Here’s a scenario that would have been hysterical five months ago but seems so real today.
It’s Super Bowl LII Media Day in Minneapolis, and reporters from around the world are forming the biggest scrum in the room around this NFC quarterback.
No, it’s not the Saints’ Drew Brees talking about returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in seven years. Neither is it the Falcons’ Matt Ryan boasting about achieving the team’s goal of returning to the Super Bowl a year after losing it.
It’s the host city’s quarterback, Case Keenum, of the Minnesota Vikings. The undrafted Keenum, who was cut by the Texans three times, has the biggest spotlight during Media Day. Imagine that.
On the opposite side of the room, this AFC quarterback is comparing himself to NBA star LeBron James. Automatically you think the Patriots’ Tom Brady. Nope, guess again.
It’s the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles, who made a James comparison this past week to downplay his critics.
Football fans, are you ready for an afterthought game-manager in purple to face an often bashed-on quarterback in teal in the biggest game of the season?
Accept it because Keenum versus Bortles in the Super Bowl next month could happen. Keenum and the Vikings host the Saints on Sunday, and Bortles and the Jaguars play at the Steelers.
Here’s how the improbable Super Bowl between Keenum and Bortles could come to fruition.
Keenum’s path to the Super Bowl
There are a lot of similarities between Keenum and Brees, and not just their lack of height and Texas roots.
Keenum was this year’s breakout star because he extended drives with his mobility and confidence to throw the ball up the field, similar to what Brees has done for the Saints for the past decade.
The @Vikings had the NFL’s #1 scoring defense and #10 scoring offense this season
In the Super Bowl era, there have been 26 previous teams to have the #1 scoring defense, as well as a top 10 offense for that season
Over half of those teams made the Super Bowl (14 of 26, 53.8%)
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 10, 2018
But Keenum and Brees are different when it comes to playoff experience, which is why many pundits are picking the Saints to upset the Vikings. Brees will be playing in his 13th playoff game, and Keenum will be making his postseason debut.
Throw backgrounds and accolades aside. Keenum played just as well or better than Brees this season. And if Keenum has the yips under the playoff spotlight, he still has the top-ranked Vikings defense to fall back on. He doesn’t need to be perfect.
Get by the Saints and the next round might be a littler easier. The Vikings would travel to Philadelphia to face unreliable quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles in the NFC championship game.
Remove the game-manager label from Keenum. He can sling it and has a strong shot of leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl in their stadium.
Bortles’ path to the Super Bowl
Making the case for Bortles in the big game isn’t as easy, but let’s give it a shot.
Throwing for 87 passing yards on 23 attempts as Bortles did against the Bills in the wild-card round won’t cut it against the Steelers.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles is the NFL’s highest-rated passer (147.3) on play action passes since Week 13
However, Bortles’ 68.3 passer rating on non-play action passes ranks 26th out of 30 qualified quarterbacks over the same span
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 11, 2018
Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, has shown flashes of being a solid passer. But in the past two weeks, he went back to his poor mechanics by rushing off-the-mark throws.
For the Jaguars to get the upset Sunday, they’ll need rookie running back Leonard Fournette to have a monster game. That seems possible with linebacker Ryan Shazier out for the Steelers.
Bortles excels in play-action passes and could find holes in the Steelers’ shaky secondary. But if the running game isn’t going and Bortles has to drop back, he shouldn’t panic. He needs to remember he has arguably the most talented defense in football.
The Jaguars’ defense will need to hold the Steelers to fewer than 20 points to have a shot. The Steelers managed nine against Jacksonville on Oct. 8 in a 30-9 loss.
If the Jaguars pull the upset, they will play at defending Super Bowl champion New England in the AFC title game. The Jaguars would need a miracle to defeat the Patriots. But stranger things have happened. Remember Mark Sanchez and the Jets upsetting the 14-2 Patriots in Foxborough in 2010?
Case Keenum, Vikings: 3,547 passing yards, 22 TDs, seven INTs, 67.6 completion percentage
Blake Bortles, Jaguars: 3,687 passing yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs, 60.2 completion percentage