As all the fans prepare themselves for the cold in Metlife stadium, the Broncos and Seahawks are preparing themselves for the biggest game of their lives. This should be an exciting game as the #1 offense and defense square off, playing to go down in history. Here are a couple of reasons why each team can win the big game.
How the Seattle Seahawks can win:
1.) Defense wins championships: In the Super Bowl Era, the team ranked #1 in team defense has gone on to win all but one time. This Seattle defense is currently setting its legacy as one of the premier defenses in NFL history. This might be upsetting to those who remember the 85′ Bears or the 00′ Ravens or even the Steel Curtain of the 70s but it is true. In order for Seattle’s defense to have a major impact on this game they need to stop Manning from converting 3rd downs and force 1-2 turnovers. Both have been routine for the Seahawks as they led the league in turnovers forced and came in 3rd in first downs allowed. As I accurately predicted, if Seattle can force Manning to make errant throws they have a shot.
2.) Percy Harvin: Coming into this week there was a lot of talk about Richard Sherman and his bravado and Peyton Manning’s legacy, but the real X-factor will be Harvin, by far the most explosive player on either team. He has the ability to wreck games and I think he will play a major role in Seattle’s offense. He is also a dynamic special teams player with the ability to take any punt or kickoff to the house. Look at last year’s Superbowl, the real MVP was Jacoby Jones, a quick receiver who can stretch the defense and alter field position. Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown and caught a 56 yard pass for a TD. Watch Harvin make a couple of big plays if Seattle is to win.
3.) Beast Mode: He may not talk much but as he says “I’m just about that action” and its true. Marshawn Lynch is one of the most powerful yet elusive backs in the game, racking up 1257 yards on 301 carries, proving to be the bell-cow of Seattle offense. Although Denver ranked 7th in yards allowed to running backs, Marshawn has conquered better defenses running for a combined 170 yards in two games against San Francisco (ranked 4th) and another 181 yards in two games against Arizona (ranked 1st). Actions speak louder than words and Beast Mode will be yelling all night against Denver.
How the Denver Broncos can win:
1.) Too many weapons: Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Knowshown Moreno, Montee Ball. All have been major contributors in Peyton Manning’s spectacular MVP season and will have to be if they want to win the Superbowl. The Seattle Seahawks secondary is stout, armed by Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman as well as some less heralded but talented players like Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III. The constant pressure these receivers and backs provide make it hard on even the best secondaries to cover all of the options. Even if Peyton’s first, second and third options are shut down he still has the ability to dump it down to his backs in the flat or find a slot receiver across the middle.
2.) Keep the Ball: Denver had 26 turnovers this year with 16 fumbles and with a playmaking defense this is recipe for disaster. In their three losses the Broncos have seven turnovers, proving that they are not as invincible as everyone believes they are. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball better cover up that ball because losing a Peyton Manning possession would be demoralizing.
3.) Keep Wilson in the Pocket: Russell Wilson had the highest completion percentage when scrambling out of the pocket and with his ability to run, this could make for a long day for the Broncos defense. Wilson has been struggling lately with only a 34.7 total QBR in post-season, granted those were two elite defenses in New Orleans and San Francisco, but still the point remains that Wilson is vulnerable. Denver ranked last in sacks this year but Seattle ranked last in pass protection and sack rate, so it is possible to penetrate the offensive line. The pass rushers need to have a good game for Denver to ward off Wilson and the Seahawks.
Prediction: Seattle 24- 20
Seattle defense proves to be the kryptonite to Peyton’s remarkable season as the Emerald city gets its first Superbowl ring.
The NFL must be ecstatic about the two match-ups in the Conference Championships, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos in the AFC game and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC. Brady vs. Manning, Wilson vs. Kaepernick, legend vs. legend and rising star vs rising star. Here are my predictions for both games.
AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos 3:00 PM EST
Reasons Why the Patriots will win:
1.) Belichick and Brady have Peyton’s number: In the 14 times Brady and Manning have squared off (Denver and Indy), the Pats are 10-4. In those 14 games Manning has thrown for 29 TDs and 20 INTs, a rate less than impressive for a quarterback of his stature. Earlier this year the Patriots came back from a 24-0 deficit to win in overtime in Foxborough. After leading three drives that resulted in 17 points in the first half (Von Miller had a fumble return TD), Manning could only muster seven more points in the second half, giving further evidence on why other pundits question Manning’s “clutch gene”. When you are one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, you are graded on the highest curve and your accolades are praised but your mistakes are also highlighted. And truthfully, Manning has work to do if he wants to overcome his reputation as a “regular season quarterback.” A playoff victory over the Pats would help but seems improbable.
