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NFL Championship Game Previews

Anyone else want to call shenanigans?

So, Tom Brady has a mysterious injury on his throwing hand. I see. I see. Yeah, I’m not buying it. Something is afoot and I’m on the precipice of shouting “J’accuse!” at the entire New England area. According to the story, somebody ran into Tommy Boy on the practice field and not only did he miss Wednesday’s practice, but Thursday’s as well.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

And when he was seen out with the team, he was wearing a conspicuous red glove. The injury is apparently so severe, he can’t grip a football without some kind of support. Lord, give me strength. Oddsmakers immediately dropped the line from Patriots -9 to Patriots -7. A few Patriots fans started hyperventilating and preparing for Brian Hoyer to take Brady’s place.

You know what? The Jaguars should probably prepare for the Patriots to run the ball a majority of the time! Because with Brady’s throwing hand covered with boo-boos, he won’t be able to throw as much or as effectively, right?

What a crock.

Now, I realize everything I just said was the kind of hot take that would make Skip Bayless blush, but this is what the Patriots have done to me over the years. They’ve been so masterful at “look at this hand while the other hand stabs you in the back,” that I can’t help but turn to a conspiracy theory to explain this week’s big news.

Come on. We all know what’s going to happen on Sunday. Tom is going to take the first snap and complete a 40-yard throw to Gronk down the seam. Then a couple out routes to Amendola and Chris Hogan. Then a wheel route. Then a comeback. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if New England’s first 15 plays were all throws.

And every townie from Boston to Burlington will scream, “Tawmmy is a true wahriah! Just like Schilling’s bloody sawk in 0-fouah!”

In fairness, the Jaguars players aren’t taking this injury news seriously. They’re prepared for Tom to be 100 percent on Sunday. I’m sure he really does have an injury, but when playing the Patriots, it’s best to treat that red glove like a red herring.

Alrighty, let’s take a look at what’s to come on Sunday.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

1) Brandon Graham – The Eagles defensive end and the rest of the front seven have a simple task in front of them. Put pressure on Vikings QB Case Keenum, as the Saints did effectively in the second half last week. Get a couple hits on him early and maybe a sack or two and you’ll get the crowd behind you.

2) Nathaniel Hackett – The Jaguars offensive coordinator hasn’t done anything special this season. They enjoy lining up in the I-formation and running right at you. They don’t ask a whole lot out of Blake Bortles. That has to change. This is the Patriots you’re facing. You can’t run vanilla at them all day. Not saying the Jags need to fundamentally change who they are, but if there are a few plays they’ve been saving for a rainy day, now’s the time.

3) Rob Gronkowski – Just like most weeks, there’s nobody who can truly match up against the giant tight end. He’s going to be a problem. They need to push him, shove him, double him, do the Tide Pod Challenge with him, sing to him, read to him, do shots with him, whatever you can do to keep him off his spot. Because if he gets there, even Tom Brady’s injured hand can get the throw to him.

4) Unnamed Player Who Ran Into Tom Brady – The Patriots have circled the wagons and refused to name the man who mangled the most famous flipper in football. But if he’s REALLY hurt, that name is going to come out eventually. Somebody will leak it. And god help that poor soul (if he even exists).

5) Case Keenum – This is an obvious one. Time after time, the determined QB has delivered when the Vikings have needed him, even on the road. This will be the test of all tests. He’s going to need to start fast and keep that crowd off his back. Look for some easy throws with three-step drops to keep ahead of the Eagles’ pass rush.

6) Leonard Fournette – Yes, Blake Bortles is important. However, the Jaguars rookie running back will really carry the load here. That means his legs can’t stop pumping. That means we need to see 4-6 yards on first down. That means toughing out 3rd-and-2 runs and moving the chains. That can cut down the game and more important, keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.

7) Jay Ajayi – Everything that I said about Fournette applies to Ajayi. He stepped up with 98 total yards in last week’s win and the Eagles will need more of the same from him this week. Hold on to the football, catch passes out of the backfield, grind out tough yards to set up manageable third downs. The Vikings defensive front is absolutely vicious, but even the best of the best can wilt on the road late in the fourth quarter. That can be the difference between a date in Minnesota and tears falling on a cheesesteak.

8) Adam Thielen – While Stefon Diggs got the glory with his miracle touchdown catch last week, Thielen is just as important a part of the Vikings pass game. And news broke on Friday that he’s questionable for Sunday for a lower back injury. He’ll most likely play, but how close to 100 percent he’ll be remains to be seen.

WHAT’S THE CHATTER?

Tom Brady: So, Tom was asked about his injury on Friday. And here was his answer: “I’m not talking about it.” He gave that same answer to a few follow-up questions, as well. Thanks, dude. See you on Sunday.

Josh Allen: The talking heads at ESPN feel the Wyoming QB will be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Which means he’d be headed to Cleveland. Now, the easy thing to say is he’s doomed. But I don’t feel that way. This is a team that just went 0-16. The only way to go is up.

Drew Brees: The man just finished another productive season and completed the final year of his contract. It’s unbelievable that the Saints haven’t already locked him up for another few years. Brees wants to be back and has said so publicly. What’s the delay? Will they actually let him walk?

Le’Veon Bell: Now that the Steelers are out of the playoffs, the negative stories are popping up. And here we are. Apparently, their star running back, who said he’d rather retire than play under the franchise tag next season, skipped most of the team’s final walkthrough before the Jags game. Is that the reason they lost? No. Does it help? Absolutely not.

PICK TIME

Vikings at Eagles: People are predicting a letdown for Minnesota after that unbelievably finish last week. I’m not. I’m taking the Vikings to win a close one and make history by playing the Super Bowl in their own stadium. I can feel it.

Jaguars at Patriots: I don’t care what’s up with Tom’s hand. The Patriots are winning this. I don’t have the stones to pick the upset.

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Sid Saraf

Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.

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