NFL- 2015 NFC & AFC
Green Bay Packers (2) at Seattle Seahawks (1)
Oh Baby, this will be a fun one. The clash of the NFC Titans meets for the first game of Championship Sunday up in Seattle in THE Conference Game which features potential all-time great match ups. Let's be completely honest, if the Seahawks were to stifle the Packers this game and go on to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, their defense has to be considered a top unit in football history. Surpassing the '85 Bears, transcending the '00 Ravens, proving surperior to Buddy Ryan's Eagles & The Steel Curtain. Not if Mike McCarthy and his Packers have anything to say about it. Whether or not MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers is in complete health is certainly something to monitor but he still will have a prime opportunity to advance his club in trying circumstances regardless. This is no longer Week 1 in the sense that the Seahawks do not have the ceremonies and adrenaline of a Title celebration yet they still play in an acoustically primed environment with a raucous fan base that takes great pride in not only the decibels in CenturyLink Field but the loudness of their neon green apparel.
Despite Rodgers' aching left leg, he still trusts his bookend tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. He has one of the fastest releases in recent memory and a receiving corps with a great combination of football IQ and pure athleticism featuring Nelson and Cobb with an emerging spark plug, rookie Devante Adams. The first year player was an essential ingredient in last week's win against Dallas so no doubt the Seahawks have been watching his tendencies on film. It will not be easy to consistently beat the Legion of Boom even with all the talent Green Bay has so it will be essential to establish a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy on the ground ; that is if Lacy is hurt instead of injured (s/o to The Program) with a sore knee. It seems as if Rodgers' calf injury would have been a four to six week affliction in regular circumstances but luckily as a right handed QB, the injured leg is not his planting extremity.
It figures safe to assume Seattle and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will attack Rodgers and the line of scrimmage early and often with Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril among last year's Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner staying in coverage and rushing lanes. At times, the menacing Kam Chancellor will be lurking around the box and maybe even a blitz or two but Seattle has fine-tuned their Cover 3 for great success. Make no mistake, this defense is keyed in. They play with extreme pride and focus so McCarthy's bunch must protect the ball and prevent mental blunders under duress.
Julius Peppers had a veteran spry in his jump against the Cowboys. He played strong and with a motor that hungry players play with. If he can duplicate that performance with a steady Clay Matthews doing his part inside and outside at linebacker, seal the edge to contain threats Marshawn Lynch and a scrambling Russell Wilson. Remember, this is a Dom Capers defense that has lost crucial games in the playoffs against running QB Colin Kaepernick. No doubt the football minds in the Northwest are trying to present matchups issues wherever they can, particularly with a somewhat sparse receiving corps.
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are capable if not limited and speedy tight end Luke Willson has shown to be a great surprise in open space beating linebackers and safeties. However, Packers' cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields aren't exactly new to the playoffs. They may have played spotty last weekend at Lambeau but Romo and his targets are more physically threatening than those of Seattle. The major caveat to this matchup is how the rookie HaHa Clinton-Dix will perform in a game of great magnitude. Will he play overexcited and lose proper tackling angles? Will he bite on Russell Wilson pump fakes for key big yardage momentum plays like Wilson has been known to do? Keep on eye on the first round safety and how much Capers is willing to roll the dice with him.
Much is made of the 12th Man in Seattle and while that is no myth, I think the Packers' offensive line is just as good as that of the Seahawks. Both teams will want to tire out the opposing defense with their big, physical running backs and gain clock control. However, as great as Seattle's defense is playing at home I do not foresee them playing as dominate against Rodgers' bunch this time, injury be damned. At the end of the day, Aaron Rodgers is a Hall Of Fame caliber gun-slinger who does not make as many mistakes as Brett Favre did during his last playoff runs. This is a passing league and even though Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell and Kam are a fantastic unit, Rodgers is a smart player with a great supporting cast. I'm going with the visitors.
ROC Prediction: GB over SEA
One is steadily rising up the ranks while other holds records in the books
Indianapolis Colts (4) at New England Patriots (1)
Andrew Luck is the homie. Let's get that squared away right in front. While Roc unsuccessfully predcited Denver to advance, it didn't surprise the way Luck commanded his troops last weekend. He was throwing some strong passes on key 3rd down conversions. Despite a couple blunders, Number 12 was ready for a statement game and with help from his defense and a muscle-challenged Peyton Manning, Luck gets his first attempt to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl by winning this game.
A concentrated, eyes-on-the-prize Belichick team is usually a buzz saw to run into at any point in the season. Any NFL fan should know there is no way Bob, Bill & Brady are satisfied with reaching this conference championship round four times in a row while yielding no extra Lombardi trophies, regardless of how great a feat that is. Tom Brady was marvelous in the second half last week, defeating Baltimore with some creative trickery from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels- a throwback touchdown pass from receiver Julian Edelman. It was classic Patriots but viewers got the feeling that New England was desperate to lay it all on the line.
What will they think of this week? Perhaps it will be an unpredictable mix-up of rushing tailbacks Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray or the guy who DESTROYED the Colts on the ground lat season, re-acquired LaGarette Blount. Throw in some wheel routes from Shane Vareen, GRONK beastin' over the middle, a back shoulder fade or two to Brandon LaFell & Edelman in space, and there's the potential for a party, man. Brady may want to invite Danny Amendola seeing as last week he surprised with a great game, adding two touchdowns and setting up the game-winner to LaFell. However, Indianapolis played tenacious defense on the road in Denver. They looked stout up front and defensive backs like Vontae Davis and Laron Landry were right in their assignment's face most of the game.
New England's defense did not play particularly strong. In fact, they flat out disappointed in their showing in regards to the athleticism on the roster. No doubt they will look to shut down Dan Herron on the ground and play tighter coverage this week on a deep set of pass-catchers for Luck. It's possible that a couple over the hill receivers like Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks could make some key grabs when the field gets smaller if TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief don't capitalize first. It's hard to say what extent Darelle Revis will take the receivers out of the game but a speedy threat may have his opportunities. Good thing S Devin McCourty has been playing so great because they will need that level of play from him once again. Bill Belichick is moreso a defensive mind so you would have to think he has broken down Luck to exhaustion and will lean on great athletes like Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones to help on multiple levels of the defense to deal with tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Utility players Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower and the old plug in the middle Vince Wilfork need their energy as well to make the whole machine work.
Luck versus Brady is only a portion of the appeal in this great game. Both teams have many options on offense that have been comfortable at some point this season and defenses that are either very talented or playing harmoniously within their scheme. Ultimately, as much as Andrew Luck is an exciting Hall of Famer in the making and will once again show these abilities (remember some of the TD strikes he blazed over NE last season?) I will take a still-starving Bill Belichick team at home over one who is still learning on the fly. This is the strongest Patriots team of the last couple seasons so look for them to once again represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the Brady-Belichick era.
ROC Prediction- NE over IND