On Sunday, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz will call their 30th NFL game together this season, including their ninth New England game. So what does Romo predict for Belichick and Patriots-Jaguars in the AFC championship game?
On Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET in Foxboro, Mass., CBS Sports announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will call their 30th NFL game together this season. That number includes 24 NFL games and six practice games. Nine of those games have involved the New England Patriots, including this weekend when the Pats host the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. At this point, Romo and Nantz know the Patriots as well as they do their own families.
“What [Bill] Belichick does is teach someone else’s system throughout the week, so their understanding is just ahead of the curve,” Romo said this week in a conference call with writers. “I know not to jump ahead, so whether it’s Jacksonville, Minnesota or Philadelphia, New England will be prepared and they’ll be ready …To win this thing they’re going to have to go through two dynamic defenses and that’s a lot of hits on the quarterback. That’s a lot of throws under duress. If anyone can do it, it’s [Tom] Brady. If anyone can get their team ready, it’s Belichick. We’ve seen it. But, it’s definitely a challenge and I would say whoever comes out of the NFC is a very formidable opponent. And they’re going to be in the mix.”
Asked for insight into the Patriots’ longtime success, Romo highlighted his admiration for Belichick.
“The reason that they improve better than other teams consistently every year is there is more data,” Romo said. “As the season goes on, Bill Belichick has more tape on you. He really is a very uniquely special coach. If there is a Mount Rushmore, there should be one statue up there. He is so gifted. His ability to take that information that he deems important and then give it to his staff and they give it to their players it is just rare. Once he gets all that tape, it very hard to beat them, and then defensively they know your tendencies. That’s why he is going to make [Jacksonville QB] Blake Bortles and Jacksonville play left-handed. You almost have to know that going into the game and it is your ability to adjust. It is your ability to evolve and almost adjust yourself your game. If you can do that, you have a chance. The other way is if someone hits Tom Brady 14 times in the game. Those are the two ways you have a chance against them.”
Romo said that the Jaguars' goal should be to limit Brady’s pre-snap ability to read and call plays at the line of scrimmage. Both Romo and CBS studio analyst Bill Cowher predicted Brady would go no-huddle at different points in the game.
“I think New England understands the one Achilles heel and the only way you feel comfortable going against this Jacksonville defense is running the ball in between the tackles,” Romo said. “They are not very big. New England has been known to come out and throw 50 times in one game and then 30 in another game. I would not put it past them to do that in this game.”
Regarding the Vikings-Eagles, Romo said he expected the game (kickoff on Fox this Sunday is 6:40 p.m. ET) to come down to turnovers given the quality of both defenses. He credited Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmer for morphing his offense as the year has gone on into “more of a play-action, move-the-quarterback running team. Pat Shurmur has done a great job of allowing Case Keenum to use his legs and get him moving. It shows what a great coordinator can do to set up someone to have success.”
If the Vikings beat the Eagles, they will be the first team to play a Super Bowl at their home stadium. How much of a factor would that be?
“I think there is a certainly a comfort level to being at home but the challenge you have is the multitude of people you have coming in to where your home is, your house is,” Cowher said. “I think a lot of times it is easier to isolate yourself when you are not at home. I think the challenge would be when the weekend comes to find a place to focus on the game. I think a lot of time the challenge you have as the home team in championship games are the family members, the people coming in and reading all week about how great you are in the hometown papers. I think the biggest challenge will be to keep normality…But that would be a nice problem for [Minnesota coach] Mike Zimmer to have to deal with.”
Cowher offered a last note on why he considers this round the hardest to deal with if you lose.
“Losing this game is worse than losing the Super Bowl because at least at the Super Bowl you got there,” Cowher said.
THE NOISE REPORT
1. The stories we have seen this week out of Lansing, Mich., are gutting. More than 100 survivors are testifying at a four-day sentencing hearing for former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar. The Michigan Attorney General's Office told reporters Wednesday that it expects 101 women and girls to give victim-impact statements. More than 140 women and girls have said Nassar abused them. In November, Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades. The collected work is here.
It has been a long time coming for this story to get the kind of national attention is getting this week. Below, a collection of stories that are worth reading:
• A must-read investigation from ESPN’s John Barr and Dan Murphy: Nassar surrounded by adults who enabled his predatory behavior.
• From Katie Strang of The Athletic: A reckoning for Larry Nassar as his victims confront his abuse
• From Kim Kozlowski of the Detroit News: What Michigan State knew about Larry Nassar
• From Dan Wetzel of Yahoo: How so many fell victim to Larry Nassar's reign of terror
• From Michael Rosenberg of SI: Victims Courageously Face USA Gymnastics, MSU Doctor Larry Nassar in Tearful Courtroom
• From Juliet Macur of The New York Times: The Center of U.S. Gymnastics’ Success Is Now a Haunted House
• The collected work of Lansing State Journal justice reporter Matt Mencarini.
2. Next Sunday is going to be a fascinating day for the National Football League because it’s likely to provide significant insight into the health of the television viewership of the league.
As has been written in this column and countless other outlets, the NFL’s regular-season ratings overall were down about 9% versus its audience a year ago, the second consecutive year the league has seen a significant regular season drop. Plenty of outlets—including this one—have offered reported analysis as to why. Those stories will continue.
But what has always been taken for granted, an automatic rule of sorts, is that the Super Bowl and NFC and AFC Championship Games are basically immune to ratings issues.
Here are the viewership numbers for the last six NFL conference championship rounds.