Eagles vs Patriots Odds – 2018 Super Bowl Preview

patriots-eagles-super-bowl-oddsNobody is surprised to see the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52. After all, this is their fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last seven years.

They’ve won two titles in this span and have a chance for their third next Sunday.

The Philadelphia Eagles are a bit more surprising, given that they lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz in December. Despite earning the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed, Philly was a long shot to make it through the NFC with backup Nick Foles leading the team.

But Foles has played really well in the playoffs and is a big reason why Philadelphia has a chance to win their first-ever Super Bowl.

Can the Eagles beat the favored Patriots? Let’s discuss the matter by looking at this game’s odds and analyze each team’s chances of winning.

Super Bowl 52 Odds (Feb 4 at 6:30pm ET)

Philadelphia vs New England Point Spread
Eagles +4.5 (-110)
Patriots -4.5 (-110)

Philadelphia vs New England Moneyline
Eagles +180
Patriots -210

Over 48 (-113)
Under 48 (-107)

Key Factors for Philadelphia

The biggest key for Philadelphia will be the play of quarterback Nick Foles. He’s experienced a roller-coaster ride since taking over for the injured Wentz, which included a poor three-game stint to end the regular season.

But Foles has turned things up in the postseason, boasting a 122 passer rating in two playoff games. This will be his third playoff start of the season, and fourth overall postseason start.

Foles was especially electric against the Minnesota Vikings, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns against the league’s top defense. It’s hard to see the Patriots’ defense really clamping down on Foles. But it’s up to him to avoid the erratic play that he showed in four regular season contests.

The Eagles have a strong running game that can help Foles out. Jay Ajayi, who was acquired in a midseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, has become the team’s lead back. He gained 99 yards from scrimmage on 21 total touches against the Vikings.

What makes Philadelphia tough to stop is that they have a deep backfield, with LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement coming off the bench. As a team, they ranked third in the league in rushing offense with 132.2 yards per game. Given that New England’s rushing defense ranked 20th by allowing 114.8 yards per game, this bodes well for the Eagles.

The strength of this team is definitely their defense, which was right up with Minnesota during the regular season.

The front four only managed one sack against Vikings QB Case Keenum. But they did hit him eight times, including one that directly resulted in Keenum throwing a pick-6.

eagles-defensePatriots QB Tom Brady was hit seven times and sacked three times against the elite Jacksonville defensive line. However, it’s also worth mentioning that this pressure didn’t shut down Brady, especially since he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. How Philly’s pressure impacts Brady will be something to watch in the Super Bowl.

Few people expected Philadelphia to go into U.S. Bank Stadium and blow Minnesota of the water. But this is exactly what happened in a lopsided game.

If Foles can have a repeat performance of the NFC Championship game, then it’s very possible that Philly takes home their first-ever Super Bowl title.

Key Factors for New England

Even an age 40, Brady has been as good as ever. He completed 66.3% of his passes for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns during the regular season. All combined, this led to an outstanding 102.8 passer rating.

Jacksonville visibly slowed Brady and the Patriots’ offense in the first half. But he really opened things up in the last quarter, while leading New England two crucial TD drives in the AFC Championship.

It’s hard to beat Brady with the blitz, because he knows how to deal with the pressure. What makes things tougher is that New England always has a strong offensive line, which is why Brady was only the 21st most-pressured QB in the league.

The Eagles’ best chance to slow New England is by stopping their running game. The Jaguars had some success with this. But the league as a whole struggled to contain a multi-headed backfield that includes Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Mike Gillislee.

Lewis is the big key here since he had 896 rushing yards (5.0 avg. per carry) and six rushing TDs during the season. White and Burkhead add a different dimension with their pass catching abilities, as they tallied 429 and 254 receiving yards, respectively.

The offensive weapons just keep coming for New England, because they also have a strong receiving corp that includes tight end rob Gronkowski and receiver Brandin Cooks.

Gronk led the team with 69 catches for 1,084 receiving yards. Cooks ranked second with 1,082 yards, along with a team-leading 16.6 yards per reception.

Gronk, who’s in concussion protocol, won’t participate in Super Bowl opening night. But he should be cleared by game time.

New England also features Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. Amendola is especially dangerous, given that he caught two touchdowns against the Jaguars in the AFC championship.

