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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont’a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of Authentic Martin Kaut Jersey , among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, DeShaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – ”Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

”We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

”I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. ”At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to ”Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady’s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook Authentic Justus Annunen Jersey , who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

”We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. ”They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

”The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. ”So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

”Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

”I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, ”but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.




BOSTON — Having rallied twice to survive a wild 14-10 shootout on Friday night, the Boston Red Sox send a new ace to the mound in the second game of a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.

Eduardo Rodriguez, winner of six straight starts, is 9-1 on the season, with his team winning 13 of his 14 outings. He will be Boston’s starter Saturday and will face Mike Leake in a rematch of last Sunday’s Boston win in Seattle.

On a day an ABC News report broke that former Red Sox DH Hanley Ramirez was involved in federal and state drug investigations, his former team spotted Seattle four runs in the first inning. The Red Sox immediately caught up and went ahead in the bottom of the first but then trailed 10-5 before charging back again.

After their bats snoozed through the first two games in Minnesota, the Red Sox have scored 23 runs on 36 hits in the last two games — coming back Friday to hand the Mariners their fifth straight loss, including four on their current 10-game AL East road trip.

“It would be easy to give up in that kind of situation Authentic Sampo Ranta Jersey , just kind of coast through the game, but we kept fighting,” said Andrew Benintendi, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored in the win.

According to STATS, Friday’s game marked the first time since September 1945 that the Red Sox won a game in which they had a pitcher (Steven Wright) give up 10 or more earned runs.

The Mariners’ pitching failure wasted a two-homer, seven-RBI game by Nelson Cruz.

“It is disappointing,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “You’ve got a five-run lead, you think you’re in pretty good shape. They’ve got a good hitting ball club, but we didn’t execute, we didn’t pitch real well tonight and that’s what happens.”

The Red Sox cut the New York Yankees’ division lead to a game and now turn to Rodriguez, who has pitched to a 1.53 ERA during his winning streak, which was capped by his win in Seattle in his last start. In that game on Sunday, he gave up two runs on six hits and one walk over six innings in a 9-3 Boston victory.

His recent success has lowered his season ERA to 3.59.

Leake (7-4, 4.47 ERA), who is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in five career starts against Boston, allowed eight hits and five earned runs in six innings last weekend — after five straight starts of allowing two runs or fewer. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in two career Fenway starts.

Rodriguez is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners.

Game 2 of the series will take place with the physical status of the rival shortstops uncertain.

Seattle’s Jean Segura missed his second straight game with a forearm infection, while counterpart Xander Bogaerts left Friday night’s game with a sprained left index finger after diving into second on a stolen base.

“Jean actually saw a doctor this morning,” Servais said before Friday night’s game. “They tried to draw some of the infection out, but he’s still pretty sore. He’s not in the lineup tonight, of course.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Bogaerts is day-to-day and added Bogaerts was due for a day off Saturday night, anyway.

As you might have guessed from the 6.75 ERA in five starts against Boston, Red Sox hitters have strong numbers in their at-bats against Leake. Rafael Devers is 3-for-5 (.600) with a homer, Brock Holt 4-for-9 (.444), Bogaerts 5-for-12 (.417), Benintendi 3-for-8 (.375), J.D. Martinez 4-for-11 (.364) with a homer, and Mookie Betts 3-for-9 (.333). Eduardo Nunez is just 2-for-9 (.222).

For the Mariners, Dee Gordon is 4-for-5 (.800), Segura 3-for-6 (.500) and Ben Gamel 3-for-7 (.429) against Rodriguez, but Mitch Haniger is 0-for-6, Ryon Healy 1-for-12 (.083), Nelson Cruz 1-for-10 (.100), Guillermo Heredia 2-for-12 (.167) and Kyle Seager 2-for-9 (.222).

Both weekend games could be threatened by rain that is expected to be in the area throughout the weekend.


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