AFC Championship Game: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Maksim Horowitz: In two career games against the Patriots Andrew Luck has throw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in both. Luck, however, has made his share of mistakes tossing 5 picks across the two games. Not to mention, Belichick has figured out to neutralize Lucks running ability only letting him escape for 19 total yards. The colt running game has been revitalized with Boom Herron leading the way, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry a game during the regular season. The patriots run Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) is 10.4% good for 14th best in the league according to Pro-football focus which should be good enough to shut down the Colts passive running game. On the offensive side of the ball the Patriots have one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history in Tom Brady. Last week he threw for 367 and 3 touchdowns against a strong Ravens defense. In 2010, with Chug Pagano as the Defensive coordinator of the Ravens, the Ravens beat the patriots 33-14 embarrassing Tom Brady and company at home. Clearly, Pagano knows how to expose some of Brady’s flaws, but it is key to note that the Ravens had a top ranked defense that year, much better than that of the Colts defense this year. So although we should expect to see a hard fought game, there is no doubt in my mind that down the stretch the Patriots will prove to be victorious.
Sarthak Dighe: With the amount of talent that is in the NFL, it is difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season. That is what the Patriots will look to accomplish when they face the Colts in the AFC Championship game after the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 42-20 in Week 11 of the regular season. While it seems the Patriots may be the favorites, I believe Colts will upset the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl. A significant factor is the injury to Patriots starting center, Bryan Stork. It is evident to everyone that the Patriots depend on the ability to protect Tom Brady and give him time to throw the ball. However, we saw in the Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, that once Stork went out of the game, the Ravens were able to apply more pressure to Tom Brady. While its true the Patriots offense was still too much for the Ravens to handle, the Colts can win the game by way of their defense. Their pass defense was ranked 12th in the league while the Ravens was ranked 23rd. If Colts quarterback Andrew Luck can perform the way he did against the Denver Broncos, I believe the Colts will leave Foxborough with a win.
Ron Yurko: Although the Colts pulled the upset last week at Denver, and New England received quite the scare from Baltimore, this game is a mismatch for Indianapolis. According to Football Outsiders (my favorite source for football analytics) the Colts rank 6th in defending deep passes (more than 15 yards) but an awful 30th against short passes, which is of course Brady's specialty. Last week their defense shut down Manning with him going 2-14 on deep passes, but the Patriots will exploit their clear weakness with The Gronk over the middle. I'm expecting a big game from Gronk who the Colts just won't be able to stop. The only way the Colts win this game is by taking an early lead and forcing Brady to make terrible throws (sounds like Madden commentary....). The Patriots defense shut down T.Y. Hilton in week 11 and I'm not expecting anything different here, especially with no Ahmad Bradshaw this time around to provide some running game. Belichick and Brady should get another Super Bowl opportunity after tomorrow, and this time it won't be against Eli....
Max Partlo: The past three matchups have told us that the Colts can't stop the patriots, but there might be some reasons to believe that the Colts have some chance to win the game by simply outscoring their opponent. The Pats struggle to create edge pressure (their most ends and outside linebackers rank towards the bottom of the league in terms of efficient pass rushing), and instead rely on the ILB combo of Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to create pressure. The problem, is that the Colts have a pair of electric tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, who can force those athletic linebackers to stay in coverage, and give Andrew Luck to win this game on the strength of his arm.
Steven Silverman: Though Andrew Luck beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady back-to-back to reach his first Super Bowl would be an excellent storyline, the Colts have too little else to take down the Patriots. Their running game has been suspect all year, with Trent Richardson an unmitigated disaster. While the Patriots haven't exactly torn it up on the ground either, Brady and Rob Gronkowski have shredded opposing defenses lately and should do enough to stymie Indianapolis.
Jonathan Rodrigues: Adam Vinatieri has never lost a Conference Championship game, I believe that will change on Sunday. Last Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens, New England rushed the ball only 13 times and was still capable of besting their opponent. The Patriots are able to beat their adversaries in so many ways, even having wide receivers pass to other wide receivers for touchdowns. The last time these teams faced was at Lucas Oil Stadium in November, and New England came out with a 42-20 victory with runningback Jonas Gray rushing for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns. This time on the Patriots’ home turf, I don’t see the outcome changing.
NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Maksim Horowitz: The Seattle Seahawks romped Cam Newton and the Panthers last week showing just how dominant they are. The Seahawks own the 3rd best pass defense AND the 2nd best rush defense in the league (pro-football focus). The Seahawks haven’t allowed more than 300 yards on defense since week 11 and throughout the 2014 season allowed only 15.9 points on average per game (sportscharts.com). With that said, the Seahawks offense must perform in order to head back to the Superbowl. Through 7 playoffs games Russell Wilson has only throw 1 interception. Wilson’s precision should prove to be important, as the Green Bay secondary is average at best. In fact, Green Bay ha a DVOA of 1% meaning they are barely better than the average league defense (pass DVOA is -1.3%). Marshawn Lynch should be the normal workhorse he always is and should balance the Seattle offense. As for Green Bay, Eddie Lacy may be their most important offensive player in this game. In each of Seattle’s loses this season they allowed over 100 yards rushing. An effective Lacy will keep the Legion of Boom honest and open up some holes downfield. Rodgers will be tasked with spreading the balls to all of his receivers in order to have any success. Emerging star Devante Adams needs to compliment his fellow receivers Jordy Nelson and Randell Cobb in order to get some flow in the passing game. With that said, the Seahawks are to hot right now. In Seattle, I don’t see how the Packers edge out a victory. The Seahawks will prevail!
Sarthak Dighe: We’ve all heard it before: “Defense wins championships”. The Seattle Seahawks will win the NFC Championship game because of their defense. They are averaging only 15.9 points allowed per game, which is the best in the league. While the Green Bay Packers did lead the league in turnover differential, their offense will depend heavily on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is battling a calf injury. Even with Rodgers at full strength, he has the task of facing Seattle’s unrelenting pass defense. Eddie Lacy, who was on the injury report earlier this week, will have a tough time facing a Seattle’s run defense that was third best in the league. On the offensive side of the ball for the Seahawks, Marshawn Lynch has been dominant against Green Bay the past few years, averaging 104 yards against the Packers in the past two years. This is especially worrisome for the Packers as their run defense was only 23rd in the league during the regular season. If the Packers are going to win the game, it will by the arm of Aaron Rodgers. However, I don’t see him being successful enough against Seattle’s stout pass defense.
Ron Yurko: Packers' poor rush defense meets Marshawn Lynch? Yeah. Seahawks' stellar defense against a hurt Aaron Rodgers? Yeah. Packers' known struggles against read options and Seahawks use third most read options? Yeah. Seattle Seahawks win? Yeah. Marshawn Lynch gives a post-game interview? No.
Max Partlo: This game is essentially a karmic battle between two teams whose recent histories include questionable catch rulings late in the fourth quarters of key games, so there's no real advantage on that front. On the field though, Aaron Rodgers' entire season has been a convincing case that a thorough week one beating may not be indicative of how this game is going to work out. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson produce the highest two QB ratings on passes in their direction, which should help to counteract Seattle's dominance in the secondary. And this late in the season, I'll go with the best QB in the game right now.
Steven Silverman: Even on a bad day, Aaron Rodgers can take over a game singlehandedly. That said, he'll have a tough time picking apart Seattle's vaunted defense, especially on a gimpy calf. With Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch on the ground complementing Seattle's corps of receivers, including Jermaine Kearse and Luke Willson, I don't see Green Bay pulling this one out, especially given that they're away from the freezing confines of Lambeau Field.
Jonathan Rodrigues: Seattle is too much for a banged up Packers team to handle. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were barely able to come out of Lambeau Field with a win over the Cowboys last week as the offensive unit was not able to put up their season average 30+ points. Seattle boasts the number one ranked defensive unit in the NFL right now, I believe that they will pressure Rodgers all game long the Seahawks will continue their journey to defend their title.