Get ready, Philly. The Vikings are sailing into town.
Tom Brady and the big game-tested Patriots (14-3) square off against the sack-happy Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) next Sunday in the AFC championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts – with the winner headed to the Super Bowl.
“It’s been an awesome year,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said, “and we want to keep it going.”
In the NFC, Nick Foles and the resilient Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) host Case Keenum and the surprising Minnesota Vikings (14-3) – in a matchup of teams that overcame losing their starting quarterbacks.
“They count us out all the time,” said Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs, whose 61-yard touchdown catch as time expired Sunday gave the Vikings a stunning 29-24 victory. “Nobody thinking we can do it. This game was over. I don’t stop playing till the clock hit zero. That’s it.”
The Eagles open as a 3 -point underdog against the Vikings, while the Patriots open favored by 9 1/2 in their game.
Being here is nothing new, of course, for New England, which has advanced to the Super Bowl in three of the past six seasons.
For fresh-faced Jacksonville, however, this is all rare territory.
The Jaguars are playing in the conference title game for just the third time in franchise history, and first since losing to Tennessee during the 1999 season. Jacksonville is also one of four franchises to never play in the Super Bowl.
“I’m sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove or talk negative or hate or do whatever they want,” Bortles said. “But we get to keep playing. We get an opportunity to go play in Foxborough for another week, so I’m just honored to be able to do this and especially with this group of guys.”
And, it has all come full circle for Tom Coughlin, who was Jacksonville’s coach the previous time the franchise got this far in the postseason.
He went on to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants – both against Bill Belichick’s Patriots – but is now the Jaguars’ executive vice president of football operations. He helped assemble a squad with coach Doug Marrone that has been powered by a tenacious defense that ranked second in the NFL during the regular season in sacks.
After a few ho-hum games, Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars offense showed it isn’t too shabby, either, outslugging Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in a stunning 45-42 victory Sunday.
“Obviously, with what they have on their…