New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
In my NFL Playoff post last week I wrote that I expected the Patriots to win against the Colts, but that I didn’t think NE could beat Denver. My opinion hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, I think the players that Patriots have lost to injury, particularly TE Gronkowski, DT Wilfork and LB Mayo, put them at too much of a disadvantage to beat the Broncos in Denver. OTOH, Denver is also missing a key player, star LB Von Miller, but I think the Patriot losses hurt them more. Gronkowski played a huge role in the Partiots exciting come from behind OT victory over the Broncos back in Week 12, when they played in Foxboro, MA. Gronk always presents a very difficult match up problem for opposing defenses and he would have again in this game. The Patriots have done an admirable job in compensating for the players on defense, but can they shut down the Broncos? Forget that, can they significantly slow down the Broncos? I have my doubts, but we’ll see. Perhaps the most effective way for the Patriots to defend against Peyton Manning and his talented receivers will be to keep them off the field as much as possible. I’m sure Bill Belichick took note of the fact that Chargers were able to beat the Broncos in Denver during the regular season by running the ball as much as possible and dominating the time of possession. The Patriots running attack looked pretty potent last week against against Indy, with LaGarrette Blount leading the charge. I think NE will need a similar effort from their RB’s this week in order to have a real chance of winning. They also need WR’s Julian Edelman and Tommy Amendola to play at a high level and, needless to say, the Patriots need a strong game from star QB Tom Brady. So, basically, the Patriots will have to play at their absolute best to end Peyton Manning’s quest for a second SB ring.
Denver wins 35-31
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Well, I must say I always thought it was very possible that these two rivals would meet to decide the NFC championship. I felt that way going back to the preseason, although I also must admit that I thought they would be meeting in San Francisco. However, Seattle was certainly the better team during the regular season. I’m not so sure the Seahawks are the better team right now. As I noted in my NFL Playoffs post last week SF’s offense is quite a bit more effective now that they have all their starting skill position players back on the field. That definitely proved to be the case against Carolina, which has one of the best D units in the league. Seattle’s defense is arguably the best in the NFL and I think the battle between SF’s offense and Seattle’s D will decide the game. Seattle offense is good, but not exceptional in my view. RB Marshawn Lynch is excellent and QB Russell Wilson is very good, but no one else stands out on that offense (the Seahawks lost their starting WR’s to injury) and I think they will find it very challenging to score more than 21 points against the formidable 49er D. That means the Seahawks have to contain the fleet footed Colin Kaepernick, RB Frank Gore and a very talented group of receivers. This game should be a very interesting chess match between SF HC Jim Harbaugh (Stanford) and his former Pac 12 rival HC Pete Carroll (USC). I know I flip-flopped in going back to picking SF to the NFC. At the end of the regular season I thought Seattle was the team to beat, but the 49ers have been so impressive in the last two weeks that I had to go back to picking them to go to the SB.
San Francisco wins 24-17