It’s Conference Championship Weekend, which means by Sunday evening, we’re going to know which teams are going to be squaring off in Super Bowl XLIX. The NFC matchup should be no surprise to anyone since you probably could have predicted this matchup at the beginning of December. The AFC is a little surprising, since I know most probably expected Denver to be the team that would face off against New England around that same time. But it literally was a case of out with the old, in with the new.
Last week, I went 3-1 both against the spread and picking games straight up. That brings my playoff totals to 6-2 against the spread and 5-3 picking straight. As a reminder, I finished the regular season 129-127 against the spread and 166-89-1 picking straight.
* All lines are from ESPN.
Green Bay Packers (13-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-4)
Sunday, January 18 at 3:05 pm ET on FOX
*Line: Seahawks (-7.5)
The Seahawks have covered the spread in five straight home games with an average margin of victory of 15 points in that span. They are tough to beat at home, and have only lost twice there over the past two seasons, to the Cowboys this past year and Cardinals in 2013. A big reason for both of those losses were thanks to possession and third downs. In those two losses, the Seahawks lost the time of possession battle with both the Cowboys and Cardinals out-possessing them by roughly 15 minutes. The Seahawks also struggled on third downs, combining to convert a paltry seven of 26 third-down attempts in those games. Obviously, the two issues are linked. The Packers will likely have to take a page from the Cowboys rather than the Cardinals since the latter won thanks largely to their defense being able to shut down the Seahawks. Like the Cowboys, the Packers are a team with a top offense coupled with an average at best defense.
The Cowboys were able to run the ball effectively with DeMarco Murray and got the Seahawks into a lot of 3rd-and-long situations thanks to containing Marshawn Lynch on early downs and benefiting from a number of penalties and mistakes on Seattle’s part. The Packers don’t have a great third-down defense, nor is their run defense considered good, so both those tasks will be tall orders. They’re basically going to have to step up and play beyond what they’ve shown this year, and if recent history is any indicator, that’s not likely to happen. We’re all looking at you, Dom Capers. Since 2010 when the Packers defense was the second-best unit in the league, almost every time the team has needed their defense to play above itself, it has not. The one part of that formula that the Packers do possess is the ability to run the ball with Eddie Lacy.
But throw in the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is nursing a calf injury that will cause more problems against the Seahawks pass rush than it did against the Cowboys, you lack a great recipe for success. It’s hard to see Green Bay upsetting Seattle without Rodgers playing lights out, and it’s hard to see that given his injury status. Bottom line, this is a game that the Seahawks have to lose versus thinking that the Packers can win.
Spread Pick: Seahawks
Straight Pick: Seahawks
Indianapolis Colts (13-5) at New England Patriots (13-4)
Sunday, January 18 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Patriots (-6.5)
The Colts are an interesting team because on paper they aren’t anything special. Andrew Luck is an excellent quarterback and T.Y. Hilton is a dynamic weapon at wide receiver. But outside that, they are pretty average across the board on offense, particularly along the offensive line. Defensively, they can play well for spurts, but they are a mostly average unit that doesn’t get effective pressure on the quarterback. But in the postseason, the defense has looked relatively formidable.
The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, but they aren’t without their own flaws. Their offensive line isn’t the dominant unit it once was and can get pushed around. They have no semblance of balance to their offense, and their most potent weapon on offense is Rob Gronkowski. And while the Patriots defense is solid, it also suffers from a reliable pass rush. The Patriots are the better team, but not by a huge margin. Gronk is really the only thing that swings things heavily in the Patriots’ favor.
The biggest advantage the Pats have going for them is head coach Bill Belichick. In three previous matchups, the Patriots have essentially wiped the floor with the Colts, beating them by a combined score of 144-66. For you non-math wizzes, that’s an average score of 48-22.
For whatever reason, Belichick knows how to get the worst performance out of Luck, having forced the young quarterback to throw eight interceptions and fumble once in those three games. And this is the best defense the Pats have had in that span, so all signs suggest that this one will be another one-sided game.
But I can’t shake this feeling that the Patriots could easily lay an egg this weekend. But instead of going with my gut, I’m going to go with my head which suggests that this should be another double-digit win for the home team.
Spread Pick: Patriots
Straight Pick: Patriots