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NFL Conference Championship Open Thread

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I will be traveling for most of tomorrow, so my ability to see any of the games will depend on Delta’s wireless and/or dashboard viewing opt…so I look forward to seeing the highlights! Some random notes:

  • Having been freed from the grip of EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH, the fine people of Tennessee will be favored with the…Bill Belichick coaching tree, once removed.  You can’t know for sure that it won’t work, but…in his one year as a defensive coordinator, his defense got notably worse. And as for the Belichick coaching tree — and his Pats connection would seem to be his prime selling point — Vrabel’s boss last year is a QUARTERBACK GURU who 1)signed a sub-sub replacement level QB to a contract so bad he had to give up a draft pick to get rid of it one year later, 2)spent the offseason looking at Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson and judged the former to be superior, and 3)is arguably the best NFL product of the Belichick system so far. Good luck! Barnwell has been roasting people defending the NFL’s obvious racial double standards in coaching hires, for good reason.
  • Every time an NFL team gives up a lead, the way talk radio callers try to sound smart is to say PREVENT DEFENSES ONLY PREVENT YOU FROM WINNING, whether or not the losing team actually played a prevent defense. It is probably true that as offenses switched to high-efficiency passing games that didn’t rely on downfield throws as much to move the ball quickly, some teams went to the prevent too early. But there are actually times where a prevent or similar defense makes sense, and the decisive play in last week’s Vikings/Saints game is a classic example. Williams screwed up the coverage, but the damage was magnified by the number of defenders the Saints were using to defend against passes Keenum wasn’t going to throw with one play left needing to gain at least 25 yards.
  • I like this take on the three remaining non-Brady QBs:

Case Keenum is the best quarterback of the trio, by far. Keenum’s strengths include accuracy on short-to-mid-range passes, surprising pocket presence and mobility, and excellent decision-making when he’s not pressured. Keenum is the only member of the trio who can be counted on to do “quality quarterback” stuff, like lead a two-minute drill when trailing.

Blake Bortles is the most talented quarterback of the trio. Bortles’ mobility caused problems for both the Steelers and Bills: If he sees man coverage, he’ll run as soon as defenders turn their backs on him. Bortles also has a very good arm, and while he sometimes just heaves passes into double coverage, his receivers retrieve just enough of those heaves to make him dangerous.

Nick Foles is the least likely of the trio to lose a game with mistakes. Bortles makes Favre-on-the-playground bloopers. Keenum’s ambitions are sometimes bigger than his arm. Foles knows his game-manager role and his limitations and on Saturday played within them. Which means, of course, he’s the least likely of the trio to win a game with a big throw.

The Vikings have the best backup quarterback situation of any team, including the Patriots. Both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are available if Keenum goes down. Bortles is backed up by Chad Henne, who is best known for failing to win the job in training camp from Blake Bortles. Foles’ backup is a nice fellow named Nate Sudfeld. A 13-episode Netflix series dramatizing what happened to Brady’s backups is currently in production.

On the games I’ll take TEAM TRUMP (-7 1/2) over the Jags. Jacksonville does have the defensive characteristics that have produced upsets in the playoffs against the Pats. Especially with the injury to Brady’s hand and the Pats having inexplicably pissed away their outstanding backup for a lowball offer, if you think Bortles going from replacement-level performance to OK performance this year is another testament to coaching a la Goff and Keenum rather than a fluke, you should take the points. After seeing a dreadful performance against the Bills at home, and an OK-not-great performance against a Steelers team whose coaches seemed to hit a brunch with bottomless Bloody Marys determined to get their money’s work, I’m going to wait and see.

In a very tough call, I’ll take the Vikings (-3) over the EAGLES. The Vikes are (a little) better defensively, and their better QB and better offensive weapons make up for not having home field for me. You might be a little concerned about Minnesota blowing the lead against New Orleans, but there’s a big difference between facing one of the 10 best QBs in NFL history and a replacement-level professional who can produce decent results with good coaching. I think Foles needs to mostly play from ahead and I don’t think he’ll be able to.

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