It's conference championship weekend in the NFL, and that means that the remaining four teams will be battling for a spot in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Arizona.
On Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX, the Green Bay Packers will take on the Seattle Seahawks in a battle of the top two seeds in the NFC. Then later on Sunday afternoon at 6:40 p.m. ET on CBS, the Indianapolis Colts will take on the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship game.
In each round of the playoffs, members of Stampede Blue's writing and editorial staff will give their picks for that weekend's games, so let's take a look at the predictions for the AFC and NFC Championship games.
|Josh Wilson||Matt Grecco||Stephen Reed||Andrew Aziz||Ben Lamers|
|Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks||Packers||Packers||Packers||Seahawks|
|Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots||Patriots||Patriots||Colts||Colts||Colts|
|Playoffs To Date||5-3||6-2||7-1||6-2||6-2|
Some of our writers were also kind enough to write up a summary of each of their predictions and give their projected scores, which you can find below:
Josh Wilson's Predictions:
Seahawks 30, Packers 24
Patriots 35, Colts 27
Josh previewed the matchup between the Colts and the Patriots, which you can read here.
Matt Grecco's Predictions:
Packers 23, Seahawks 21
Patriots 38, Colts 30
Matt previewed the matchup between the Colts and the Patriots, which you can read here.
Stephen Reed's Prections:
Green Bay v. Seattle
Seattle's defense has been beyond phenomenal as of late. However, they haven't really played an even decent QB since Week 6 against Tony Romo. A game Seattle lost. At home. Don't get me wrong, they have great players defensive players and their secondary is arguably the best in the league. The Packers bring enough talent at WR to spread Seattle out and cause them to use their nickel and dime CBs, who aren't nearly as good. Even a 75% Aaron Rodgers is far and away better than any QB Seattle has faced in about three months.
The Packers defense played well against a solid Cowboys team to get the win but I'm still not sold that they can hold up to the beating Marshawn Lynch is likely to give them. They'll also need to keep Russel Wilson contained as his legs an kill a defense.
Overall, this game will likely be higher scoring than most will think. With that, I'll give the edge to the Packers and hold firm with my pre-playoff NFC Super Bowl pick
Indianapolis v. New England
This game should be closer than the Week 11 bludgeoning New England gave the Colts back in Indianapolis. The Colts defense has finally seemed to get healthy and Jonathan Newsome's emergence has been a blessing for the pass rush. The most compelling story lines will be how the Colts defend match-up nightmare Rob Gronkowski and what "trick" does Bill Belichick have up his magical hooded sleeve. The Colts CBs can shut down the Patriots WRs going man on man so that will leave the safeties and line backers to cover Gronk. The most important thing is whoever matches across from him gets a solid jam on him at the line every time he releases. He can never get a clean release. Also, a lesser story line will be how New England reacts to the loss of rookie starting C Bryan Stork. It may cause them to not use the 6 linemen alignment they used against the Colts previously. If the Colts can manufacture pressure up the middle and get in Brady's face, they'll have a chance to disrupt the Patriots machine. With Stork out, they'll have a better chance of doing that with Art Jones, Montori Hughes and Josh Chapman. Regardless, the New England offense has always given the Colts trouble as of late and will likely continue to give them fits somehow.
As for the offense, we all know Bill Belichick will try to take away his opponent's top offensive weapon. For the Colts, that's T.Y. Hilton. However, the Colts are much better equipped to cause Belichick to pause in that taking that tactic. First, if Belichick expects to simply play Darrelle Revis on Hilton man on man, Hilton will eat him alive. Hilton is much shiftier and much faster than Revis likely can handle. Note how many penalties Aqib Talib got while covering Hilton. Second, if they bracket Hilton and leave Revis on the other side, Moncrief could cause a nightmare going deep. Moncrief has shown a big play ability and much better consistency as of late. Lastly, Dwayne Allen went out early with an injury against the Patriots in Week 11. He and Coby Fleener have the ability to eat up the middle of that zone. If the Patriots decide to "Manning" up on Luck and drop 7 or 8 in coverage, then the Colts are in a much better position to rely on the running game with Boom Herron, who also gives Luck a viable check down option on most pass plays. The New England defense has been solid though and they have play makers all over the field. Luck has played brilliantly as of late but has had trouble throwing far too many interceptions against the Patriots and Boom has a tendency to put the ball on the ground. If the Patriots can get some turnovers, the Colts will likely be taking another tough loss in Foxborough.
For all those stat junkies, there is a glimmer of hope. Andrew Luck is undefeated when playing a team the second time in a season, 12-0, and every time New England has been knocked out of the playoffs in the Brady/Belichick era, it has been by a team the Patriots played earlier in the same season.
Overall, this game will be closer than many realize. Very few nationally are giving the Colts even a smidgen of a chance to win. So while my head says the Patriots should win this game, my heart says the Colts will pull the upset. As I said last week, the heart wants what the heart wants.
