Super Bowl Marquise Blair Jersey , something that had never happened since the NFL-AFL merger nearly a half-century ago.

And three of the four toughest to gain yards against are still around, too.

Still think that all a team needs to succeed in the modern game is an elite QB? Go ahead and take a close look at Sunday’s matchups for the conference championship games.

Sure, Tom Brady (assuming his injured right hand is good to go) and the New England Patriots will be playing for the AFC title, just like they always do, but they’ll be going up against Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles will send Nick Foles out to face the Minnesota Vikings and Case Keenum, hardly a marquee matchup between quarterbacks, and one set up by injuries to other signal-callers.

What this quartet of teams does have in common is solid defense, showing once again that while everyone is paying so much attention to one side of the ball, it’s the other that might truly matter the most. The more league rules and officiating tend to favor offenses, the more figuring out ways to slow that down is imperative.

”When you have a defense that can shut that type of firepower down,” said Brian Robison, a linebacker on the Vikings defense that ranked No. 1 in yards and points allowed, ”it allows you to win ballgames.”

Minnesota gave up 15.8 points per game. Jacksonville was No. 2 at 16.8, followed by No. 4 Philadelphia’s 18.4 and No. 5 New England’s 18.5.

”There’s teams that have really good defenses that aren’t talked about,” Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. ”We’re one of them.”

It’s the first time since the 1970 merger there has been that sort of defensive dominance among the NFL’s final four. The closest was at the end of the 2010 season D.K. Metcalf Jersey , when teams that ranked No. 1 (Steelers), No. 2 (Packers), No. 4 (Bears) and No. 6 (Jets) in points allowed reached the conference title games.

”The most heralded guys on the field are the quarterbacks. So I would say, nine times out of 10, your detail goes into your offensive planning and things like that,” said Jacksonville’s leading tackler, Telvin Smith, who returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown last weekend. ”Offense sells tickets, and defense wins championships. I’m happy I’m on the defensive side.”

He is part of a young, talented and speedy D that rose to prominence quickly via a combination of shrewd drafting (linebackers Smith and Myles Jack, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., cornerback Jalen Ramsey) and free-agent signings that panned out (defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye, safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson).

Take a look at the rankings in various regular-season categories related to defense, and you can’t miss the Jaguars. That helps explain how they made it this far with Bortles, whose 84.7 rating ranked 22nd among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts and whose 13 interceptions were exceeded by only six players.

Campbell tied for second in NFL with 14.5 sacks Cody Barton Jersey , while Ngakoue added 12 and led the league by forcing six fumbles. Bouye tied for third with six interceptions, while Ramsey, Gipson and Church each had four. As a unit, the Jaguars were No. 2 in yards allowed at 286.1, trailing the No. 1 Vikings (275.9), with the Eagles (306.5) at No. 4. The Jaguars were also second in sacks and total takeaways, while they topped the NFL with seven defensive TDs.

Exceptional defense can carry a team far: In nine of the last 10 seasons, the No. 1 or No. 2 team in points allowed participated in a conference championship game. The exception was 2015, when the Seahawks led the league in that category but lost in the divisional round, and the Bengals ranked second but lost in the wild-card round.

”Now it’s down to, `May the best defense win,”’ Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. ”We each get to showcase what we can do.”



AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Kyle Hightower in Foxborough, Massachusetts; Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida; and Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.



Astros manager A.J. Hinch is quite comfortable when Yuli Gurriel is at the plate with runners are in scoring position.

Gurriel hit a grand slam in Houston’s eight-run second inning, helping Gerrit Cole and the Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 11-3 on Sunday.

”He just has a knack for really putting the barrel on the ball and doing incredibly positive things Josh Oliver Jersey ,” Hinch said. ”His balance, his bat-to-ball skills, his bat path: Everything lines up when he can execute his game plan and he doesn’t miss pitches.

”He can hit anything anywhere and he usually hits it hard. And that was a big knockout blow for them early in the game.”

Gurriel finished with three hits as the AL West-leading Astros won for the 15th time in 17 games. Jose Altuve drove in two runs and scored twice, and Evan Gattis connected for a pinch-hit homer.

Cole (9-1) struck out eight while pitching five innings of one-run ball. The right-hander has struck out at least eight in 12 of his 16 starts.

”You know ideally I’d like to get a little more length there, especially after the bullpen had to work last night,” Cole said. ”Some of that is out of my control a little bit. So, just kind of get back to the grind and get to the next one.”

Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, and Tony Kemp brought home the first run when he reached on catcher’s interference on Drew Butera. George Springer then lined out, but Alex Bregman walked, Altuve hit a two-run single and Carlos Correa walked before Gurriel connected against Jason Hammel (2-9) for his second career grand slam.

”Put guys on base for free and make mistakes and that’s what happens,” Hammel said.

Gurriel also hit a solo drive in Saturday’s 4-3 win in 12 innings. It’s the first time since July 21-22, 2017, that Gurriel has homered in back-to-back games.

”My concentration level definitely is focused when there are runners on base and guys that we want to get to score,” Gurriel said through a translator.

Kansas City dropped to 3-18 in June. Hammel was tagged for nine runs, matching his season high, and walked five in four innings.

Lucas Duda hit his fifth homer for the Royals http://www.thejaguarsfootballauthent...rsey-authentic , and Rosell Herrera singled in a run.

”They have a really good pitching staff over there,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”It’s hard to fall behind that group and battle back because they are so good.”

TIME TO SHAVE

Bregman had been working on a mustache the last few days, but it disappeared during the game. A split-screen picture of Bregman during his at-bat in the second inning and next plate appearance in the fourth showed he had shaved at some point between the two at-bats.

”I don’t pay attention to Alex’s shaving habits during the middle of the game,” Cole said. ”I did like the mustache. I thought it played Jeff Kent-esque. It was on top of his lip when he stabbed that soft liner in the first inning, which got us out of the jam. So, personally I’m a fan of the `stache. I guess it’s been sent down. It’s been DFA’d and we’ll wait until it comes back.”

SURGING

Gattis has 11 homers and 32 RBIs in his last 25 games. He has driven in 25 runs in June.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP Joe Smith (elbow discomfort) threw his first bullpen session since going on the disabled list. Smith threw about 30 pitches. He said he felt good and will know more of where he is at depending on how he feels on Monday.

UP NEXT

Royals: RHP Brad Keller (1-2, 2.63 ERA) faces the Angels on Monday in a make-up game. Last time out, Keller got a no-decision against Houston in a 7-4 loss on June 17. Keller allowed three runs in six innings against the Astros.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (9-2, 1.60 ERA) faces the Blue Jays on Monday. Verlander leads the American League in ERA, WHIP, opponent OPS and opponent batting average.