You could make the argument that the best day of NFL football each year is upon us. Sure, the Super Bowl is more of a social event, but that doesn’t feature the four best teams in the league playing in two games back-to-back. At this time of year, many find it pretty amusing to go back and look at preseason predictions. Going off those, three of these teams (Seahawks, Patriots, Packers) were all expected to make relatively deep runs. The Colts were considered a preseason lock to win their division, but not many had them going much further than that. Regardless of who wins Sunday, the Super Bowl matchup should be very exciting as there will be plenty of storylines to keep us busy leading up to the big game.
Divisional round results:
Straight up: 3-1, Playoffs: 6-2
Against the spread: 4-0, Playoffs: 7-1
Packers 21 Seahawks (-7.5) 27: The first thing I questioned when the league released the TV schedule for championship weekend was why this one is the early game. With a start time of 3:05 ET, this is the equivalent of starting a game just after noon in Seattle. The start also hurts the infamous 12th man as there is now suddenly less time for them to um… prepare beforehand. Despite these two teams meeting in week one, that game shouldn’t be viewed as an indicator of how this will turn out.
The Packers offense in the beginning stages of the season was still in an adjustment phase. This was evident by their play over the first quarter or so of the season. Even without being to move much in or out of the pocket, Aaron Rodgers showed last week why he is such a special talent as his pin point accuracy was on full display. Against a defense with as much speed as the Seahawks, Rodgers will have to have that precision once again as the Seahawks will capitalize on any mistakes.
Eddie Lacy left early in the first meeting with a concussion, but he will be counted on heavily in this one. Teams who have beat the Seahawks have had success running in the middle of the trenches. Lacy is the type of back who can excel in that. Another situation watch for both sides is the health of Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell.
Since the Seahawks corners don’t shadow receivers and stick to specific sides, chances are the Packers will “sacrifice” a receiver to Richard Sherman. Last week when Tharold Simon came in to replace Maxwell, the Panthers targeted him early and often with success. There is little doubt the Packers will try to replicate that with Jordy Nelson if possible.
Overall though, the Seahawks are just an extremely tough team to beat on the road unless you play a perfect game. The current forecast is calling for rain, so chances are on offense the Seahawks will establish the run with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson on the zone read. It seems like every game Wilson is converting a big pass play after the run is established and there’s no reason why that should change this week. If Rodgers was fully healthy, this pick could easily be swayed the other way. However, the defending champs figure to just be too much for the Packers to handle.
Colts 23 Patriots (-6.5) 31: Did you realize Andrew Luck has gone one round deeper into the playoffs each year? It’s true. In his rookie year he lost to the Ravens (who later won the Super Bowl) in the wildcard, lost to the Patriots in the divisional round last season and now he’s here. Unfortunately for Luck and the Colts, it appears next season is the best bet for the trajectory to continue rising.
If the last two meetings are any indication, the Patriots are going to run it early and often. Last year it was LeGarrette Blount, earlier in the season it was Jonas Gray you never know who they are going to use. Regardless, chances are the Patriots will run until the Colts prove they can stop it. When not relying on the ground game, Tom Brady not surprisingly will be looking towards both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Despite his huge touchdown last week, chances are Brandon LaFell will see a lot of Vontae Davis which would limit his role.
For the Colts, don’t be surprised if rookie receiver Donte Moncrief ends up playing a huge role. Odds are Luck and company will be playing from behind, and T.Y. Hilton’s role is uncertain going up against Darrelle Revis. Moncrief has played more in two receiver sets lately and has the ability to make big time plays. Dan “Boom” Herron has also been relied on heavily both on the ground and in the passing game. Considering how much the Ravens rushing attack gave them difficulty, Herron could have a better game than expected. Despite all that, the Patriots on both sides of the ball look to be too much for the Colts to overcome. But then again, I said that about the Colts when they faced the Broncos last week.