The main question mark for the Patriots coming into the game will be their defense. This isn’t to say that New England has a bad defense, but it’s just not the best one they’ve brought to the Super Bowl.

patriots-vs-eagles-oddsPart of the problem is that the linebacking core isn’t the greatest, especially since Dont’a Hightower was lost due to injury. Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts have had trouble both stopping the run and in pass coverage.

Defensive lineman Trey Flowers is one of the team’s best defensive players. They also have tackle Malcolm Brown, who’s good at stopping the run.

But New England’s absolute biggest strength on defense is their safety tandem of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. McCourty is strong at covering deep balls, while Chung is one of the leagues-hardest hitting safeties.

I don’t have many reservations about New England’s offense, even against Philadelphia’s tough defense. But my main question is whether the Patriots can slow down Foles and/or the run. If they can do either, then Brady and coach Bill Bilichick will be celebrating their sixth Super Bowl win together.

Prediction on Eagles vs Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl

Many people are writing the Philadelphia Eagles off just because of the Patriots’ previous success. But I certainly think that’s Philly has a chance in this game.

jaguars-patriots-afc-championship-oddsThey have the edge in defense, and their running game matches up well when compared to New England’s. The one big department where they’re lacking is quarterback, especially when pitting Foles against Brady. Nevertheless, Foles has proven that he can step up to the occasion, like he did last week against Minnesota.

But to be honest, it’s hard for me to bet against New England on this stage. After all, the path towards a championship seems easier this year that it was last season.

Sure, they struggled to score points in the early going against Jacksonville. But then again, the Jaguars have the best defensive line in football.

I personally think that the NFC’s best chance of winning the Super Bowl died when New Orleans lost to the Vikings’ miracle 61-yard touchdown as time expired.

Nevertheless, this is going to be a close contest just like the one between New England and Jacksonville last week. That said, look for Brady and Co. To emerge from this one with a narrow win.

Final Score Prediction on Super Bowl 52: New England 23, Philadelphia 20 – The Eagles cover +4.5

Vikings vs Eagles Odds – NFC Championship Preview

philly-vikings-oddsThe Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles will meet in the 2018 NFC Championship this weekend.

Philadelphia got here by winning a gritty 15-10 game against the No. 6 seeded Atlanta Falcons. Interestingly enough, Philly opened the game as a -3 underdog at home. And the reason why is because they lost their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, late in the season. Nevertheless, their defense came through against Atlanta and they’ve moved on.

Minnesota got here via a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but eventually surrendered this in the second half. They needed a miracle 61-yard touchdown at the end of the game to win.

It’s hard to immediately know what to expect from this game. But let’s figure it out by looking at the GTBets odds along with analysis on both teams.

2018 NF Championship Odds (Jan 21 at 6:40pm ET)

Philadelphia vs Minnesota Point Spread
Vikings -3 (-115)
Eagles +3 (+105)

Philadelphia vs Minnesota Moneyline
Vikings -164
Eagles +144

Over 38.5 (-116)
Under 38.5 (-104)

Key Factors for Philadelphia

nick-foles-eaglesThe Wentz injury continues to loom large for the Eagles. Nick Foles, who’s been starting in his place, has a 3-1 record so far. Foles’ only loss was a regular season finale against the Dallas cowboys, where the team rested their starters.

Foles hasn’t exactly been the reason for the three wins. He threw 4 touchdowns against the New York Giants in his first start. But he’s only tossed one touchdown in the last three contests. Philly’s offense is also averaging 11.3 points per game in this three-game span.

Things don’t look to get any better for Foles against what may be the league’s best defense. That said, he needs to channel his performance against the Giants, or at least something close to it, for the Eagles to score.

Lucky for him, Philadelphia has a really good running game to relieve some of the pressure. The three-headed backfield of Jay Ajayi, LaGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement will help generate some offense.

eagles-defenseOf course, Philadelphia’s biggest strength will be their defense. Much like Minnesota, they can also argue that they have the best defense.

They did an excellent job of shutting down Atlanta, holding them to a 281 yards and 10 points – their lowest totals since a 14-9 loss to Minnesota in Week 13. The keys to success won’t change against the Vikings, who have a less-potent offense than Atlanta.

