The NFL season is down to the Final 4, and league officials and most fans are really excited to have the two best teams in each conference battling it out in the AFC and NFC Championship games.
Not often on “Championship Sunday” do you have arguably the four best teams battling for a Super Bowl berth.
Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver have at one point of the season been one of the favourites to be in the Super Bowl, so no one will be shocked if any of these elite four teams are holding the Lombardi Trophy in two weeks.
There are no long shots on the board anymore. Both of these games are between teams that are equally matched, and you know it’s going to come down to what teams win the turnover battle. Home field might mean something against some road teams, but both the Patriots and 49ers are not only talented, but are battle-tested and mentally tough like their coaches.
The key for the visitors is to make it through the first 10 minutes, when the crowd is trying to take over the game. Enjoy the games!
Patriots vs. Broncos
New England – Road: 4-4.
Denver – Home: 8-1.
Head-to-head: Week 12 – Pats 34, Broncos 31 (OT).
Stat of the game: In 14 games, the Broncos’ offence had over 400 yards. The three games they didn’t were all against the Chargers. You can be sure Coach Belichick will be looking at those tapes.
This will be the 15th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and this may be the final time you might see these two battle it out in such an important game.
Brady, over the years, has outplayed Manning, but is only 2-1 in the playoffs against Peyton. Brady is glad he’s not playing his younger brother, Eli, who we know is undefeated against Brady.
They played each other in Week 12, but things have changed dramatically since that game. For instance, the Pats won’t have Gronk and the Broncos have lost pass rusher Von Miller and their best corner, Chris Harris, but have TE Julius Thomas and head coach John Fox for this game.
If they had Coach Fox on the sideline in Week 12, you have to wonder would the Pats’ comeback have happened?
The weather in Denver is not going to be a factor as it’s expected to be sunny and 13, which will favour the Broncos. We all know how great a bad-weather quarterback Brady is, and how bad weather seems to have a negative impact on Manning.
Road games in Denver are always tough, not only because of their great fans but the lack of oxygen can take its toll on visiting players come the second half. With a game this close to pick, The Freak needs to take all these factors into account to come up with a solid selection.
Although both teams have great quarterbacks, they will try and establish the run. We tend to overlook that Denver can run the ball well with Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, and the Pats pounded it with LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley last Saturday.
However, Ball and Ridley are known to put the ball on the ground. In a game this close, these will be the plays that turn the game’s momentum.
In terms of the passing game for both teams, you know Coach Belichick will be looking to exploit Denver’s secondary with Harris out, which means veteran Champ Bailey will probably take his spot and will need to be the “Champ Bailey of old.”
Denver will need to watch Shane Vereen out of the backfield, and double Julian Edelman on third down.
New England, on the other hand, may need to play nickel or dime all game as the Broncos generally line up with three receivers (DeMaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker), tight end Julius Thomas and Moreno in the backfield. Having big tight end Thomas this time around could be the difference as the Patriots can’t double everyone.
This game will probably come down to a field goal, and both teams have great pressure kickers – Matt Prater (Broncos) and Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots).
Returners Julian Edelman and Trindon Holliday are very dangerous, and can make a game-changing play on special teams.
Bottom line – in a game like this you can break it down, but ultimately it will come down to either a big mistake by the quarterbacks or a turnover by the running backs or receivers that will decide this game.
The Freak hates betting against Coach Belichick and Brady, but with the weather in favour of the Broncos and all their weapons on offence healthy, they just have more firepower than the Pats, who aren’t great on the road and have trouble stopping the run.
The defences aren’t going to stop anyone, which leads to a Broncos’ 30-27 win.
49ers vs. Seahawks
49ers – Road: 8-2
Seahawks – Home: 8-1
Head-to-head: Week 2 – Seahawks 29 49ers 3; Week 14 – 49ers 19 Seahawks 17.
Stat of the game: ‘The Seahawks’ punt unit has only given up 82 return yards all season,
The only way to describe the NFC Championship game is “war.” This is just going to be an absolute physical battle right down to the final whistle that will remind us of “old school” football, with physical defences against a power running game.
We all know the home-field advantage Seattle has with the “12th man,” but if any team can mentally adapt to this environment you would have to pick the 49ers.
San Fran has already won two tough road games in the tournament, won eight straight and are rolling on both sides of the ball.
Seattle has the best defence in the league, but the offence over the past six weeks or so, especially the passing attack, has not been very good, and really needs to be better if they want to be in the Super Bowl.
San Fran has lost its last two games in Seattle by the combined score of 71-16, but in both instances the team was struggling which is not the case right now. The 49ers will have difficulty throwing on the great Seattle secondary, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick does have more weapons in Anquan Boldin, Mike Crabtree and Vernon Davis than Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has at his disposal. If Percy Harvin can play, this will really help Seattle’s offence.
Wide receivers Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse don’t scare any defence, so you have to believe Coach Harbaugh will have eight guys in the box to shut down Marshawn Lynch and force Wilson to throw to his average receivers.
Seattle will put shutdown corner Richard Sherman on either Boldin or Crabs, and hopes its pass rush can get to Kaepernick. One thing for sure, both quarterbacks are so dangerous outside the pocket that the defences have to be on high alert when they break containment, or they will keep the chains moving with their legs.
This is another really tough game to pick as the teams are so equally matched. However, The Freak picked Seattle from Day 1 to be in the Super Bowl, and would like to pick them in this game. But the 49ers have the best coach in the league next to Belichick, are on a real good roll right now and really have been building both mentally and physically for a game of this magnitude in such a hostile environment.
There will be lots of hard hits, blood and trash talking, but San Fran will go to its second straight Super Bowl with a 20-17 win.
Last week: 4-for-4.
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A statistical look at the NFL
conference championship games:
Overall rating – 11th
Pass – 26th
Rush – 4th
Overall rating – first.
Pass – first.
Rush – seventh.
Overall rating – 24th.
Pass – 30th.
Rush – third.
Overall rating – fifth.
Pass – seventh.
Rush – fourth.
Overall rating – first.
Pass – first.
Rush – 15th.
Overall rating – 26th.
Pass – 18th.
Rush – 30th.