Saturday, January 18, 2014

2 comments NFL Playoffs Championship Game Picks

After last weekend's somewhat uneventful Divisional Round games, this weekend brings the two matchups that everyone wanted to see. Denver versus New Engla---I mean Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, and San Francisco versus Seattle. Hopefully these will be competitive games that are fun to watch. At the very least I want to see Peyton Manning yell "Omaha" a few thousand more times (maybe this week his call will be "Topeka") and then scream on knees angrily at midfield as he is vexed one more time by Bill Belchick. Actually, I could just go for a picture of Peyton drinking a Bud Light while Brady drinks a frozen margarita. So hopefully this week's game will be good, that's my point.

These are the lines I will be using for this week's game:

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (-5.5)

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-3.5)

These are Bill's picks.

These are Peter's picks. He chose Seattle and New England. He didn't give a score just to vex me, so I'll assume he chose Seattle to cover the spread.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Fortunately for me there are no limits to which team I can choose here. That means my preseason prediction we would see the Bengals in the Super Bowl is wrong. I had them playing the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but since it's Patriots versus Broncos I am unburdened from the chains of my preseason prediction and can freely choose whichever team I think will win. What a relief to be wrong.

We all know supposedly that Tom Brady owns Peyton Manning, which is fair to say since football isn't a team game. The Patriots are 10-4 against Manning while Brady is their starting quarterback. This means we have to deal with crap like this from ESPN. Of course all that history means nothing in the context of this game. The Broncos almost beat the Patriots earlier this season in Foxborough, but Brady threw a comeback on the Broncos and Manning lost for the 10th time to a Brady-QB'd team. I'm just glad NFL fans are getting the chance to see the game we wanted to see. I would pretend that I know what the Patriots are going to try to do offensively, but since last week's run-fest against the Colts it's hard to say for sure the Patriots won't try to run the ball, though one would think it's probably harder to run the ball against the 8th best run defense in the NFL than it is to run against the Colts 26th ranked run defense. If I had to guess, I would say the Patriots are going to throw the ball as much as they run the ball, especially since the Broncos are missing Chris Harris and the Broncos are 27th in the NFL in pass defense. Of course, a lot of this low ranking could be explained by the fact teams are passing the ball to catch up once the Broncos have jumped out to a lead.

A lot of the media talks about the matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but needless to say it isn't just these two players that are going to decide this game. The Broncos and the Patriots will probably both choose to employ their running game to great effect. The Patriots are 30th in the NFL in rush defense and while they held up well last week against the Colts in only allowing the Colts 69 yards on the game, they did give up 169 yards to the Bills, 121 yards to the Ravens, yet only 89 yards to the Dolphins over their last three regular season games. So I see Manning doing his normal spastic movements at the line of scrimmage and audibling to runs when the Patriots show themselves in pass defense. I also see the Patriots ignoring that the Broncos are supposedly strong against the run, by trying to control the clock and keep Manning off the field through running the ball with their new franchise tailback LaGarrette Blount. So basically, I think the running backs and the offensive linemen in the running game are going to be the difference in this game. Of course Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards in the last meeting between these two teams, and I don't see that happening again, so I think expectations for the Broncos running game should be tempered somewhat.

Manning struggled (for him) against the Patriots secondary the last time these two teams played and I see the Patriots employing a tactic (God, that sounded like something Gregg Easterbrook would say) they employed against Jimmy Graham and Manning-led teams in the past. They will be physical with the Broncos receivers at the line of scrimmage and try to throw the timing of the Broncos' offense off. It's important to do in any game of course, but especially important against the Broncos because much of their offense is timing based. The best part for the Patriots is they are capable of doing this with Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib as their cornerbacks. It wouldn't shock me to see the Patriots assign either Talib or Dennard to shadow Welker when he is on the field in the Broncos three/four-wide packages and take their chances with Eric Decker on Logan Ryan. What worries me for the Broncos is Julius Thomas, as the Patriots have suffered quite a few injuries at the linebacker position and I'm thinking that's a spot where the Broncos may try to take advantage of the matchup they have.

Of course the Patriots have their own matchup advantages when they are on offense. The Broncos are missing their best cornerback in Chris Harris and the Patriots do have "sneaky fast" (the term used for fast white skill players) Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as their receivers. They may not be Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, but in the Patriots run-based game plans they have used recently the threat of the running game could open up the deep ball to either Thompkins or Dobson. I don't think the Broncos are going to be able to stop the Patriots from running the football effectively if that's what they try to do. The Patriots offensive line is too good and I don't have faith the Broncos defensive front-seven is equal to them.

In the end, I have to stop rambling and pick a team. Gun to my head, it's hard to see the Broncos losing a home game yet it's very easy to be lazy and say, "Well, Manning can't beat Belichick" and pick the Patriots to win the game. The first game between these two teams was essentially a draw, with the Patriots winning in overtime. Both of these teams aren't the same as they were in the first matchup and I think the Patriots are the stronger team. Both the Broncos and the Patriots are going to try to run the ball, but the Patriots have the secondary to throw the timing of the Broncos receivers off and the Patriots will work to keep the ball out of Manning's hands. I look for another close game (hopefully) and Tom Brady will go to his sixth Super Bowl while Peyton Manning will be seen as a huge choker because he lost again to one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history coached by one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.

