It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Almost, at least if you’re a fan of the American rendition of football.
Two weeks out from the Superbowl means that it is time for the NFL Conference Championship games and they have the makings of an epic Sunday. Tom Brady‘s New England Patriots versus Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos followed by NFC West rivals the San Francisco 49ers takings on the Seattle Seahawks.
If you told me a month or two ago that I’d be drinking beer and eating chicken wings to those games I’d have been ecstatic. And I am.
By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, 3PM ET.
In Manning-Brady bowl episode 15, or episode 4 if you’re only counting the playoffs, we get to see two of the best quarter backs of all time play once again. While the media hype at this point is old and tired, they’re still two excellent players playing at a high level.
The regular season match-up between these two teams saw the Patriots win 34-31 in a very close game. Manning threw for only 150 yards but got an impressive 224 yards from Knowshon Moreno at running back. The Patriots played very well on special teams and stormed back from a 24-0 deficit.
The Patriots have put together an impressive season considering injuries and off field issues leaving the team without many of its marquee players. A new dynamic in their offence with a reinvigorated running game, courtesy of running backs Blount and Ridley has been key. Most of Brady’s receiving threats are injured – none of Gronkowski, Dobson, and Thompkins are expected to play and Amendola is questionable, leaving Edelman as the lone receiving threat. Brady’s going to need to improve on the 185 passing yards he put up against the Colts and need another strong run game.
The Pat’s defence is less beat up though and has done a good enough job this season. Strong play the ground and creating turnovers helped greatly in their divisional playoff game. The defence has struggled air this post season however and against Peyton Manning that could prove to be quite problematic.
The Broncos on the other hand looked good against the San Diego Chargers. For much of the game, it never appeared to be in doubt for the Broncos, who combined strong defence and a balanced attack to win. The Chargers did come close to staging a late comeback however and the Broncos’ defence hasn’t exactly been stalwart all season.
Manning threw for 230 yards and got a combined 133 yards on the ground against the Chargers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 65-35 split on Sunday as the Broncos try to keep things mixed and balanced against the Patriots. A good thing for the Broncos is that they have far more receiving threats in their lineup such as Demariyus Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and ex-Patriot Wes Welker.
This is a tough game to call. The Patriots are scrapping out victories this year and they’ll have to again. The Broncos have used their offence to overcome any defensive short comings they’ve had this season. As far as things look on paper, you’d be smart to pick the Broncos. However, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is going to have the defence sharp. I also like how the Patriots have shown to make half-time adjustments and play excellent ball in the second half. Can Manning prove his playoff doubters wrong?
My pick: Pats win, 33-28.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, 6:30PM ET.
In the late game we are getting treated to one heck of a rivalry coming out of the NFC West. The Seahawks and 49ers have played each other twice already this season, and split the season series – scores of 29 – 3 Seahawks and 19 – 17 49ers.
The most interesting thing for both teams is how well the mirror each other. Both have excellent running backs. Both have top defences. Both have playmaking receivers. Both have innovative coaches. And both have dual threat quarterbacks.
Russel Wilson has only looked okay in his last 5 starts. He hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire with his legs or his arm but he has played well enough and the Seahawks have been winning games. The defence has been terrific allowing few yards through the air or on the ground. Also, the defence helped produce a fantastic +20 turnover total on the season and could have had 4 or 5 turnovers last week.
The Seahawks will be without receiver Percy Harvin, and while they got to the divisional playoffs without him, he sure looked good last week and would be another great receiving option alongside Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin
Colin Kaepernick has been playing better than Wilson lately, but he’s also been lucky. In both previous playoff games the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers failed to punish him for some bad throws at key times. Instead of them resulting in game changing interceptions, they merely went down as incompletions. To Kaepernick’s credit though, he came back the next play and made you forget his misplays, but the Seahawks defence won’t be so forgiving.
The 49er defence is strong and fast and shut down a similar quarterback to Wilson in Cam Newton last week. They brought a lot of pressure at the line and took away the read option play forcing him to scramble often and forcing the offensive play to break down. Expect them to try and do the same thing Sunday.
It is also worth noting that a number of the 49ers running plays are audibles at the line of scrimmage. Considering the earthquake level decibels that have become customary in Seattle, that could create difficulty for the 49ers offence to run the ball and change plays depending on the opposing defence. The crowd noise can work both ways however as it did in a Seahawks vs St.Louis Rams game earlier this season, where ‘Hawks offensive linemen were having trouble hearing the count and got beat a few times.
I expect this game to be great and for both teams to bring out the absolute best in each other. I don’t like the Seahawks ability to stage a comeback if they go down by more than a 10 points but I won’t be betting against them on home field. They only have one loss at home in the last 2 seasons.
My pick: Seahawks win 26-20