The AFC & NFC Championships
I have never been a big stats guy. I mean I can look at them and see a link between certain stats and certain games. I get it. But I much prefer watching games and seeing for myself what’s what. Anyway after all the Gents have been through a variety of aspects of the NFC & AFC Championship games, I thought now would be the time to look at the big picture and what to look for in the upcoming games.
AFC Championship – New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
If there was ever a game to get people into the NFL, this is it (See Jon’s post earlier this week). The battle between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is arguably the battle of the 2 greatest QB’s of all time. If that isn’t a reason to watch I don’t know what else is.
The Run Game
New England has successfully run the ball throughout the whole season. Whether it’s Blount, Vereen or Ridley, this team has added a much needed dimension, as Tom Brady seemingly dropped off a little with a lack of decent weapons. The Broncos run game has been consistent but not amazingly dynamic. That being said it really doesn’t have to be with Manning playing at the top of his game.
The Patriots pounded the ball past the Colts to get to the AFC Championship, thanks to some fantastic Offensive line play. In this game they go up against a much better Defensive line which could cause a few problems. The Broncos on the other hand have had a less prominent run game, but will go up against a patchwork Defensive line. So the question is this. Will the Patriots attempt to run the ball, despite the strong Broncos D-line? Will the Broncos bring in the run game knowing they can get some yards?
My thoughts are this. Belichick is the master of strengths and weaknesses. If he really thinks the Patriots run game won’t get past the Broncos D, then he finds another way of doing it. However I can’t help but think they at least try to run it. Despite the strength of the Patriots Secondary I think they still ride Manning in this one, he is the hot hand after all.
The Battle between Manning & Belichick
Whilst this will be billed as the big battle of the QB’s, there is no denying that there is a more important match up. The battle of wits between Manning and Belichick.
Manning is widely considered the smartest QB in the league and often described as a coach on the field. There is no better QB at reading a Defence then 18. On the opposite side of the ball Belichick is the master at drawing up a Defence that will take away an Offences top weapon. In this case it has to be Manning. So who will win the mental battle?
You’ve got to go with Belichick. He has drawn up game plans all season that simply give them the best chance to win. Belichick will know that in high pressure situations like this Manning makes mistakes and force him to throw into high risk situations.
The Slot Receivers
A big part of this game will be all of the quick slot Receivers that are great in short yardage situations. For the Patriots this is Amendola & Edelman. For the Broncos this is predominantly Wes Welker, who will be a name that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of most of the Patriots fans after he switched allegiance at the start of the season.
Really this comes down to who has the best secondary and slot Corners. In this case it has to be the Patriots, who will have the unenviable task of stopping Welker. The Broncos however lost Chris Harris in the last game which sets up Amendola and Edelman against Champ Bailey, who is definitely not a slot Corner. All in all advantage Patriots in this area.
This game will be a great match up and despite the predictability of this match up I think the Neutral fans can all agree that this is the game we all wanted to see.
NFC Championship- San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Another great game awaits us tonight as Division rivals that genuinely hate each other go up against each other for the battle for NFC supremacy. This is yet another game that should be a must watch for new fans. It promises to be a slugfest between 2 of the best Defences in the game. It is also a matchup of young mobile QB’s who are eager to prove their worth in a league that has endless amounts of young QB talent. Finally the charisma and bravado that will be on display in this game will be unreal. Make no mistake, if someone makes a decent play, they will let us know about it.
Ok this is pretty broad, but it is the most important aspect of this game. For the Seahawks it’s led by the Secondary who are probably the best in the league. Led by Richard Sherman they seem to be able to shut out even the strongest Passing game. The Niners have a genuinely scary front 7. The Line backing corps is one of the best units in the league. Bowman and Willis both make huge play and the Line is huge…I mean seriously huge. If any unit will stop Marshawn Lynch. It’s these guys.
The Defences have me scratching my head. The Seahawks Secondary will be more than a match for the Niners main Offensive strength with Davis, Crabtree and Boldin all meeting their match. The Niners front 7 however stand a pretty good chance of slowing down Lynch and even Wilson. What we possibly have here is a Defensive stalemate.
The 12th Man
The Seahawks stadium, Century Link has been a major player in most of the Seahawks home battles this season and has only seen one defeat. On Record as the loudest stadium in the league it is a fortress for any team visiting, making it almost impossible to call and receive plays for away teams. The Niners will face a struggle against the 12th man and will have to rely on wits and common sense to win this one.
So the Niners are perfectly set up to win this one as long as they simply keep it simple. The key for them to win this game will be to pound the ball and keep the huddles few and far between. The worst thing that can happen however is if the game is in the hand of Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a fantastic natural talent, but a lousy decision maker. If Kaepernick is forced to put the team on his shoulders, he might as well hand the ball to the Seahawks Secondary.
In this game we have a matchup of 2 of the top young QB’s in the NFC. Both are highly rated and both are 2 of the top athletes in the league. In the AFC we have the old dogs that have already proved themselves, here these 2 are still trying to make their mark on the league.
Kaepernick has the distinct advantage of weapons. Davis, Boldin and Crabtree have all provided excellent options for a QB who has made a few bad decisions throughout the season. Kaepernick will have to be at the top of his game in this one as he goes up against the “legion of boom”, but has the natural talent to take a game. In a tight space with seconds on the board Kaepernick has what it takes to win the game. Wilson is the perfect fit for the Seahawks Offence. Lynch is the star player on that team, no doubt, but having Wilson means they have the ability to air it out to make the odd first down. Also his natural speed and ability to find a hole means he is perfect for reliable short yardage. However he is not the player you want when the game is on the line.
Really this game comes down to who can make the least mistakes and in this instance I have to go with Kaepernick. Kaepernick might not make it through the air, but the un-schemed run plays he makes will make the difference. Wilson will more than likely struggle against a Niners Defence that is excellent at stopping the run. When Wilson is forced to make the throws I think he’ll crumble and find it difficult to make the plays to bring them back into the game.
And that’s the Championship games. I highly recommend you put the phones on silent, get comfortable and watch what is set to be the 2 most exciting games of the season.
Who wins? Well I’ve got the Patriots and the Niners, but I don’t feel good about it. The fact is this is the closest matched Championship games I remember and I can’t wait.