NFL14: CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

The is D. Gulley for The Shop Report

NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers (12-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

The winner of this game is far less ambiguous than many would like to believe.  But since there’s only one other matchup this week, it appears that many are compelled to stretch every scenario on how the Packers can upset the Seahawks.

To the advantage of the Packers, they’ve faced a tougher schedule since November than the Seahawks including the playoff matchup (based on records – which at deceiving at times) began and including playoffs.   The Packers turnover margin at -15, is lower than the Seahawks at -12.  This means that both teams force more mistakes than they commit.  Where do the Seahawks have an advantage?  The thing about the tale of the tape is that, like the weather, it sets the likely conditions, but it is truly a coincidence when the weather is exactly as it’s laid out to be.  We’re not dealing with the weather, we’re dealing with the defending champion Seahawks who have played up to their level of expertise, not the level of their competition.  Also, the Packers don’t defend the run well, and this will be their demise, as all the other intangibles for each team are a push.  Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson will use this to their advantage.   The Seahawks can also play the slow game – low scoring affairs and the Packers cannot.  The Packers don’t win if they score less than 24 points and the Seahawks D is potent enough to keep the scoring low.  Conversely, the Seahawks have 5 wins  scoring under 20 points.  Notice, that none of this factors in a possibly less than mobile Aaron Rodgers.  Pick the Seahawks to win this matchup.

PICK: SEAHAWKS

AFC Championship

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ New England Patriots (12-4)

This is where The Shop Report is in discord – Barbershop J likes the Patriots and D. Gulley likes the Colts.  I’ll tell you why but first I’ll acknowledge my irrational decision making.  Looking at the schedule, the 2014 Colts won and lost to all the teams they should.  I cannot find an upset on their schedule for or against them.  This doesn’t bode well for a playoff team, because the post-season always includes the best of the best.  Upon closer examination, the win over the Broncos last week actually fits this narrative.  Furthermore, the Colts don’t have the best defense, and stopping the run will prove troublesome.  The body of work that the 2014 Patriots have compiled is remarkable, capped by a comeback from a 14 point deficit against a rival in Baltimore last week.  I’m not sure what the stats say, but TE Dwayne Allen is the team leader in TD receptions which means that the Colts have a variety of options in the read zone should they get there (and they will, often).  The Colts are amazingly resilient, having the ability to overcome Andrew Lucks turnover tendencies (he’s more Brett Favre than many people realize).  And still, Tom Brady hates pressure – the type that does not come from the situation but from the play-to-play attacking.  If the Colts can win, they will do so by keeping Tom Brady busy and calming Luck down.  I think it’s the clutch performances that I’ve seen the Colts display that have me picking this team to shock the world and advance to the Super Bowl to lose against the Seahawks.  Same goes for the Patriots if my intuition does not serve me correctly.

PICK: COLTS

NFC Divisional Round: Packers vs. Cowboys

Up until the NFL gave the Cowboys a late christmas present by picking up the flag thrown against rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens against the Lions in the Wild Card,  I wanted to see the Boys get it all this year. I don’t now. I think that “falsity” (my word) cost the Lions not only the game, but the momentum as well.  Nothing says ebb and flow like NFL football, especially in the playoffs. Do the Boys have a chance? Yes. Boys’ defense has played well under Marinelli this season by simply rallying to the football every snap. I could care less about his calf injury, rallying to the football is only a nice sentiment when facing Aaron Rodgers. And all this talk from the national pundits about the weather is stomach turning. They cry about the game being to soft, but add to the softness of it all by going on and on about the weather. How bout we let the teams line up and just play football!!

Packers vs. Cowboys: Boys’ have the offensive firepower (for once) to role with the Pack, and don’t have to rely solely on the arm of Tony “oh-no” as has been the case in years past. Dez Bryant is just as formidable as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combined. With a little more healing time under his belt, rushmaster Murray is ready to match anything Eddie Lacy may be ready to bring. The difference in this one will be Rodgers ability to fit the ball into tight windows versus Dez having to climb the ladder to grab one of Romo’s over-throws. That is okay once in awhile, but not for a steady diet. PICK: Packers

AFC Divisional Round: Broncos vs. Colts

Talk surrounding the deterioration of Peyton Manning’s skills from the “experts” is quite concerning and confusing at the same time. On one hand, Manning is still one of the best, but it’s doubtful that he is the same. Huh?!!  Anyway, I think it has far less to do with his supposedly diminishing skills at it does his less than stellar post-season performances that pale in comparison to his historical regular season accolades. As great as Manning is, there is cause for concern whenever his teams get to the playoffs. It’s no accident that many would hesitate to bet on a Manning-led Broncos squad that has home- field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Broncos vs. Colts:  Andrew Luck has what it takes to play QB in the NFL, but i’m not so sure he alone has what it takes this week against the Broncos. Any defensive unit with D Qwell Jackson on it is suspect to say the least. Colts running game is what wins this contest, not Luck. Averaging a paltry 100 yds per game in the regular season, the Colts are second behind the Carolina Panthers this post-season in the run department at 114.0 per game. As I mentioned earlier, Manning is not a sure bet at home; an vastly improved defense can be. Broncos were 3rd in total defense in the regular season. This game comes down to the Broncos D vs. Colts run game. PICK:  Colts

