In all likelihood, your team is out of the running for Super Bowl LII. Of the 32 NFL teams, 28 have been eliminated, which should give you some comfort knowing that whether you're a fan of the Browns or the Steelers, you have equal chances of winning a championship this season. And three other franchises are close to joining you in that crusade for "next year," while only one team gets to say it did the best job in the 2017 season.
It's one of those years where it's difficult to predict which team that will be.
Rather than having three or four elite quarterbacks, the conference championship games are flipped in that regard; one team is starting its backup, another its backup heading into the season and a third is going with the guy who should be a backup. The fourth is only the third 40-year-old to start a conference championship game. The Super Bowl will be won by a team whose identity resolves around its defense … or Tom Brady.
So maybe it is like every other year.
But Brady does not have this one even close to being wrapped up yet. The Patriots have some significant things going against them, and the other three teams have huge advantages in their favor.
Why they'll win. New England presents the most obvious argument for winning the Super Bowl because the quarterback and head coach have five rings together, while the other three franchises have a combined zero. The experience translates to nearly as many conference championship games (11) for Tom Brady as total playoff games (13) for the Jaguars. Despite several major obstacles (Brady's age, injuries on the offensive line, losing Julian Edelman before Week 1), the Pats finished second in points, first in yards and second in passing yards, and Dion Lewis had the most efficient season by any running back, per Football Outsiders. With Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and Lewis complementing Brady, New England has by far the best offense remaining in the playoffs and a head coach who has game-planned for more playoff defenses than the other three coaches could even really comprehend. When Brady and Belichick won their first Super Bowl, Doug Pederson was a backup quarterback on the Packers, Doug Marrone was the tight ends coach at the University of Tennessee and Mike Zimmer was still 13 years removed from his first head coaching opportunity.
Why they won't. If "Defense wins championships," the Patriots are in trouble. Not only did they have the second-worst defense in the league, according to DVOA, but the other three teams all ranked in the top five, meaning that the Pats are the furthest thing left from an elite defense. It's that type of quality play by the other three teams that could render Brady's experience and the play of New England's weapons moot.
Why they'll win. In the regular season, it's common to reference the importance of quarterback play, but often in the playoffs it's just as relevant to reference secondary play. The 2013 Seahawks had the Legion of Boom; the 2014 Patriots had Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler making the most famous play in Super Bowl history; the 2015 Broncos had Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Now the focus is on Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, potentially the best cornerback duo of the past five years. According to PFF, Ramsey allowed a passer rating of 63.9 on throws in his direction. Bouye allowed the lowest passer rating of any CB since at least 2006, at 31.6. That's terrible news for players like Cooks, Alshon Jeffery, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. But it's not all Jacksonville has going for it.
Calais Campbell is an All-Pro, Malik Jackson is a Pro Bowler and Yannick Ngakoue had 12 sacks. Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, Dante Fowler, Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson and Marcell Dareus could be starting for most defenses in the NFL, but they're all Jags right now. Jacksonville's defensive results this season are not as great as the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Bucs or 2013 Seahawks, but it may be fair to call it one of the most talented defenses ever.
Why they won't. Blake Bortles. The best thing going for Bortles is that he's the second-most experienced quarterback left of the four. If he gets through Brady, he could get through whomever the NFC pits against the Jacksonville defense. The bad news is that he's still Blake Bortles. In the playoffs, he's completing 53 percent of his passes and averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. He was aided in the divisional round against the Steelers by the fact that his team had already scored 35 points by the time he threw his first touchdown. Bortles threw five interceptions in the last two games of the regular season, both losses, but he's avoided turnovers in two postseason games; can he keep that up against New England? Maybe. But either Philadelphia or Minnesota will make life difficult for Bortles, making it very difficult for the Jags to overcome each of their next two opponents. QBs who have thrown multiple interceptions in the Super Bowl are 4-28.
Why they'll win. I'm going to go a little off of the beaten path and talk about Minnesota's offense before I talk about its defense: Pat Shurmur won't be a "secret" for much longer. He helped Donovan McNabb make four straight NFC championship games as the Eagles' QB coach; he helped Sam Bradford win Rookie of the Year in 2010 and set an NFL record (since broken) for completion percentage in 2016; he coached Nick Foles to a higher passer rating in 2013 (119.2) than Peyton Manning that year; and he's turned Case Keenum into a ticking money-bomb. Yes, the defense is championship caliber (second in DVOA, first in points and yards allowed) but Keenum has also shown that he's capable of quality play and incredible plays.
Why they won't. Not to be too abstract, but Minnesota's biggest obstacle may be the pressure of the moment. Not only are the Vikings trying to become the first team to play in the Super Bowl at home, but they now have the weight of the world on their shoulders to make their divisional round miracle pay off. Not that it will be all for naught if the Vikings don't close out their playoffs with a ring following Stefon Diggs' catch, but it will be disappointing if they get any other result than the first championship in franchise history. Remember Jermaine Kearse's phenomenal catch in Super Bowl XLIX that happened moments before Butler's interception? Probably not, because it wasn't for the win and the Seahawks didn't win the game. The Vikings just had arguably the greatest moment in playoff history. Now they just need to remember that it was only a small slice of the goal and have to put it behind them. The pressure on Minnesota right now is greater than it is on any other team. Can Keenum show that same composure over the next 120 minutes of game time?
Why they'll win. While the Vikings could get a home-field advantage in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia has home-field advantage in the NFC championship. That has proven to be critical in the playoffs: Since 2000, the home team is 23-11 in conference championship games. (Note for the Jags and Vikings, however, is that eight of those 11 teams to pull off the road win ended up winning the Super Bowl.) The Eagles are not the same team that started 11-2 with Carson Wentz, but they are still 3-0 in games that Nick Foles has started and finished. They were also 7-0 at home prior to a meaningless Week 17 game in which backup Nate Sudfeld took the majority of the snaps. A key to that is balance. The Eagles were fourth on defense in points and yards allowed and fifth in DVOA, playing strong against both the pass and the run. Philadelphia was fourth in yards per carry on offense. and that number only got better after the acquisition of Jay Ajayi (5.8 YPC). It's hard to feel invincible when Foles is the starter, but it's easier once you notice the impact of having Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and Timmy Jernigan on the defensive line. It's a huge challenge for Keenum, especially in the road environment in Philly.
Why they won't. How many times do I have to say "Foles"? Since his 2013 season with Shurmur, Foles has bounced around with four offenses in four years, totaling a 58.3 percent completion rate, 28 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 6.4 yards per attempt and a rating of 77.7. He's gone 13-10 as a starter in that time, but he has strangely played much worse at home this season despite Philly's success there: Foles had a rating of 55.4 at home on 53 passes, compared to 106.2 on 48 passes on the road. In his limited sample size, Football Outsiders ranked Foles as being less efficient per play than Scott Tolzien, Cody Kessler, Geno Smith and Brock Osweiler, and he was tied with Bryce Petty. In fact, Foles was even behind Sudfeld. It's not the end of the world, but the Vikings defense is likely to make Foles irrelevant, so who can win the battles on special teams, turnovers, time of possession and rushing? And can Philly do that not once with Foles, but twice?
Luckily for the Eagles, three of the four teams have dire needs at quarterback, while the fourth team is set there but may struggle to stop the other three quarterbacks anyway.