And then there were four… Here we are at Conference Championship weekend in the NFL and we are down to Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis and New England. Last week, I started strong at 2-0 after Saturday’s games, but couldn’t shake the .500 playoff prediction rate as I dropped both on Sunday, missing on Green Bay and Indianapolis and finishing 2-2 on Divisional Round picks.
– What gives Denver? We didn’t know Peyton Manning was hurt that bad. A torn quad is something that most certainly will impact a quarterbacks effectiveness regardless of his age or the number of records he has claimed. I’m not saying for sure I would have taken the Colts if I had known the extend of his injury, but I likely would have leaned more that way. Either way, here’s to hoping Manning comes back next season and returns to MVP form. He is fun to watch.
– I chose Dallas and wasn’t so far off on my pick. Dallas ran the ball well and Tony Romo did what he needed to, but the defense just wasn’t good enough. It was a good showing for the Cowboys up at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Oh, and there was Dez Bryant’s catch…
This week’s gif is another controversial Dallas call. Unfortunately for Dallas fans, this one was against them and may have cost them the game (even a minute is a long time for Aaron Rodgers to drive down the field and score, so no guarantees Dallas would have won). Bryant’s catch. I call it a catch because it was, but not by the definition of the rule book. As soon as the ball moved upon hitting the ground, I knew it was incomplete but the NFL rule book, but I think it is clear to anyone that Bryant caught the ball. After all, he plucked the ball from over the defender (which was wildly impressive) and then had control of the ball, reached for the pylon and the ball moved upon hitting the ground. Did the ground move the ball? Yes. Did it assist him in catching said ball? No. Regardless, the rule states, clearly, that is an incomplete pass, so there really isn’t anything to debate there. The rule itself could be debated, but what will you change it to? Most potential changes would make catches too subjective. It would come down to the official’s opinion about if a player caught it and, let’s face it, there would be further complications with something like that. There is no easy fix for this sort of situation, but it is something that needs to be at least reassessed. These plays don’t come around often, but it is a shame when they appear at this point in the season with a game on the line.
Sunday, 1/18 – 3:05 pm ET
Green Bay Packers 12-4 @ Seattle Seahawks 12-4
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
I’m sorry Packer fans, but I have to take Seattle. I mean… have you seen them play at home when it counts? The Seahawks are on fire. Their defense is dominant and suffocating, while their offense is consistent and composed. Russell Wilson has begun to really come into his own as a quarterback this season, making key throws – or running – when he needs to in big moments. The moment isn’t too big for Wilson and that is likely the deciding factor in this game. You have to figure the Seattle defense will do their thing and at least cancel out some of Aaron Rodgers’ greatness putting the pressure on the Seahawks offense to put up points on the Green Bay defense. I have faith in Wilson and the Hawks.
Look, I’m not completely disregarding the Packers here. Green Bay will make this a game, likely coming down to the very end. My gut says it comes down to a last-second drive with Rodgers needing to drive down the field, but coming up just short. Green Bay isn’t going to be beaten down in this one like they were in Week 1, but I can’t help, but think the final score will be in favor of the home team this week. The way Green Bay can win, is if they feature Eddie Lacy in the run game and do so effectively. Week 1, when these two teams played in Seattle to a 36-16 Seahawks victory, Lacy was hurt early and didn’t factor into the game. Seattle’s pass rush pinned their ears back and went after Rodgers. If Green Bay is that predictable this week, this game could be a blowout. With Lacy playing well though, I expect the Packers to lean on their workhorse back to establish a balance on offense, but also keep the pass rush from breathing down Rodgers’ neck. Rodgers is still dealing with a calf injury and will need the safety of a run game in this one. Dallas, a week ago, couldn’t get to Rodgers in the passing game. Seattle will. As for the Legion of Boom matching up with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, I think we will see a tough, physical matchup. It’s pretty simple really… with Davante Adams emerging and Cobb and Nelson being dynamic playmakers, the Packers receivers will have their moments, but don’t expect the Pack to suddenly move the ball through the air at will. Like I said, this game will be close, assuming Lacy is at least moderately effective, and Green Bay will move the ball through the air, but don’t expect anything easy or 50+ points from Rodgers and company.
