So here it is, probably the best Conference Title week in recent memory. You get Brady-Manning XV in a rematch of one of the best games played all season, New England’s 34-31 comeback victory in week 12 . You get the fiercest rivalry in football today, the roughneck defenses in the rubber match of Harbaugh vs. Carroll. Before the season began, Vegas listed odds to win the Super Bowl: the top four were Patriots 8-1, Denver and San Francisco 9-1, Seattle 16-1. And THAT’S why they live in Vegas and you live in Muskogee.
What I learned this week…..
The San Francisco 49ers are 1 point and one whistle in the SuperDome short of what would be a 15 game winning streak.
The New England Patriots are now 13-4 this year. Their four losses were by by an average of 4.5 points. Their 13 wins you ask? By an average of 11 points. They’re scoring an average of 39.3 PPG in the last month.
When Marshawn Lynch (he of the 140 yards and two touchdowns, was first drafted by the Buffalo Bills, he was super excited, telling friends and family he’d be hanging out with Jay-Z, and becoming a superstar. He thought Buffalo, NY was Buffalo, NYC.
NFC Breakdown – There’s no way around the fact that the last time the 49ers went to Seattle they were embarrassed. You’ve heard that this time around the team will be different, which is true, because in that game they were missing some people they have back now. Beyond that, in their careers, Jim Harbaugh has the upper hand over Pete Carroll, going 6-3 dating back to their Pac-10 days, and only ever losing on the road. Welp, that’s where he’ll be this week when he takes his Niners to Seattle. No doubting that this will be a physical match-up, and a lot s–t will be t—-d, but which team will execute? The story will be about these coaches, and about toughness and defense, but the game will be decided by quarterback play. If the Seahawks want to advance to their first Super Bowl since Mike Holmgren they need something more out of Russell Wilson than 9-18 for 90 yards. They can’t rely on emotion, a hallmark of a Pete Carroll team, because the 49ers already feel like they are disrespected, underdogs, and on a roll, and they are. Right now they’re the most complete team in the tournament, and Colin Kaepernick is back to playing good football, having thrown only one interception in his last five games.
This just in…If you want to win playoff games in today’s NFL you’ve got to score in the red zone. In three consecutive trips into the red zone the Carolina Panthers came away with a grand total of three points, and hat was your game right there. A nice run for Carolina comes to an end, but they’ll be back. I see CAm as the foil to Andrew Luck in the future NFL.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugh
Good: LeGarrette Blount, Bulldozer, New England Patriots – 166 yards, 4 TDs (that could’ve easily been 6). At the start of the 4th quarter, with the Patriots again looking to pound the ball in from the 2-yard line, fans at Gillette could be heard chanting “we want Blount, we want Blount!” Absent any new Massachusetts legislation of which I’m unaware, they were chanting for LeGarrette to get another touchdown against Indy. That really should’t happen to a team in the second round of the playoffs. Speaking of which…
Bad: Indianapolis Colts Defense – Colts D put up another stinker, allowing 235 yards to the Patriots on the ground. Turnovers didn’t help, but the Colts D basically gave Mr. Brady another bye-week: he wasn’t even really needed, dropping back to pass a mere 26 times while Blount & Co. ran roughshod all over them. In two weeks the Colts D gave up 88 points and an average of 192.5 yards rushing. Those were playoff games.
Ugh: Ken Whisenhunt, former Offensive Coord, San Diego Chargers – I’m sure the knee injury to Denver DB Chris Harris had something to do with it, but for too long Whis and the Chargers stuck with the running game. When its the 3rd quarter, you’re done trying to establish the run. You either have or you haven’t. They didn’t. I guess Whisenhunt’s three interviews in the week leading up to the game cost him some prep time, because he had the same gameplan as in Cincinnati.
FWIW…The Patriots are 9-0 against teams they’ve played for the first time that season in the playoffs. In a rematch they’re 9-7.
AFC Breakdown – So here we go, Brady-Manning XV. Battle of the Titans, if you will. Both teams come in having won 8 of their last 10. Peyton can shrug off the inevitable comparisons but this team, this quarterback, has been his nemesis. As we all know Brady and the Pats are 10-4 all time against Peyton. To be considered the GOAT sooner or later Peyton is going to need to even that out. How about Sunday? Yes, the offenses have to play the defenses, but as we will all be told time and time again, this is most definitely Brady vs. Manning. It just is. The Patriots come in having thumped the Colts 44-23 at home in what has been a second rebirth of the Josh McDaniels offense since week 1. A Saturday night win means the Pats got an extra day of prep for the title game. They seem to have become a ground-n-pound team of late, with lead back LeGarrette Blount rushing for 355 yards in his last two games. But I would not be surprised at all to see the Patriots and McDaniels scrap that plan now that its on film and return to the air. The Denver defense is now 7th against the rush, surrendering only 101.6 yards per game. and it will need to do some reshuffling at defensive back with the Harris injury. Champ Bailey is really no more than a slot corner now, and his snap counts are closely regulated. Veteran Quentin Jammer stepped in against San Diego and the Charges started throwing all over him. McDaniels may employ a strategy to try to expose that. He does after all have Tom Brady. For the Broncos the name of the game is going to be ball security. They have 16 fumbles on the season, most in the league. When Denver last met New England it was in Foxboro they lost because of those fumbles, and Peyton being without his full weaponry. If they choose to run Knowshon Moreno like they did for more than 200 yards in week 12, they will find a stouter defensive line than before, but a weaker linebacking corps, Jamie Collins’ breakout notwithstanding. If they can keep pressure away from Manning, and give him time to make use of his full arsenal, he can take his chances to pick apart the Patriots defense, which is weak at linebacker but stronger at defensive back than it has been in years. At this point in the season these teams matchup extremely well against one another. How evenly matched are they? Well, since that week 12 meeting the Patriots have scored 233 points, the Broncos, 232. Each has allowed 161. I expect nothing less than another classic matchup of the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation.
Hey, didn’t you used to be…Andrew Luck? It was the run defense that sunk the Colts, but All-World QB Andrew Luck did them no favors by throwing a pick on the 3rd play of the game that was nearly returned for a touchdown by Patriots CB Alfonzo Dennard. In total, he made about 6 nice throws, threw two touchdowns and turned the ball over another four times. Including last year’s 24-9 loss to the Ravens That’s nine (9) turnovers in three playoff games for Luck. That’s not getting it done. Slow down on the Hall of Fame talk I guess.
You gotta figure…the Chargers would want that drive the Broncos had at 3 minutes left in the 4th back. Down one score, a Broncos play ended at 2:43, but the San Diego coaching staff decided to save their last timeout for offense. Denver ran a play and the Chargers then called a timeout at 2:02 remaining, saving themselves two seconds. They could’ve taken it one play earlier and saved 43.
Locks of the Century of the Week…DAMN good week last week at 3-1. I’ll take that forever and ever. This week, both underdogs. I think the AFC Title game will again be extremely close, and I think San Francisco wins outright in Seattle.
NEW ENGLAND +5.5 @ DENVER
SAN FRANCISCO +3.5 @ SEATTLE
NFL Divisional NFL Playoffs
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