2.) Playing with House Money: Another truth about this game is the Pats have less pressure on them then the Broncos do. The Broncos have put up impressive stats, breaking the total points record with 603 and obviously one of, if not the greatest statistical years ever had by a quarterback. Meanwhile, Brady and the Pats have been chugging along losing bodies on both sides of the ball. On offense they lost Gronk for the first six weeks and then lost him for the season with a torn ACL, wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and oft injured Danny Amendola have combined to miss 13 games this year. And, of course, they lost Aaron Hernandez because of his arrest for murder. These losses on the offense would make any team less of a threat, but not the Patriots as they turned Julian Edelman, a college quarterback drafted in the 7th round into a 100 catch player. On defense, they lost stud defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a ruptured achilles, and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerrod Mayo to other season ending injuries. Did this stop the Pats? No. Players like Jamie Collins and emerging stars like Chandler Jones stepped up and preformed valiantly for their injured teammates. I know the Pats won’t make the excuse but they most definitely have one to fall back on, hence the pressure is off them and on Manning to beat such a depleted Patriots team.
3.) The Run Game: Coming into the season, LaGarrette Blount was considered to be a head case that would never be solved, but now with the Patriots he has emerged as their lead running back. In his lone playoff appearance, Blount rushed for 166 yards and four TDs, incredible numbers for a player as stout as Blount. This hot streak could continue as the Broncos gave up 15 rushing TDs this season. The Patriots also have the advantage in terms of running back depth as Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen provide a balance of both speed and power that should wear down the Broncos defense. With the high altitude in Denver, runners can tire easily and with this litany of quality backs, the Patriots should have no trouble interchanging all three. Although the focus will be on Brady vs. Manning, the running game will have to run down the clock and keep Manning and his potent offense off the field.
Reasons Why the Broncos will win:
1.) Better Weapons: I just mentioned that the Pats have three solid running backs who can carry the load on offense, but the Broncos have a stable (horse joke haha) of receiving and running options that only make Peyton Manning’s job much easier. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker all had 10 or more TDs this season and Knowshon Moreno had a career year with a combined 1,538 yards and 13 TDs on the ground and through the air. For a secondary that gave up 239 yards per game, the Patriots do not seem equipped to handle all of the Broncos’ targets. If Manning gets going early, it could be a long day for the Patriots.
2.) Peyton is on fire: Peyton Manning will be the MVP and I do not want to hear people make the case for Brady to win it because of the Patriots injuries. He amassed 5,477 yards and 55 TDs with only 10 INTs and a total QBR of 82.1 (0-100). In the playoff game against the Chargers, Manning had a solid game throwing for 230 yards with two TDs and an interception with 91.1 QBR, but the most important moment came in the 4th quarter with San Diego mounting a comeback and Manning complete a first down to Julius Thomas, virtually putting the game away. He made the critical throw and avoided criticism for at least another week. As I mentioned before the Pats defense against the pass is vulnerable and Manning could have a great day if he avoids turnovers.
3.) Revenge is in order: The Broncos should come into this game with a little chip on their shoulders because of the aforementioned regular season defeat at New England earlier this year. This would a perfect opportunity for Peyton to erase the hard memories of Brady defeating him in various playoff games and go on to play in the Super Bowl. Peyton doesn’t have that many more NFL years in him, so if the Broncos want to make a run at a championship, they better win this game.
This game is going to be a high scoring affair with the game probably coming down to who has the ball last. An if they scenario happens, I have more confidence in Brady than I do in Manning. Pats 38- Broncos 35.
NFC Championships: San Francisco 49ners vs Seattle Seahawks 6:30 PM
Reasons why the Niners will win:
1.) They’re on fire: The Niners have a similar feel to the 2011 Green Bay Packers, star quarterback playing at an extremely high level and a defense making key plays. The great thing for the Niners is their defense is better than the Packers’ defense was– to limit star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton to a combined 30 points is fantastic. Colin Kaepernick has been highly effective, running for clutch 3rd down conversions and throwing strikes to his receivers and most importantly he has been playing safe, game managing style of football, allowing his stout defense to assert their dominance. Hot teams tend to be dominant during the playoffs and the Niners have run through their opponents and now face a struggling Seattle team.