NFC Divisional Round: Seahawks vs. Panthers

This is a contest that is no contest at all. I think Cam Newton’s development as a ” Passer” is still in need of much work, and is overshadowed by his unbelievable physical gifts. That’s why I was a little surprised to hear all the national pundits ” OverPraising” the Panthers victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the WildCard round.  If the NFL is truly a Quarterback driven league, how much credit can be given the Panthers when the Cardinals were down to their ” No String”  QB Ryan Lindley? The same Ryan Lindley who was quarterback at San Diego State while in college. To be honest, I didn’t know San Diego State still had a football program, and you didn’t either. Bottom line, the way the Panthers win over the Cards was celebrated was unprofessional and unsportsmanlike to say the least.

The Seattle Seahawks are most definitely on the other end of the spectrum. Wilson is still Wilson, and the Hawks D may not be what it was in terms of the impact of last year’s SB run, but it still has ball-hawking Earl Thomas, ” The Chancellor”, Richard Sherman, and a foundation that allows for all the stars lights to shine, but not so much so that they outshine the team’s!!  Hawks have a chance to go down in the NFL record books should they somehow pull off what is a rare feat and repeat. I say Cam and co. get a huge serving of humble pie. PICK:  Seahawks

AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: Patriots vs. Ravens

Man oh man, did the Steelers ever miss the services of Leveon Bell against the dreaded North rival Baltimore Ravens. It wasn’t the clash that it normally seems to be when these two get together, but it wasn’t tennis either. I thought the Steel curtain pedigree would eventually win out, but Joe Flacco’s pedigree (in the post-season) was to rule the day; and rule it did. Say what they want, the one team in this post season (any post-season for that matter) the vaunted Patriots did not want to see is these Ravens. Why?  Because home field advantage can be a disadvantage when facing off against the Ravens.

Ravens @ Patriots:  Brady vs. Dumervil & Suggs is what this matchup will ultimately come down to. Brady has a knack for taking lesser-knowns and making more out of them than the law should allow, and knowing how, and when to use ” The Gronk”  should the situation arise. Ray Lewis is no longer the anchor of a defense that is known for being formidable, but Suggs and Dumervil seems to have picked up the slack quite nicely. Brett Favre may have gotten most of the fanfare, and Desmond Howard the MVP (SB XXXI), but is was the pass-rushing ability of the late Reggie White that set the tone. Because the Ravens have probably the best pass-rushing duo of any team left in this year’s post-season, I pick: Ravens.

NFC Wild Card Round

On the NFC side of thing’s, the bracket is a little less hectic. How many people are expecting the Cowboys to fail? More than what should be the case I bet. The fact that the Boys’ are in it this time of year is remarkable to say the least. There’s some murmurs that the Cards’ Fitzgerald may soon be out in Zona’. that’s too bad, cause he is still a better than, viable option with a decent quarterback. Here’s what’s goin down in the NFC Wild card Round:

Lions @ Cowboys: I like the job Jim Caldwell has done with the Lions this year, but I don’t like the fact he, nor management has done much to get Suh to understand just how detrimental his antics have become. With Megatron Lions have a legit shot, but Cowboys are playin like this is the year that matters more than any other. PICK: Cowboys

Cardinals @ Panthers: Too bad for Arians’ Cardinals that the don’t have a better option at Quarterback. This is the time of year where having one can make all the difference in the world, and I believe the Cards’ will be unfairly bashed as a result should they lose this game at home. Panthers record says they don’t deserve to be here, but Cam says regardless of record, we in!!! And that’s all that matters. PICK: Panthers

AFC Wild Card Round

Now that the pretenders are out of the way, the stage is now set for the remaining six contenders to duke it out for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIX (49).  I know most people will tell you the “Braytriots” are the obvious choice, but it’s the AFC North that continues to be the litmus test come playoff time. How else do you explain half of this year’s playoff contestants from the North?  While you chew on that last tidbit, here are the proclamations to endcap another eventful NFL season.

WILD CARD ROUND:

Ravens @ Steelers: This is a real ‘Clash of the Titans’ if there ever was one. When these two square off, a catastrophe is soon to follow. Both have lost games this season (at home) that made you think they were on the way to dismal finishes, and yet here they are in the playoffs; a place where their pedigree is unquestioned. PICK: I CAN’T;  Whoever wins may end up going all the way.

Bengals @ Colts:  Is it time for Dalton to prove he’s playoff ready?  YES!!   It’s also time for the Colts to show that the Trent Richardson deal was not a mistake. PICK: Bengals, cause Colts have Richardson and DQwell Jackson.