By Matt Budkofsky
So after a clean sweep of the divisional round I now sit at 7-1 on all of the playoff games and I must say I am pretty good at this! As we approach Week 20 of the NFL season, only 4 teams remain. In the NFC we have the Packers and Seahawks, while in the AFC we have the Patriots and Colts. The most surprising team to have made it this far has to be the Colts, who knocked off the reigning AFC champion Broncos last week. Andrew Luck, the only remaining quarterback who lacks a championship ring, is the leader of the Colts and has carried them throughout this season. Being this far in the playoffs is nothing new for the Patriots, who will be playing in their 9th Conference Championship game since Tom Brady took over the quarterback job back in 2001.
As for the NFC, we will be treated to a rematch of this season’s opening day game, in which we saw the Seahawks dominate the Packers at home. We have arguably the league’s hottest offense going up against one of, if not the best, defense in the league. The Packs will have to travel to Seattle to try and knock off the defending champions, which is a huge task to ask for from anyone.
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
The last time these two teams squared off, the Seahawks emerged victorious by a score of 36-16 and Aaron Rodgers had his worst game of the season. Rodgers threw for 189 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. This was 1 of just 4 games this season in which Rodgers failed to eclipse 200 yards. Eddie Lacy rushed for just 34 yards and Rodgers didn’t even target Richard Sherman once. On the other side, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 110 yards and 2 TD’s, while Percy Harvin accounted for 160 total yards. The Legion of Boom looked like they were poised to take a step forward from last season’s dominance and everything went right for Seattle.
This is a brutal matchup for the Packers, who clearly are dependent on their offense to keep them in games. Unfortunately for them, the Seahawks matchup perfectly with the Packers receiving corps, but are still skilled enough to stop the rushing attack of James Starks and Eddie Lacy. Plus, the Packers are a much different team on the road. At home, the Packers average 38 points per game while on the road that number drops to 16. If Aaron Rodgers’s calf doesn’t improve and he is forced to play with limited mobility, the Packers could be in for a long afternoon.
The Seahawks offense rarely gets talked about, but it seems to clicking at the right time. Since dealing Percy Harvin, the Hawks have really lacked a go-to guy on the outside, yet they really haven’t seemed to miss a beat without him. Marshawn Lynch is as consistent as it gets, and has shown no real signs of slowing down. He has surpassed 100 yards on 5 different occasions this season and has added 17 total touchdowns. It also doesn’t hurt to have Russell Wilson, who isn’t just a game manager, but a true winner. He just always seems to know how to get the job done, whether his stats are pretty or not; the man just cares about winning.
Prediction: Unfortunately I don’t see this being much of a game. Aaron Rodgers calf will ultimately be the Packers downfall, seeing as though they need everything and then some from the superstar quarterback to even have a chance in this matchup. I think the 12th man propels the Seahawks to a 34-20 victory.
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
For the AFC championship game we are treated to a rematch from week 11 — where we saw Jonas Gray and the Patriots throttle the Indianapolis Colts 42-20. Tom Brady was solid, and spread the ball around which allowed 4 different receivers to have 50+ yards. Andrew Luck threw for over 300 yards but was really killed by his running game. Luck was the leading rusher for the Colts in that game, and he only ran for 15 yards. Remove Luck from the equation and the Colts rushed for 4 yards total. I may not know much in this crazy world but I do know that isn’t good.
The Colts really haven’t had a running game all season, whether it has been Trent Richardson, Boom Herron or Ahmad Bradshaw with the ball; none of them have really been able to get it going, although Bradshaw was pretty solid before going down with an injury. But Andrew Luck is a very special player. Each season Luck has made it deeper and deeper into the playoffs, which means we have seen his beard get longer and longer. Luck has been able to shoulder much of the load for the Colts this year, but traveling to Foxboro and coming out with a victory could be a little too much to ask from the 25-year-old gunslinger.
Obviously, that week 11 game was the first and last we saw of Jonas Gray. But Legarrette Blount and Shane Vereen have done an excellent job of holding down the fort while Gray rides the bench. Although Luck is special, Tom Brady is a next level quarterback and has a legitimate chance at being the greatest of all time. Brady spreads the ball around extremely well and elevates everyone else’s game to another level. He has been the centerpiece to the NFL’s most balanced offense. As good as the offense has been, the Patriots defense has been better. Bringing in Darrelle Revis has most certainly paid off and has elevated the secondary to elite status. Throw in the fact the Patriots are virtually unbeatable at home and they seem to be a lock for this week. The Pats are 7-1 at home, with the 1 loss coming against the Bills in Week 17 where most starters were resting.
Prediction: Like I said the Patriots are pretty much a lock for this week. The Colts one dimensional offense will not be able to get the job done against a stout Patriots D and the Patriots will advance to the Super Bowl on a 31-26 victory.