New England Patriots (+5.5) over the Denver Broncos 27-24

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks 

I'm not sure if you have heard or not, but these two teams don't like each other. This storyline may have been overlooked this past week during all the hype for this game. I picked the 49ers to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, so if I pick them then I would have picked two road teams to meet in the Super Bowl. This isn't incredibly far-fetched because two road teams won last year in the AFC and NFC Championship games to make it to the Super Bowl. Oh, and here is one more storyline I'm sure you haven't heard this week. Apparently these two teams are built in a similar fashion to each other. Both have young mobile quarterbacks, strong running games, strong defenses and head coaches who used to coach in the Pac-10 (or Pac-12 as it is now). Plus, they don't like each other apparently.

My biggest question in this game is which team is going to pass the ball better. Both teams are going to try to pass the ball off play-action to loosen up some room for the running game. Of course, the Seahawks and 49ers may not care if there are 8 men in the box and try to run the ball anyway. Both offenses are powerful and crazy like that. I'm probably completely wrong, but I think the 49ers have the advantage in the passing game as compared to the Seahawks. Of course, now watch Russell Wilson throw for 350 yards on Sunday. The 49ers have a pretty potent passing game now with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin (and this is his time of the year according to Peter King, so watch out Seahawks defenders), and Vernon Davis. Of course the Seahawks are #1 in the NFL in pass defense, so passing against this secondary is going to be much different for Colin Kaepernick than it was passing against the porous Carolina pass defense. Neither team is really built to convert third-and-longish downs (though really, most teams don't want to do this even if they have the capability to do so), so the key is going to be staying productive on first and second down to keep out of third-and-long situations.

The Seahawks defense is very good at being physical and taking away their opponent's best offensive weapon. Look no further than them taking Jimmy Graham out of the game last week, though this did open Marques Colston up to having a good game while catching 11 passes for 144 yards. I can see either Michael Crabtree or Anquan Boldin having similar success. Neither receiver minds getting a little physical with a cornerback. It's going to be interesting to see how the game is called early. The two previous matchups between these two teams had 22 penalties and 16 penalties called in each game, so it won't surprise me to see another penalty-laden affair with the officials trying to keep the physicality to a minimum. The big difference in the two games played between these teams this year seems to be about turnovers to me. The 49ers got blown out in Seattle while committing five turnovers, while they only committed one turnover when they beat Seattle in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick has to make good decisions with the football and start the game off with a lead in order to somewhat quiet the crowd.

The 49ers defense is going to obviously try to prevent the Seahawks from running the football effectively. When the Seahawks lost to the 49ers this year, they ran for 86 yards and when they won they ran for 172 yards (though with only a 3.7 per carry average). Allowing the Seahawks a lead and then watching the Seahawks give the football to Marshawn Lynch to pound it down the field isn't how the 49ers are going to win this game. Of course the Seahawks know this and are going to get Russell Wilson out of the pocket in order to move the 49ers defense around and keep them from planting a safety close to the line of scrimmage in hopes of stopping the Seahawks running game. That's where the Seahawks will try to hit a deep pass to Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin. Wilson's pocket awareness and good decision-making is what makes the Seahawks offense so potent, along with his mobility.

There are three keys to this game that I see. Turnovers, how well each team is able to run the football, and who is leading in the fourth quarter. Both teams are going to want to pound the football in the fourth quarter if they have the lead and which team turns the football over the least and is able to run the football early I believe will decide who has the lead in the fourth quarter. Neither team wants to rely on passing the football, because that's when the Seahawks secondary and the 49ers strong front-seven are going to have an advantage. I picked the 49ers to make the Super Bowl and I believe that Kaepernick is going to make good decisions with the football and the 49ers defense is prepared to stop the Seahawks from getting an early lead and allowing Marshawn Lynch to control the fourth quarter by running over defenders in the run game. It's hard to see the Seahawks losing at home, but the 49ers have a stronger passing game with Michael Crabtree back (I think the ranking of 30th in the NFL in pass offense is misleading for this reason), good depth on the defense which will help to prevent the Seahawks from wearing the front-seven of the 49ers down and I think they will edge the Seahawks in a close game (hopefully).

San Francisco 49ers (+3.5) over the Seattle Seahawks 17-16


JBsptfn said...

The Broncos are the favorites in this game for these reasons:

1. DT's: They have the better defensive tackles at this point. NE has a good O-line, but Knighton and Williams will do better than the backup players that the Pats have in there.

I look for the Broncos to have more rushing yards than last week because they are going up against a run defense that isn't as good as SD's.

2. Turnovers: Don't see NE winning without three, and I don't think that Denver will turn it over more than two times.

3. Special Teams: Holliday on kickoff return is the X-factor. If he has the type of day he had against Baltimore last year, Pats are in huge trouble.

Broncos 38, Patriots 20

As for the NFC, It will be a slugfest that will end up going into overtime.

Two years ago, the 49ers lost the NFC Title Game in OT on a fumble by Kyle Williams. Two years later, they will get the turnover, and kick the game-winner.

49ers 20, Seahawks 17.

Bengoodfella said...

JB, so far you are right. I'm not sure the Pats are going to get to 20 points yet.

God, I can't imagine if that game goes into OT. Since I'm expecting a slugfest too, I'm going to laugh when the score is 45-42.