Championship Game Predictions

Posted: 01/24/2016 by levcohen in Football

Last week’s four games all ended in touchdown victories (the Cardinals won by six, but it would have been seven had they won it with a regulation touchdown rather than an OT touchdown), but the four games all felt very different. The Patriots only beat the Chiefs by seven, but it felt like it could easily have been 27. They were easily the better team last week. Meanwhile, the Cardinals-Packers gave was obviously unique, given that Aaron Rodgers threw a 60-yard Hail Mary on fourth-and-20 and then another Hail Mary to tie the game before the coin to start overtime did not flip (you read that right) the first time and Arizona eventually won it with two great plays by Larry Fitzgerald. Then, Carolina jumped out to a quick 31-0 lead on the Seahawks before nearly blowing the game and winning by seven. And in the later game on Sunday, Peyton Manning led the Broncos to great heights… er, Manning actually looked terrible, but the Broncos won thanks to a key forced fumble and, more importantly, because the Steelers were without Antonio Brown. So four similar scores and four very different games.

Last week:
4-0 straight up (7-1 total)
2-2 against the spread (5-3)
2-2 over/under (6-2)

My prediction: Result:
Patriots 20-17 Patriots 27-20
Cardinals 27-17 Cardinals 26-20
Panthers 20-17 Panthers 31-24
Broncos 20-14 Broncos 23-16

New England Patriots (13-4, 8-7-2) at Denver Broncos (13-4, 8-8-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Everyone likes the Patriots here, and for good reason. Their offense was tremendous against the Chiefs last week, moving the ball at will and looking like they did at the start of the season, when they were clearly the best offense in football. The uptick, of course, came with the return of star receiver Julian Edelman, with whom the Patriots have not lost. Edelman is so important to Tom Brady, because his quick routes and decisions allow Brady to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid the pass rush. That’ll be important this week, against a Denver team that is very good defensively, especially when they unleash DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and get good pressure on the quarterback. When Brady has both Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, as he will this week, he’s pretty difficult to stop, but if any team can do it, it’s this Broncos team. Denver has the clear best defense in football, and they’re oozing with talent all over their defense. The key for them has to be getting to Brady and keeping him from getting into that zone that he so often gets in. They have to double-team Gronkowski, stick Chris Harris (assuming he’s healthy) on Edelman, and take their chances against anyone else. I don’t think they’ll stop the Pats completely, but they should have more success than the Chiefs did last week.

On the other side of the ball, Manning must be better than he was last week. I think the Broncos are better off playing Brock Oswiler, since at least Oswiler can throw the ball more than 10 yards down the field, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Instead, Manning will play what might be his final game, and the Patriots are going to bet that he’s not going to be able to throw to the sidelines or deep down the field. That will put more pressure on the run game, and while the Broncos will probably bust out a few 10+ yard gains, they could find it difficult to consistently move down the field while only relying on the running game and short passing game.

Everything points to an easy Pats win, but the Broncos are home and usually find a way to win games they shouldn’t. Can they do that here? Well, they can, but it’ll be more difficult to do that against a guy like Brady. Patriots win 24-17.
Patriots cover
Under

Arizona Cardinals (14-3, 9-8) at Carolina Panthers (16-1, 12-5):*
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 47
My prediction: The other game is getting more attention because it’s another game between Brady and Manning, but I think this is going to be the better, more interesting game. These teams have both been electric this season, scoring the most and second-most points in the league and posting the best and second-best point differentials. I expect to see a few big plays here, and the team that hits on more of the big plays will likely win. The Panthers are a dynamic offense almost exclusively because of quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is such a threat both with his legs and his arm that he opens up a lot of plays for both himself and his teammates. The Cardinals have a good defense, but they can be beaten, and they haven’t been all that great against tight ends this year, which will prove to be a problem against Greg Olsen. And given that the Eddie Lacy ran for 7.4 yards per carry last week, Jonathan Stewart and Newton should both have productive games rushing-wise. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers can unfortunately only throw out one great cornerback to combat Arizona’s three great receivers. Even if you expect Josh Norman to totally shut down either Michael Floyd or John Brown, there’s still slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the other outside receiver to pay attention to, and the Panthers simply don’t have the secondary depth to consistently stop those guys. Plus, Carson Palmer loves throwing the ball deep, and he’s going to hit on a few deep passes. Meanwhile, rookie running back David Johnson was very quiet last week, but I expect him to play much better this week. To me, this game is a coin-flip, but given the fact that the Panthers played much better than the Cardinals did last week, it makes sense that the public is on the Panthers, especially since they’re playing at home, where they haven’t lost all season. The weather probably also suits the Panthers, as it’ll be cold and windy and the field might not be in great shape, something a dome team like Arizona probably won’t love. But I’ve been impressed with the Cardinals all season, and I’m not going to let one shaky week dissuade me from taking the Cards here. Cardinals win 27-24.
Cardinals cover
Over

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