TAMPA — So much for needing a franchise quarterback to reach the Super Bowl.
Sure, the Patriots Tom Brady is back in his seventh straight conference championship game and his 12th overall. But check out the other schlubs under center Sunday
It's a murmur's row of the Eagles Nick Foles, the Vikings Case Keenum and the Jaguars Blake Bortles. Foles is only the fourth player to start a conference championship game with three or fewer regular-season starts. Keenum could join only three undrafted quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl.
Bortles at least has pedigree if not great production. He was the Jaguars third overall pick in the draft in 2014. His career win-loss record (23-40, .365 percentage) may not have lived up to the hype. It would be as if Jameis Winston (18-27, .400 pct.), the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, took the Bucs this far a year from now.
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Before we go any further, let's talk about the elephant not in the room. Should Brady and his sore right hand beat the Jaguars Sunday, we easily could have been looking at Brady vs. the Saints' Drew Brees in Super Bowl LII.
The Minneapolis Miracle, Keenum's walk-off 61-yard touchdown pass to Stefan Diggs to beat the Saints 29-24 on the final play last Sunday, is all that may have prevented it.
And should somebody other than Brady go on to win the Super Bowl? Well, that's rare air indeed. The past 14 NFL champions have been quarterbacked by Brady (four times), Peyton and Eli Manning (two each), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Brees, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or Joe Flacco.
Foles' appearance is deceiving. The Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage because of Carson Wentz, the second-overall pick from North Dakota State in 2016.
Wentz is everything a team would expect from a franchise quarterback and more responsible for the Eagles being in this game than Foles.
And yet, there is something that still feels revolutionary about these quarterback matchups Sunday.
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"I know this is what all you guys predicted back in the day, a Foles vs. Keenum NFC championship,'' Keenum joked with reporters. "So good job to all you guys who predicted that.''
So what could be another reason why these teams have made it to championship Sunday?
All four teams are among the top five in the NFL in scoring defense. Yes, defense still wins championships and the Bucs were last in the league in total yards.
The Vikings (first, 15.8 points per game), Jaguars (second, 16.8), Eagles (fourth, 18.4) and Patriots (fifth, 18.5) not only keep opponents off the scoreboard, they each finished on the positive side of the giveaway/takeaway ratio.
Even so, you have to give it up for the performances stacked together by Foles, Keenum and Bortles.
A year ago, Foles said he "wanted to retire," and had "no love for the game." It was between the time he left the Eagles, a year removed from his 27-touchdowns, two interceptions performance under Chip Kelly, and went to the Rams, where he eventually lost his job to then-rookie Jared Goff. Foles eventually was reunited with former Eagles coach Andy Reid in Kansas City before returning to Philly as Wentz' backup this year.
At 29, Keenum is finally successful and in position to become the next Kurt Warner. After failed stops with the Texans and Rams, where he was Foles' teammate, he didn't get his chance in Minnesota until an injury to Sam Bradford.
Bortles is easily the most bullied and abused quarterback playing this weekend. Like Winston, Bortles had been a turnover machine. His 63 turnovers led the NFL from 2014-16. His own team may have thought even worse of him when he was benched for Chad Henne prior to the Jags' third preseason game.
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But Bortles put together his best season by completing more than 60 percent of his passes for the first time and tossing 21 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions. He hasn't lit the playoffs on fire, passing for only 301 yards combined in wins over Buffalo and Pittsburgh. But he has rushed for 123 yards and has not turned the ball over.
So get ready. It's quite possible your Super Bowl LII quarterback matchup could be Nick Foles vs. Blake Bortles. Good grief. But don't fret. The top two picks in the NFL draft are expected to be — you guessed it– quarterbacks.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud on Twitter