The NFL doesn't call it the Final Four because that's a basketball thing, but we can call it that if we want (assuming we're not violating any trademark laws), so here we are. The NFL's final four (lowercase). Two games left to decide the Super Bowl LII participants. Both Sunday. One in chilly Philadelphia, the other in frigid Foxborough, Massachusetts. Football weather for two of the year's biggest football games.
With 28 teams left on the sideline, four remain. While each should be reveling this morning in a sense of accomplishment for getting this far, none of the four is satisfied just yet. Each has a hill to climb before it can get to the Super Bowl, and each has at least one major question confronting it this week.
This, then, is a look at the one major question facing each of the NFL's remaining playoff teams:
Jacksonville Jaguars: Which Blake Bortles will show up?
No, it's not disrespectful or even passe to keep putting forth this "Two Bortles" idea. He might get too much grief, but it's a fact that he is inconsistent week to week. A Jaguars official told me before Sunday's game of Bortles, "He's got a short memory. Even when he has a bad game, it doesn't bother him." That's great because it means he could always have a good one.
A month ago, Bortles was as hot as any quarterback in the league. But he finished the season with five interceptions in two games and then played a stinker in a wild-card-round victory over Buffalo. On Sunday, in what turned out to be a surprise shootout in Pittsburgh, Bortles was a cool, efficient, third-down machine, making wise decisions with the ball, managing the game through the run and short passes and taking (and hitting!) big shots downfield on the few occasions when it was called for.
The Jaguars' defense has a chance to make things tough on Tom Brady & Co. But as they did Sunday, the Jaguars know they're going to have to get some things done on offense if they are to outscore this next opponent. If Bortles looks the way he did Sunday, Jacksonville has a chance at an upset. If he looks the way he did against Buffalo, it almost certainly does not.
New England Patriots: Can they beat the Tom Coughlin curse?
As brilliantly successful as New England's Tom Brady/Bill Belichick run has been, there is the nagging little fact that a Tom Coughlin-coached Giants team beat them in the Super Bowl twice, including the one that wrecked their undefeated season. Coughlin is not the Jaguars' coach, but he oversees their football operations, and they are a team built in his mold. He can, if he wishes, tell them stories all week about how to slay the mighty Patriots dynasty, and it's clear from the way the Jaguars swaggered into Pittsburgh that Coughlin's Jacksonville team doesn't scare easily.
If you want to get all X-and-O-ey about it, Jacksonville probably has the ability to pressure Brady with its front four, which was of course the recipe Coughlin's Giants teams used in those Super Bowl wins. The Pats don't seem to have many (if any) flaws and are the worthy favorites to win it all at this point. But could Coughlin, who coached with Belichick under Bill Parcells with the Giants decades ago, continue to be a thorn in Belichick's side?
Minnesota Vikings: Can they win one on the road to get back home?
After Stefon Diggs' last-minute miracle, the Vikings are one victory away from becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. But to get there, they will have to win on the road, outdoors, in Philadelphia.
The Vikings are 8-1 at home this season and 6-2 on the road, so it isn't as if they can't pull it off. But the road wins were in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta and Green Bay after the Packers were eliminated.
Philadelphia's defense presents a more fearsome challenge than any of those did, and the Vikings just got away with a skin-of-their teeth win in a very friendly home environment. They're absolutely good enough to beat the Eagles and are favored to do just that. But expecting another last-minute breath-taker in Philly might be too much to ask. Minnesota will need to run the ball, control time of possession and force Nick Foles into mistakes that Drew Brees didn't make.
Philadelphia Eagles: Can that game plan work again?
Eagles coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich designed a brilliant plan for Saturday's victory over the Falcons and stuck with it. The Eagles leaned hard on their running backs, most notably Jay Ajayi, and because the defense was able to get its stops, they were able to control the ball and the clock. That minimized what they had to ask of Nick Foles, who is capable at best but not a third-down magician like injured starter Carson Wentz.
The Eagles will face a more efficient offense than Atlanta's and a tougher defense. It's unlikely that Philadelphia can pull off another 15-10 win, but can it keep the game under control, avoid turnovers, make enough plays on defense and ride the energy of its home crowd all the way to the Super Bowl?