Championship Sunday: Mismatches in Jags-Pats, Vikings-Eagles


The matchups are set for Championship Sunday. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings, riding emotional highs from the Divisional Round, will travel to face the top seeds in the AFC (New England Patriots) and NFC (Philadelphia Eagles), respectively.

All four teams deserve to be here and, therefore, don't offer many weaknesses to pick at. Yet, by combing through the wealth of data in Pro Football Focus' catalogue, we can find a handful of mismatches in the AFC and NFC Championship Games. If either side in the matchups listed below over- or underperform expectations, it could be what helps decide which teams advance to Super Bowl LII.

AFC Championship Game: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots

Jaguars' coverage linebackers vs. Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots' running backs: Despite Ben Roethlisberger's big numbers from the Divisional Round, the Jaguars' defense still fields one of the best pass rushes and cornerback duos in the NFL. As such, opponents are wary about dropping back in the pocket to let long-developing deep throws come together. Linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack are the primary pass defenders at the second level for Jacksonville, and the duo allowed a combined 949 yards in coverage during the regular season, with both ranking in the top 12 in yards allowed in coverage among linebackers who played 300-plus snaps. Last week, Smith was beaten by the Steelers for 12 catches and a touchdown on 13 targets. The Patriots routinely take advantage of such minor cracks in their opponent's armor. Consider that, in the regular season, the Titans allowed more yards to running backs than any other team -- and in last week's Divisional Round game between Tennessee and New England, Patriots backs Dion Lewis and James White combined for 17 targets.

Having their linebackers hold up in coverage and eliminating the quick passing game will be key for Jacksonville. Tom Brady has thrown seven of his eight picks on plays where he holds the ball for 2.6 seconds or longer.

Patriots' pass rush vs. Blake Bortles: Like most NFL quarterbacks, Bortles' efficiency drops when the pass rush bears down. During the regular season, Bortles maintained a 94.3 passer rating when kept clean, but that mark cratered to 64.5 when he was under pressure, with just 5.5 yards per attempt. Bortles found success against the Steelers last week in part due to their defense's inability to put heat on the quarterback: He was only under pressure on seven of his 28 dropbacks.

New England was an inconsistent pass-rushing team during the regular season, but it's worth noting that the Patriots walloped Marcus Mariota for eight sacks last week and pressured him on 39.6 percent of his dropbacks. If New England is closer to its regular-season form in the rush department, Bortles will have a far better shot at recording another stable outing, and the Jaguars' speedy receivers will have time to find open room against an up-and-down secondary.

Tom Coughlin vs. Bill Belichick: Let's take a quick stroll down Narrative Street. Few coaches have enjoyed the success against Belichick that Coughlin has over the last few decades. Coughlin is 5-2 all-time against Belichick, including -- most notably -- the two Super Bowl wins with the Giants. Of course, Coughlin no longer roams the sidelines in his current role as the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations, but this team certainly carries the identity of those he once led in New York.

Jacksonville boasts an aggressive front-line pass rush that rivals the Giants' groups that rattled Tom Brady in those Super Bowl losses. Brady posted 69.4 and 51.6 passer ratings under pressure in the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowls, respectively. The Jaguars will need a similar result if they hope to slay the AFC's menacing giant.

NFC Championship Game: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles

Jalen Mills vs. Stefon Diggs: In case you forgot, amid Adam Thielen's All-Pro season, that Diggs is one of the world's most dangerous wide receivers, Diggs reminded you in historic fashion with his walk-off touchdown against the Saints in the Divisional Round last week. In the NFC title game, Diggs will primarily match up with Eagles left cornerback Mills, who gave up an NFL-high nine touchdowns in coverage and was the only Eagles corner to allow a passer rating north of 90.0 during the regular season.

Diggs led all wide receivers in Pro Football Focus' yards per route run efficiency metric during the Divisional Round, but he was great all season. Vikings quarterbacks posted a 120.4 passer rating when throwing to Diggs this season, which trailed only Tyreek Hill among wide receivers with more than 80 targets. The Eagles will be in trouble if Mills is unable to contain Diggs and his truly game-breaking ability on Sunday.

Eagles' pass rush vs. Case Keenum: Keenum stood strong in the face of the pass rush this season, tying Matt Ryan for the fourth-best accuracy rate (69.2 percent) when under pressure among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks. However, Keenum had a disastrous outing against the Saints' pass rush last week, posting a hideous 5.1 passer rating when under pressure. The Vikings can't afford a similar performance in Philadelphia. The NFC East champions were Pro Football Focus' best pass-rushing team in 2017. Led by star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the Eagles posted 238 quarterback hurries and 81 hits.

Keenum has played so well all year and deserves the benefit of the doubt, but he'll need to play within himself and not succumb to an overaggressive mindset that saw him miss some throws -- and deliver that hideous pick -- against New Orleans. His adjusted completion percentage, per PFF, fell from 76.5 percent during the regular season to 67.6 in the Divisional Round.

Everson Griffen vs. Halapoulivaati Vaitai: It's remarkable that the loss of Jason Peters in Week 7 has yet to truly cost the Eagles in a big spot, considering what a difference-maker the left tackle has been throughout his career. Especially in the run game, the offensive line in Philadelphia has remained a strength, thanks to the efforts of several surrounding high-level players. However, if ever there was a game for Vaitai, who replaced Peters, to be exposed, it would be in Sunday's showdown with the Vikings. In the regular season, Vaitai tied for the second-most sacks (nine) and hits (10) allowed among offensive tackles.

The shaky tackle will find himself in the crosshairs of Griffen, who rushes from the defensive right side over 91 percent of the time. At one point in the season, Griffen looked like a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and he ranked inside the top 10 among 4-3 defensive ends in total pressures (61) in the regular season.

Follow Matt Harmon on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.



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