Philadelphia will also have all of the doubters to motivate them for this contest. Head Coach Doug Pederson mentioned this in a recent interview with ESPN:

“When did Carson Wentz go down? Since that point, no one’s given us a chance. I understand Carson’s a great player, but every week our guys are hearing the same thing. Now, all of a sudden, we’re not good enough? We’re 13-3, best record in football, home-field advantage throughout.The guys are gonna motivate themselves based on what they’ve heard for the last month. It really doesn’t matter what you guys talk about, because [our] locker room is united. I’ll go to bat for every one of those guys; I’ll go to war for every one of those guys in that dressing room.”

The Eagles are 9-3 against the Vikings straight-up in the last 12 meetings. And they’ve gone 11-3 ATS in the last 14 games between these squads.

Key Factors for Minnesota

case-keenum-vikingsRoad favorites have fared well in the conference championship throughout NFL history, with an 8-6 record in 14 games.

A big key for Minnesota will be playing like they did in the first half against the Saints, rather than what they did in the second half. The Vikings allowed zero points against a strong offense led by Drew Brees. But their mistake-riddled second half nearly doomed the team’s chances.

The biggest mistakes involved Minnesota’s pass coverage, where they gave up the three touchdowns. But the good news is that Nick Foles will be the opposing QB, and not Brees.

Speaking of which, Minnesota has an edge at quarterback. Case Keenum has been a pleasant surprise this year after taking over for the injured Sam Bradford. Last week, Keenum put up 318 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

The Vikings also have a solid running game that features Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Both players combined for 1,412 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. McKinnon also added 421 receiving yards on 51 catches.

Minnesota’s biggest strength is their defense, which shut down most of the opponents they faced the season. Putting the second half collapse against Orleans behind them, the Vikings up should fare much better against Foles and the Eagles.

This team has gone 9-3 ATS over their past 12 games. And two of the three failed covers were only by a half point. That said, Minnesota looks like a strong bet to cover their -3 spread.

Prediction on Eagles vs Vikings

Philadelphia has the home-field advantage, which is their greatest asset right now. And they’ve gone 8-1 at Lincoln Financial Field, with the only loss being the Week 17 contest where starters rested.

The Eagles have survived with Nick Foles up to this point. But honestly, how much longer can they keep this going against playoff clubs?

Both teams have top-tier defenses, which means that this contest will probably be a low-scoring affair. But I think that Minnesota’s quarterback advantage will be the biggest thing that defines this game.

Final Score Prediction: Minnesota 20, Philadelphia 16 – The Vikings cover -3 spread

Jaguars vs Patriots Odds – AFC Championship Preview

jaguars-patriots-afc-championship-oddsThe New England Patriots booked their seventh-straight AFC Championship game appearance via a dominating 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are here as a result of a 45-42 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Many expect New England to march on to their eighth Super Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. But then again, many thought that a Patriots-Steelers AFC Championship was a formality. And Jacksonville busted this up with an outstanding road performance.

Do the Jaguars have another surprise ready? Or will New England win as expected? Let’s discuss this matter by looking at the GTBets odds along with some analysis on both teams.

2018 AFC Championship Odds (Jan 21 at 3:05pm ET)

Jacksonville vs New England Point Spread
Jaguars +9.5 (-124)
Patriots -9.5 (+104)

Jacksonville vs New England Moneyline
Jaguars +305
Patriots -405

Over 38.5 (-118)
Under 38.5 (-102)

Key Factors for Jacksonville

jaguars-calais-campbellThe story on Jacksonville is their postseason experience, or lack thereof. This team is relatively young, and they don’t have anywhere near the experience in these situations as the Patriots.

Nevertheless, Jacksonville didn’t get to this point by accident. Instead, they did so by crushing teams with their defense, which is quite possibly the most talented unit in the NFL.

Defensive end Calais Campbell leads the Jaguars’ defense. He tallied 14.5 sacks in the regular season and demands constant attention at all times. Jacksonville also has shutdown corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

One thing that bodes well for this team is that they’ve only struggled against mobile quarterbacks. Brady is hardly this, which should give the Jaguars a boost.

The offense is led by rookie running back Leonard Fournette. The fourth-overall pick in the 2017 Draft slowed down towards the end of the season. But he looks great so far in the postseason, scoring three touchdowns against the Steelers last week.

blake-bortles-jaguarsBlake Bortles hasn’t been anything spectacular at QB. But he did fare well against Pittsburgh, throwing for 214 yards, one touchdowns, and, most importantly, no interceptions.

