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Saturday, January 17, 2015

NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships

It's conference championship weekend in the NFL.  By the time Sunday draws to a close, the teams for Super Bowl XLIX will be set.  This year's conference championship games are both rematches from earlier in the year.  I fully expect the outcome of both games to be the same.

Green Bay at Seattle:  Sunday at 3:05 p.m. EST on FOX.  The NFC Championship features the top two seeds in the playoffs.  Green Bay advanced to the conference championship by beating Dallas last week in a controversial finish at Lambeau Field.  Despite obvious mobility problems due to an injured calf, Aaron Rogers was able to throw three touchdowns in the 26-21 victory.  Seattle was tested early at home by Carolina before pulling away in the second half for a 31-17 win.

The Seahawks and the Packers faced each other in the first game of the year.  The Seahawks thoroughly dominated that game in Seattle and won by a score of 36-16.  Since that time, the Seahawks benefitted from addition by subtraction when they sent Percy Harvin packing in October.  After that divorce, the Seahawks won nine of their final eleven games.  Meanwhile, the Seattle defense is the same stingy unit to which we've grown accustomed.

With a healthy Aaron Rogers, the Packers would have the offensive firepower to challenge the Seahawks' top-notch defense.  But, Aaron Rogers is not healthy.  The Seahawks have enough talent in the defensive backfield to gamble with blitzes by the front seven and put pressure on the hobbled Rogers.  The Packers will inevitably break a few big plays, but Russell Wilson's steady offense will provide enough points for Seattle to win by a comfortable margin.  Seattle:  28-17.

Indianapolis at New England:  Sunday at 6:40 p.m. EST on CBS.  For the fifth time since 2004, the New England Patriots will meet the Indianapolis Colts in a playoff game.  During that stretch, the home team won every matchup.  Sunday's game will be played in New England.

The Patriots were the top seed in the AFC for a reason.  Tom Brady's offense has been dynamic all season long, and the defense is perhaps the most talented group of the Belichick era.  The Patriots finished the regular season with a solid 12-4 record.  Last week, Baltimore pushed New England to the brink, but that speaks more to the grittiness of the Ravens than to a weakness on the part of the Patriots.

When these two teams played in Indianapolis in Week 11, the Patriots dismantled the Colts by a score of 42-20.  However, the Colts have been more physical on both sides of the ball during the first two games of the playoffs than they had been all throughout the regular season.  The Colts had the top-rated passing offense during the regular season, but they will need to muster up a meaningful running game if they hope to stay close in this game.  Andrew Luck is the master of the comeback, so this game will never really be out of reach.  But the final score will not be be particularly close.  New England:  38-21.

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