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Kibbles and Picks – Conference Championships 2018

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Hm. So this is what hubris feels like.

My celebratory gloating following my triumph over Stella in the Wild Card round seems to have come back to give me a karmic bite on the behind. Our records for the Divisional Round were reversed – this time, it was Stella’s turn to go 3-1 and my turn to correctly pick just one single solitary game.

For the record, the one game I got right was the Patriots win over the Titans. Stella got that one as well.

As for the others? We were both wrong on the outcome of the Jacksonville/Pittsburgh tilt. Neither one of us expected that the Jaguars were going to have the offense necessary to win. And if you’d told us that Ben Roethlisberger was going to throw for nearly 500 yards against the Jacksonville defense, we’d have felt very confident in our decision. Alas, the Steelers somehow allowed the dysfunctional Jags offense to put up 45.

I liked what I saw from Atlanta in the previous round and figured they’d have little trouble dusting an Eagles team with the less-than-stellar Nick Foles under center. What I didn’t anticipate was Philly straight-up shutting down the offensive attack of the Falcons. Stella knew all along; she was expecting a low-scoring affair and thought that the Eagles would be playing with something to prove. Throw in home field advantage and you’ve got a recipe for victory.

And then there’s the game for the ages that closed out the round. That Saints/Vikings game became an instant classic, the sort of back-and-forth battle and miraculous ending that winds up with legendary status within the annals of the game. I thought I’d sealed a tie for the week with Will Lutz’s field goal with less than a minute left, but Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs had other ideas. Even Stella’s usual unflappability was challenged, but she came out on top – and in the manner she expected, with a strong defensive effort and a couple of big game-changing plays.

So now we arrive at the conference championships. Two more playoff games to determine who gets to face off in Minnesota on February 4 for Super Bowl LII.

As it has been for the entire postseason, Stella and I are in agreement on the AFC. We both think that the Patriots will have little problem holding off the upstart Jaguars to win the conference and advance to yet another Super Bowl. While the Jacksonville defense has looked extraordinary at times this season, they looked ordinary against the Steelers, who hung 42 on them last weekend. We like New England to do some scoring. Thus far, the Jags have been able to avoid disaster in terms of quarterback play, but Blake Bortles is due to implode. However, Stella has expressed some misgivings – she feels like the Jacksonville pass rush is capable of getting to Tom Brady, and if they do, she worries that the Patriots’ offensive machine might sputter a bit. Still, we both like the Pats to win – me in a rout, Stella in a closer, more hard-fought game.

Meanwhile, we’re at odds on the matchup between Minnesota and Philadelphia. I’m going with the home team here. The Eagles showed plenty of resilience and fortitude in pulling out that win against the Falcons. Foles isn’t a superstar, but he can manage a game well enough. And that Philly defense is legit – certainly strong enough to keep the Vikings in check. Plus they’ll have the rowdy Philadelphia crowd on their side. Oh, and there’s the whole hangover factor – after that crazy miracle finish, the Vikings can’t help but come in a bit flat. Stella disagrees, believing that the miracle finish is precisely why Minnesota will beat the Eagles. She’s feeling the Vikings; she expects that the defense will dominate the line of scrimmage and make it impossible for Philly to consistently move the ball. She also expects a wave of irrational confidence to sweep through Keenum and the rest of the offense. We’re both expecting low scores, just with different winners.

(Note: As a fan of historic happenings, I love the idea of the Vikings becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on their home field. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.)

And there it is – your final Kibbles and Picks of the season. I’ll be doing a Super Bowl preview as the cover story of our January 31 edition – and we’ll include some insight from Stella, of course – but as far as K&P goes, this is it. For those who have been reading all season long, I thank you and Stella thanks you.

We’ll see you next fall.

(winners in caps)

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ALLEN’S PICKS

Sunday, Jan. 21

Jacksonville at NEW ENGLAND

Minnesota at PHILADELPHIA

Divisional record: 1-3

Postseason record: 4-4

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STELLA’S PICKS

Sunday, Jan. 21

Jacksonville at NEW ENGLAND

MINNESOTA at Philadelphia

Divisional record: 3-1

Postseason record: 4-4

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