Super Bowl 2018: AFC, NFC Conference Championship Predictions and Vegas Odds

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJanuary 17, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 14:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars passes the ball during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field on January 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jaguars defeat Pittsburgh 45-42.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The 1999 St. Louis Rams went from 4-12 to a Super Bowl championship in the span of just one year. It was a remarkable accomplishment, especially considering they lost starting quarterback Trent Green to a knee injury in the preseason. Kurt Warner eventually took over, and the rest is history.

As remarkable as that comeback was, the Jacksonville Jaguars can one-up them this season. The Jags finished 3-13 in 2016 but are just two wins away from their first Lombardi Trophy.

We'll take a look at three X-factors for their AFC Championship matchup with the New England Patriots below. You can also find the schedule, picks and Vegas odds (per OddsShark).

For a greater focus on the NFC Conference Championship Game, see a preview here.


Conference Championship Schedule and Television Information

Sunday, January 21, 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS: No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 New England Patriots

Sunday, January 21, 6:40 p.m. ET on Fox: No. 2 Minnesota Vikings at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles


Super Bowl Schedule

Sunday, February 4, 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC: AFC champion vs. NFC champion at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis


Conference Championship Predictions

Vikings 17, Eagles 16

Patriots 27, Jaguars 16


Super Bowl Prediction

Vikings 20, Patriots 19


Super Bowl Odds (per OddsShark)

New England Patriots: EVEN

Minnesota Vikings: 11-5

Philadelphia Eagles: 13-2

Jacksonville Jaguars: 13-2


Blake Bortles Rushing To Keep Drives Alive

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles' rushing ability has been impressive of late.

In two playoff games, the fourth-year pro has gained 123 yards on 15 carries. He led the Jags in rushing in their wild-card game against the Buffalo Bills, when he amassed 88 yards on just 10 carries.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Bortles' ability to make plays on the ground hasn't been limited to the regular season, however, as he ran for 322 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, including a six-carry, 62-yard performance versus the Arizona Cardinals.

Furthermore, Bortles' playoff rushes seem to come at opportune times. Against the Bills, his runs directly led to six first downs. Notably, he ran for 20 yards on three carries in their game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Against the Steelers, Bortles rushed twice for 20 yards during his team's third touchdown drive of the game.

No one is calling Bortles the next Fran Tarkenton or Michael Vick, but his recent running has added a crucial dimension to the Jaguars' balanced offense. The Patriots need to keep an eye on him this Sunday.


Jaguars' Recent Struggles Covering Running Backs and Tight Ends

The Jaguars defense has been near-unstoppable in most games this season, but they didn't fare well in a 44-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16.

Granted, no one did well against San Francisco to close the season (the 49ers finished 5-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at quarterback), but the Jaguars had struggles covering backs and tight ends that day.

49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk hauled in a 44-yard catch en route to a five-reception, 76-yard performance, and tight end George Kittle caught three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.

It was more of the same against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Granted, the running back was Le'Veon Bell, who is arguably the most proficient pass-catching back in the league.

However, Bell hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass on a crucial third-and-nine to help bring the Steelers back within seven points in the third quarter. For the day, he had nine catches for 88 yards and one score.

Tight end Vance McDonald also had the most productive game of his career thanks to 10 catches for 122 yards. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to continuously look his way to move the sticks and pick up big first downs late in the game.

With the Jags facing superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski and a three-headed monster of capable pass-catching backs (Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead), their task does not get any easier for the AFC Championship.


Jaguars Kicker Josh Lambo's Remarkable Consistency

The Los Angeles Chargers' loss of kicker Josh Lambo has clearly been the Jacksonville Jaguars' gain this season.

The former Bolt has been fantastic for the Jags since taking over as the team's place kicker in the middle of the year, knocking home 19 of 20 field goals and 22 of 24 extra points. His long this year is 56 yards.

Don Wright/Associated Press

Lambo is also perfect in the playoffs so far, as he's drilled seven extra points and two more field goals.

The Patriots' defense has given up a ton of yards this season, allowing the fourth most in the NFL. However, their total points allowed (18.5) ranks fifth best in the league.

Therefore, we could see a situation where the Jags continuously push the Pats' bend-but-don't-break defense into their own territory but can't punch it in the end zone. If that's the case, then the Jags might be calling on Lambo often to deliver points.

Lambo has never been on the bright conference championship stage before, as he missed the playoffs in his two seasons with the Chargers. However, he's been a key asset for the Jags and has done well in the postseason, so he could deliver in the AFC Championship.