NFL Playoffs – Championship game previews

Four teams remain in the hunt for the biggest prize in American Football, the Lombardi trophy. Who will get there? Severn Sport takes a look at the AFC and NFC Championship games in the NFL.

It all started way back in September when the New England Patriots, as reigning Super Bowl champions, kicked off the season with a Thursday Night Football win, coming out on top 28-21 in a battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

11 weeks later and Tom Brady’s Patriots have a record of 10 wins and no losses and it is looking likely that they will be a good bet for the Super Bowl once again.

Denver handed the Patriots their first loss in Week 12 as they came out 30-24 winners as New England began a downward spiral, only winning two of their final six games, as they finished with a 12-4 record.

The Broncos weren’t exactly slouches over the course of the season either, as Peyton Manning was dropped to the bench people thought that was it, but led by Brock Osweiler for all but one of the remaining games, Denver finished 12-4 and secured the Number 1 seed in the AFC.

The playoffs roll around and Denver beat Pittsburgh to set up the AFC championship game with New England. Brady vs Manning, for the seventeenth time.

Manning vs Brady for the seventeenth, and probaly last, time.

AFC Championship

For the fifth time in playoff history it will be Tom Brady riding into battle against a team led by Peyton Manning, and it will probably be the last.

All four of the previous playoff meetings were won by the home quarterback. In fact, Mr. Brady is 2-6 for his career in Denver.

But there is more to football than just quarterbacks. The Broncos are well-equipped to handle the New England offense: they have corners who can man-cover, freezing up Wade Phillips to run exotic blitzes if he desires.

He has premium edge-rushers, but may realize that pressure up the middle is the key to stopping Brady: if you force him to scramble, his eyes leave downfield; when he steps up in the pocket he’s still surveying.

The wild card for New England is tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Denver’s already started their campaign against him, with players asking the league for help with his ‘pushing off’.

Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots biggest weapon on offense

I would not be surprised to see the Broncos double Gronk with Harris or Talib, and let the other single cover Edleman, and in effect dare the Pats to run on them, which could make Steven Jackson and James Green the keys for New England.

Remember the Pats were up 21-7 on Denver in the 4th quarter in week 12 before the infamous Harper’s Muff, and then the Broncos began to shred a tiring Pats’ front.

That game hinged on a turnover; last week’s game against the Steelers hinged on a turnover. Brady was a little off early and late against KC; his receivers had dropsy problems early.

Peyton’s receivers had big time drops, but he was placing the ball to avoid turnovers. I see this game very tightly poised.

Prediction: New England Patriots 21-27 Denver Broncos

NFC Championship

It has been well documented on several episodes of the sports podcast how strongly I feel the Arizona Cardinals will go all the way this season.

However, Carolina are the Number 1 seed in the NFC for a reason, having gone 15-1 in the regular season and so the Panthers will prove a tough test, especially on their own turf.

This is a match-up we’ve been waiting all season for and the big question is which teams show up: those first-half Panthers against an inaccurate Carson Palmer is a mismatch. The Palmer before his broken finger vs the second half Panthers is more interesting.

That’s because the Panthers are light at the corners, as you saw in the second half last week, and Arizona’s receivers will threaten them more than Seattle’s, and don’t think Bruce Arians isn’t planning on exploiting Finnegan and McClain.

A big Pass Interference penalty against Finnegan is a likelihood. The Panthers got their pass-rush in the first half up the middle, but Arizona is also stronger there than Seattle.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ biggest weapon is Greg Olsen, and Tyrann Matthieu’s loss hurts the Cards.

The loss of Tyrann Mathieu was a big blow for the Cardinals secondary, but they have coped well.

But getting Jonathan Stewart back healthy was a huge plus for the Panthers, and seeing if they can run the ball against Calais Campbell and a good front will be exciting.

As with so many Carolina games, this one may come down to Cam Newton’s ability to make plays out of break down situations—the Seahawks actually did a good job of limiting this; remember 14 of those 31 points were directly down to Russell Wilson.

And for all the talk about defenses, this is supposedly the first playoff matchup in the Super Bowl era of two teams averaging 30 points per game, although as Scott Kacsmar pointed out Oakland and the Jets (29.9) in 1969 AFL days comes awfully close.

I just feel that the Cardinals have far more weapons on the offense for the Carolina secondary to deal with and they simply can’t match up with the likes of Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown.

Further to that the Cardinals have the best shut-down corner in the game in Patrick Peterson who will take away the Panthers best receiver in Ted Ginn Jr. and that only leaves Greg Olsen as their only real threat in the air.

For the Panthers to break down the Arizona defense, the run game will be vital and if the Cardinals frontline can stop the run, they shouldn’t have many problems.

Prediction: Arizona Cardinals 31-17 Carolina Panthers

So that is that then, if my predictions fall into line the Cardinals will face the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on February 7, and obviously Arizona will win that. Right?

Kelsey De Maria

@kjdemaria