (0.674)
• 2017 season, ATS: 34-32-2 (0.515)
• 2016 season, straight up: 171-94-2 (0.644)
• 2016 season, ATS:  41-34 (0.547)
• 2015 season, straight up: 163-93 (0.637)
• 2015 season, ATS: 46-30-2 (0.605)


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