NFC & AFC Championship Game Preview.

We have 3 meaningful games left. Take that in folks. In a months’ time we’ll be so desperate for the NFL we’ll be judging how quickly someone can run in a straight line.

Life’s been pretty hectic this week, so I’m literally finishing this up an hour before the games start. Much like last week, it’s simply a few interesting points that could be game changers in this week’s epic NFC and AFC title matchups. As always, I’d love to hear your opinion, so hit us up on twitter.

 

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

“I Want you to Remember Tom, in all the Years to Come, in Your Most Private Moments, the one man who Beat you”: Okay so not an exact quote from one of the greatest Batman stories of all time, The Dark Knight Returns but there are definite comparisons between Batman and Peyton Manning in this book, as well as a few resemblances between Tom Brady and Superman. Let’s start with the idea that Peyton is pretty much a has-been and that in this match-up there should be no way for him to possibly win this matchup against essentially another worldly being in Tom Brady. Yet the one thing he does have going for him is his smarts, which Peyton has used throughout his NFL career, particularly in the latter half, to make up for being a mediocre athlete in comparison to his surrounding peers, much like the Dark Knight. who spends his free time hanging out with Gods in the Justice League. To move it away from comics though the point remains that if Peyton is to win this matchup, it’ll be almost entirely based on him outsmarting one of the most consistent defences… and maybe giving Von Miller kryptonite gloves.

Bradley Roby and the Importance of Nickel against the Patriots: I think we are now past the days where a nickel corner is just the cornerback 3rd on the depth chart and is actually an essential part of the team, especially for the Broncos. Denver line-up more than 50% of the time in nickel and with Brady managing to get the ball out in 2.19 seconds against a usually dominant Chiefs defence last week, you have to think the Broncos won’t want to over commit to the pass rush instead hoping to make Brady’s chances of finding an open receiver very difficult. This is where Roby comes in on a defence that has its best corner, Chris Harris Jr. playing with an injury. Roby will probably bolster the middle of the field, a known area of weakness and more than likely line up against Danny Amendola. If Roby can do this the Broncos can give Harris some help against Edelman and throw some resources at the Gronk issue, which is undoubtedly the biggest issue the Broncos defence will face. If the Broncos are to win this game they need to keep the score low and it will rely heavily on every player with a horsey on the side of their head doing their job perfectly.

Gronk: As mentioned above, Gronk is a mismatch monster as demonstrated last week, where the Chiefs simply couldn’t find the right player to cover him, a problem that has had defensive coordinators pulling their hair out since he entered the league in. The problem is he can line up anywhere. He’s too strong for the quicker defensive backs and too quick for the bigger stronger guys. This is a particular problem in the redzone, where it is near impossible to get in front of his giant frame without losing a few paces at which point an incredibly accurate Tom Brady already has him in his sights. If the Broncos decide to dedicate a decent amount of talent to Gronk, then they’re more than likely leaving Amendola and Edelman in single coverage, which in itself is dangerous. Gronk could finish this game without a catch and he’d still have been one of the most important players in the game.

Prediction: Patriots 34 – 21

 

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Carson vs. Cam: This post is for twitter user @petes_shed1, who was wondering where the Newton vs. Palmer posts were. Well it’s taken a while, but a few hours before the game I thought I’d weigh in on how the 2 potential MVPs matchup. Like any comparison between 2 players of the same position it’s not quite as simple as “one player is better than the other, therefore this team should win”. For starters the Cardinals have a far better receiver group, with John Brown and Michael Floyd as deep threats and Larry Fitzgerald as a game changer in the slot. Fitzgerald’s work ethic can’t be faulted as he seemed to pick up moving to the slot like a duck to water, something that I’m sure has cemented his place in the hall of fame at a highly contested position. Cam’s weapons aren’t close to the same calibre and a matchup against Patrick Peterson this week could be a little much for Tedd Ginn Sr. That being said Greg Olsen is at the top of his game and provides enough of a distraction for Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart to break the odd run. With each facing excellent defences there are definite pluses and minuses for both QBs. Cam Newton improves against the blitz, leading the league with 19 TDs against the blitz and 5 of them when blitzed by a defensive back, but has struggled when actually under duress. Palmer manages to make plays under pressure but has struggled against the blitz. Each player has a definite concern heading into this game. For starters Cam hasn’t faced much in the way of man coverage and when he has he’s struggled with the amount of defensive backs the Cards like to have on the field and with a lack of outside receiving talent Cam could struggle to find options and as a result might be forced to tuck and run, which could play into the hands of the bruiser defensive linemen up front for the Cards. In Palmer it’s as simple as what have you done for me lately, which if you’re looking at last week’s game for an example of this the answer is not much. Whether you believe that his issues with his finger are meaning he’s struggling to throw the ball downfield or that people believe with a number of QBs that he “struggles in the big games”, the fact is he played a head scratcher last week and against the Panthers defence his job isn’t getting any easier. Despite potential flaws on both of these QB’s and at the same time with both having ability to do something the other can’t this is a matchup of 2 of the league’s best QBs and both deserve a mention in the MVP race.

Panthers Secondary Part 2: I highlighted this as a potential issue in last week’s post and against the many talented players in the Cards receiver corps this has to be a giant red flag that the Panthers will have been working on this week. As huge as having a healthy Gronk and Edelman is against the Broncos, the biggest mismatch in both of these games could be that of Larry Fitzgerald up against Nickel corner Cortland Finnegan. Fortunately for the Panthers however they have one of the best pairings of coverage line-backers in the game on their side. Left on his own Finnegan would surely struggle against one of the most inform receivers in the league. Any belief that Josh Norman would line up against Larry Fitzgerald should be put to bed now. As stated by Around the NFL’s Chris Wesseling, Fitzgerald lines up in the slot 51.2% of the time, with Norman only drifting inside 1.4% of the time. As a result I think we’ll probably see Norman on John Brown, which in itself should be a fun battle. This however leads to a potential weakness in the Panthers secondary, with Michael Floyd, being covered by Robert Alford. If Palmer can throw the deep ball, then look for Floyd in one-on-one coverage against Alford to be a possible favoured target for the Cards. Despite lacking a few starters, it’s worth pointing out that throwing the ball against the Panthers isn’t necessarily an easy option. As previously mentioned Luke Kuechly is exceptionally talented in coverage (and you know, everywhere). When throwing mid-range passes Palmer will want to know exactly where both he and Thomas Davis are. Then there’s incredible ability to create turnovers from both picks and fumbles. Charles Tillman, whilst not on the field has apparently been training defensive backs in how to get the ball out and a combination of an opportunistic secondary combined with an elite pass rush is definitely a dangerous prospect.

Prediction: Panthers win: 28-24

Enjoy the games folks, there’s really not a great deal left. Pro Bowl next week though…