NFL Playoff Predictions: 2014 Championship Games

OK,  I was 2-2 for my divisional picks. The AFC screwed me over. 😦

This weekend’s lot of championship games promises to be the best in quite some time. On one side, we have the classic Brady v. Manning, the best QB rivalry of our generation, featuring two superstars on the top of the totem pole of QB success. On the other, a smashmouth rivalry involving the two most physical teams in the NFL, between two head coaches not too fond of each other, dating back to their college coaching days.

What a lineup.

NFC
This game hinges on the following factors:

1) How does Kaepernick adjust to the crowd noise? Given this, can he call the appropriate adjustments at the line of scrimmage? He has trouble in this area when faced with high-noise crowds, part of why he has had trouble in Seattle.

2) The matchup between the SF defensive front seven and Seattle’s pass protection. Part of the decline of Seattle’s passing game as of late has been due to poor pass protection from its offensive line. SF will expose the Achilles’ Heel of  this Seattle team if it can force Seattle to pass the ball.

Really, two big ways to do this… either stop the run, and force 3rd-and-long situations, or build a big lead. The latter seems unlikely against a historically good Seattle defense, so the 49ers must stop the run, and stop Marshawn Lynch. Given Lynch’s ability to make tacklers’ miss, this will be a difficult task.

3) Running the ball. You can’t pass the ball against that secondary. SF has to find a way to run the ball early and often and well, to mitigate the impact of the crowd, and to reduce the likelihood of a game-changing turnover.  SF’s greatest success has come when they establish the run, and play the passing game to complement the run.

The same goes for Seattle. They build on the passing game behind a power running game. Whoever runs wild wins.

4) Turnovers. The turnover battle is critical in any game, but it will be especially crucial for this one. You don’t get many opportunities to score against either defense. Turnovers ruin those opportunities. Turnovers give the other team opportunities that they can build on.

In the end, whomever maximizes the usage of which ever few opportunities they are allotted, wins the game.

SF’s track record with turnovers in Seattle is abysmal. Not surprisingly, they’ve been blown out in those games.

Final score: 49ers 17 | Seahawks 23
It’s CenturyLink. It’s the Legion of Doom. I think it’ll be closer than it was in the last two ames, but I Seattle holds the edge, and will probably win.

AFC
Factors to this game…

1) Can the Broncos stop LaGarette Blount? If they cannot, the Patriots will move the chains with ease, control the clock, and limit Peyton Manning’s time of possession. The Broncos used a winning formula against SD last week, but SD was without their star running back Ryan Mathews. This will be a notably tougher challenge.

2) The big bomb from Manning. As usual, when Luck was on fire against the Patriots, he was really on fire. The Patriots’ secondary was torched multiple times with different receivers. The Broncos must be watching this on tape, smiling, as this Broncos’ receiving corps is much better. The air is thin at Mile High.

Last week, the Broncos used a formula of controlling the clock with short, successful passes, a good run game, and hard snap counts. They may ask Manning to throw some more deep balls this time around to mix with the runs and short passes. If the Patriots get behind early, expect them to rely more on Brady than Blount.

3) The Broncos’ D. The much maligned defense of the Broncos has improved markedly in the last few weeks, and in the divisional game, prevented the Chargers from getting any points in the first three quarters. Now, however, the Broncos have lost their best defensive player to injury. Can they continue their good play from the last few weeks?

4) Peyton Manning. Is known for throwing killer interceptions in critical games. Can he reverse this troubling trend in what may be one of his final chances for a Super Bowl win?

Final score: Patriots 31 | Broncos 35
Another classic game, another tough call, but I’ll take the Broncos here based on their home-field advantage. Brady is 2-4 at Mile High.

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