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Making it to Minneapolis

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Breaking down the NFL postseason slate and predicting Super Bowl LII

The road to the Super Bowl is paved about as well as a Webster Parish backroad, bumps and bruises included.
Navigating the 16-game gauntlet is a qualifying course for the requisite exam, the NFL Playoffs.

The fun begins Saturday and wraps Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Intriguing storylines abound.

Tom Brady is vying for his sixth ring at the ripe ‘ol age of 40, the resurgent New Orleans Saints are making waves with their improved defense and ground game, Minnesota is so close they can smell a home-cooked Super Bowl, Leonard Fournette and the scary-good Jaguars defense are looking to upset the established AFC order and Big Ben’s Steelers are hopeful for a shot at redemption against Brady’s aforementioned Patriots.

Yes, it’s a feeding frenzy for football fans. Indulge me for a moment as I try my darndest to predict how the NFL postseason picture will come out.

Wild Card round
Chiefs vs. Titans: The Titans, like they have all season, will look like a complete team for a quarter or two, before flopping to the finish. Alex Smith will do his duty, 21-of-31 passing for 265 yards and 1 score, and Kareem Hunt will rush for a pair of touchdowns. Kansas City wins 24-14.

Rams vs. Falcons: In what feels like a tricky game to navigate for the Goff-Gurley-led Los Angeles Rams, I believe they come out firing and knockout Matty Ice and the Falcons. Chalk up 2 TDs for Gurley. It’s really remarkable what Sean McVay has done for this team on such short notice. 31-24 Rams.

Bills vs. Jaguars: This game interests me. Both teams play phenomenal defense, have stellar running backs and hope their quarterback does not do anything to lose the game. In the playoffs, I’ll give Jacksonville the nod at home, 20-9.

Panthers vs. Saints: The Saints and Panthers are no strangers, however that hardly means this game lacks excitment. I expect Cam Newton to explode out of the gate, only to be answered by Drew Brees and Co. The Saints’ defense will make a play in the fourth quarter to win it. 28-24, who dat.

Divisional round
Patriots vs. Chiefs: In a rematch of the NFL season-opener, New England’s defense stands marginally taller than before, allowing Brady to operate with the lead and control the tempo. The Chiefs hang around, but come up just short to the defending champs. 26-21 Pats.

Steelers vs. Jaguars: The Jaguars defense makes an emphatic statement, limiting the Steelers once again and frustrating Big Ben into two more interceptions. Leonard Fournette breaks an early-career-defining run of 60+ yards and the Jags land in the AFC Championship with a 23-17 win.

Eagles vs. Saints: With a healthy Carson Wentz, this could have been one of the season’s best contests. Without him, the Saints will fluster Nick Foles and lean on Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for a convincing victory. 31-14 Saints.

Vikings vs. Rams: I love this matchup. Yes, Minnesota crushed the Rams in the regular season, but I see McVay, Goff and Gurley all turning in better performances and making this one close. Case Keenum will be the difference, tossing 3 touchdown passes. Purple reigns, 28-21.

AFC Championship
Patriots vs. Jaguars: The Jaguars will come out hot, make a big play and lockup Brady for one half to lead 14-6 at the half. In the second half, the Patriots make the necessary adjustments to move the football and Bortles tosses a costly interception. Pats survive a scare, 20-17.

NFC Championship
Vikings vs. Saints: New Orleans exorcises those week 1 demons and downs the Vikings one round shy of a hometown Super Bowl. Kamara and Ingram each find the end zone and Brees is turnover free while tossing two scoring passes. Saints could just stay put in Minnesota, winning 34-20.

Super Bowl LII
Patriots vs. Saints: In my mind, the two best teams this season. Brees vs. Brady. Who Dat vs. Do Your Job. Brady comes out firing for two first half touchdowns, but Mark Ingram has early running success which opens up the field for Brees operating in a dome. With New England holding a late 4-point lead, Brees mounts a career-defining drive to win the game in the final moments. Another Super Bowl for the ages ends with Drew Brees hoisting the Lombardi and Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Blake Branch, a graduate of Louisiana Tech School of Communications, has served as Sports Editor since July 2014

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