2.) Better receiving core: Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are all hard match-ups for secondary players, even for a talented Seattle team. Anquan plays a physical style and won’t be intimidated by press coverage or the hard hitting Kam Chancellor. Look for CK7 to look for ‘Quan if he gets in trouble inside the pocket. Michael Crabtree has provided a deep-threat presence that allows for other receivers to get open across the middle of the field. He too has a tremendous set of hands as his coach Harbaugh said he would trust Crabtree to catch a ball to save his life. And then finally, Vernon Davis one of the most versatile players in the game, combining speed with power creating a headaches for defensive coordinators everywhere. Davis, like most of the Niners, has struggled against the ‘Hawks hard hitting Legion of Boom as he was held to 41 yards receiving in both games this year. He might play the role of decoy, allowing Anquan and Crabtree to roam down the sidelines.
3.) Better Linebackers: This is a close battle but the edge goes to the Niners as they have the best two inside linebackers in the game in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Both have sideline to sideline speed and will not be afraid to confront Beast Mode head-on. The X-factor will be Ahmad Brooks a combo-linebacker who can rush the passer and play the run game. The linebacking corps also provides the emotional edge for the Niners as their leadership goes unquestioned. Look for the two-headed monster of Willis and Bowman to play well if the Niners want to win this game.
Reasons why the Seahawks will win:
1.) They have a psychological edge at home: The 12th man is more like an outdoor asylum, full of crazy fans who bleed Blue and Green. The Seahawks are 15-1 in the last two years at home and they seem to play with an inherent swagger in the Emerald City. The Seahawks have also demolished the Niners at home the last two years by the scores of 42-13 (2012) and 29-3 (2013). Kaepernick has struggled mightily in Seattle with only 1 TD and 4 INTs and with a quarterback rating of 41.7. The playoffs will be even louder and the crowd will definitely cause problems for the Niners.
2.) Best secondary in all of football: The Legion of Boom is by far the strength of the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman is the best corner (DPOY candidate), Earl Thomas is the best free safety (DPOY front-runner) and Kam Chancellor is the best strong safety (should be DPOY candidate). They hit hard, they talk trash and most importantly they play the ball, turning unadvised throws into costly interceptions. After the suspensions of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, players like Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane stepped up and played superbly with 17 passes defensed and 4 INTs. The Legion of Boom needs to come to play and they should create at least a turnover.
3.) Beast Mode: Marshawn Lynch is a handful, combining 215 lbs of straight muscle with 4.46 speed means trouble for opposing defenses. Marshawn has had success against a stout 49ers defense rushing for 170 yards and 3Tds in their two meetings this year. He can wear down a defense, collecting extra yards after initial contact and turning first downs into touchdowns. If Seattle wants to take the pressure off of Russell Wilson they need to have Marshawn touch the ball at least 30 times.
The Seahawks are close to invincible at home and until the Niners beat them in Seattle, I am picking the Seahawks. The Niners can’t stop Beast Mode and the Seahawks, supported by their crazed 12th man, wins 28-21.
