And then there were four. We’re down to the conference championship games this weekend, with the top two teams in the NFC, the 2-seed Packers at the 1-seed Seahawks, while in the AFC it’s the 4-seed Colts at the 1-seed Patriots. The winners of these games advance to the University of Phoenix Stadium in a couple weeks to face off in Super Bowl XLIX.
It’s a rematch of the first game of the season in the NFC Championship. In that game back in September, the Seahawks dominated the Packers, 36-16, led by a 110-yard, 2-touchdown performance by RB Marshawn Lynch. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers — who is the front runner to be named the league MVP this season — had a disappointing performance in the game, throwing for just 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception. I don’t expect Rodgers to have a similar performance this week, but I’m not sure he’ll match the 386 yards and 3 touchdowns he put up against the Cowboys last week either. Rodgers still may not be 100% from the calf injury he suffered late in the regular season, but he has a strong receiving core, led by WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, to help him out.
For the Seahawks, their defense will likely have to lead the team if they are going to be successful. The defense allowed the fewest points in the league during the regular season and will have to stop Rodgers to keep the score low and give the team a chance at winning. Offensively, Lynch — who ran for over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 starts during the season — will be the key for Seattle, which lacks any top receiving targets for QB Russell Wilson. If the Seattle D lives up to its pedigree, I think the Seahawks will advance to their second straight Super Bowl.
In the AFC, the Patriots — who scored the fourth most points in the league during the season — look to win a conference title game for the first time since the 2011 season against a Colts team led by QB Andrew Luck, who is playing in his first conference championship. It’s a battle of two of the league’s top quarterbacks and, as good as Luck as been in his first two playoff games this year, it’s hard to go against Patriots QB Tom Brady, who has been so successful in his career. Brady’s advantage includes having the top receiving threat on either team, TE Rob Gronkowski. I don’t think either team has a distinct advantage at running back or defense so the Brady-Gronkowski connection will likely be the biggest factor in the game, allowing the Patriots to win the game and set up a Super Bowl against the defending champions, which I predicted before the season.