NFL Conference Championship match ups are what we all predicted

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By L.C.

When it comes to football and predicting who wins and who loses, it’s obvious you aren’t always going to get it right. At the end of the day an individual with vast knowledge on the game could attempt to consistently predict the outcome for years and not have much luck where another person who doesn’t follow football whatsoever could get 10 out of 10 right on any given week.

It’s how it goes and believe me, it’s happened to a lot of people I know.

This past weekend of football – the Divisional Playoff games – saw a handful of fairly predictable outcomes come to light. The always lethal yet still under manned New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 as Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick did what they normally do, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers 26-20 in an absolute thriller in overtime (I’ll get into details later), the Carolina Panthers got out to an early 31-0 lead over Seattle only to eventually hold off the Seahawks 31-24 and finally the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos beat the very undermanned Pittsburgh Steelers (much to my dismay) by a final of 23-16.

According to my advanced football knowledge, that sets us all up for a Denver vs. New England/ Carolina vs. Arizona semi-final which is what a ton of people expected it to be anyways. The Panthers were tremendously efficient and consistent all year long going a combined 16-1 heading into this weekend’s match up with the Cards. The soon to be MVP Cam Newton proved that he can perform in the playoffs, as did his entire team, spanking the Seahawks in the first half. While the second half was a different story,¬† good teams find ways to win which is exactly what the Panthers did. Meanwhile the Cardinals overcame the heroics of Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers who came back on the final drive to tie the game with no time left on the clock. Rodgers pulled off one of the best Hail Mary throws I have ever seen (the second time he’s done that this season by the way) which was caught by the relatively unknown Packers receiver Jeff Janis sending the game to overtime. The Cardinals created a little magic of their own thanks to Carson Palmer’s ridiculous pocket scramble and Larry Fitzgerald’s catch and run which ended up sealing the game for his team.

That brings us to the match-up most anticipated aka the best of the best in the NFC. Both teams currently hold combined records of 30-4 which, last I checked, is pretty darn good. Both teams have exceptional defences which ranked in the top 10 in most categories and both have capable offences with Arizona holding a bit of an edge though it’s closer than you would think.

The Panthers have an edge at running back with Jonathan Stewart set to play after an impressive performance versus the Seahawks where he ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile the Cardinals current running back position is a bit up in the air after a let down game from rookie David Johnson and little to no help from second string back Andre Ellington. At the wide receiver position the Cardinals have more depth and more options but as was proven all year, Newton doesn’t need a go to guy to put up points as he spreads the ball out incredibly well. Of Newton’s 35 TD’s, 17 of them went to a combined combo of tight end Greg Olsen and receiver Ted Ginn. The rest of them were mixed in evenly to Jerricho Cotchery (3), Devin Funchess (5) and Corey Brown (4).

Meanwhile in Arizona the Cards possessed the most lethal passing attack during the regular season leading the league in total yards and were second in touchdowns. Speaking of spreading the ball out efficiently, Palmer – who also had 35 TD’s – arguably did an even better job in that department. Their three top receivers John Brown, Michael Floyd and Fitzgerald caught 22 touchdowns combined proving all three can find the end zone at any given moment. In saying that, I give the edge to Arizona in the passing department but only slightly.

I think this game will come down to how both quarterback’s perform under pressure from their opposing defences. If the Panthers O-Line give Newton time to find receivers and scramble, they should be able to put up points. Another key will be how Carolina’s D fares against Palmer. At age 36, he can’t move as much as Newton so if the Panthers provide pressure it could lead to him making quick passes that could turn into picks thanks to the Panthers lethal secondary.

 

L.C.’s NFC Conference Championship Pick:

Carolina

Ozzy’s NFC Conference Championship Pick:

Carolina (obviously)
***
Concluding with the AFC are two teams – or future hall of fame quarterbacks – that headline the match-up. The Denver Broncos defeated the depleted Steelers in the divisional game last week thanks to a mediocre to decent performance from Manning and a costly Steelers fumble. What has helped guide Denver all year has been their top ranked defence which gave up a league low 200 Net passing yards per game along with the second fewest rushing yards allowed per game. While it will be interesting to see how Manning plays, the Broncos will go as far as their defence takes them.

The Patriots meanwhile continue to win and do so with a lot of key injuries. They got receiver Julian Edelman back which gives them a boost but also have Rob Gronkowski ailing a bit. With a struggling offensive line, the Broncos can help their cause immensely if Brady is pressured and sacked consistently. While the Patriots run game won’t and hasn’t been a factor, the Broncos need their two guys Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to create space. The edge goes to Denver in the run game but that’s not a huge advantage nor is it saying much.

While I don’t have much faith in Manning’s arm, he does have a better receiving corps than Brady at the moment. Gronkowski is still all Brady should and probably will need though and with Edelman back and in his second week returned from an injury, those two should provide their QB with options. If Broncos receivers limit their drops and Manning hits them consistently it would make the game a whole lot more interesting.

This game, in my opinion, takes less analysis in order to predict who should win. The Pats have been football’s best team the last decade or so and that is proven thanks to their amazing track record. Brady and Manning will get all the attention but it’s both teams who should get credit for whoever wins.

L.C.’s AFC Conference Championship Pick:

Patriots

Ozzy’s AFC Conference Championship Pick:

Patriots (copying me)

 

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