Jacksonville is 10-0 on the season when Bortles doesn’t throw a pick. That said, their key to winning could bank on the fourth-year pro. Assuming Bortles doesn’t toss a pick, then the defense can use their talent to give Brady and Co. fits.

Key Factors for New England

brady-jaguarsSome experts are picking Jacksonville to win this game. And I assume that this could have something to do with shock value. After all, it’s nearly impossible to see New England losing at home on this stage.

Here are a few stats that compare the Brady-Belichick Patriots (18 years) to Jacksonville’s entire franchise history (23 years):

Super Bowl wins
Patriots 5
Jaguars 0

Super Bowl appearances
Patriots 7
Jaguars 0

AFC Championship appearances
Patriots 12
Jaguars 2

QB playoff starts
Brady 35
Bortles 2

Coaching playoff games
Belichick 35
Doug Marrone 2

It’s extremely hard to put Jacksonville’s chances in the same stratosphere as New England. And it’s very possible that the Jaguars are only here because Pittsburgh overlooked them while focusing on the Patriots.

The Patriots are far too professional to overlook the opponent right in front of them. And they’d be wise not to, because Jacksonville has loads of raw talent.

bill-belichick-patriotsJust the fact that Brady is starting against Bortles should be enough to have complete confidence in New England. Furthermore, TB12 has more weapons than his opposing signal caller, including Brand Cooks and Rob Gronkowski, who both went over 1,000 yards.

Brady can also check down to running backs Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead, who combined for 120 catches, 893 receiving yards, and 9 receiving TDs.

Perhaps the only mystery in this game will be if New England can cover their lofty 9.5 spread. They’re 10-1 ATS in the last 11 games, which bodes well for betting purposes.

Prediction on Jacksonville vs. New England

In some ways, Pittsburgh was the perfect matchup for Jacksonville. And it didn’t help that the Steelers were more obsessed with beating New England than they were with winning their immediate divisional round contest.

Jacksonville won’t have the same luxury of surprise against the Patriots. New England is coached and quarterbacked by two of the best ever. Furthermore, New England is the top team of the four remaining squads still alive for the Super Bowl.

The Jaguars deserve credit for getting here. However, I don’t think they’re quite ready to outplay a Belichick-coached Patriots squad.

This situation reminds me of when New England played the Indianapolis Colts in the 2015 AFC Championship. The only difference is that the Colts had a strong offense and mediocre defense, which is the opposite of Jacksonville.

In any case, New England went on to win this game 45-7 at home. Maybe Jacksonville will make this a better contest than most expect. But then again, they’re only 2-5 ATS in their last seven games against the Patriots.

Long story short, I don’t see Jacksonville shocking the world. I see them suffering a humiliating loss, one where Bortles can’t guide his team downfield, and the defense is left guarding short fields against Tom Brady.

Final Score Prediction: New England 38, Jacksonville 13 – The Patriots cover their -9.5 spread.

Cavs MLK Loss to Warriors Creates Doubt Over Contender Status

cavs-in-troubleThe Cleveland Cavaliers suffered a 118-108 home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. And afterward, several players on the team talked about the growing concern that they may not be able to fix their problems and compete for a championship.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reports that multiple players have concerns about their aging roster, redundant (3-point shooting) role players, and lack of defense.

All this has been evident in an up-and-down season for Cleveland, who started off 5-7, before winning 18 of their next 19 games. However, they’ve now lost nine of their past 12 contests, including the demoralizing loss to the warriors.

One might say that this is only a single game. But the loss to Golden State now drops Cleveland to 1-6 against the top three teams in both conferences. Their only victory against such an opponent was a win against Boston after Gordon Hayward broke his ankle.

Defense is the Biggest Problem

Last year, the Cavs were a poor defensive team that finally got better in the postseason. But this year, they’re absolutely dreadful, ranking 29th in defensive efficiency. They allow 109.3 points per 100 possessions.

In the last 20 years, no NBA team that’s finished in the bottom two in defensive efficiency has made the playoffs, let alone the NBA Finals.

If Cleveland continues at this rate, they’ll become the first such team to make the playoffs. After all, their offense has been good enough to give them a 26-17 record. But it’s highly unlikely that they can get through the Eastern Conference playing such bad defense.

Cavs Blew Lead Over Warriors

Despite the current discontent in the Cleveland locker room, they didn’t play too badly against the team with the league’s best record. In fact, the Cavs were actually leading by seven points at halftime.