In a rematch of their week 13 matchup, the Saints will be heading into Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in an attempt to reach the NFC Championship. However, the Saints must hope that this game will be different than the previous game. The Seahawks thrashed the Saints at home by 27 points, their worst loss of the season. The Seahawks blitzed the Saints and took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 27-7 lead by halftime. The Seahawks were able to totally stop the entire Saints offense and allowed them only 188 yards, their lowest output of the season. The Seahawks’ secondary played huge, although they did not record and interceptions Brees threw for only 147 yards and one touchdown because the secondary was great and double teamed his main weapon, Jimmy Graham. Along with the incredible pass defense, their rush defense allowed only 44 yards on 2.6 yards per carry. While the Saints offense was exposed, the Seattle pass offense could not be stopped and Russell Wilson accounted for 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 47 rushing yards, and a quarterback rating of 94.7, which is out of 100 points. Although the Saints were able win on the road at Philly for the first time in franchise history, Drew Brees played below average and will need to improve his play in order to win in Seattle. Although Philly is a raucous environment compared to most stadiums, Lincoln Financial Field is like a tea restaurant compared to CenturyLink Field, which gives the Seahawks the best home field advantage in the league. Since entering the league last season, Wilson has lost only once at home, this season to the Arizona Cardinals. Although Brees will fortunate that the weather will be above freezing, unlike last weekend, the weather calls for heavy rain and 20 mph wind. Unfortunately the Saints are predominantly a passing offense, which will be affected by the weather and the great Seahawks passing defense. However, the Saints showed last week that they could create a resemblance of running game. Last week, Mark Ingram played the best game of his career and recorded 97 yards and one touchdown. Along with Ingram, the Saints combined for 185 yards on the ground, which enabled them to move the ball although Brees passed only 250 yards and 2 interceptions. The ground game will need to have an even better game this week if they are going to have a chance, since Brees will likely have trouble again this weekend. While the Saints offense will probably have trouble, the Seahawks’ players should have adapted to the cold and rainy weather and have a better chance of playing through the elements. The Seahawks may be given a huge addition if Percy Harvin can return and make an impact for the Seahawks. The Seahawks will hope to establish their ground game with Marshawn Lynch against the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league. Although it has been three years since the Seahawks huge upset over the Saints and Marshawn Lynch’s crazy 67 yard run nicknamed “beast mode”, the Saints defense is playing better and held the best running attack to only 80 rushing yards in Philly. The Seahawks should attempt to score early and run the ball so they keep Brees on the bench and eliminate the Saints’ ability to run the ball. Also, Wilson needs to limit his turnovers so the Saints cannot capitalize on extra possessions. The Seahawks should be the favorite in this game because they have better defense and are well built to play in this type of weather. Although the game will be closure, the Saints will need to pull off a huge upset to win the game.
Prediction: Seahawks win 27-20
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots:
Will it be time for the new guard to overtake the old guard? After one of the most exciting games of all time, the Colts must regroup and head on the road to take on Tom Brady and the second seed New England Patriots. Andrew Luck played a great second half and led the Colts to the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Although the Colts did not play the Patriots this season, the Colts headed to New England last year and were destroyed by the men for Foxborough. However, this is a different Colts’ team and Andrew Luck is a different quarterback with more experience and relationships with his offense. The Colts are on a great run and have won 4 straight games and 5 games in their last six efforts. The Colts have been able to succeed because they are playing better defense, running the ball, and Andrew Luck is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Although the Colts did not run the ball very frequently in their contest against the Chiefs, since they were down by 28, they did achieve 5.3 yards per game. The Colts have an added dimension in the running game because Andrew Luck has wheels and ran for 45 yards against the Chiefs. Although Luck’s rushes are nice, his arm and decision making make him one of the best in the quarterbacks left in the playoffs. Last week, Luck threw for 3 interceptions, but 443 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although Luck is very young, one of his best qualities is his ability to lead his team and be cool during pressure filled situations. While the Colts have a good quarterback, the Patriots may have the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Although Brady has posted better statistics in his career, he needed to use all of his skill to lead the Patriots to the second best record in the AFC and an undefeated record at home because his receivers do not have much talent and are unable to provide separation or catch the ball in conference. Like the Colts, the Patriots are hot and have won five of their last six weeks. However, the week break may cause the Patriots to lose rhythm, which could affect them early in the game. The Pats have been able to run the ball with more efficiency and frequency this season, which will be necessary against the Colts. While the Colts are above average against the pass because they have quality pass rushers and corners, their rush defense ranked 26th during the season. LaGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen have provided the Pats with a three headed attack that should be able to gain yardage against the Colts. However, the Pats have not been great in the playoffs over the last few seasons. After winning three titles early in his career, Tom has not won a championship over the past decade. The problems with the Pats have been their inability to shut teams down on defense and run the ball to set up the pass on offense. The Colts should be able to pass the ball and run the ball because Luck can throw on any defense and the Pats have one of the worst defense in the league. In this game, the Colts should be able to pull off the upset because they are playing better defense and Luck has the talent to lead the Colts past the Pats. Besides the 31 points they allowed in the first half, the Colts allowed 37 points over the past few games. The Colts should be the favorite if the game is close because Luck has a knack to win close games against any quarterback and team, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City. The game should be high scoring, since the weather is not going to horrible and the offenses are a notch above the opposing defenses. Last weeks’ game should give Luck even more confidence that he can win any game against any team.