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ProCanes NFL Playoff Preview: 2019 Conference Championships

Super Bowl or bust!

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

And then there were four. There are four teams left in the NFL playoff field, yet just a handful of ProCanes remain on the quest to Super Bowl LIII. The first two rounds of the 2019 postseason have been more than entertaining with offensive enginuity and defensive counters to cater to all parts of the audience. Conference championship weekend consists of the four most successful offenses from the 2018 regular season. Because of the AFC, we’re all but guaranteed to have at least one ProCane player make it to the big dance. However, there’s still one last hurdle to overcome to get there. Which leads us to today.

Game Previews

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints 3:05 PM EDT

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Rams’ CB Sam Shields is the lone ProCane in this NFC Championship game. It’s a remarkable feat given the uncertainty of Shields’ football career after suffering lingering symptoms due to concussions early in his career. Now, both Shields and the Rams are just one game away from booking a trip to Atlanta to compete for a Super Bowl. Against the Cowboys last weekend, aside from a 17 yard punt return, the Booker T. Washington graduate was held off the stat sheet for the contest.

It will be a much different story today when the Rams walk into Mercedes Benz Stadium. According to Pro Football Focus, Shields has an 80+ rating — which is really good — in run support, while his coverage grade stands at 57.3 percent. The latter stat is probably due to Shields allowing 25 receptions on 34 targets for a completion percentage of 73.5% in his direction. Shields is also credited with giving up six touchdowns, intercepting one pass and breaking up three passes during the regular season. Coming down with a contagious illness in the days leading up to the Rams’ week nine match with the Saints, Shields was kept away from the team, and was ultimately unable to contribute.

The difficult task of trying to cover Saints’ WR Michael Thomas will fall on fellow cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Thomas accounted for 1,576 of the Saints’ 4,475 receiving yards in 2019. Who is the second leading receiver for New Orleans, you might ask? That would be RB Alvin Kamara with 744 yards. If the Rams are able to limit either of those two options for the league’s most prolific offense during the regular season, then the comeback season for Sam Shields is one step closer to a Disney ending.

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs 6:40 PM EDT

The final game of the day features the most Hurricane content of the two championship matches. On one side, you have DE Allen Bailey and the Kansas City Chiefs defense — the hideous, disfigured significant other to their flawless offense. KC’s defense finished 31st in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 405.5 yards and the ninth-worst points-per-game average of 26.3. The Chiefs certainly bent against QB Andrew Luck and the Colts last weekend, but it was the defense that sacked the QB three times and forced seven punts to put the ball in the hands of their explosive offense.

With all that said, Allen Bailey did not register a stat last weekend. Such is the life of a 3-4 defensive end, fighting through multiple blockers while the linebackers behind you reap the benefits. However, he and KC are just one game away from the Super Bowl. In their only regular season game together from this past season, Bailey tallied three tackles and recovered a fumble in a 43-40 loss. In four games against the Patriots, the big DE has managed to sack Patriots’ QB Tom Brady once, adding 10 tackles and a tackle-for-loss altogether. Stopping or disrupting the timing of Tom Brady and the New England offense is often priority one. However, if Bailey and the Chiefs can limit the damage by RB Sony Michel and the Patriots ground game, that likely will factor into who wins and loses this game.

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

One of the weapons at the Patriots disposal is ProCane WR Phillip Dorsett. Hauling in four of his five targets, the fourth-year wideout contributed 41 receiving yards and caught the first postseason touchdown of his career. When these two teams met in week six of the regular season, Dorsett did not post a stat in the game. That could change when he takes the field in Arrowhead Stadium this evening, however. Dorsett’s 290 receiving yards and 32 receptions are his highest totals as a member of the Pats, adding a career-high three TDs this year. Those numbers won’t raise eyebrows, but on a team where you’re catching the ball from arguably one of the best to ever throw it, having the trust of Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is an accomplishment all on its own.

It wasn’t long after NT Vince Wilfork left New England that the Patriots were one of the few teams with no Hurricanes on the roster. Entering today, the Patriots have four ProCanes on their roster. DL Ufomba Kamalu was signed late in the season after being released by the Texans in 2018. Rookie WR Braxton Berrios was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve after suffering an injury in training camp. Finally DE Trent Harris worked his way onto the Pats’ practice roster in his first season in the league. I guess Bill Belichick may have a soft spot for Coral Gables after all.

News and Notes

Another Cane Headed to the Pro Bowl

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

With all the flurry of news from last week’s hires at Coral Gables, we forgot to mention that New York Giants’ LB Olivier Vernon was named a Pro Bowl replacement. The seven-year pro will replace Chicago Bears’ LB Khalil Mack due to an undisclosed injury. Vernon missed the first five weeks of the 2018 regular season, yet was able to compile seven sacks, 30 total tackles, and five tackles-for-loss in just 11 games. This will be Vernon’s first Pro Bowl appearance.

Vernon joins Houston Texans’ RB Lamar Miller, who is replacing Denver Broncos’ RB Phillip Lindsey.

Chris Herndon to Be Suspended for the Start of 2019

Starting the new year off in court is not the scenario that anyone wants to find themselves doing. Unfortunately for Jets’ TE Chris Herndon, that was the case last week. Herndon plead guilty to driving while intoxicated in a car crash dating back to June 2nd in New Jersey, minutes away from the Jets facility. Under the NFL’s first time offense policy, Herndon could be suspended for up to two games. Since there was property damage and injuries to another person — Herndon crashed into a 76-year-old driver and totalled his Nissan Armada, which slid for 700 feet after impact according to reports — Herndon could be subject to further punishment.

College All-Star Saturday

A trio of Hurricanes took part in a pair of collegiate all-star showcases this past Saturday. The first game of the day was the East-West Shrine Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, before kickoff, the Hurricane contingent was cut in half. CB Michael Jackson was ruled out of the game with an undisclosed injury according to David Wilson of the Miami Herald. Jackson had a rollercoaster week of highs and lows in practice leading up to Saturday. The Birmingham, Alabama native was praised for his coverage at times in practicing, particularly slowing down Georgia WR Terry Godwin. At this time, it’s unclear how this injury will impact MJ looking ahead to the NFL Scouting Combine in March.

East-West Shrine Game Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

OL Tyree St. Louis was able to take part in Saturday’s game and performed well. The IMG Academy graduate started the game at right tackle for the East Team, later moving to left guard for a couple series. St.Louis spent the majority of his UM career as a tackle, starting at right tackle and moving to left in his senior year. The willingness to play guard can only help the 6’5” prospect’s chances at impressing a potential employer entering the league.

A few hours later, C Tyler Gauthier manned the center position for the National team in NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. With the Rose Bowl serving as the backdrop for this college showcase, Gauthier and the National found success in the running game. Unfortunately, it was the tandem of former Hurricanes Chuck Pagano and Ed Reed that had the last laugh as the American team won for the first time in the Collegiate Bowl’s young history.