Andrew Aziz's Predictions:
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks -- Winner: Green Bay Packers -- 27-23
This is the time the Packers get over the hump against Seattle. The Patriots got over their hump with Baltimore and the Packers will do the same. The Seahawks were not overly impressive last week against the Panthers and relied heavily on one player on defense (Chancellor). Aaron Rodgers is probably going to be feeling a lot better, and actually looked like himself in the 2nd half of the Cowboys game. The team is getting help from other positions and their defense has done a good enough job thus far and have playmakers on that side of the ball. Seattle will put up a good fight, but if Green Bay can contain their big plays (which is what they rely on on offense), then the Packers should be fine. I see this game going completely differently then from previous Packers-Seahawks matchups and the Packers will be prepared and motivated to win.
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots -- Winner: Indianapolis Colts -- 38-34
The Colts have played nearly flawless football thus far and look like a different team. Andrew Luck is playing as well as anyone in football and is putting the offense on his back. On defense, they've held two good offenses, with hot running backs and (one of them with) a hall fame quarterback, to 23 total points. That's very impressive and it's due to great game-planning on top of some great play from the secondary. The front 7 has been great as well with Jerrell Freeman leading the way. If the Colts can continue this roll against the Patriots, they'll come out as winners. The Patriots won't be able to run for 200+ yards again and I expect more of a reliance on Tom Brady. The Ravens were silly on defense last week, with soft zone coverage and minimal amounts of pressure in the 2nd half. I don't expect the Colts to make those same mistakes in this game. Brady will still have a good game, but I expect a Colts win, with the youth taking over the reigns of the AFC.
Ben Lamers' Predictions:
Green Bay at Seattle
I'll say it right now. One of the two road teams will win on Sunday.
I can completely envision the Packers going into Seattle and winning this Sunday. Eddie Lacy is running well, Aaron Rodgers' calf will only improve this week, and the emergence of Davante Adams could be huge. You can also bet that Rodgers will not avoid Richard Sherman for the entire game. It just won't happen. A bigger impact could be the fact that Clay Matthews is now at Inside Linebacker, which will give the defense a completely different look than last time Green Bay went to Seattle.
Unlike Dallas, though, the Seahawks will be able to get pressure on Rodgers. You can be certain that Seattle will bring a lot of early pressure to make sure that Rodgers can move around in the pocket. The offense of Seattle shouldn't scare Green Bay, though. However, the weakest part of Green Bay's defense is its run defense, which is where the Seahawks, with Marshawn Lynch, excel. In the first game, the Seahawks ran for 207 yards in a decisive win.
The biggest factor here is certainly where the game is played. We all know about the home field the Seahawks have. They haven't lost a home playoff game since 2004 and in recent weeks the defense has resembled the unit which we saw bury teams last year. Couple that with the fact that Green Bay is awful on the road, and you have a big factor. The Packers lost four road games this year to Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans, and Buffalo. The closest of those loses was an eight point loss to the Bills.
I, along with most experts, said all season that if Seattle had homefield through the playoffs, it was over. I'm going to stick with that. While I think Green Bay is capable of pulling the upset, I just don't think even Aaron Rodgers can find sustained success against this defense in the playoffs.
Seahawks 20 - Green Bay 10
Indianapolis at New England
For the second year in a row, the Colts will head to New England in the playoffs. This time, the stakes are just a bit higher. The Colts are seeking their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2009 season, and the Patriots are seeking their first since the 2011 season. Overall, the Colts have lost their last five contests to the Patriots. They haven't beaten New England since 2009, and haven't won in Foxboro since 2006.
The Patriots come into this game, again, as the class of the AFC. This is their fourth straight AFC Championship appearance, and sixth straight playoff appearance. Their last losing record? 2000. Tom Brady has been lights out again this season with 33 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. More importantly, the Patriots have a healthy Rob Gronkowski. He has over 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns on the season. Simply put, he's probably the most important player on offense for the Patriots.
On defense, New England is better than they have been in years. The unit ranks 13th in yards given up (lower than the Colts actually) and eighth in total points and points allowed. A big part of this has been the acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (who is questionable for the game) to the secondary. Of course, the front seven is anchored by the seemingly ageless Vince Wilfork. A lot will be revealed about the Patriots game-plan when we see who Bill Belichick has Revis cover.
The Colts offense has been rolling in recent weeks. If you had said at the start of the season that Daniel Herron would be the starting back, Hakeem Nicks would have a very reduced role, and Reggie Wayne would be a decoy, I wouldn't have given the Colts much of a chance. And yet here we are. Herron has given the Colts a threat out of the backfield and Andrew Luck has been playing extremely well through the playoffs. The continuing emergence of Coby Fleener could play a huge role for the offense this week, remember his best game of the season came against the Patriots.
The defense has been up and down this year. The high point was shutting out the Bengals in October (or dominating Denver last weekend), but the low point was the 50+ points Pittsburgh hung on the unit, one of three 40+ point games the defense allowed. Having a healthy Vontae Davis and Greg Toler will be key for the unit. Stopping the run and Gronkowski will be the challenge.
This game will come down to defense. The game features two of the top three QBs in the league (in my opinion) and we know both Brady and Luck can put up plenty of points. The Colts defense simply must stop the Patriots run game to have a chance, while the Patriots must force Luck into some bad decisions like he has made in the past. Ultimately, I don't know how they will do it, but I think that the Colts will come away with the win this Sunday.
Indianapolis 35 - New England 31