Never since the classical Russian pianist Rachmaninov, probably, has so much attention paid to a right hand as to Tom Brady's this week.
The mysterious injury which kept the New England Patriots quarterback from practicing this week is the most talked about factor leading up to today National Football League conference championship games.
A legitimate concern? Another of the tricks of Bill Belichick and the Patriots, which is probably the least-trusted organization in professional sports?
We'll find out Sunday when the Patriots take on the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Despite the defensive prowess of the Jaguars, few give coach Doug Marrone's team much chance of upsetting the Pats, unless – and it's a big unless – Brady can't function with his usual efficiency.
The NFC game involves around the success the Philadelphia Eagles, underdogs despite their No. 1 seeding, enjoy in defending their home ground with backup Nick Foles at quarterback against the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL's No. 1 defense. One of the two will be able to add to the postseason misery they share. Neither has ever won a Super Bowl. The Vikes have lost their last five conference championship game appearances. The Eagles are 2-4 in conference title game including consecutive losses in 2001-03.
A capsule look at today's conference championship game:
Jaguars (12-6) at Patriots (14-3)
TV: CBS, 3:05 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-7 1/2)
The scoop on the Jaguars: Jacksonville has defeated New England only once in 11 meetings. That win was in a 1998 season playoff game in Jacksonville. The Pats routed the Jags, 51-17, in their last meeting in 2015. ... Jaguars backers are counting on the Coughlin Factor. Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars executive vice president of football operations, coached the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories over New England, including the historic 17-14 game that spoiled the Patriots' undefeated 2007 season. Those Coughlin teams were successful in getting interior push on Brady. They would hope to do it again, disrupting his timing on short and media passing to Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and running backs Dion Lewis and James White. Matching up with TE Rob Gronkowski is another matter. ... New England's defense gave up of 80 yards a game more than the Jaguars in the regular season. However, the Patriots allowed only 28 more points than Jacksonville. ... The Blake Bortles Bashers Club will be on the march if he the Jaguars flop. The inconsistent Bortles did what was necessary against the Steelers after a horrid passing game against the Bills. Since entering the league in 2014, Bortles has 14,928 passing yards, fourth most in NFL history for a player in his first four seasons.
The scoop on the Patriots: Belichick earned his chops as a defensive genius with the Giants. These Patriots, however, are an offensive juggernaut. They led the league with 394.2 yards per game and were second in scoring. ... New England always seems to be successful in eliminating an opponent's best weapon. The expectation is that they will try to take away Jacksonville's rookie RB Leonard Fournette and dare Bortles to beat them with his arm. Bortles killed the Bills with his running and averaged 7.0 yards in five tries against the Steelers. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots will allow Bortles to hurt them with his running. ... The Jaguars have feasted on turnovers. They returned seven for touchdowns. The Patriots, however, rarely turn the ball over. They had just 12 turnovers all season and just one pick-six against them. ... Aside from Brady's hand the Patriots don't appear to have any injury concerns. ... This will be Brady's 36th postseason game. Jacksonville can't match that kind of high-pressure experience.
Outlook: The Jaguars front four, linebackers and cornerbacks seem equipped to frustrate Brady the way the Giants did. But they also allowed Pittsburgh six touchdowns in the last nine possessions last week. New England 23-20.
Vikings (14-3) at Eagles (14-3)
TV: Fox, 6:40 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-3).
The scoop on the Vikings: No surprise to some that Minnesota made it this far in the postseason. Minnesota was third in the league in defense in 2016 and looked on as an up-and-coming team entering the season. The surprise is they did it with Case Keenum, a classic NFL journeyman, at quarterback. Keenum passed for 22 touchdowns with only seven interceptions for a team that had 501 rushing attempts, second behind Jacksonville for the most in the league. ... Minnesota is relatively conservative but not because of a lack of talent. The receiving corps of Adam Thielen (91 receptions), Stefon Diggs (last week's hero), tight end Kyle Rudolph, RB Jerick McKinnon (51 receptions, 8.3 average, two touchdowns) is very capable. ... RB Latavius Murray has run for more touchdowns (22) in the last two seasons than any other NFL running back. ... Pro Bowl DE Everson Griffen had 13 sacks in the regular season and forced a fumble and had a sack against the Saints last week. He will be a load for Halapoulivaati (just call him "H") Vaital, who is filling in for injured ex-Bill Jason Peters at OLT.
The scoop on the Eagles: With Carson Wentz at quarterback, the Eagles were the most devastating and one of the best balanced offenses in the NFL. It's a different story with Nick Foles taking the place of the injured Wentz. Foles completed 57 of 101 for 537 yards and five touchdowns in his three starts at the end of the season. ... The Eagles will lean more than ever on the power running of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi and the more versatile rookie Corey Clement. ... The Eagles' receiving corps is being undervalued, however. Tight end Zach Ertz led the team with 74 receptions and eight touchdown catches. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are capable enough. Jeffery averaged 15 yards a catch with Chicago in 2016. Agholor was a first-round draft selection 2015. Torrey Smith, who came over from San Francisco as a free agent, is a veteran campaigner with postseason experience. ... The Vikings will have a load to deal with in Eagles DT Fletcher Cox, a Pro Bowler, who is a physical force in the middle. This will be the fourth time the Vikings and Eagles have met in the postseason. Philadelphia won all three previous meetings, the last in 2009. ... After losing the first four times they have met Minnesota, the Eagles have won 10 of 16.
Outlook: Outdoors against an Eagles team that is 8-1 at home this season (the loss was to Dallas in the meaningless season finale), the Vikings are facing a difficult challenge. However, they have enough offense to win a defensive struggle at the Linc. Minnesota 20-17.
Last week's results: 2-2 straight up; 1-3 versus spread.
Season's record: 155-88 straight up 114-114-14 versus spread.