The Road to Arizona – Divisional look back and Championship look ahead

 

As it was rather a long time ago now (life has taken over somewhat this week), I won’t waste too many words on last weekend’s divisional clashes.  My actual predictions were far more accurate this week; although I probably took the safe option going for all home wins. I’m not too disappointed with 3-1 though as the Colts were one team I really wanted to win; I just didn’t think they would.

AFC recap

Andrew Luck showed his class once again, becoming the first QB in league history to pass over 250 yards in his first 5 preseason games in Indi’s 24-13 win over the Broncos. There has been much talk this week about Peyton Manning’s future, especially as he himself was non-committal about playing next year in his postgame interview. With John Fox gone as head coach, the winds of change are blowing through Denver.  The other AFC showdown was an exceptionally close fought battle, with New England coming off better in their 35-31 victory over Baltimore at Foxborough. As expected, Joe Flacco came out all guns blazing and after the first quarter it looked like the Ravens might cause an upset, but after twice coming back from a 14 point deficit, Tom Brady with 367 passing yards steered his Patriots to the 9th Championship game of his career. The Julian Edelman trick play to Danny Amendola resulting in a 51 yard TD pass was a highlight of the game and showed the confidence Belichick has in the versatility of his offense.

NFC recap

Seattle, as widely predicted, proved too powerful for Carolina and the stronger team are rightly through to the NFC championship game with a 31-17 victory. Which leaves the Green Bay/ Dallas game.  While I always had an inkling that Brady would clinch the Patriots victory one way or another, I genuinely thought that Dallas were going to upset the apple cart in (not as cold as expected) Lambeau.  DeMarco Murray was once again able to run for over 100 yards and Green Bay had to come back from an 11 point deficit to clinch the win 26-21. Some might call it karma but once again a refereeing decision became the biggest discussion point of this game; with Dez Bryant’s spectacular ‘non catch’.  -cfe5cb4993cbfcc9Considering I don’t have any particular attachment to the Cowboys, the fact that I was still fuming about this on Tuesday morning suggests the utter craziness of the rule that in my mind spoilt the game. Yes, by the letter of the law it wasn’t a catch, but you tell me Dez was meant to fall to the ground without putting his hand down to break his fall. And since when is lunging for the goal line not a football move… anyway, I can’t get started on that again.  Just don’t let rules ruin good sport!

NFC conference championship game: Sunday 18th January, 20:05 GMT

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Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

This is a game where the stats illustrate how close it will be.  It’s a matchup between two QBs with the first and second best passer ratings in the league. It also features the number one scoring offense in the NFL (Green Bay with an average 30.4 points per game) against the number one scoring defense in the league (Seattle allow an average of 15.9 points per game) . Which will prevail this weekend remains to be seen.  On the side of Seattle, against Aaron Rodgers, QB Russell Wilson is 2-0 on previous playoff meetings. Green Bay looked weaker against the run last week and with Marshawn Lynch, Seattle will look to exploit this further. Wilson is also much more mobile than Romo, who Green Bay found difficult to deal with in Lambeau, therefore posing an even wider threat. Of course the Seattle defense needs little explaining and Rodgers will need to look more spritely in and out of the pocket than he did when he limped around last week.  By all accounts however, the calf injury is feeling much better. Rodgers of course has his weapons too; maybe TE Andrew Quarless will be his most valuable red zone target this week as 65% of the few TDs  Seattle allowed this year were to tight ends. Eddie Lacy will also need to be back on his best to make the most of the run game.  My gut instinct is that this one will go to Seattle who will book themselves a trip to the desert. However, with two consistently outstanding and fearless QBs, explosive defense and closer than close match ups, it could go either way. Let’s hope it doesn’t hinge on another disputed catch.

AFC conference championship game:  Sunday 18th January, 23:40 GMTbrady-luck_0

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Running the risk of sounding like a stuck record (or a bitter Jets fan), I of course would like the Colts to win in Foxborough on Sunday. However, in his first Championship game Andrew Luck faces a stiff challenge and he will have to repeat the form of the last 2 weeks, whilst contending with the strong patriots D to put the Colts on the road to Arizona. Historically Luck & the Colts do not have a great record against New England; as the Boston Globe pointed out, the Patriots have won the last three games against Indianapolis  by an average score of 48-22 and Luck is 0-3 against Brady. Last time they met, the New England defense held star Colts receiver TY Hilton to a season low 24 yards receiving.  A win for New England would also see Bill Belichick break the record for the most postseasons win by any head coach in NFL history. That’s not to say it can’t be done. Running back Daniel ‘Boom’ Heron is having a great postseason spell, with 18 receptions in the last 2 games, compared to 21 across the whole of the regular season and let’s not forget the Colts have the number 1 passing offense and number 3 total offense in the league. The key for their defense will be to stop the run game; the Patriots had a total of 480 rushing yards in their last 2 matchups and will look to repeat that success here. Of course, I’d like to see Brady & Belichick crash and burn on Sunday but this game is sure to be close, exciting to watch and will need coaches and players alike on both sides to be firing at their absolute best.

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