We came to the penultimate weekend of NFL action this Sunday with the NFC and AFC Championship games. On the NFC side, both teams stuck to the plan, with Seattle and Green Bay triumphing as expected so the number one seed Seahawks host the Packers in the early game.
The surprise team, the Indianapolis Colts travel to New England to try and topple Bill and Tom. Who will collide in Arizona in the SuperBowl? Let’s get down to it.
Sunday Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks Sky Sports 1 20:05
The top two seeds face of in the NFC Championship game. The Seattle Seahawks had some struggles in their win over the Panthers last week, with the run game in particular not being the weapon it usually is for them.
QB Russell Wilson had a terrific game though. He is not blessed with an outstanding cast of receivers but Wilson simply makes plays. The Seahawks often faced long third downs last week, with Wilson being asked to convert them. On passing third downs, Wilson had a perfect passer rating, and threw for three Touchdowns.
His touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin in particular, was a beauty. Wilson is often deemed to be a passenger for Seattle. He is fortuitous to have a stellar defence and a superb running back, but when he has to deliver for the Seahawks, he has done so.
He is a supremely talented quarterback and he is in a good position to earn further plaudits in another big playoff game. His passer rating over his postseason career (six games) has been below ninety once, and he has thrown only the one interception in that span (on a hail mary, in a loss to the Falcons in 2012).
On defence, the Seahawks were incredibly proficient last week. Richard Sherman and the right side of the field wasn’t targeted too often, Cam Newton’s two interceptions were thrown to the right side of the field, one of them being returned for a Touchdown which effectively sealed the victory for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks were unfortunate that their other starting CB, Byron Maxwell, was struggling with an illness with his snaps limited (he is expected to be fully fit for today). With Sherman so dominant, the opposite side of the field is often targeted.
The Hawks D remains comfortably the best in the league and it says something that many are expecting them to be too much even for the often miraculous Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers was playing with a torn calf last week, which has been an issue since the regular season finale against the Detroit Lions (he had a strained calf going into that game), but he showed few signs of such issues in the second half. A poor Dallas pass rush helped him greatly, but in such discomfort, Rodgers’ efforts can certainly be deemed Herculean. First half Aaron Rodgers: 10-17, 90 Yards 1 TD. Second Half: 14-18 226 yards, 2 TDs. Not too shabby but he may need to even surpass that tonight.
The emergence of Davante Adams, on Sunday who hauled in 7 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown could be key on Sunday. He will look to exploit the middle of the field, the Packers have two stellar receiver in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, but a guy like Adams could be key to freeing up Cobb and Nelson. In their previous matchup, the Packers didn’t have Nelson or Cobb go against Sherman, Adams may occupy a similar role but should test Sherman more than Jarrett Boykin did.
Eddie Lacy missed a large chunk of action in the season opener but if they can get the ground game going, they could cause the Seahawks problems. However, it is difficult to shake the feeling that the Seahawks look set to return to the Super Bowl.
Sunday 23:40, Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots. Sky Sports 1
The Colts sprung an upset last weekend beating the Denver Broncos away from home. Last weekend, we mentioned how Andrew Luck was the superior Quarterback, but the Broncos were by far the more rounded team. It certainly didn’t look like that on Sunday. Much of the spotlight landed on Peyton Manning, who was less than impressive in their loss, but much vaunted defensive pairing Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were also highly ineffective. Expected to put Luck under duress, they notched no sacks, and barely laid a hand on him all game. It was only late on that their defensive backs began to show their true star potential, knocking away passes, and keeping the slim Denver hopes alive.
While Manning’s arm did garner a lot of the attention, the Colts defenders, who admitted gaining inspiration from Seattle’s performance in last year’s Super Bowl were superb. Vontae Davis has garnered some attention in some previous previews and he did a great job against Demaryius Thomas.
On the other side, Gregory Toler was quite solid as well. They held the Broncos to their second lowest points total this season. Regardless of Manning’s performance, and the Broncos’ reluctance to run the ball, that is certainly impressive. They notched two sacks, one of which led to a fumble that they recovered.
They face a stern challenge this weekend, something they are all too familiar with, facing the Patriots for the third time in as many years. In each encounter, the Patriots have gone for at least a minimum of 100 yards in the run game. In last year’s playoff game, the Patriots ran for Six Touchdowns, LeGarrette Blount nabbing four of those, with the team recording 234 yards on the ground. This season, in just his second NFL start Jonas Gray, went one further, going for 201 yards on his lonesome, grabbing four touchdowns.
The Colts running game has long been their weak point, and while it was by no means great last weekend, it showed some signs of life. Boom Herron went in for a TD, and the Colts went 99 yards on 28 carries with a variety of rushers. Against a stout Broncos run defence, it was certainly better for the Colts, but the team still relies on Luck to lead their offense.
The two turnovers didn’t matter in the end but it doesn’t absolve Luck totally. The fact that both came off deep throws meant they weren’t punished too severely, but Luck was guilty of forcing a play and making a bad decision throwing into double coverage for the second one. Luck did play superbly to his credit, and also spread the ball between his receivers. He will need to do that again this Sunday, expect the likes of Donte Moncrieff and Hakeem Nicks to be looked at a bit more frequently.
The Patriots are one of the most versatile teams in the game, they can take teams on through the air or on the ground, past history suggests a ground attack will be utilised this weekend. As for who leads that attack, it’s anybody’s best guess.
Gray was inactive last weekend (ironically, since his “breakout game” has only had twenty more carries in four more games) with an injury and the Patriots used the running attack sparingly. In the second half in their win over the Ravens, Brady was their only rusher, on one QB sneak and three kneel downs, (they only ran seven times, with their running backs in the first half).
Blount could be the man to lead the ground game, the Patriots are likely to focus on it given past success. The Patriots will also look to use Julian Edelman in the slot. The Colts limited far better receivers last weekend, but don’t count the likes of Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola out. They are capable of contributing, all key receivers contributed on the scoreboard (Edelman throwing to Amendola for a TD, was of course a highlight), with Rob Gronkowski gushing the Ravens, going for over a 100 yards and nabbing a TD.
The Patriots are the better team on paper, and their defence is still incredibly good, they limited the Ravens in the second half after falling behind early. The Patriots pass rush will need to get back on track this weekend if they are to have success, they yielded no sacks last weekend and very little pressure. One would expect Darrelle Revis to recover from an uncharacteristically poor performance last weekend as well.
As much as I would like to see the Colts march onwards, the Patriots are the logical pick. Last weekend they showed some true resolve to come back from a difficult situation, and they have shown an ability to beat the Colts handsomely in the past.
But imagine if Luck took down arguably the top two QBs of all time in one fortnight…..