Jan’s NFL Conference Championship Preview
The NFL playoffs have been fantastic so far and the Conference Championships shouldn't disappoint. Last week in the divisional round, the Balitmore Ravens came out swinging against the New England Patriots, but thanks to some Belichick trickeration, the Patriots are hosting another AFC Championship game.
The Carolina Panthers had a heck of a late-season push to win the weak NFC South, beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, and made a trip out to Seattle for a Divisional game against the reigning Super Bowl Champions. It was a tight first half, but it wasn't long until the best defense in the league began to terrorize the hot Panthers defense. After huge performances from Kam Chancellor on defense and Jermaine Kearse on offense, the Seahawks are hosting their second-straight NFC Championship game.
The other two games had plenty of drama and controversy. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that an overturned Dez Bryant catch sent the Green Bay Packers on their way to Seattle and the Cowboys back to Dallas. In what was probably the biggest upset of the playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts corralled Peyton Manning and the Broncos. After the Denver loss, it came out that Manning had been playing the last few weeks with a torn quadricep. Rumors of Peyton playing his last game ran rampant and continue to swirl. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck is preparing to face the Patriots in his first AFC Championship game.
Green Bay Packers (12-4) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Sunday, 1:05 PM ET - Centurylink Field
Well, well, well. Looks like we have a rematch of the game that opened the 2014 season. The last time the Green Bay Packers went into Centurylink Field, the Seahawks revealed their first Super Bowl Champion banner. The 'Hawks easily defeated the Pack, 36-16 but the rematch could prove to be a closer contest. If Seattle gets the same result as in Week 1, the Seahawks will be the first team since the New England Patriots ('03, '04) to reach back-to-back Super Bowls.
The Seahawks aren't slowing down, easily defeating the Panthers last week 31-17 marking their seventh win in a row and 10 of the last 11. Though the Packers are a different team than they were in week 1, the Seahawks are a different team as well. For one, they are completely healthy. The injury report released on Thursday had no one on it. No one. Everyone on the 53-man roster fully practiced. That's extremely rare at this point in the playoffs.
The Packers have a streak of their own, winning 12 of the last 14 to have reached the NFC Championship - their first since they won the Super Bowl in 2010. Aaron Rodgers boasts a 105.3 career playoff passer rating - second only to Russell Wilson's 109.6.
With both teams improved, fans are destined for a better contest than the first time around. No one is giving the Packers a chance, but any given Sunday.
Jan's pick: Seattle
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, 6:40 PM ET - Gillette Stadium
Yeah, so I have to admit I didn't give the Colts a single chance to make it this far. I didn't even think they'd win in the Wild Card round. Andrew Luck turns the ball over a lot but somehow he's still managed to make it this far. Since Luck joined the Colts, they've faced the Patriots three times - all three were blow outs. Tom Brady will be making his ninth conference championship appearance, an NFL record.
If the Patriots win, it'll be the franchise's eighth Super Bowl appearance, which will tie them with Pittsburgh and Dallas for the most in NFL history. This is the Colts fifth conference appearance since the franchise moved to Indianapolis and the third time the teams have met in the AFC championship.
A Patriots trip to the Super Bowl will likely hinge on whether or not their defense can shut down Luck and shut him down early. He has the ability to extend plays and Belichick said he's "like a sixth receiver you have to cover." The biggest weakness the Colts have in their lack of running game and that could cost them the AFC title. The way the Patriots are playing right now leads me to believe that they're on their way to Arizona.
Jan's pick: New England