Saturday, January 31, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX

After two weeks of talking about deflated footballs and Marshawn Lynch one-liners, we’re finally closing in on kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. 

How they got here:

New England: The Patriots two wins in the AFC playoffs could not have been more different.  In the divisional round, New England won a nail biter against Baltimore by a final of 35-31.  The Patriots allowed 136 yards on the ground while only mustering up 14 rushing yards of their own.  However, a late interception thrown by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco would seal the win for the Patriots.  The following week against Indianapolis was no contest. New England won by a final of 45-7 and busted out on the ground for 177 yards while holding Indianapolis to a total of 83 yards rushing.  In the two games so far, Tom Brady has thrown six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Seattle: The Seahawks two wins were also mirror images of each other.  In the divisional round Seattle defeated Carolina 31-17 in a game they led the whole way. The following week Seattle trailed for almost all of the first 58 minutes of the game against Green Bay before some late game heroics allowed the Seahawks to pull out a 28-22 overtime victory.   To no one’s surprise, Marshawn Lynch has been the centerpiece of the offense totaling 216 yards on the ground in Seattle’s two playoff wins this year.  Additionally, in its two playoff wins, Seattle’s defense has shown why it is perhaps the best unit in the NFL having forced five turnovers in the two games.

How each team wins:

New England wins if: While Green Bay totaled 135 rushing yards against Seattle in the NFC Championship and particularly had success running the ball early in the game, this is a no brainer.  New England’s going to win if Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have big games as Seattle’s secondary should be able to hold the New England wide receivers in check but as a tight end Gronkowski can be a matchup nightmare and if he and Brady are on the same page on Sunday evening, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will win their fourth Super Bowl together.

Seattle wins if: Defense and running the football have been Seattle’s bread and butter and there’s no reason to see that change now.  Seattle led the NFL in rushing yards per game in the regular season and also led the NFL in total defense and passing defense while finishing third in the league against the run.  Seattle’s legion of boom defense needs to wreak havoc for Tom Brady and get in his face forcing errant throws.  In addition to Lynch getting his yards on the ground, which you can count on, they’ll need Russell Wilson’s dual threat playmaking, especially on third down to extend drives.

Prediction: You can flip a coin here because it’s that close.  Both teams had rough patches at different parts of the season but got hot down the stretch and are now within one win of the Lombardi Trophy.  Ultimately, I believe that Seattle’s defense will hit Brady enough and force a few turnovers and keep the game low scoring, which is how Seattle wins.  I’ll go 21-17 Seahawks.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What’s at Stake on Championship Weekend in the NFL

With trips to the Super Bowl on the line this weekend for four teams, time to take a look at what’s on the line for each team in action on Sunday:

Seattle Seahawks: We’ll start with the defending champs.  After a 31-17 win over Carolina in the divisional round Seattle is set for a date with Green Bay in a rematch of the NFL’s season opener back in September. 

                                                    Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Richard Sherman (left) and Earl Thomas are the leaders of
Seattle's defense commonly refferred as to the Legion of Boom.
With a win: Seattle has a chance to become a legitimate dynasty by winning its second straight Super Bowl this year.  This is a game the Seahawks are supposed to win.  In doing so, they can seat themselves in the throne as the kings of the NFC having won back-to-back conference championships.

With a loss: Seattle going down at home this weekend would certainly be taking a step backwards.  In the middle of the regular season, Seattle lost back-to-back games against Dallas and St. Louis, survived games against Carolina and Oakland and lost to Kansas City and there was some doubt as to if Seattle would even make the playoffs.  But since the November 16 loss to Kansas City, Seattle has regained its championship form having won seven games in a row on the heels of its elite defense and looks like the team that won the Super Bowl last year.  A loss for the Seahawks still keeps them in the group with the rest of the NFC’s upper echelon heading into next season, but going through Seattle to get to the Super Bowl may not be as daunting.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers were blown out in the season opener at Seattle.   Will it be any different the second time around?

With a win: This could go down as the kind of performance we’re still talking about years down the line if Aaron Rodgers goes into Seattle and beats the defending champs on a bad calf.  He got hot in the second half against Dallas last week but Seattle’s defense is on a different level than what Aaron Rodgers saw last Sunday at Lambeau Field.  A big game from Eddie Lacy would certainly help take the load off of Rodgers.  A win here would go down as the best of Rodgers’ career besides his Super Bowl victory over Pittsburgh four years ago and it would give Rodgers two weeks to heal up for the Super Bowl.

With a loss:  The Packers have the least on the line this weekend.  Most experts are expecting them to lose given the circumstances surrounding Rodgers’ calf and just how well Seattle is playing go into this game.  They’re in a situation where they could go out and play with nothing to lose and just see what happens.  If the Packers come up short, then they’ll enter next season as the favorites in the NFC North anyway, will likely be viewed as the second best team in the NFC and could be picked to face Seattle in the NFC title game again next year.

New England Patriots: After surviving a scare last week against Baltimore, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in their ninth conference championship game together.

With a win: Much like Seattle had a bit of a letup in the middle of the season, New England started the season very shaky.  The Patriots lost two of their first four games against Miami and Kansas City and looked bad in a 16-9 survival against Oakland in week three.  After the Patriots were blown out by the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium 41-14 on Monday Night Football, many began to question if the end of the road for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had finally arrived.  Not so fast.  New England won 10 of its final 12 games to clinch home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  Favored to win this game at home against an Indianapolis team in some unchartered territory in the post Peyton Manning
                                           Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still winning playoff games.
But over the last decade, they've had some disappointing losses.
era, a win Sunday would be another one for Tom and Bill to add to their illustrious resumes.

With a loss:  Doubt would begin to creep back in about the Patriots if they are upset at home.  While it is Brady and Belichick’s ninth AFC championship game together as I mentioned, it would make 10 straight seasons without a Patriots Super Bowl and it would be fair to question if Brady and Belichick will ever win another one together.  Since defeating the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots have lost two super bowls they were favored in against the New York Giants, lost to the Mark Sanchez quarterbacked Jets at home in the playoffs, and lost to Baltimore at home by double digits twice in the playoffs.  A loss Sunday would be another disappointing playoff defeat, which has become a common way for the Patriots to end their season since their last Super Bowl title.

Indianapolis Colts: In Andrew Luck’s third year under center, the Colts have made progress, but can that progress continue and take them to Phoenix?

With a win: After winning on the road against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last week, Andrew Luck and company look to knock off another future hall of fame quarterback this weekend in Foxboro.  It would be quite a statement by Luck and the Colts to win back-to-back road playoff games against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady’s teams to head to the Super Bowl.  While Peyton Manning certainly didn’t look like Peyton Manning last week, the Colts played a good road playoff game and will have to do the same thing this week.  Andrew Luck has won three playoff games in his three years quarterbacking the Colts so far.  Should the fourth come on Sunday, it would no doubt be the best of his young career and might perhaps set him up with a Super Bowl showdown against another quarterback drafted in 2012, Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

With a loss:  I don’t think a loss would diminish how anyone feels about Indianapolis moving forward.  The Colts were viewed as a team that would win a bad AFC South and maybe win a playoff game or two.  That’s what they’ve done so far.  While a loss here would raise some questions how Indianapolis can get to the next level and become elite, it would mark the end of what has been a pretty solid season for the Colts.  With the future in Denver very much up in the air, Indianapolis could easily head into next season as a top two or three team in the AFC.

Enjoy Championship Sunday!