EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The NFL has its final four, but it is down to one elite quarterback. Tom Brady, of course, is the most elite of all time. If they ever build another level for the Hall of Fame busts in Canton, the bronze mug of the New England Patriots quarterback should sit there alone.
At the age of 40, Brady is in pursuit of his sixth Super Bowl title. The other three remaining quarterbacks — Nick Foles of the Eagles, Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings and Blake Bortles of Jacksonville — have combined for four career playoff victories, which is four more than they had when these playoffs started.
So why should we even play these last three games? Let's just give Brady and the Patriots another trophy, stage another parade in Boston and save everyone a frozen trip to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII.
That, of course, is a stupid idea because winning it all is not always about having a franchise quarterback. If the Vikings, Eagles and Jaguars have reminded us of anything this postseason, it is that great defense can overcome a lot of things, and the formula for beating Brady and the Patriots has not changed. The New York Giants have been the only team to beat New England in the Super Bowl and they did so by holding the 18-0 Patriots to 14 points in 2008 and the 15-3 Patriots to 17 points in 2012. In the first game, the Giants had five sacks, hit Brady nine other times and held the Patriots to 45 rushing yards. In the second game, the Giants had three sacks, hit Brady eight other times and held the Patriots to 83 rushing yards. The Giants also won the time of possession battle in both games.
The Jaguars, Vikings and Eagles all have defenses and running games good enough to implement the Giants' blueprint for beating the Patriots. It will be the most difficult for the Jaguars because they have to play the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, where New England is 5-1 in conference championship games.
The real X factor of this postseason is going to come in the Super Bowl. It's no secret that the Vikings would love the chance to be the first team to play the Super Bowl at their home stadium. Ironically, they would be considered the road team because it is the AFC's year to be called the home team at the Super Bowl, but regardless U.S. Bank Stadium would be overflowing with Vikings fans who are every bit as desperate as Eagles fans for a Super Bowl title.
While it is highly controversial how the NFL distributes its Super Bowl tickets — an allotment of 17.5 percent goes to each team — there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of fans for this year's Super Bowl would be Vikings fans if Minnesota were to win Sunday's NFC title game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Fans desperate for tickets go to the secondary markets and when there is no flight or hotel room involved, it sure cuts down the cost.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees admitted that the crowd played a part in the Saints' first-half struggle against the Vikings in the NFC divisional playoff game. Minnesota built a 17-0 lead and the stadium was deafening.
"This is a tough environment, there is no question about that," Brees said. "Those fans were ready."
Here's the thing: Although it would not be as much of a home-field advantage as the Vikings would enjoy, the Eagles would also likely have a distinct crowd-noise advantage if they were to face Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl travel packages on primesport.com started at $6,125.00 as of Tuesday and, let's face it, Eagles fans are a lot more likely than Patriots fans to buy them. This would be New England's eighth Super Bowl trip in 17 year and their third in four years. The average fan on a budget is more likely to sit out the Super Bowl in frigid Minneapolis, which is likely to leave more ticket packages for Eagles fans to consume.
The Eagles had a distinct fan advantage over the Patriots in Jacksonville in 2005 and they could have even more of one at U.S. Bank Stadium if they can beat the Vikings on Sunday. As Drew Brees will tell you, it is a loud place that could be just as loud with fans wearing green.
Brees almost overcame the noise in the second half Sunday but was foiled by the Case Keenum miracle pass to Stefon Diggs as time expired. Tom Brady, of course, has overcome a few things in his career, too.