But the Warriors turned on the jets from here, outscoring Cleveland 61-44 in the second half. The fourth quarter was a specially damming, given that Cleveland shot just 26.1% (6-for-23) from the floor.

While this was definitely a tough loss to take, LeBron James found solace in the fact the team put in a strong effort.

“It seemed like the rim just got smaller and smaller,” said James. “Like our effort tonight. If we continue on that, going into our next few games, then I like where we are.”

Still Room for Improvement

isaiah-thomas-cavs-warriorsThe first time Cleveland played Golden State, they didn’t have the services of Tristan Thompson (calf) and Isaiah Thomas (hip). But both players were on the court against the Warriors this time around. And they couldn’t make a big enough difference to swing the tide in Cleveland’s favor.

Nevertheless, there’s still some improvement to be made here. This is especially the case when considering that Thomas, has only been back for five games, played his most minutes (32) last night.

“I just want him to take the shots that are given to him,” said Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue. “Not forcing shots, but if someone, whoever is on the team that can shoot the basketball, if they’re open 21 times, then take your shots. It’s not about the amount of shots, it’s the amount of good shots. If they’re your shots then you’ve got to be ready to take them.”

Thomas has drawn a lot of comparisons to Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who was involved in the trade that sent Thomas to Cleveland. Right now, Irving and the Celtics hold the number one spot in the East, while Cleveland is currently fielding questions about their team chemistry.

However, it’s a little unfair to compare the two right now when considering that Thomas is still trying to get into the swing of things.

“[It could take me] 15 to 20 games or maybe a month,” Thomas said in regard to getting “back to the level that [I am] used to playing at.”

Rose and Shumpert Currently Out

Guards Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert are currently out with injuries. And they’ll add to the rotation when they’re healthy enough to return.

Of course, they could also further complicate a rotation that’s already in disarray. After all, Lue still has yet to figure out a lineup that can both score and shut down opposing offenses.

Cavs Trade Coming?

derrick-rose-lebronCleveland isn’t getting any younger. And there’s no defensive help on the way either. The Cavs will play better around the postseason – like always – but will it be enough?

Kevin Love can’t protect the rim when he plays center, Thomas is a defensive liability, and the rest of the roster is past its defensive peak.

Offensively, Cleveland doesn’t have a clear playmaker when LeBron sits. Thomas could be this when he’s healthy. But what happens when both sit?

Dwyane Wade, Rose, and Jose Calderon aren’t elite playmakers, while J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are merely spot-up shooters. Then you have Jae Crowder, who’s having his worst season in years.

The important thing to remember here is that Cleveland is still 26-17 and looking like a middle seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, at worst.

But they certainly don’t look like any real challenger to the Warriors. They might not even be good enough to make it out of the East. And this would be a first within the past four years.

This is why GM Koby Altman might make a big trade before the deadline. I discussed the potential scenario where they acquire center DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers. But this would mean that they’d have to give up the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Word now is that they want to keep it in case LeBron bolts in free agency. But the players would no doubt like to see Altman use this asset to better the team, especially with what’s going on now.

Cleveland still has over three months before the playoffs begin to get things right. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if they can swing a good trade or find a really effective lineup before then.

Saints vs Vikings Odds – NFC Playoffs Preview

saints-vikings-odds-playoffsIf you’ll remember, the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints kicked off the 2017-18 NFL season at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota won this game 29-19, but it hardly feels like the same two teams.

Adrian Peterson was still on the Saints back then, while Sam Bradford was quarterbacking the Vikings. That said, don’t expect this Sunday’s NFC Divisional round to be a replica of the first contest.

Both teams have played really well since their initial meeting. And you can argue that these are the top two squads in the NFC. But they’ll be fighting for a single spot in the conference championship game.

Minnesota will once again have home-field advantage. Can they beat the Saints yet again? Let’s analyze both teams’ chances in this contest, and look at the GTBets odds.

Odds for Saints Vikings in 2018 NFC Divisional Playoffs Round (Jan 14 at 4:40pm ET)

New Orleans vs Minnesota Point Spread
Saints +5.5 (-110)
Vikings – 5.5 (-110)

New Orleans vs Minnesota Moneyline
Saints +205
Vikings -240

Over 46.5 (-115)
Under 46.5 (-105)

Key Factors for New Orleans (12-5)

Drew Brees has become an institution at quarterback for New Orleans. However, he took a backseat in the offense this year while the running game shined. This isn’t to say that the 17-year veteran has lost a step, though.

