Only four teams remain in the hunt for the Super Bowl. The Conference Championship games begin with Jaguars playing the Patriots in the AFC Championship, followed by the Vikings playing the Eagles in the NFC Championship. Each of these teams deserve to be here. You don’t get to the Conference Championship round of the playoffs without being a good team. Everyone expected the Patriots to be here, but the other three teams maybe not so much.
After Carson Wentz went down, most people counted the Eagles out because they had Nick Foles in the starting line up. The Vikings have been questioned because when you think of Case Keenum, you don’t think of a quarterback who completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,547 yards and 22 TD’s with a rating of 98.3. Most people still think of a quarterback who sits on the bench until the starter goes down when they hear his name. Even though the Jaguars have had a great season, there’s been one player still in question all season long. Blake Bortles has been deemed a bust by many.
When the season started, would anyone have guessed that the four quarterbacks remaining at this point would be Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Tom Brady? If you say yes you’re lying. Most people would have thought we’d be seeing quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, or Aaron Rodgers trying to beat Brady and the reigning champs.
Think about these names for a minute. Blake Bortles. Nick Foles. Case Keenum. Tom Brady. If you had to pick one quarterback to win the Super Bowl out of these four, my guess is that 99.9% of you would pick Tom Brady. I would too. The names of these quarterbacks are screaming “THE PATRIOTS ARE SUPERBOWL CHAMPIONS.”
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and the Patriots have the best quarterback remaining by far. With that being said, let me ask you this question. Do any of these quarterbacks stand a chance against Brady? Instead of making you wait for my answer until the end, I’ll tell you right now the answer is yes. There’s a good chance Tom Brady will lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl win, but just because he’s favored it doesn’t mean nobody else has a chance. Each quarterback has something that will allow their team to beat the Patriots.
Lets start with the quarterback going up against Brady this week. Blake Bortles has been marked as a bust by a lot of people, and for good reason. He doesn’t give you what you typically want from your starting quarterback. During his first three seasons with the Jaguars, Bortles led them to a combined total of 11 wins (5 being the most). This season has been much different for the Jaguars, but it hasn’t been because of Bortles. His stats are just as bad as they were in the previous three years. His quarterback ratings in his first three years were 69.5, 88.2, and 78.8. This year it was 84.7. Just as bad.
While his play hasn’t been any better, he hasn’t taken as much criticism because the Jaguars have been winning. His play has been masked by the thing that gives him a chance to beat Tom Brady. Defense. During the regular season, the Jaguars defense ranked 2nd in points allowed, 2nd in sacks, 2nd in INT’s, and 4th in fumble recoveries.
This defense is what allowed the Jaguars to be up 28-14 at half time against the Steelers, eventually going on to win. The Jaguars harassed the Steelers in the first half. If the Jaguars want to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, they have to play like they did in the first half against the Steelers, only this time do it for the entire game. If the Jaguars defense can play that well for an entire game, all Bortles has to do is be average and not turn the ball over.
Nick Foles has career numbers that are a little better than those of Blake Bortles, but he’s been very inconsistent. Foles has had years from a 69.0 to 119.2 quarterback rating. This year he’s had a rating of 79.5. When looking at the numbers for Nick Foles alone, you’d think there’s no way he could beat Tom Brady.
Much like Blake Bortles having one of the best defenses on his team, Nick Foles also has that. The Eagles defense ranked 4th in points allowed, 15th in sacks, 4th in INT’S, and 6th in fumble recoveries. Not quite as good as the numbers put up by the Jaguars defense, but still very good.
The Eagles are coming off a win in which the allowed the Falcons to score 10 points. Because the Eagles defense gave up such a small amount of points, Nick Foles didn’t have to do a whole lot. He wasn’t relied upon to make huge plays or to be the guy. They’re not asking him to be Carson Wentz. If the Eagles are going to get to the Super Bowl and win it, it’s going to be because of their defense.
Case Keenum is having his best year by far. As I mentioned earlier, I still think of him as a back up who only plays when the starter gets hurt. He’s proven to be so much more than that this year. Before this year, Keenum’s best quarterback rating was 87.7. This year that’s up to 98.3.
What could be one of the biggest reasons for that? Defense. What a surprise! Keenum has the leagues top defense in terms of points allowed. When it comes to sacks, INT’s and fumble recoveries, the Vikings ranked either in the middle or at the bottom of the NFL. They just don’t allow teams to score! Only four times during the regular season did the Vikings allow a team to score over 20 points.
The Vikings defense has been so good that Keenum just has to be average, but he’s been so much more than that. When your defense doesn’t allow the other team to score, there’s no pressure to put up 30+ points every game. In 12 of their games during the regular season, the Vikings scored over 20 points. In five of those games they scored 30+. Keenum doesn’t have pressure to perform like he is, but he’s doing it anyway because his defense allows him to.
Defense, Defense, Defense
If you didn’t guess it by now, the key for Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles to beat Tom Brady is their defense. All of these quarterbacks have a great defense, which is really the reason why they’re still in the playoffs. It’s always hard to beat Tom Brady, but it’s even harder when he has a good defense too. The Patriots defense is just behind the other three remaining defenses in terms of points allowed (18.5). Each of these quarterbacks just need to be average, but the defense for each team needs to be on top of their game if they want any chance of beating Tom Brady and the Patriots.