Championship Game Predictions

Posted: 01/18/2015 by levcohen in Football

Today is what many people consider the best day of the football year, as it’s the final weekend before the Super Bowl, which is more an event than a football game. I actually think the weekend of the divisional series’, which was last weekend, is better since there were four games, but today is definitely up there. Unfortunately, recent championship games haven’t been close, with games often ending in blowouts. Given that both games have spreads close to or above a touchdown today, there’s blowout potential here. I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll get at least one good game out of today’s action. Let’s start with the early game, which is the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

Green Bay Packers (13-4, 9-7-1) at Seattle Seahawks (13-4, 10-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 8
Over/under: 44

I like the Seahawks in this game for a variety of reasons. The biggest one is that Aaron Rodgers is clearly less than 100%. Rodgers played pretty well against the Cowboys last week, but remember that he had two weeks to prepare for that game; he had one to get ready for the beating he could take today. There’s also the fact that Dallas, with its mediocre defense, is not a team that can really get after a quarterback. Seattle, on the other hand, can, and I think they are the team that can best expose Rodgers’s injury. Vegas underrated the injury early in the week, and the changes in the spread from 6.5 to 8 and the over/under from 47 to 44 are telling.

The Packers will need not only a mistake-free effort from Rodgers, which is plausible, but also a big game from Eddie Lacy. A clock-controlling, run-heavy gameplan is the best way to attack Seattle, but the runs have to be effective. In week one, when the Seahawks beat the Packers by 20, Lacy ran the ball just 12 times for 34 yards. He’ll need to be a lot better if the Packers want to stay in the game.

I think Seattle’s defensive dominance needs to be reiterated again. They gave up 17 points against the Panthers, including a garbage time touchdown, but that constituted a bad game for the defense. It was the first time since November 16th against the Chiefs that the Seahawks have given up more than 14. Naysayers point to the fact that the QBs who have played Seattle in that time are, well, lackluster, but the Seahawks are also 9-0 in the last three years against Superbowl winning quarterbacks. In a strength vs. strength matchup, I like Seattle’s full strength defense quite a bit more than I like Green Bay’s offense.

I also like Seattle’s efficient and underrated offense a whole lot more than I like Green Bay’s defense. The Seahawks finished fifth in DVOA on offense, thanks in large part to their top ranked run offense. When Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson get going on the ground with the read-option, the Seahawks are terrifying. Unfortunately for the Packers, Green Bay is pretty bad at stopping the run. You might remember week one, when the Seahawks gouged the defense to the tune of 37 carries for 207 yards, which included three kneeldowns. Yes, the now-gone Percy Harvin had four of those carries for 41 yards, but Lynch ran 20 times for 110 yards.

The other problem for Green Bay is that over the last few years they have been terrible against read-option offenses. There was that Seattle game in week one, but the biggest example of the Packers’ struggles is their 2012 playoff lose to the Niners, who ran for 323 yards. The hope for the Packers has to be to get the Seahawks into third-and-long situations. Seattle is a whole lot better in short-yardage situations than they are in long distance situations, and they just lost a huge deep threat in Paul Richardson (torn ACL) after trading Percy Harvin and losing Golden Tate to free agency before the year.

There is a scenario in which the Packers win this game. They need to capitalize on some turnovers, which might be difficult given that the Seahawks turned the ball over just 14 times this season, third-fewest in football. In fact, there might not be many turnovers in this game, as the Packers gave the ball away 13 times, tied for the fewest in football. Something to look out for, though, is Seattle’s propensity to put the ball on the ground. Wilson has fumbled a fair amount this year, but the Seahawks have shockingly returned every single fumble Wilson’s lost. So the Packers need to take the ball away from Wilson, they need a big game from Lacy, and they need to at least limit Seattle’s run game. It’s possible, but it would be a whole lot more likely if Rodgers were full strength.

I haven’t even mentioned the home-road thing, which is also troublesome for the Packers. Rodgers and the whole offense were extremely good at home this season but are only 4-4 on the road. And they struggled mightily against Seattle, Detroit, and Buffalo on the road, the three times they played truly elite defenses. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have long had one of the best homefield advantages in all of football. I could see this game getting out of hand early, with Rodgers unable to pull the Packers back into the game. I could also see the Packers taking a lead into halftime before the Seahawks’ defense, which is even better after halftime than it is before it, takes over. Either way, I think Seattle’s going to win this game fairly handily. Seahawks win 30-17, covering the spread and going over.

Indianapolis Colts (13-5, 12-5-1) at New England Patriots (13-4, 9-8):*
Spread: Patriots favored by 6.5
Over/under: 52

Ok, I might just be picking the Colts because it’s what I want to happen. It took me a while to think of enough reasons to pick the Colts to make it seem viable. But I did it eventually, so I’m sticking with Indy.

The first five reasons on my list are Andrew Luck. Seriously, the guy is incredible. Yeah, he turns the ball over, but his two picks last week were basically just punts on third down. And the turnovers are basically all the detractors point to. Why? Because he’s amazing. The fact that he took this team to the AFC Championship game is pretty great. I mean sure, the Colts have good cornerbacks, a couple of decent weapons, and a decent offensive line, but they are nowhere near as good overall as the teams they’ve beaten in the past two weeks or the Patriots. It all revolves around Luck.

I also like that the Patriots probably aren’t going to get a lot of pressure on Luck. They barely touched Joe Flacco last week, and Flacco played a terrific game. In fact, had he not thrown an ill-advised pass into double coverage in the final two minutes, Flacco could very well have carried the Ravens to this game against the Colts. Imagine what Andrew Luck might do with the same amount of time in the pocket.

You know how the Pistons have played really well since releasing Josh Smith? Well, the same thing might be happening in Indy, as the Colts have played really well since Trent Richardson got benched. I know, it’s a weird thing to count on, but the Colts are really overmatched elsewhere, so these are the things I need to mention.

The Patriots could obviously win this game in a blowout, because that’s exactly what they did the first time they played the Colts, which ended in a 42-20 win. A repeat will start with a great running effort, which is exactly what the Patriots got against the Colts during the regular season. Remember, it was this game that put Jonas Gray and his four touchdowns on SI’s cover. Could we see Gray again? It’s very possible. I just don’t think the Patriots will have as much success running it today, because their offensive line is more banged up now (center Brian Stork is unlikely to play) and because the Colts are clearly going to try to shut down the run.

More likely than a blowout, I think, is a close game. And in a close game, is there any quarterback you’d rather have than Andrew Luck. Time and time again, he’s rallied his team back from deficits, and he could easily do it again today. Luck, of course, is the main reason I’m picking the Colts, because they just don’t have many advantages elsewhere. I fully acknowledge that this is a risky pick, but I’m taking the Colts 31-28. They’ll cover and it’ll go over, setting up a Seahawks-Colts (possible blowout) Superbowl.

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