This week he faces the league’s second best total defense. One might think that Brees will struggle. But recent history suggests otherwise, because he’s thrown 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, and tallied a 110.1 passer rating against top 10 defenses in 2017.

kamara-saints-panthers-playoffsHelping Brees’ cause is the fact that he has a very talented backfield to take the pressure off him. After Peterson was jettisoned to the Arizona Cardinals, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara began to shine.They combined to lead the league in several categories, including rushing yards (1,852), rushing touchdowns (20), scrimmage yards (3,094), and scrimmage touchdowns (25).

They didn’t fare too well against the Carolina Panthers, combining for 68 total yards on 21 touches. But this was a combination of Carolina’s defense and a banged up O-line. While Minnesota also has a strong defense, there’s no way I see these two gaining just 68 yards together again.

Kamara especially has the ability to break through the Vikings defense, whether he’s running or catching the ball. It’ll be tougher for him to shine against Minnesota, but don’t be surprised if he still finds some success.

New Orleans also has a good receiving corp, led by Michael Thomas. The Saints’ top wideout has an interesting matchup against elite shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes. The latter has only allowed one 100-yard receiver (Marvin Jones), meaning Thomas will have his work cut out for him.

If he can’t break out, then perhaps Brees will find Ted Ginn Jr. down the field. Ginn has had a really solid season for New Orleans this year and could be the secret weapon.

The Saints’ defense has improved greatly and is a major reason why they’ve turned things around in 2017. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (5 interceptions) is definitely part of this defensive revival. If he and New Orleans defense can pin Minnesota’s offense and get the short field, then they could very well pull off a road upset.

Key Factors for Minnesota (13-3)

kase-keenum-vikings-playoffsPeople were skeptical when Case Keenum took over for the injured Bradford at quarterback earlier this season. But Keenum has turned in a fine year with 21 touchdown passes against just 7 interceptions.

Nobody’s saying that he’s going to out-duel Brees on Sunday. But Keenum is very solid for a team that’s strong in every area. In other words, don’t expect Keenum to give the game away.

My only question is how he’ll perform in his first-ever playoff contest. He has zero postseason starts against Brees’ 12.

The last QB without a playoff start to beat an opposing signal caller with 10 starts was the Broncos’ Tim Tebow (vs. Ben Roethlisberger). Keenum is much better than Tebow, but the stat goes to show how rare this occurrence is.

He has good receivers to throw to in Stephon Diggs and Pro Bowler Adam Thielen. Diggs will probably draw Lattimore in one-on-one coverage, which frees up Thielen to possibly have a big game.

The defense is no doubt Minnesota’s biggest strength. They allowed a second-best 1,095 rushing yards, and were also second in the league in receiving yards allowed to running backs (499). This is a great combination against the Saints’ talented duel-threat backs.

It won’t be easy for Brees to find open receivers. After all, the Vikings not only have Rhodes at corner, but also All Pro safety Harrison Smith. Smith is somebody who can play all over the field, whether it’s stopping the run or helping on coverage. He’s a big reason why the Vikings held opponents to a league-best 25% on third-down conversions.

As if playing great defense isn’t enough, Minnesota also does a good job of protecting the football. They lost just six fumbles (7th in league) and threw eight interceptions (2nd).

This being said, the Vikings aren’t a team that will hand you the game. And this could spell trouble for New Orleans if they can’t score enough points.

Prediction on New Orleans vs Minnesota

The Saints have had a fantastic season after starting in an 0-2 hole that had people calling for coach Sean Payton’s job. New Orleans is also an experienced unit that’s led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback.

But unfortunately for them, they’re also playing on the road against an energized team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009. I want to trust Brees to deliver in the clutch and continue moving towards his second Super Bowl title.

But looking at what Minnesota brings to the table – impressive defense, solid QB, good running game – I don’t see it happening. This game will be close, but expect Minnesota to win, probably with a late fourth-quarter stop.

Final Score Prediction: Minnesota 24, New Orleans 20 – Saints cover +5.5

Jaguars vs Steelers Odds – AFC Playoffs Preview

antonio-brown-jaguarsMost analysts have already penciled the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots into the AFC Championship game. Of course, there are still two divisional games that must be played before this happens.