On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s defense has their work cut out for them. Seattle’s offense isn’t going to necessarily light it up offensively, but the Seahawks did finish first in the NFL in rushing offense during the regular season and, as I’ve mentioned, Wilson is a great quarterback who will pick you apart through the air if the situation presents itself. Green Bay’s defense wasn’t very good against the run during the regular season (23rd), but they began to play better with Clay Matthews moving inside at linebacker. Seattle still has the clear advantage with Marshawn Lynch running the ball, but Green Bay will force Wilson into some passing situations. That’s where my belief in Wilson from before carries weight. Wilson has been in this moment before. He is young, but we know who he is and that player is a talented and composed player who will make plays when he needs to. That’s the difference in this game. You have to think the excellence of the Green Bay offense and the excellence of the Seattle defense, particularly playing in Seattle, will at least cancel each other out (likely in Seattle’s favor) and the game will come down to the matchups between special teams (cancel out again) and the Seattle offense against the Green Bay defense. I’m taking the Seattle offense in that one with Lynch having a great game, but Wilson being the difference maker. Plus, I don’t know how anyone can win in Seattle with so much on the line. The rabid fan base plus a Seattle team that plays with such confidence and swagger is a tough task. Maybe be really quiet and try to sneak up on them?
Sunday, 1/18 – 6:40 pm ET
Indianapolis Colts 11-5 @ New England Patriots 12-4
Prediction: New England Patriots
Indianapolis has now burnt me twice in so many opportunities in their playoff run. First I thought Cincinnati’s talent would shine through in one glorious demonstration of their raw potential, which in retrospect was idiotic, and then I thought Denver would come out swinging after their first-round playoff bye and continue their march to the NFL holy land (Glendale, AZ) to give their savior, Peyton Manning, one last taste of Super Bowl glory before he jumped atop a stallion and rode off into the sunset in search of yet another football team whose logo had something to do with horses (Seattle Stallions semi-professional team?). To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have picked the Broncos to advance if I had known Manning was dealing with a torn quad muscle in his right leg, but the point is, I haven’t been giving the Indianapolis Colts enough credit evidently. With all that said, I like the Patriots in this one. I know… I’m doing it again, but can you blame me?
Let’s begin with the Colts. Andrew Luck has been great this postseason, but the real game changer for the Colts has been Dan “Boom” Herron. Luck has done mostly what we have expected, but Herron has been a workhorse back, making Trent Richardson obsolete (sort of about time, right?) and contributing in both the running and passing game. Herron has given the Colts the balance they have so desperately needed offensively, but couldn’t find until they went to their fourth running back of the season (remember Vick Ballard). That’s not a knock on Herron. He plays with power and balance and has always been impressive during preseason play in his young NFL career, but just needed an opportunity. Now he has it and he is running with it (I’m not sorry). With Herron, the Colts have enough balance to open things up for T.Y. Hilton in the passing game and keep defenders off Luck’s back when dropping back. This Colts team is dangerous and could pull off the upset at New England, but I just can’t pick them. The Patriots were exposed a bit last week against Baltimore and “playoff-cool” Joe Flacco. That said, Baltimore has always had a way with New England, so I’m not putting too much value in Baltimore’s offensive success. I think the Patriots will shore up some of those problems and make things hard on Herron and Luck, while trying to remove Hilton from the gameplan to the best of their ability. New England fields Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary who can matchup with each of Indy’s receivers with the exception of the speedy Hilton. Hilton will have a big game and if this is close at the end, it will be due to his ability to overcome the Patriots defensive gameplan. Herron’s effectiveness will make this game close, but I think the Patriots have too much.
Tom Brady and company are hard to gauge, particularly after playing Baltimore. The Ravens quite clearly have their number and know how to limit the Patriots offensively while attacking them with Flacco. With all the controversy surrounding the Patriots gameplan to declare running back Shane Vereen ineligible and then capitalize on the Ravens not having time to reassess who was even allowed to go out, we forget that those plays were only a part of the Patriots offense. They were huge plays, no doubt, but New England’s offense wasn’t stagnant without them. Even more interesting was that fact that New England essentially gave up completely on the ground game in the second half. What does that mean to me? Expect a heavy dose of whatever running back they choose to utilize this week. The Colts have been good against the run during their playoff run, but were 18th during the regular season. Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are solid corners, so I expect Bill Belichick to test the front seven in the run game and then feature Rob Gronkowski through the air or Vereen out of the backfield. Either way, I think the Patriots have too many weapons offensively and will have the home crowd at their back. This also may be where the lack of a significant pass rush hurts the Colts defense when Brady does drop back in the pocket.
I think this one will be close, as you would expect Conference Championship games to be, but Brady and company will be too much.