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Sunday, January 19, 2014

NFL Championship Weekend Predictions

Playoff Prediction Tracker: 6 correct, 2 incorrect
2-2 in Wild Card Weekend
4-0 in the Divisional Round

Two more games and two more weeks stand between NFL fans worldwide and the biggest American sports spectacle of the year: the 48th Super Bowl.

Ratings folks couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday. In the AFC, the New England Patriots are breathing the thin air of the Mile High City to write a new chapter in the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning rivalry saga. These teams also were able to snag the highest seeds in their conference.

    Hundreds of miles northwest, and a few hours later, the soil beneath the Emerald City will rock when 67,000 Seattle Seahawks fans rise to their feet to greet their beloved green and blue clad warriors, and the hatred will be tangible when their arch-rival 49ers jog out.

So you know the drill by now. Who’s going on to Super Bowl XLVIII? Here’s my two cents:

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Nearly every sports media outlet has been salivating over the possibility of a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup. I have no problem with that, since these two men have established themselves as two titans of the game of football, both sure bets for the Hall of Fame someday.

Earlier in the season, the Broncos and Patriots played one of the best games of the season. Denver jumped out to a three-score lead, which the Pats picked away at, sent to overtime, and won in dramatic fashion.

But that home-field advantage of Foxborough is not going to be with the Patriots this time. This game is in Denver, where Peyton Manning’s club only lost once this season.

    The Patriots don’t have the wide receiver advantage on paper, but Julian Edelman has been consistently underrated, and players like Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola can’t just be brushed off. Tom Brady had a relatively quiet game against the Colts, and that’s because the run game, nearly forgotten for much of the Brady era, exploded against Indy under LeGarrett Blount, who ran the ball into the end-zone 4 times.

Philip Rivers did not lead his Chargers to victory, but he also did not let the Broncos blow his Bolts out. The Broncos’ defense is good, but it isn’t quite on the level of San Francisco or Seattle. Chris Harris and Von Miller will certainly be missed.

The Patriots’ defense made up for their less-than-adequate coverage of Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense by forcing multiple interceptions, and they’re going to need to do more than that against a more experienced and seasoned player like Peyton Manning.

Pick: Patriots 27-24

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

“Clash of Titans” doesn’t even begin to describe this game. The Hawks were arguably the most complete team all year, but this will be their biggest test to date. This is not even close to the same 49ers team that they routed early in the season. The Niners fought out the Packers in the trenches and then were able to beat out a formidable Carolina team. But the 49ers descend upon a den of wolves: since Seattle drafted Russell Wilson, they are 16-1 in CenturyLink Field and have won their games by an average of 16 pts since then.

But the Seahawks do have a weak underbelly. Russell Wilson has not been explosive since December, and his arsenal is limited with Percy Harvin’s concussion. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick is playing gritty and winning games in bunches, even on the road (Jim Harbaugh’s boys are 8-2 on the road in the postseason). Kaepernick actually has a better road playoff record than legendary Niners quarterbacks Steve Young and Joe Montana.

    This game is interesting in that the 49ers and Seahawks play almost the same brand of football as their adversary. Both teams are known for their rock-solid defense, and offense that relies on a strong rushing game (Marshawn Lynch vs. Frank Gore) and ball control.

    Colin Kaepernick and Co. have been riding a wave of momentum (23 pts or more in the last 5 games, only one turnover), but if any team is going to stop it, it could very well be the Hawks. If you look at recent match-ups, the Seahawks have an edge and have made the Niners’ defense look much, much worse than it is on multiple occasions.

Pick: Seahawks: 21-19

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