And Pittsburgh’s opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are no pushovers. They boast one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, ranking second in points allowed (16.8) and first in passing yards allowed (169.9).

The Jaguars can also look to their Week 5 dismantling of the Steelers as motivation. They beat Pittsburgh 30-9 and forced quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw five interceptions. Of course, that was a long time ago, and the Steelers have only lost one game since.

“We’ve evolved since then,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the blowout loss.

The football world has also put the Week 5 loss behind them, given that Pittsburgh is currently a touchdown favorite. But will they come through against this nasty Jaguars’ defense?

Let’s discuss the matter by analyzing both teams and looking at the GTBets odds on this contest.

Odds for Jaguars Steelers 2018 AFC Divisional Playoffs Game (Jan 14 at 1:00pm ET)

Jacksonville vs Pittsburgh Point Spread
Jaguars -7 (-120)
Steelers +7 (+100)

Jacksonville vs Pittsburgh Moneyline
Jaguars +255
Steelers -310

Over 41 (-112)
Under 41 (-108)

Key Factors for Jacksonville (11-6)

We know that the Jacksonville defense is great. In fact, they stifled Buffalo in last week’s 10-3 Wild Card victory. That said, the key for the Jaguars will be how their offense performs on the road.

Much of this task will fall on quarterback Blake Bortles, who didn’t look very good against the Bills.

On the positive side, he rushed for 88 yards. But Bortles also threw for just 87 yards, becoming only the third quarterback to win a playoff game with more rushing than passing yards (Michael Vick & Bob Griese).

The problem for the fourth-year player is that Pittsburgh won’t score 3 points this week. That means Bortles is going to actually have to make some good throws and keep the Steelers from stacking the box.

If he can do this, it gives Jacksonville running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon more room to operate.

Speaking of Fournette, the rookie has had a late-season slump, rushing for less than 70 yards in five of his last six contests. The LSU product really needs to get going in this one if Jacksonville is going to move the ball.

jaguars-bills-oddsIf nothing else, the Jaguars can at least bank on their strong defenseive core, which includes vicious defensive lineman in Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, and Dante Fowler. This quartet have combined for 42.5 sacks, 41 tackles for a loss, and 74 quarterback hits so far.

Another key defensive player will be cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The All-Pro is possibly the best corner in the league, and he’ll check Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. Ramsey has allowed 30 receiving yards or less in 8 of his 17 games. If he can hold Brown under 50 yards, it would be a win for his team.

Jacksonville may be the underdog in a hostile environment. But if Bortles can move this team downfield and score a few times, it’ll put pressure on Pittsburgh to score against an elite defense.

Key Factors for Pittsburgh (13-3)

leveon-bellPittsburgh has a star-studded offense that can score points through both the air and on the ground. Beginning with the latter, Le’Veon Bell will lead the rushing charge against Jacksonville’s front seven.

Bell is arguably the NFL’s best all-around running back. And he’s gone over 100 rushing yards in all but one game since Week 7. As if this isn’t enough, he caught a league-leading and franchise record 85 passes.

He’ll be motivated by revenge since the Jaguars held him to just 47 rushing yards in the Week 5 loss. But exacting this revenge will be easier said than done, given that he’s only averaging 3.2 yards per carry over his last eight games. Bell needs better than this to consistently pick up yardage against Jacksonville.

Luckily for him, Pittsburgh has more than enough in the passing game to balance out the offense. Roehtlisberger has some fine options to throw to in Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant.

Brown had a strong game against Ramsey last time out, catching four passes for 91 yards. But Roethlisberger also threw a couple of picks when aiming in his direction.

As long as Pittsburgh can avoid a turnover fest and open things up with Bell’s running ability, they should be able to win this game. And it doesn’t hurt that their talented squad will be playing in the friendly confines of Heinz Field.

Prediction on Jacksonville vs Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger, Pernell McPheeThis is by no means an easy game for Pittsburgh. Sure, they’re the more talented team on paper. But this is a tricky contest for a team that’s expected to move on.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, has the defensive talent to make this a tough game, even if Bortles and the offense don’t come through. The Jaguars will look to make this divisional matchup ugly and force Roethlisberger into more mistakes.

But the truth is that they’re probably going to need a defensive touchdown and a total Steelers meltdown to win. Look for this one to be close, but also for Pittsburgh to move on.

Final Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Jaguars 17 – Jacksonville covers -7 spread